We’re forgiven, the alter is closed, your sacrifices are not accepted

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1–4 ESV)

“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’
then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’  Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:10–18 ESV)

The Law (or our adherence to a moral ethic) is powerless to make perfect those who follow it.  It reveals and restrains sin, but is powerless to restore or renew.  The Law and its sacrifices are but a shadow of that which was to come, namely the perfect fulfillment of it – JESUS.  If the law could have offered true, lasting forgiveness then worshipers would not have had to continue to offer sacrifices annually, but it cannot cleanse the conscience from sin.  The sacrifices served the worshiper by reminding them of their sin, its grip on their lives and their debt to God, but the blood of bulls and goats can’t take away sin.  The entire Hebrew sacrificial system was built upon sacrifices being offered for the remission of sin, but the author is saying that the blood of animals is powerless to take away our sins – last years sacrifice won’t cover this year’s sins.  Additionally, the blood of goats and bulls can’t cleanse the conscience – a permanent solution to sin is required.  The entire sacrificial system is looking forward to the only acceptable sacrifice that would ever be offered.  Something far greater and more powerful was required to not just pay for sin, but to kill it – once for all.  Jesus’ single sacrifice was sufficient – so much so that He reigns in heaven with authority over all things.  His single sacrifice for sin “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)  Old Testament believers were saved the same way that we are – by placing their absolute trust in the provision of God for their salvation.  God does not delight in sacrifices and offerings, He is after hearts that are fully His.  The sacrifices had no intrinsic value in and of themselves – the value was in communicating the costliness of sin and the extreme price that would have to be paid to deal with our treasonous hearts.  We are sanctified (made holy and grow in holiness) by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

As a result of the singular sacrifice of sin, God has now fulfilled the promise to write His laws on our hearts and minds.  This means that we now desire to know God, follow Him, and obey Him – though not perfectly, but with a new affection for Him that the law was powerless to produce.  Anytime we become dependent upon the law to prove ourselves righteous, try to change, or earn God’s approval, we fail because law based living is powerless to take away sins.  Only the grace of God and the new heart that desires to know and obey God produces lasting transformation.  Which of these most accurately reflects your faith:  1) I obey because it is my responsibility, God says to, it will make God happy with me, to earn His approval, to pacify His wrath, to increase His love for me, to work Him into my debt so that He owes me or the more faithfully I obey, the more God will bless my life.  2) I obey because God loves me unconditionally, did not spare His own son to redeem me, set His redeeming affections upon me before He placed a star in the sky, I am perfectly loved and accepted by God because of the sacrifice of Jesus or I want to know Him more and see His glory.  We’re forgiven, the alter is closed, your sacrifices are not accepted.  “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:15–18 ESV)  We look to Christ for our growth and perfection.  He has earned it for us.  Instead of personal, hard fought, self disciplined effort, the believer looks to Christ for a cleansed conscience, complete forgiveness, power to change and complete perfection in the future.  For we will be made perfect – our rebel hearts will be overthrown (Hebrew 11:40, 12:23)

The Gospel Centered Life

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:5–6 ESV)

Just six chapters prior to this section, we see Adam and Eve enjoying a peaceful existence in the perfect paradise of the garden of Eden.  They walked in the presence of the Almighty and enjoyed His favor and provision; life was not fraught with hardship, difficulty and discord.  Life functioned harmoniously and in rhythm, like that of a spectacular symphony.  But that is no more.  The consequences of sin are catastrophic:  death (Genesis 2:17), difficulty in child-rearing (Genesis 3:16), distorted roles in marriages (Genesis 3:16), creation opposing man’s efforts to cultivate it (Genesis 3:17-20) and the creation itself is broken…

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You’re not worthy, but He set His saving affections upon you anyway

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.  Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:11-15 ESV)

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:24–28 ESV)

Jesus came from the perfect place of heaven and entered in to the holy of holies by means of His own atoning blood.  The alter is now closed, the veil has been ripped in two (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45), it is finished, a superior sacrifice has been offered and has been accepted.  No other sacrifice is required (like your hard fought obedience to the rules).  Jesus has secured an eternal redemption for all who believe.  Jesus entered in to the heavenly dwelling in the presence of God, after paying the debt for sinners.  This process was once, for all who will believe.  The alter is now closed, no other sacrifice is required.  You don’t have to earn your way, you don’t have to prove that you are worthy (because you’re not).  You can’t add anything to the completed work of Christ.  Walk freely in this truth – there is no place for striving or proving in the life of a Christian.  His sacrifice was adequate, He lived the perfect life that we should have lived and then paid the ultimate price that we couldn’t pay so that we could be redeemed.  You’re not worthy, but He set His saving affections upon you anyway according to His sovereign grace.  Allow this truth to produce worship in your soul!

