Dark Brewed: Hebrews – Part 7
Like a good dark brew (of either coffee or beer), this portion of the book of Hebrews delivers the kind of “kick in the pants” that is always appreciated when the pressures and temptations of this life have got us feeling like compromise is the only option. This was the situation of Jewish (i.e. Hebrew) Christians living in the first century – the original audience of the letter. Scholars believe it to have been written sometime in the early to mid-sixties—the same time as the Neronic persecution. Per the edict of Caesar, all those claiming to be Christian w/in the Roman empire were open game to be tortured or killed. As a result, great temptation was placed upon the covenant community to temporarily turn away from the Faith – or at least hide their Faith, until things got better. For the Jewish Christians, that meant going back to their former religion (Judaism). In their minds, this was both an acceptable alternative to Christianity and an accessible safe-haven from the raging Roman storm. The author of Hebrews however knew that such compromise was not only eternally dangerous, but largely due to wrong perspective. In other words, how these Jewish Christians were interpreting their Faith and current situation was very different from the view or vantage point of God. It is here then that the author expects us to feel the jolt back to reality. If you are beginning to feel like the Christian life is too hard, or that the preservation of God’s people will (at times) require a little “letting off the gas”, now is the time to take a sip of the following dark-brewed truths:
1. Countless saints have run the Christian race w/faithful endurance until the end (1).
The overwhelming evidence (“so great cloud of witnesses”) proves we can do it (“run w/endurance the race set before us”) if we
put away ghetto thinking (“lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely”) (Deu 30:11).
2. Jesus is the One Who establishes the standard/definition of faithful endurance expected of us (2-4).
We are to be continually “looking to Jesus” (or His life) as the definition of faithfulness – and more importantly, what God is expecting of us if we are to be identified as those winning our Christian race. As such, when asking the question, “Am I being faithful?” It is not others in the church we are to be comparing ourselves to – but (again), Jesus.
3. One of the biggest reasons we fail to faithfully endure is b/c we have the wrong perspective on trials.
According to the author of Hebrews, trials are incredibly vital to our Christian growth and salvation.
4. Faithful endurance requires a church with the right focus.
What does God say the church should be most concerned w/? Where should she spend the majority of her time? What must be the essentials of her ministry? What things should she preoccupy herself w/as the things that matter most? That is what is meant by “right focus”. And that is what the author of Hebrews reveals in this last section of verses (14-17). They represent God’s prescriptive focus for the church; those areas vital to faithful endurance in the Christian Faith; those areas (then) which must be the “majors” (versus the minors) in the pursuit, practice, preaching, promotion and prevention of the church, if her people are to (Verse 1), “run w/endurance the race set before” them – or (Verse 4), “resist to the point of shedding (their) blood” – or (Verse 5) “not regard lightly the discipline (or training) of the Lord”. That the author is indeed drawing our attention to the responsibility of the church is apparent based on the corporate/communal nature of his commands – i.e. their fulfillment requires others or the oversight of the community (Verse 14 –“Strive for peace w/everyone” w/Verse 15 – “See to it that no one fails to obtain…”, and Verse 16 – “[See to it] that no one is sexually immoral…” ). This is additionally confirmed by the fact that the church is the contextual setting of his instruction before and after what is said (here) (e.g. 3:6, 10:21, 12:22, 13:7, 17, 24). That being said, these verses (in 12:14-17) also become a powerful tool for answering a priceless question, “What should I look for when shopping for the right church – one that won’t lead me astray but will keep me on the narrow way?” (since that once more is the end goal our faithful endurance). With that (also) in mind (then) consider what the author reveals:
4.1. The Pursuit Of Justice For All People (14a).
4.2. The Practice Of Careful Obedience To All Of God’s Laws.
(14b) “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness” = Like the prior point, the concept of holiness also falls prey to imaginative ideas that has no basis in Scripture. For example, it is not uncommon for people to understand the term more according to the heretical movement known as “pietism” than its biblical roots. As such those in this camp, would view anyone given more to the experiential as the true holy-men/women among us – especially if the experience is foreign/different from our culture since anything exotic is considered more “spiritual”, “filled w/the spirit” or “holy” (e.g. Pentecostals/Charismatics’ infatuation w/those who claim to possess visions, prophecy, do miracles, or are passionate about foreigners and foreign missions. Hence why their ministries seem to always include the title, “international” or “worldwide”). There are also those who equate holiness w/being soft-spoken, polite, very ascetic and all-around boring. For these people, holiness is found in monasteries or nunneries. As discussed however, biblical holiness is defined very differently. And the people the Bible identifies among its most holy, were not feeling-based, anti-intellectuals nor a bunch of polite, soft-spoken, ascetics/monks (e.g. Jesus = Joh 7:19-24 w/Luk 7:31-35). The word instead (as we saw) refers to one whose priority in life is to please God (1Co 7:32-34 w/Eph 5:10; Col 1:10;). To be even more specific, it refers to one whose priority is strict/careful obedience to all that God has said – i.e. His law (Num 15:40; e.g. Num 27:12-14 w/20:8-13 w/Neh 1:8). Obedience as holiness is p/u’d in God’s condemnation of Moses for striking – versus speaking to, the rock (Deu 32:51). Careful obedience to God then is not only what it means to be holy, but also to treat God as holy. This is the very thing we commit ourselves to everyday thru the Lord’s prayer (Mat 6:9). No doubt this is also why the author calls it “the holiness” (versus simply holiness). He is attempting to distinguish the holiness he is speaking about from all the run-of-the-mill versions in existence; to make it clear that not just any form of holiness will do (or be accepted by God). That this kind of exhortation is necessary even among those who have been instructed in the Bible their whole lives (like his original audience), can be demonstrated given their past history – which in many respects, is simply a reflection of all humanity – i.e. we are constantly in a battle against forgetfulness and being deceived (Num 15:37-16:35 = Though instructed as to the proper definition of holiness -most specifically, careful obedience to God’s Laws, they still forgot and deceived themselves into believing false ideas about holiness/that it was something that could be possessed w/o the need for careful obedience. Is this not why the author of Hebrews says what he does in 3:12-16?
