One of the most important principles, I believe, for personal, relational health…in families, businesses, churches, communities, everywhere…is the Privilege/Responsibility balance principle.
I won’t belabor the point, because I’ve talked about so often before.
When someone takes privilege without corresponding responsbility there is inevitable a loss of freedom of some kind…both within people personally and between them relationally.
The person who wants the privilege of sex without the responsbility of marriage loses freedoms…children without two parents, broken hearts/lives, loss of God’s good purposes.
The person who wants leadership without service…loses respect and opportunity.
When there is responsibility without corresponding priviledge there is a loss of morale, incentive, desire…good actions and good relationships begin to dissolve.
I have a friend who was given the responsibility of leading an organization but not the privilege of real directional oversight or the ability to resource the mission…the result has been loss of morale and mission failure.
Parents are wise to make this a focal point of their parenting…to work hard, starting at a young age to balance privilege and responsibility in appropriate ways.
In the book of Hebrews the author has outlined, for 9 chapters, the privileges won for us by Christ…
We have the great privilege of relationship with God…forgivess, ready access.
We have the great privilege of living (and dying) with confidence
These are ours, as gifts, as privileges.
Now, in chapter 10 he is going to shift to the responsiblity we have of nurturing our confidence and making that confidence active in our day to day choices…how we more fully experience and enjoy the privileges of the gospel.
In the first 18 verses of chapter 10 the author sums up the contrast between the Old and the New Covenant.
- Shadow vs realily
- Continual vs once
- Temporary vs permanent
This is a summary of his foundation laid up to this point.
In the remainder of this chapter there are three sections
- The primary privileges and responsibilities of the new life in Christ. (19-25)
- A somber balancing warning (26-32)
- Encouragement regarding how remembering the past can empower perseverance in the present (32-39)
We are going to focus this morning on that first section.
Let’s look at verses 19-25, a summary of the great privilege and some corresponding responsibilities of the new life in Christ
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
“Therefore”, refers back to all he has written thus far…the greatness of what Christ has won for us summarized here like this…
We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.
The “Therefore” marks the transition between the foundation and the application.
The “let us” marks the various responsibilities we have to nurture our confidence.
Therefore…since we have confidence to enter the most holy place (our privilege)…”let us” (our responsibility)
The Most Holy Place was where God’s presence was manifest among his people…it was where one person, once a year, on behalf of the people…could go and make atonement for sin.
Now, through Christ we have immediate and continual access directly to God…we can go into the Holy of Holies, for ourselves, anytime.
This is the great privilege we have in Christ…confident access to God.
Now there are three main responsibilities given for us to live in full expression and enjoyment of that priviledge.
The author hightlights them with…”Let us.”
So…Therefore, since Christ has done this…now let us do this.
- Let us draw near (22)
- Let us hold fast (23)
- Let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works (24)
- Let us draw near (22)
We talked at length when we went through the book of Galatians about how easy it is to fall back into attempting to earn what can only be received as a gift.
At the same time, we must hold in tension the reality that we are to proactively train for godliness.
The gospel precludes earning but requires action.
We will see this in HD when we get to the book of James.
So, we have here in our first responsibility not just “try harder” but “draw near”
What does that even mean?
There are some clues given…
- Draw near with a true or sincere heart.
-“True heart” refers to something real going on inside of us…no play acting, no pretending at the heart level.
-Who am I, before God…when no one is watching…just him and me?
-Our responsiblity, is to draw near to God with a heart that is truly his
-What do we do, when we feel like this “drawing near” is not happening?
-I’m not growing
-I am reverting to old sin patterns
-I live in fear not faith.
-I’m not feeling close to God.
-This isn’t working”
-Our “go to” in these cases is “do more”
-Or give up…but let’s talk about “do more”
“I need more in depth bible study”
“I need to pray more”
“I need an experience…something more than what I have experienced before ”
“I need more discipline”
“I need more feelings of closeness to God.”
Perhaps this is true, maybe its not.
Maybe what is missing, is our paying attenting at the heart level of the need to draw near to God…
-We can, draw near, because Christ has made a way(privilege)
-But we must draw near to God (our responsibility)
Again, you might ask, “What does all this even mean?”
“I thought relationship with God included stuff like…prayer, worship, bible intake, experience…but you said it’s not just more of this.”
All that is a part of drawing near…but sometimes in all the doing we miss the “being” component.
This part is, for a guy like me who likes firm principles, guidelines, lists…feels a bit squishy.