Rule laden Christianity can’t produce worshippers

“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” (Hebrews 9:1–10 ESV)

The Most Holy place was only entered 1x per year on the Day of Atonement by the high priest and he always brought blood to atone for his sin and the sin of the people.  Under the old covenant, access to God in the holy place and the most holy place was restricted to Levitical priests.  People are too sinful to have direct access to God; this is still true today, we are too sinful to have direct access to God without Someone mediating on our behalf.  “According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,” (Hebrews 9:9 ESV) under the old covenant the soul of the worshiper was not changed because he could not draw near to God’s mercy & peace.  However, the veil has now been removed and we have direct access to God and new hearts that worship (8:10–12; 9:14; 10:22; also 10:14; 11:40; 12:23).
This “outward,” law driven method of worship was powerless to transform the conscience, heart or life.  Just like then, a rule laden Christianity that is marked by what the worshiper needs to do, how the worshiper needs to act and what the worshiper needs to accomplish is equally powerless to transform the heart or conscience.  We are all built to worship, the only question remaining is what will be the object of our worship.  If you are trying to worship God by performing, then you will always come up short.  The call of scripture is to draw near to God and allow Him to change your heart – allow Him to right your worship.

A better Hope

“For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:18–19 ESV)

Jesus is not a priest of the Levitical line of Aaron, He is of a higher, eternal, preeminent priestly order:  Melchizedek.  He establishes the eternality of His priesthood by overcoming the grave (v16).  The former covenant of the Mosaic Law has been set aside “because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect)” (7:18–19).  It is weak in that it is only able to diagnosis the problem of sin, but contains no power to heal the problem of sin.  But “a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” (7:19).  Through the sacrifice of Christ we can now draw near in authentic relationship to God, no other priest is required to intercede on our behalf, we have direct access to the Creator.  Jesus is the guarantor of this better hope, of this new covenant that God makes with those who believe (7:22); Our high priest is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens,” (7:26) and has no needs in and of himself.  He does not need to make offerings for His sins first, He is sinless – He did this once, for all.  Jesus, the perfect priest, is now reigning and interceding.  Draw near to God with confidence that His sacrifice has covered all of your sins, come and be renewed.

Old Gospel or New Gospel

Which Gospel do you believe?

OLD GOSPEL NEW GOSPEL
Proclaims a God who saves A God who enables man to save himself
Salvation dependent upon the work of God Salvation dependent upon the work of man
Faith is part of God’s gift of salvation Faith is man’s contribution to salvation
All the glory of salvation is given to God Divides the glory between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it.
Spotlight is shined on God Spotlight is shined on us
Showcases what God has done for us Makes us slaves by showcasing what we must do
God centered Man centered

Concepts taken from J.I. Packer’s introductory Essay to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (here) (PDF)

Jesus is restoring Shalom

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God,” (Hebrews 6:19–7:1 ESV)

Melchizedek means king of righteousness and he was the king of Salem, which has the same Hebrew root word as Shalom (peace).  The best Hebrew word to describe our ancestor’s existence in Eden is Shalom.  There was a restful rhythm to life in the garden that was free of frustration, futility and conflict.  The garden was a safe and prosperous place; it was good, friendly, healthy, perfect and the welfare of everyone was ensured – justice, fairness and equity reigned.  Jesus came to take back this rebel world from the throughs of sin and evil; He came to conquer our rebel hearts and set up His rule and reign in them – He came to reestablish shalom.  This is God’s mission in His Son:  to reconcile rebel hearts to Himself and reestablish shalom for His glory and our joy.  There is coming a day when King Jesus, our high priest, makes all things new, and reestablishes Shalom on a global & cosmic scale.  The safe, just, fair, meaningful existence marked by prosperity, goodness, health and perfection that we all long for will return.  Our hope is a Person: Jesus, who is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul; this Hope is returning us to the restful rhythm of a life lived in the presence of our Creator.

A fruitless faith can’t deliver hope

“Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:9–12 ESV)

This section is on immediately following one of the most difficult passages of scripture in the Bible (Hebrews 6:4-8).  Though the previous section was difficult and perhaps a bit harsh, the author is confident that there are better things in store for His readers.  Why?  Because he has observed their lives – He has seen things that belong to salvation.  It is important to recall that we add nothing to the gospel and that it is the finished work of Jesus alone that saves and sustains us, but the saved person has a regenerated heart that has an increasing appetite for God and godliness and their lives begin to bear fruit.  If there is not fruit – often times seen in an affection for God and fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) then there is no evidence of regeneration.  Tim Keller says that “you are saved by faith, not fruit. But you will never be saved by fruitless faith. Real faith will inevitably lead to growth” (here).

God never overlooks our faithful efforts to obey when driven by a heart that is surrendered to Him. The author wants them to have the “full assurance of hope until the end;” this is inextricably tied to their authentic faith.  The theme of perseverance, a major theme in Hebrews, again comes in view.  This sounds similar to Paul in Romans 5:  “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3–5 ESV).  The call is to endure difficulty “so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Hebrews 6:12 ESV).  Apparently, according to the scriptures, suffering, hardships and difficulties are a prerequisite to hope.  Despite the degree of difficulty and suffering in this life, stay faithful, patient and have your hope strengthened.  Fix your eyes on things to come when things are made new!