“Yet not I but Christ in me”.

I am not worthy to gather up the crumbs under your table Lord, but I come trusting in your righteousness and grace.

“Yes Ian, that is the mystery, the secret of the abundant life. The realization that all of you which is not worthy of Me has been put to death with Christ and you are living a new life, a life ‘in Me’ – you have been set free from the bondage to sin, to yourself and all your efforts to attain righteousness by yourself. Free to leave all the influences of the ‘flesh’ behind and to walk by the Spirit in your whole life. This entails a continual mind-shift – reminding yourself so that you can live in that freedom – live to sow to the Spirit – so that you can reap eternal life. Yet not I but through Christ in me.”

Now back to Hebrews 9:16-28. The writer comes to the important issue of the blood mentioned so often and shed so often under the Old Covenant. What exactly was the role of that blood. It is maybe a little difficult to put it into words.

Blood in the bible equates with death. Here the writer tries to show how a will is not valid till the person who made it dies. It therefore represented a statement saying what has been promised can now be put into action. So it was used as a symbolic act of putting into effect the statutes and promises of the Old Covenant. It is a little difficult to see how the blood actually was intended to indicate cleansing during all ritual cleansing of all things. However what is clear is that the death of a substitute was essential to the symbolism of cleansing and forgiveness of sin allowing the high priest to enter into the sanctuary, once a year. So the understanding was that a death was required to make this cleansing possible. What is clear in this argument is that all that blood was just a picture looking forward to a much greater event.

What was that event? Well the blood was the representation of the death of Jesus who through His death showed that He had entered into the vey presence of God (V 24). Now a word about “Jesus’ blood”. I sometimes get the idea that people believe that His blood has a mystical power of its own. Prayers crying out for God to cover events and people with the blood of Christ. Its important to note that the blood of Christ symbolizes His death on the cross on our behalf and has no separate significant power. So when we sing “There is power, power, wonderworking power in the blood of the Lamb…” What is actually meant is there is power in (Christ’s death, symbolized by) the blood of the lamb.

The most important part of this argument is wrapped up in the last two verses of our chapter: 9:27,28. They link with the simple phrase in 9:12 “once for all, by His own blood”. there are three things mentioned here which are “once for all” and need not and cannot be repeated.

  1. Man is destined to die once, then comes the judgement.
  2. Christ has died once to take away the sins of many people.
  3. He will appear a second time, but only once, this time to complete the work of salvation, which we have said all along is the main theme of the letter.

So there friends is a summary of the whole argument since 8:1 which is actually the gospel in a nutshell. No more fancy rituals and rites. No more fancy religious talk, just those 3 simple statements. Mankind has over the years so often tried to ‘move on’ and in the process has made the gospel more and more complicated till it is no longer the gospel anymore. Speak to you? Did to me.

The Parable of the High Priest.

“Lift up your eyes to the hills – yes I have chosen to reveal Myself in the past on the mountain-top – because the culture of the people was to look to god’s on the mountain-tops, because that was nearer heaven and therefore they believed made them more important and effective. I met with Moses on the Mountain-top and Jesus revealed His divinity on the mountain-top to Peter, James and John – look to Me the real God of the mountain-top. There are myriads of gods out there – gods manufactured and imagined by people who seek to make gods in their own image to their design and desire – twisting the reality so there is a semblance of truth but it is just superficial. Me, the real God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jakob, the God of Jesus is fixed I don’t change and My love is permanent and it enfolds you in such a way that nothing can separate you from it, but on one condition – that you are IN JESUS because My love rests on Him and through Him on you as He has taken you in to Himself, through His grace. Yes I look at a world that is broken and I weep. My whole motive, driven by My love is to SAVE but many, maybe most, want it on their own terms. Go and continue to shine My light wherever you are.

So back now to Hebrews, as it unfolds in ch 9. Having looked at God’s aim at bringing ‘perfection’ or ‘completeness’ or ‘salvation’ 7:11,19,25. Which acts as an introduction to the concept of a “New Covenant”, because there was no possibility of those things under the Old Covenant, the writer now returns to the role of the “High Priest” and the whole lay-out of the temple (tabernacle) with all its furnishings and rituals an he makes a surprising statement to make his point.