But relationships sometimes feel squishy to me as well…but I deal with the squish…because as complex as they are, they are the most important part of my life.
Think about your relationship with another person…one that is important to you and you want to grow in it…you want to “draw near” to them.
There are things you do that help that happen…and these things are not merely external “to do lists”…
…the things on the list can serve to help shape your heart…to move your affections towards that person.
So you spend time, write texts, give gifts, talk, listen…you know the drill.
But these things, if we do not pay attention to the heart…can fail to have an effect on our hearts…
“They simply become…the drill.”
It may be that drawing near to God might not change anything you do…but rather how and why you do it.
It’s likely, we will address this in a minute…we need both heart change and habit change.
But we cannot ignore the heart part.
I can listen to Christy because I want to find out what is going on with her (cause I need to plan), or because I think I should, or because I will hurt her feelings if I don’t…all good reasons…all part of love.
But we can easily begin to do things that are good and loving (ideally, making them habits)…and yet, fail to draw near personally in our hearts.
I can form good habits…without having a heart that is drawing near to her.
This heart and habit distinction, like I said, can be “squishy…meaning I can’t give you firm, distinct action items…clear distintions….here is how you will change your heart.
I can take you to the gym and say…okay “do that” if you want “that”
But its not so easily defined in relationships…
That being said, I do understand the difference…between “doing stuff” and “drawing near”
Whether it is my relationship with Christy or with God…it’s hard to describe, but we know the difference.
So, the first clue on what it means to draw near to God is this idea of a “sincere heart”…
We are paying attention to what is going on inside of us…even as we do things like pray, read, obey…whatever it is.
I can pray…or I can “draw near to God”…logistically, they can look the same…but they are not.
*This week, I prayed…but I paid attention, more carefully…to drawing near to God.
I can read Scripture…or I can let Scripture read me…I tried to move that way this week.
Let’s look at some of the other clues from this passage regarding drawing near to God.
- In full assurance of faith.
Earlier in the summer I was talking to a young soldier who is deploying overseas this month, I asked him “Is your commander LTC Graf?”
He said “yes”
I said, “Great, he is a good friend, when you are back in training tell him Ch Williams says ‘hi'”
He looked at me with a faint smile…and I thought, “Yeah, no way he is doing that.”
A couple of weeks ago I went to his unit’s send off and I asked him if he had spoken to the commander yet…he said he had not.
I said, “Let’s go meet him.”
I took him over and the commander said, “You can come talk to me, I want you to.”
The young soldier had heard that he had access…he just didnt’ fully have confidence in what he had heard.
*When I was a freshmen at WSU my head coach told me, “Anytime you have a problem, issue, just come talk to me.”
-I went through a period of real struggle…I was contemplating quitting the team, and school…I took my coach at his word…about access…
-I told him my struggle….and it did not go well…turns he didn’t like quitters, or even potential quitters (even though I didn’t quit…he was not fond of me from that point on)
-I thought I had access, I had been told I did…but I didn’t
There are a variety of reasons we don’t have full assurance of faith…we don’t really believe that we have full access to God.
Maybe you have been burned (like I was)…fortunately my accessible human father more than made up for my coach…maybe you didn’t have that.
Maybe it seems too good to be true…maybe you have your own reasons…
But drawing near to God is going to require nurturing this “full assurance of faith.”
Meaning “what” exactly?
Meaning we trust God not our own current mood, or mental state, or guilt feelings…we have ready access to God regardless of whether we feel like it or not.
**Recently a friend was going through a crisis…he was asking God for peace (meaning, in this case…the absence of feelings of anxiety)
-I told him “you have peace with God” objective reality…you may not get relief from your current physical/mental anxious feelings.
*Cling to the reality of your peace with God…it is a settled fact.
There is a tension here…feelings are important in our relationships…but feelings must not take the lead.
That young soldier probably didn’t feel like he had access to his commander…but in fact he did.
As if he makes the most of that access on his deployment, if he appropriately connects…he will grow in his “feelings” for this commander…because, he is fact a really good guy.
- Having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
This is a word picture from the Old Testament sacrifices applied to our hearts and lives now in the New Covenant.
Blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled to cleanse people and items to make them holy.
Christ’s sacrifice has cleansed our guilty consciences…we are in fact, not guilty anywhere.
