Grace To Grow Upby Ed de la Cour on July 28, 2015
Hebrews 10: 11 – 18
July 26, 2015
“GRACE TO GROW UP”
I have found, besides obvious cultural differences, there’s really not all that much that separates us as people. Skin color is only skin-deep. Education does not make you wise, nor does money make you rich. If you have seen a recent photograph of the 1960’s French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot, you know beauty is fleeting. Youth is gone in an instant, no matter who we are or how we try to avoid it. In many ways, we are very much alike. In fact, many of the problems we deal with in life are self-inflicted. We are alike in that we try to blame our circumstances and our bad decisions on other people, or on bad luck. If we put together a number of bad, stupid, and thoughtless decisions in a row, there will be consequences. It’s a law of nature. You cannot avoid consequences.
By the time we become adults, most of us wish we were further along in the development of wisdom. We wish we had made better decisions in our early years. We wish that we could have do-overs. While life provides us with very few second chances, it is in the operation of grace that God gives you and me the priceless opportunity to grow up in Christ.
Many of the people I meet have found themselves stuck in life. It’s as if they are over their hubcaps in the mud and cannot engage enough traction to get themselves out of their situation. They are either stuck in the past, unable to forgive themselves and move on; or they are stuck in a rut right now, repeating the same failed life choices over and over again.
Looking at our scripture text, we can draw some parallels because our situation is reminiscent of the priest mentioned there. “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” Nothing is solved by his actions, but the priest stays the course. He keeps on doing the same thing over and over, day after day, week after week, and year after year, hoping for a better result the next time. That’s what we call insanity, isn’t it?
The old priest is stuck in a rut, but the rut in which he is stuck is not a rut of his own making. This is the rut of religious tradition. He has rituals to perform. He has duties to fulfill. Nothing of eternal value is being accomplished, but he performs the rituals anyway. Perhaps it’s the religious language, or the comfortable rhythms of the liturgy he remembers from his youth. Perhaps it’s the music or the steady repetition that makes him feel better. Maybe people are comforted by what he does. But the fact is: none of this works. The machine is broken. There is no forgiveness to be had. There is no deliverance. There’s no healing, no hope, and there is no future. There is only frustration. There is only the dead past, and that dead past sucks us backward like an undertow to the soul.
The only reason you would be happy with this kind of old time religion is because ultimately, you enjoy futility. You are stuck and you’re hopeless, but at least you know where you are! This truly is old school, and old school means you never have to be in an accountable relationship with God. You have no hope and no salvation, but you also don’t have a God telling you how to behave or making promises of eternal life.
I think you and I have come to the place where we know we no longer want to be old school like that. We need to become unstuck in our lives. We need to move beyond the regular making of stupid decisions. We need God’s grace to grow up; because – trust me – growing up in Christ is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for the weak. Those of us who are used to living life on automatic pilot are never going to be able to grow up in Christ. Listen up, because that’s a sharp warning. It is as important as can be that we hear that warning clearly. You cannot live the Christian life on autopilot. God will never bless your life if you make your life a habitual going with the flow of this world, if you insist on living life as you please.
The writer makes a sharp turn in verse 12 because he now speaks of “this priest.” This priest is different from that day after day priest in verse 11. “This priest” lived His life and lived His ministry very differently. “This priest” brought something else to the table, something that changed the world as we know it. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, our High Priest, on the cross, a sacrifice was offered that satisfied fully and completely the righteous demands of the Law of God. The blood Jesus bled worked then and it still works today – one sacrifice for all time.
What Jesus did on the cross flies in the face of modern “spirituality.” Spirituality feels good until you examine it. When you look deeply, you find that while spirituality seems to be warm and fuzzy, it is empty. Spirituality is empty because it is devoid of content and completely lacking in a valid hope. It’s empty because while the lights may be on, no one is home. Religion that feels good is simply that; it’s just a good feeling. The cross of Jesus is different because the death of Jesus on the cross means you can be forgiven. You can be delivered. You can be set free from the bondage of all the sins that rule over you. The cross brings effective forgiveness. How do I know that? Verse 12 says, “He sat down at the right hand of God.” That means Jesus paid it all. “It is finished” was His cry as He gave up His life. There was nothing to be added then and there is nothing that can be added today. Your sin debt is fully paid. There is no secret handshake. There is no special ritual. There is only Jesus and simple faith in Him.
The cross is the great dividing line in history. There is life before the cross and there is life without the cross. There is life after the cross and there is life because of the cross. The cross of Jesus is the great separator between men. You are either a friend of God or you’re an enemy of the cross. You are either anticipating an eternity in the presence of Jesus or you are dreading the Day of Judgment, at which time you will “be made His footstool.”
The cross is all about sacrifice for sin. Does this mean God has stopped loving people? Not at all, God loves the world, but He doesn’t love sin. He will not and He cannot affirm our stubborn, wicked and rebellious decisions. People who choose to love sin are the ones referred to as “His enemies.” The cross of Christ drives us to a decision about sin, and how will you decide? Will you allow your wants and desires and passions to rule over you and lead you to become part of the footstool of God’s judgment? The alternative is for you to seek God’s forgiveness, to find the peace of God in Christ, and to become one of“those who are being made holy.” You will either be made His footstool or you will be made holy. You will be one or the other; you cannot live in both worlds.