“This is an illustration for the present time”. Heb 9:9 The Greek word translated “illustration” is ‘parabole’. Recognize it? Jesus used this term several times to explain His teachings. What was the point of the ‘parable’ of the High Priest”? Well the passage goes on and explains it: “indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only …..external regulations applying until the time of the new order”

Imagine a family is going to emigrate. They have bought a lovely house, with a big garden in a community of like-minded people in another country. They have a photo, in black and white, of the house enlarged an mounted on the wall. Every evening the parents show the kids the photo and tell them about the prospect of their new life. Can you think how different the reality will be when the family arrives in this new community and the kids can experience in full colour, three D, with stereoscopic sound, what the reality is. Will they long for the picture, rather? Well in a small way, this was what God was doing with His people in the OT. He was showing them a future reality in pictures which could never really reveal the splendour and power of the real thing, Jesus and His role in introducing the New Covenant, with all its benefits.

Now how sad! The readers of this letter were turning their back on this glorious reality and wanting to go back to the powerless pictures of the tabernacle and the high priest, as if they were the reality, because they were familiar with them and they made them feel ‘at home’.

Is there a danger in this warning for us, after all we don’t have a Jewish past? For sure! If in any way a ritual or a habit becomes more important than the real thing we are falling into the same trap. My golf mate, who I have been witnessing to, has been horrified at his grand-children wanting to get married in a house, not a church. “Yes”‘ he says, “they do go to church – occasionally.” That is not the issue for him. When I explained that it is a heart matter, and whether they know the Lord, that was swept aside for the horror of a church wedding held in a house.

There are a lot of examples like this so Jesus keeps warning us that the real point is Himself and our relationship with Him, which can be expressed in many and various ways. I keep my eyes on Him and pray that you will all do that too.

Did God Make a Mistake with the Old Covenant?

“Ian, , look up into the firmament – see the vast space – the activity which you can only see a fraction of – that is Me – I embrace that all – as many as the stars out there are my thoughts – even more, about you and the rest of My creation. Then consider yourself – you are unique, there is only one of you – but as complex and wonderful is My creation – so you are not complete yet – not perfected yet – that is why I am moulding you, sculpting you to conform to My likeness – and sometimes the knife is sharp and cuts deep and is painful, but the harvest of righteousness it produces is abundant. so be patient, appreciate the work of Jesus who has bridged the gap from the distant firmament to your heart – so that you can have communion and continue growing.”

So Kathy is leaving herself a small escape hatch – “it is almost impossible to lose one’s salvation”, she says. I think I know what she means but want to reassert that there is “nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39b). But there is doubt. What is the doubt? Let me say clearly the doubt is not about losing salvation, but whether one was saved in the first place. So of course the next question is “can I be sure I am saved”. Well friends that is what the major thrust of Hebrews is from ch 6:31 on. So this picture is going to build and gather momentum as we go along.

But maybe, as a starting point. Take a step back and remind yourself that the life and death of Jesus is an historical fact, having taken place in a specific place and at a specific time. This is well documented even outside the bible. The purpose of His death and what it accomplished is explained over and over in the bible. Ask yourself now “Do I believe that He lived and died as described? Do I understand why He had to die and what He accomplished? Am I putting my trust in Him as these FACTS reveal, not relying on my subjective feelings?” If you have doubts about your salvation take that step and affirm your decision to trust God asking Him again to fill you to the full with His presence. Don’t be afraid of doing this, you can do it as often as you want to and God will always respond.

Now back to Hebrews. I have reached ch 8. The role of Jesus as high priest has been established and His absolute ability to save completely (or to the uttermost) as been established in Chs 6 and 7 ( summarized in Heb 7:25). We now come to the central part of the writer’s argument in Hebrews (mainly from ch 8-9), which focusses on the New Covenant. Notice 8:1 “the point of what we are saying is this:”

So now he turns to discuss the terms of the New Covenant, which, to put it another way was God’s explanation of the way He was going to interact with His creation, put in the form of a promise which, as we read earlier cannot be revoked. Now before we study this Covenant, let us stop and consider one question. “Did God make a mistake with the Old Covenant that He had to replace it with a New one?” cf 8:7 “For if there had been nothing wrong with the first covenant, no place would have been sought for another”, 8:13 “By calling this covenant ‘New’, he has made the first one obsolete”.

The answer lies in 8:8 “But God found fault with the people”. So God instituted the Old Covenant with the people, after He had demonstrated His grace by rescuing them from Egypt. This is well documented in Exodus. The terms of the covenant rested on the promise of God to Abraham (Gen12:1-3) and simply required a response from the people to love Him and show this by obeying all the laws He had laid down to how to demonstrate this. eg Exodus 19:5,6. The problem with the ‘people’ was that the reneged on their side and turned away from God to follow other gods, abandoning much of the law and culture He had laid down. The promise of a New Covenant is made through Jeremiah to the people who were in exile in Babylon which was their ultimate punishment for their disobedience.

