Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
- Hebrews 10:19-25
Hebrews was a letter written to Jewish Christians in order to encourage them not to abandon Christianity. These people had become Christians, but were suffering persecution and loneliness and were considering returning to their Jewish religion. This was tempting for them because that was where their cultural roots and history were. That's where their family and friends were. That's where acceptability and comfort resided — in the old religion, temple, rituals, etc.
In the letter, the Hebrew writer shows them that Christianity is superior to their old religion and to abandon it would cause them to forfeit all the blessings that they had spent a lifetime hoping for.
By the time we get to the passage just read, in chapter 10, the author summarizes the reasons why Christianity is worth the effort and he gives them 4 Holy Habits to cultivate that will help them remain faithful.
Reasons Why Christianity is Worth It
For people who don't care about life after death, a relationship with God, or some sort of absolution for their mistakes and sins, religion has no value. It is evident that there are people in this world who are not interested in these kinds of things. They can be kind, creative, and responsible, but they have no use for religion. I say this because "religion" is that thing which deals with these issues. All religions, no matter how primitive, try to explain or provide insight into how man can deal with his own mortality, the nature of God, or the burden of his conscience (things like fear, guilt, and shame, as well as joy and thanksgiving). Religions provide moral codes, descriptions of God, worship styles, and answers to the mysteries of life. The key idea is that all religions do this, not just Christianity.
The argument raised by the Hebrew writer and summarized in chapter 10 is that Christianity does these things better than any other religion has done or would ever be able to do. Of course for people not interested in spiritual things, this chapter was not important, but for those who longed to have a lasting and joyful relationship with God, why Christianity was better meant everything.
In verses 19-21 (quoted above) he explains why.
1. The Result is Better
- The Christian religion brings its followers into the very presence of God with an attitude of confidence. The word for confidence here refers to the ability to speak freely and openly.
- In that time and setting a person could not come into the presence of a king without being called, and could not speak to the king without being spoken to under the pain of death.
- In the Jewish religion only the priest could enter the Holy Place and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies once per year. The entire Jewish religious system was designed to re-enforce the idea that a human being could not and should not be in the presence of God.
- The other religions were no better in the sense that their gods were unapproachable and most of their religion consisted of rituals that would appease their anger, not ones that developed intimacy.
Christianity was better because it promised a situation where the believer could not only be with God, but also be open, free and communicative with God without fear or shame.
2. The Method is Better - vs. 19b-20
In the Christian religion, God devises the way for Christians to be with Him. The writer refers to the blood and the flesh of Jesus to describe the idea that God removes the obstacle that prevents man from being with Him — sin. He summarizes the story of the gospel where God becomes man in Jesus, offers Himself as a sacrifice or payment for man's sins, and then resurrects to prove that He is God and that His offer of forgiveness and intimacy are legitimate and attainable. In other religions, man must do the work in order to earn the privilege of living with God and consequently...experiencing the peace, joy, and eternal life that come with this.
- Good works had to be done.
- Pilgrimages had to be made.
- Sacrifices had to be offered.
Man had to do religious things in order to be with God. The only difference was that each religion had its own list of things to do. There was never any absolute guarantee of success because if man could fail in many things — could he not fail in his religion too?
But the Christian religion put the responsibility for salvation into God's hands and man's duty was to trust in God's ability to save him — a much surer method of salvation.
3. The Leadership is Better - vs. 21
Christianity is the only religion with no earthly leader. God is its only leader or head. Other religions have human leaders and human sources. These fight for preeminence, succession rights, power, and position. In Christianity, God in Christ is the first and only head forever. The reason for this is that Jesus Christ, by virtue of His resurrection, remains the living leader of Christianity throughout history.
When compared to other religions, you have in Christianity, a religion that:
- Promises an eternal, intimate relationship with God.
- Has provided historical evidence that the obstacle that hindered this in the past has been removed.
- Guarantees the assurance of an immovable, eternal leadership to guarantee all of the promised blessings.
No other religion met the spiritual needs of people the way Christianity did, and in the 2000 years since its founding, no other new religion has been able to offer similar or better promises. For this reason the author tells the Hebrews to remain faithful, and encourages them to develop four holy habits that will help them to do so.
Habit #1 — Practice Purity
Vs. 22 — let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Get with the habit of staying close to God by keeping a pure heart and a clear conscience. The writer refers to the baptism that believers receive which washes away their sins, as well as the guilt and shame that come with these. The idea is that sin is the thing that separates us from God, the action that destroys our intimacy and confidence and freedom with Him. Christians need to realize that sin, no matter what kind, removes them from the presence of God and the more they sin, the further they get.
If we want to receive the promises made by our religion, we have to practice being pure and practice saying no to sin on a daily basis.
Habit #2 — Practice Perseverance
Vs. 23 — Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
There is a lot of competition in the world for our souls:
- Different religions.
- Different philosophies.
- Different causes.
- Different activities.
There are also the forces of evil that continually try to discourage us from believing, from trusting, and from obeying. Christians need to cultivate the habit of remaining faithful to Christ and His teachings regardless of the interferences or temptations.
The world wants us, would dearly love for us to be wrong, for our faith to be unanswered, but the Hebrew writer reminds us that we should practice persevering because He who promised also persevered in the worst kind of adversity and He was rewarded. If He was rewarded, so will we be if we continue practicing...Purity and Perseverance.
Habit #3 — Practice Promoting What is Good
Vs. 24 — and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
It's so easy to be negative, to be discouraged. The world is full of naysayers and thieves and evil men and women who love the darkness. We can counter these people and their works by practicing good deeds. He says stimulating each other. This doesn't mean simply telling each other what good to do because talk alone stimulates no one. What stimulates others is what they see and hear in us. People do what we do, not just what we say. Practicing the doing of good guards our own souls from evil and builds the faith of others.
Habit #4 — Practice Regular Church Attendance
Vs. 25 — not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
The beginning of their loss of faith was seen in their sporadic church attendance. In the beginning they had the habit of gathering with the saints regularly, now, as their faith weakened they had changed their habit and had gotten into the habit of coming irregularly. Actually, this is a vicious cycle.
- Our faith is weakened by sin, doubt, worldliness, trials, and fatigue so we come to church less.
- We come to church less and our faith is weakened because we don't hear the word, do not participate in communion, fellowship, giving, or service.
- Because our faith is weakened, we are more subject to temptation that in turn weakens our faith even more and pushes us further away from church.
Many people ask, "Is it a sin if I miss church?" My response is that it is usually a step towards sin. The reason for Bible classes, worship services, and mid-week services is not to cause inconvenience — it is to guarantee that the world does not totally dominate our thoughts and energies to a point where we lose faith. I once wrote an article that compared regular church attendance to an ice-breaker. These powerful ships with reinforced hulls continually plow through northern waters so the ice doesn't have a chance to form a solid sheet and stop ship traffic. In the same way, church attendance continually plows through our weekly schedules so that the world cannot force a hard cover over our hearts and prevent the word of God from getting in and out.
Remember, the first sign of a weakened faith is a continual excuse not to gather with other Christians to study, fellowship, and worship.
Christianity is the religion that guarantees the eternal rewards that men and women really want:
- Intimacy with God.
- Eternal life.
- Freedom from sin and death.
In order to access and preserve these blessings, we must not only believe in Jesus Christ, but we must also develop holy habits to guarantee we keep the promises given freely to us by God.
- Practice saying no to temptation.
- Practice remaining faithful to Christ.
- Practice doing good in our lives.
- Practice regular attendance at church (fellowship with the saints).
We don't do these things in order to gain our salvation, we do them to make sure no one takes our salvation away from us!