Thursday, May 01, 2003

Hebrews and the Gospel

This marks the third division of a series that introduces the Book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

Stubborn Hearts and the Gospel

What Jesus' parable of the soils and the stark warnings in Hebrews have in common is an understanding of how stubborn the human heart tends to be. The hearts of people range from concrete road hard to rich loams and everything in between. Where are you? Where are your friends? 

Ultimately, it is only the Lord who knows what type of soil receives His word. You could have two hard workers in the church. Both produce good things for the kingdom of God. One is motivated by the praise of the congregation and the other is motivated by his love for Jesus. When testing comes or the praise of men falters, the first might fall away. The Lord has not given us soil test kits for others, but we are admonished to know our own.

Then, too, the church must see soil preparation as part of proliferating the gospel. Prayer and the power of God can break up the roads. Patient instruction can remove rocks. Exhortation can weed the gardens. Dependence on the Holy Spirit will produce the harvest of righteousness in our lives. Salvation is a process. There is a preparation phase, a planting phase, and growth. The church needs to be active across the spectrum. The goal is to develop disciples who have personal assurance of salvation. Faith yields salvation. Fruit yields assurance.

The "Bad" Gospel

Perhaps the mark of success of the "Got milk?" advertising campaign are the copies. This includes, "Got Jesus?" As a pithy gospel message, "Got Jesus?" is not bad. The ultimate result of salvation is being with the Lord forever, "He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son." (Revelation 21:7)

There is a form of the gospel message that might be stated like this. "Got heaven?" It is the gospel that says there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. It is not that such a message is wrong or untrue, because it is true. The problem is that it is incomplete in at least two ways:

  1. It tends to provide Jesus as the provider of heaven, but does not emphasize that He is also the goal of the Christian life. The emphasis is on heaven and eternal life. The means is a simple prayer. The deal is settled forever and you do not have to worry about hell anymore.
  2. It appeals to the very self-interest that the true gospel must destroy to do its work. What sane person would choose hell over heaven? People avoid the true gospel, because it demands a changed life and enables that life.

Matthew 19 relates the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16) Jesus ultimately instructed the young man to remove some weeds in his life and to follow Him. The young man walked away.

Our gospel presentations must not appeal to self-interest, avoid providing a false security, and challenge the heart to enduring faith and its outworking. Jeremiah prophesied and Hebrews presents the nature of the New Covenant. Here is what Jeremiah wrote:

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

There are three promises here:

  1. "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it." This is fulfilled in us today by the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us and the fruit of the Spirit that He produces (Galatians 5:22,23)
  2. "I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Through the gospel, we get to know God and belong to Him.
  3. "Their sin I will remember no more." Jesus, as our high priest, entered heaven with His own blood so that we can be clean.

An emphasis on heaven alone is only about the forgiveness of sin and ignores the other two expectations of the gospel.

What about Sin?

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (Hebrews 10:26)

Does sinning after we receive salvation put us in danger of losing it? There are two points to be made here. First, "receiving a knowledge of the truth" need not be equated with salvation. It only means that you come to a place where you know the gospel message to be true and that it demands a choice form you. Rather than yield to the truth, you harden your heart against it. Eventually the offer is withdrawn. The second point is the word "willingly." Sin still has the power to ensnare us, and much remains unwilling. That is why 1 John 1:8, 9 has power, "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:8-9) To sin and confess is not to sin willingly. 

Let me put it another way. To know your sin and know the gospel and then to choose to remain in your old life is to place yourself in peril. To know your sin and see Jesus as:

  • Your High Priest
  • Who took His own blood into the real sanctuary to cleanse your conscience from dead works
  • Who opened the way for us to enter the Holy Place to get help in time of need
  • Who sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us and bring forth fruit.
  • To see all this as a solution for sin and a means to relationship

And you respond in faith, you are saved. You become an adopted child of the Father, and receive discipline for being such. You will see fruit and will come to an assurance of your salvation. It cannot be lost.

Friday: Access to the Throne of Grace

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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