“Having our bodies washed with pure water” may refer to the symbology of Christian baptism or something like we find in Eph 5, where Christ is said to have cleansed the church “by the washing of water with the word”
Either way…whether the symbolic act of water baptism or the symbol of the gospel truth as cleansing power…the point is the same.
What Christ has done for us…is that he has provided us with a guilt-free conscience…we may feel guilty…but we are not.
Again, this is going to come down to a matter of believing God and not ourselves on this.
*Our sin can break fellowship with God it cannot break relationship with him.
So we keep asking God to forgive us…it is important to fellowship with him.
But we never wonder if he will…he will forgive, in fact, he already has.
*In the next section, which we will not get to today, there is a warning that provides a balance to this passage.
*If someone willingly, persistently, unrepentantly continues in sin…this is likely evidence that they have not been redeemed by Christ…their sins are not covered.
But then again in the final verse of the chapter he expresses confidence that they are in fact genuine believers, and so the warning will not ultimately apply to them.
So, our confidence of forgiveness is not, as Christians have been accused of…an excuse to sin at will.
No growing Christian would think that…or want that.
Our confidence is ready access to God and full forgiveness of sins.
Our first responsibility…is to draw near to God.
Now, look at verse 23…next, “let us”
- Let us hold fast (unswervingly) to the hope we profess.
Second responsibility…we are to hold fast to hope.
Awhile back I talked about a book by Angela Duckworth called “Grit”
Great title, great book.
She found in her wide research that plain old “grit”…perseverence, was more important than intelligence, or skill, or gifting in success.
After talking about the importance of a sincere “heart”…we get the counterbalance to that perspective.
Draw near with “grit”
Hold fast” is also translated “hold unswervingly”
The word means to stay the course.
Keep the gospel hope firmly in your grip…don’t let it go.
As important as the “heart” or emotions, or feelings or affections are in a relationship…they do not take the place of grit…or a “tight grip” on hope.
God is faithful…we are to be found faithful…Grace and Grit.
*Mo and I were working out at the gym on Tuesday…we were wearing down at the end of the workout…I said, “Mo, you can die on me, but you can’t quit on me.”
-“If you die I’ll bury you out front of the church and write, ‘Saved by grace in the church, died by work in the gym.'”
In the church we can be so afraid of moving into trying to earn what cannot be earned…that we can fail to emphasize the biblical principle of training for godliness.
We train our bodies in the gym, in a similar we train to become like Christ.
Our privilege is that God has promised us life with him…our responsiblity is to “Hold fast” to his promise…exercise grit in light of his great grace.
God’s grace…empowers our grit…we are to choose..to nuture our hope.
So…we pay attention to the heart level…the inside “us”
And we become people with “grit” the biblical word is “perserverance.”
Last “Let us”…or responsiblity in the light of our great privilege…verse 24.
- Let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works
Carl Truman in his book “Strange New World”
Writes that “The modern self is one where authenticity is achieved by acting outwardly in accordance with one’s inward feelings.”
It’s not…it’s what children do.
We act outwardly, as adults…based on what is best…that is not faking, or being inauthentic…it is being mature, showing love.
He quotes Rousseau, the 18th century philospher who is not widely read but who has had wide impact on contemporary society.
Rousseau was a terrible human being who sent his five children to orphanges as infants, which at the time would have meant an early death for them.
His most famous statement is “Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.”
This statement has been used to shape public policy, and personal worldviews…and it is nonsense.
Truman writes, “Of all the creatures on the face of the earth, human beings are born remarkabley dependent on others, and that for a remarkably long period of time….one might respond to Rousseau by saying, “Man is born utterly dependent on others but everywhere tries to persuade himself that such an obvious fact is not actually true.”
We are born needing others, we die needing others…and we need others at all points in between.
The contemporary emphasis on trying to get the external world and everyone around me to adopt to, accept and align with my internal world is foolish.
Contrast Rousseau with the Christian philsopher Augustine…his autobiography “Confessions” deals with his inner life (it is important) but, writes Truman, “his feelings are set in the context of and corrected by, the larger truth that is God and his revelation in Christ.”
This is also what you see in the Psalms…honesty about how we feel, our struggles…even with God…but allowing the truth of God to correct our insides…our perspective.
See the difference…trying to shape the outer world to align with my inner world…this leads to terrible conflict and demanding and loss of freedom and relationships…and just makes us really unhappy people.
Contrast that to the goal of aligning my inner world with the true outer world…the universe as God has made it.
How do we do this?
Partly by abandoning our extreme and foolish invididualism for biblical community.