So the next question we may ask is: “was He not being unreasonable in expecting all this from a sinful people who were really unable to respond correctly”? The answer to that question must be that He was setting the scene over a long period of time to demonstrate the necessity and value of Jesus’ work when He eventually came. All this history was surely known by God before it happened, yet He had to show how weak we are without the work of Jesus, around whose coming the whole of the New Covenant revolves.

So I ask myself: “Am I still excited by the terms of the New Covenant? Every time I read it I am thrilled again from the start.

Can I lose My Salvation?

I deliberately asked this question as we started reading Hebrews because the text seems in some places to suggest we can and many Christians are disturbed when they read them. I was hoping to provoke you to think and be prepared to discuss your doubts. Regard this blog as a further step in the discussion and not the last word.

At first I want to state clearly that no major doctrine has been formulated from the input of only one book of the bible. Salvation is the main theme of the whole bible and it unfolds from the beginning and is slowly completed by the input from various writers at various times to various audiences. So it is also the main theme of Hebrews, once again coloured by the audience and the circumstances.

So as succinctly as I can, what are the essential parts of salvation as revealed throughout the bible?

  1. It is launched and sustained by God through Jesus. This is the central point. It became necessary because every person is born lost and heading for an eternity away from God. The mechanism of salvation depends entirely on the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross, which bridges the gap of sin and enables mankind to be reconciled to God.
  2. While this action is initiated by God and given freely, there is something which we are responsible for. What is that? We have to simply respond to God and receive what He is offering, by faith. I look at it like this – God Woo’s us, every one of us (cf “Parable of the lost sheep” Matt 18:10). Each one of us, however holds the key to our own hearts, which can only be unlocked from the inside. When we are ready respond to his love outreach, convinced of His genuine care for us and His ability to do what He has promised to, all we need to do is turn that key and open the door by faith and He floods His love into us through His Spirit.
  3. When one has responded genuinely like this there is a definite supernatural transaction which takes place: you are “born again”, becoming a new creation, with a new citizenship, a citizenship of the Heavenly Zion, because you are now in Jesus and and have his identity. The transaction involves a sealing or bonding by God through His Spirit (Ephes 1:13-14), described in 1 Cor 12:13 as “being baptized by the Spirit into one body”. Your status has changed you are now adopted into God’s family (in Christ) and have become a true son or daughter.(Romans 8:15-17).
  4. Stop and think. This is a rock-solid spiritual transaction depending mainly on God’s unchangeable promises. They cannot be changed or rescinded. However, here we need to say two things; 1. This is the start of a process and not a once-off happening. We were saved, we are being saved and we will be saved. (Romans 5:9,10). 2. So how do we know if someone is genuinely saved? It lies between them and God. And while there are many signs which accompany genuine salvation, the only true measure is whether they persevere in the faith till the very end.

Now this is where we come in with Hebrews. Salvation is the main theme, as I said earlier. The letter is addressed to a group of converted Jews (a church or other) which is facing persecution from other Jews and who are in danger of falling back into the Jewish way of worship and effectively denying Christ. This group, like any church or Christian group, is made up of genuine ‘born-again’ believers and others who are associating with them, maybe close to salvation, or maybe just because they are enjoying the benefits of Christian fellowship. These are the ones described in Heb 5:11 – 6:7. They have not passed beyond the basic teachings of Christianity, they have not learned true righteousness, but have “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the world to come and shared in the benefits of being associated with this group of active believers”. It is these people who the writer is addressing when he says that they should be careful to move on to full faith and not drift away back to where they came from. And, he says, experience has shown that once you turn away from this truly Christian group and the teaching of the word, it is going to be impossible to win you back again.

From there the letter goes on to strengthen the faith of those who have really believed, to which he now adds his own name cf 6:18. “We who have fled to take hold of the hope….”

So, in summary, while we have an absolute secure, rock-solid, hope dependent on God’s promises, taken with an oath, covered by is grace, not on our ability to perform in any way, we should never become complacent. Our salvation is only complete when we are ready to go to be with Jesus.

In the words of Ray, yesterday on Reformation Sunday, from one of the Puritans; “We have been set free, to fight the good fight”.

Friends, this subject is extremely important, because sitting next to you may be someone who has not yet been born-again, blissfully thinking they are OK as long as the do certain things, like go to church etc. We need to understand that the church is not made up of an homogenous group of fervent believers, there are always some who are yet outside of the true family of God. This is not so that we may judge them, but that we act towards every other as if you are God’s hand of love, reaching out to them. Be ready to give an answer for the hope you have, always ready, in season and out of season, because even as God is Wooing, He is using each one of us. This ongoing attitude, I believe is one of the truest signs of a real faith in Jesus.