Is not the deceit of Korah and co. the version of holiness being embraced by Evangelical church today – i.e. “We are all holy regardless of if we obey”?). So then, to “strive” for this (or “for…holiness”) means – in respect to the church, one whose priority is to teach people all of God’s Law (every jot and tittle); and to see that they are obedient to it (every jot and tittle). Therefore what we should also expect to find in a church who cares about holiness, is constant conversation about those two subjects: obedience and God’s Law (since these are again- the essential ingredients of holiness; this is also the call of all God’s pastors – 1Ti 1:7). On the flip-side, what we should not expect (and what would most certainly be a sign that we are in the wrong church), are pastors/congregation who always seem to shy away from such conversations or warn (or even condemn) too much talk about the Law or obedience – i.e. who say that such things are “legalism” or promoting a “works-based salvation.” The Bible never condones either legalism or a works-based salvation – but it does demand a holiness-based salvation! This then is why (once more) the author of Hebrews warns “without which (i.e. w/o this “holiness”) no one will see the Lord.” Biblical salvation is very much dependent on holiness. IOW: If you want to get to heaven, then you will live a life that practices holiness (And don’t forget the point of verse 1 since it most certainly applies here – you can do it! Countless others already have). What else depends on holiness (or careful obedience to God’s Law as our priority and practice) is justice (our prior discussion). Without the Law, there can be no justice; which means the purpose of God’s Law is that as well (i.e. to create a system by which justice and all of its benefits can become a reality for people in the world/church). As such, where there is no law (or a rejection of God’s Law), there is no justice (Hab 1:1-4).
4.3. The Preaching Of The Gain And Maintain Gospel.
“See to it (i.e. Make sure) that no one (i.e. those w/in the covenant community – a Christian brother/sister) fails to obtain the grace of God (i.e. God giving us the opportunity to make our wrongs right/serve justice and receive His mercy/forgiveness – Zec 12:10-13:9; Rom 3:23-31, 5:15-21; We at one time possessed no such opportunity – Eph 2:8-12, wrath – i.e. God’s justice w/o mercy was our future – Eph 2:1-5) = The loss of these Hebrew Christian’s initial salvation (i.e. forgiven, right/justified standing w/God gained by faith) was a very real possibility to the author. And, if they continued to respond unrighteously (i.e. w/o faithful endurance) to the trials (or training/discipline of God) they were currently experiencing, this indeed wb the result. They would “fail to obtain the grace of God” (to once more receive the opportunity to make their wrongs right and continue receiving God’s forgiveness/mercy in salvation). As a means of confirming this (i.e. God’s saving grace wb no longer extended to these Christians) as his intended meaning (by the phrase “fails to obtain the grace of God”), the author then offers as explanation, “that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” = An allusion to (Deu 29:18-20 = “a root of bitterness/ bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” is a person who enters into “sworn covenant” w/God [in the case of Hebrews, a Christian] who decides to continue to “walk in the stubbornness of [their] heart” [i.e. to be unfaithful to God’s Law – see Deu 29:21-29]. This in turn “causes trouble, and many to be defiled”/ “the sweeping of the moist and dry alike” [i.e. others to be led astray into the same unfaithfulness]. Such a person, “the Lord will not be willing to forgive” and “the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven” [i.e. he will fail “to obtain the grace of God”]). How then this all pertains to the gospel of gain and maintain becomes apparent when we consider the necessary conclusions of the author’s teaching: 1) Getting in or gaining a legitimate, saving relationship w/God is not enough to secure our eternal destiny (i.e. Christians can again, fail “to obtain the grace of God”); 2) The plan of redemption (i.e. gospel) under the NT functions according to the same mechanics as that of the OT. IOW: Just as it was necessary to maintain thru faithful obedience one’s covenant/right standing w/God under the OC, so it is under the NC as well. So then, any church moving their people in the direction of faithful endurance is equally (also) a church “see(ing) to it” that the gospel of gain and maintain is preached (since this once more is how we “see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God”). As wb expected, this is found in the gospel preaching of all God’s ministers in the NT (e.g. Jesus – Mat 24:45-25:46; Paul – Phi 2:12-16, 3:7-16; also, given what we know about love, is this not what Paul is preaching when he speaks about “faith, love and hope”? – Col 1:4-5; 1Co 13:13).