We already know what it is to live a life that is filled with frustration and the crippling awareness of futility and failure. Now is the time for us to seek God for the grace to grow up in Christ.
Now by that one great sacrifice on the cross, God declares we have been made perfect, prepared for heaven and ready to live in His presence. At the same time, verse 14 says that we are “being made holy.” Being made perfect means we have nothing to fear from God’s judgment. But now a process is underway in our lives in which we get to partner with God Himself in the work of holiness. We are being made holy. We are being made to be holy even as God is holy.
If we lived during the Renaissance, some artist might have chosen to depict our heads as being ringed with haloes of holiness. Now, even though to us this seems silly, it points to an important truth. We are being changed, little by slow, but steadily and deeply. We are changing behaviorally. We are changing attitudinally. Our priorities are shifting. Our hopes and our dreams are being modified. We are being shaped and formed after the image of Jesus. We are discovering that being made holy is a long and painful process.
We are much alike in that we all wish the process were already complete. While we look for and value success in the end result, we do not really value the process, nor do we find worth in the journey to holiness. That’s because we want magical results. We want maturity microwaved. We want instant holiness, but the Christian life does not come in a box of Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice! A Christian cannot be matured and ready, prepared from stovetop to table in five minutes! Verse 14 says we are “being made holy,” and that’s an intentional process. It’s a long-range plan that endures for a lifetime. Eugene Peterson called it a long obedience in the same direction.
In verses 15 – 17, the writer quotes from Jeremiah 31 and helps us see that this has been God’s plan all along. God has written His love for you on your heart. It’s imbedded. It’s inscribed. God is no longer relying on outside rules and regulations, but has imprinted us with His heart for us. We can be secure in our relationship with God, which is an incredible thought. Many of us struggle with feelings of unworthiness – and who among us does not struggle? When the law of God, when the love of God, is imprinted on our hearts, there is no way it can be erased or undone. We are safe in His forgiveness. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
That is why holiness is a process. God is not looking for puppets to bounce around on a heavenly spring, so He can pull us and we will follow Him. God seeks people who will walk with Him because we want to walk through life with Him. Holiness is a process, but it is really a partnership in which we agree that God can begin to reconstruct our lives. The Christian life is an intentional relationship in which we participate and say to God, “Father, I will sit with You and absorb Your Word. I am willing for You to train my brain to think differently, to learn how to think as a child of God and not as a slave to this world. You can help me to change my ambitions and to modify my goals. Father, You can help me live for Jesus.”
By the time we become adults, it is no longer easy for us to memorize anything, so it is hard to teach us old dogs the trick of allowing the Bible to become ingrained. Psalm 119: 9 – 11 says that we can hide His Word in our hearts. This is not an Olympic competition. Simply start hiding the Word within your heart little by little. God will honor the covenant He has made.
We have already been made perfect and we are ready for heaven. Now we have to learn how to be fit to live on earth. That’s what being made holy does for us.
Just because we are being made holy does not mean we no longer have failings, pitfalls, and dark nights of the soul. More than a few of us struggle with self-forgiveness. The writer of Hebrews seems particularly interested in ministering to us in verses 17 - 18. <.v.> Think deeply on these verses. When you go home, open your Bible and sit with this for as long as it takes. Think deeply on verse 17, and allow the Lord to minister this deep in your heart and mind. God remembers your sins and failures no more. No more. From the mind of God, they are gone, removed, erased, forgotten.
This is such a relief! God is speaking to you today to say He has removed your sin so far away, He chooses no longer to remember what you’ve done. The need to strive for acceptance is removed. The need to worry about forgiveness is eliminated. No more striving and no more struggling. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are accepted. Therefore, live and walk in His love.
It’s in the fellowship of believers where you will find encouragement to live for God. You’ll find encouragement to allow God to bring to completion the good work He has begun in you. Here in these few verses we have read today, God has made certain strong declarations to you and He has made equally strong promises to you. When Jesus died on the cross, God eradicated the old and useless system of religious bondage. He sent His own Son to make the one sacrifice that could set us free. That one sacrifice was sufficient yesterday; it takes care of today and will be good forever. You can choose to accept that and to enter in to a real and permanent relationship with your loving heavenly Father.
Not only that, but God made a covenant with us. A covenant is not like a contract, in that a covenant does not depend on you or me. The fulfillment of the terms of this covenant depends completely on the character and nature of God. God says He has imprinted the law of God in our hearts and on our minds, and He has. This covenant is God-made, God-verified, and God-backed. That means it is utterly reliable. There is no need for striving and struggle. We can rest our hope in God and depend on Him to uphold and maintain His Word.
More than even that, God has invited us to allow Him to work the character of Christ into us. We are being made holy.
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