Not abandon invididual responsibitly, or uniqueness…but individualism that is proud, demanding, easily offended and ungenerous with others.
So, the writer of Hebrews moves from “Draw near to God in your authentic heart”
To “Consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds…”
There is the “you” and God responsiblity.
There is the “yall” and God responsibility.
Two keys to this spurring one another one:
-Don’t stop meeting together
-Keep intentionally encourageing one another.
We are to consider how to spur one another on..
“Consider” is a word that implies concentrated thought.
We are to think deeply about how to “Stir (spur)” one another forward in love and good actions.
We are to move in relationship to one another…seeking to bless not to impress them.
Seeing to “stir up” confident faith and good actions in our interactions with others.
Again, the two, very basic and practial ways to “stir one another up” are…
- Show up
- Show up:
Some, had stopped living in connected community.
They didn’t see it working.
They didn’t think they needed it
Probably they were paying a price for it…the price of persecution…so they stopped.
*The book, the “Persecutor” is autobiography about a Soviet secret policeman whose job was to hunt down Christians meeting in private and punish or imprison them.
He once found a young teen girl meeting in an illegal Christian community…he beat her severely.
In a few weeks, he uncovered another gathering, and there, was the same girl, still black and blue…but she was there.
It so shook him to his core…how could these meetings matter that much…maybe this is real.
This began a journey that took him all the way to faith in Christ himself.
You probably won’t be persecuted for meeting with others in gospel community…but there is always a price to be paid to connect deeply with each others.
The first and most important price…is the price to show up.
If you show up “here”…there is somewhere else you are now showing up.
*Playing with your kids
*A bit more sleep
*Making more money
Those things, by the way, are all really good things…but there is time when the price to be paid for showing up is far and away the best price to be paid.
-Showing up is critical, nothing good happens if we don’t show up.
-Then encouragement must follow…we can show up and not encourage one another.
I won’t unpack this, I think it is pretty intuitive.
I will give one verse… Eph. 4:29 “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth but only what is helpful for building up others according to their needs.”
Show up…look for how to encourage others…all this as a part of stirring one another up towards love and good actions.
Let’s make a final application…
Quoting Truman again, “The era where Christians could disagree with the broader convictions of the secular world and yet still find themselves respected as decent members of society at large is coming to an end, if indeed it has not ended already.”
So what is to be done to engage and change culture?
It might sound trite, but a large part of the church’s witness to the world is simply being the church in worship. Paul himself comments that when an unbeliever accidentally turns up at a church service, he should be struck by the otherworldly holiness of what is going on. The most powerful witness to the gospel is the church herself, simply going about the business of worship.
Truman writes of how culture is actually changed, and he believes it largely through faithful presence.
*Culture means many things but in this context it means the general assumptions, presuppositions that a group or majority simply assume to be true and real.
So in America…you can have many ethnicities (cultures)…but a large number of them have adopted, uncritically…often unknowingly, certain aspects of a worldview…so they look different, talk different, eat different…but think the same way on important “big ideas”
Can you know truth, are there absolutes, what is the primary purpose of a human?
So, even Christians…can adopt some beliefs that are not a part of the fully Christian worldview but rather a key part of current culture.
*So, he writes…
“…the culture is most dramatically engaged by the church presenting it with another culture, another form of community, rooted in her liturgical worship practices and manifested in the loving community that exists both in and beyond the worship service.”
He is not suggesting that simply showing up for church services is enough…but the church in intentional community…worship, small groups, meeting for lunch, in the gym…in hospitals, courtooms, graveyards…all of this is “other wordly”
Gospel community in the larger communiuty.
*Years ago I was meeting with a man who was new to church-life.
I asked him questions to get to know his story.
He was guarded, until one day he said “I finally know why you ask these questions.”
I already knew why, but I said, “Why?”
He said, “You want to know me.”
I asked, “What other reason would there be?”
He said, “in my world…people ask questions like that to find a way to get an advantage…there is always a hidden agenda.”
Our agenda is not hidden…it is to Stir one another to love and good deeds…show up, encourage.
This kind of community is unique in the world, but it is the air we breath in the church…it is our culture.
We don’t think the same on everything…we don’t vote the same, play the same, eat the same…but we do share the same ultimate beliefs and values…and these shape our behaviors.
Let us Draw Near to God.
Let us hold fast to our confident hope
Let us stir one another up to love and good actions
These are our opportunities to maximize our experience, of the life God has given us in Christ.