4.4. Additional practical application (based on what we have already learned):
4.3.1. Pursuing justice requires that we not turn a blind eye to others’ sin (Ecc 8:1-5; Pro 24:11-12, 28:4; Mat 18:15; Jam 5:19-20).
4.3.2. Practicing careful obedience to all of God’s Law requires loving God w/all of your heart and your neighbor as yourself (since there is a lot to learn and w/o such love, no one would take the time).
4.3.3. Preaching the gain and maintain gospel is neither “we obey b/c we are already accepted” nor is it “we obey b/c we want to be accepted” (the popular juxtaposition offered by Evangelicalism w/them landing on the former). Rather it is “we obey as the means to remaining in our accepted/saved/covenant standing w/God.
4.3.4. Baptism is the where we gain by faith (or where God accepts our faith unto) the right standing we promise to maintain by faithfulness (1Pe 3:21).
 Pietism, whose influence spans from the time of the Reformation to even now, views experience or feelings over reason or thinking. In the words of 18th century Pietist leader Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, “religion can be grasped without the conclusions of reason … religion must be a matter which is able to be grasped through experience alone without any concept … there is less at stake in the concepts than the truth of experience; errors in doctrine are not as bad as errors in [experience] … reason weakens experience”.
 For example, Matt Chandler’s church (of 10k) in Dallas, Tx. He says in his book, The Explicit Gospel, “When you’re walking in moralistic deism, trying to earn God’s favor, and your access to God is built around how well you are behaving, then you are motivated to obey by the hope of acceptance through your behavior. We must abandon the idea that our behavior somehow rubs the spiritual lamp that inclines God like a genie. The marker of those who understand the gospel is that they clearly understand that their acceptance before God is not predicated upon their behavior but on the righteous life of Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death.” (p. 210-211). For Chandler (and those like him), making holiness – or salvation conditioned upon our obedience takes away from God’s glory, “If you add or subtract from the cross, even if it is to factor in biblically mandated religious practices, you rob God of his glory.” (p.15). That kind of thinking means that the best way for me to glorify (or give praise) to my wife, is by letting her do everything while I sit on the couch. This is the very heresy Paul preaches against in (Rom 6:1ff). It is important to note that Chandler spends no time dealing w/the large volume of Scripture dealing w/our salvation as conditional (e.g. no mention of Heb 12:1-17). His book instead employs the logical fallacy of Ad Hominem (i.e. appeal to the man) thru one anecdotal story after another.
 This (btw) is what I mean by “careful obedience”. It means that everything in God’s Law is incredibly important to understand and obey- even the stuff we deem “minor”. This was the view of Jesus (Mat 5:17-20) and the criteria by which Paul could claim himself to be a pastor free from condemnation of the coming stricter judgment (Act 20:26-27 w/Jam 3:1).
 The same could be said about a church concerned with loving God and others since Law is the means to both. IOW: To love is to obey the law, to obey the Law is to love (Rom 13:8-10; Mat 22:36-40). The problem Evangelicals have (in this respect), is the distinction they attempt to make between love and obedience (to the Law). They condemn as “legalistic” anyone who believes that obedience results in love thinking the biblical view to be love resulting in obedience (see Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel, p. 218). No such distinction however exists since biblical love is not a feeling but an action. Hence why we will be judged according to our deeds versus our feelings to determine whether (or not) we loved God and others during our life.
 As such, those who wish to remove Law from the Christian’s obligations, equally destroy any hope of justice. Unfortunately, this is hailed as the “good news” of gospel within Evangelical Christianity.
 That the author did consider his audience legitimate Christians in a saving relationship w/God is made evident in several places throughout the book (3:1, 4:14-16, 8:1, 9:24, 10:19-22, 12:5-7, 13:18-19, 22).
 It is the Evangelical community’s gross misinterpretation of the word “grace” as essentially the antithesis of the aforementioned biblical definition that leads them so far down their heretical/damning path. Rather than it being understood as a function of justice, it is instead becomes that which replaces it. Grace (in their false religion) refers to the “hall-pass” for justice/obedience (or for the sin done in lieu of forgoing justice/obedience; e.g. You are responsible for mowing my entire lawn to rec $100. Because you would rather take a nap, you do only half. I observe you failure and say, “that’s okay my wife Grace will finish the rest!” And then pay you the $100. Again, Matt Chandler, speaking about “grace-driven effort” says, “Christ paid for our short-comings in obedience to the Law by his perfect life imputed to us. The gospel declares that we are reconciled to a perfect Father whose love is unwavering and eternal (ibid, p.211, 215). The theological consequence of such thinking is that God now becomes the worst “war-criminal” and most deserving of Hell itself.