February 25, 2018
One of the things that I have learned as a pastor is how heavily the feeling of guilt and grief over wrongdoing can weigh on a person. Often this drives us to doing things that we would never do otherwise, were we to have a clean conscience about our sin.
The weight of guilt and grief drives people to drink, to destroy themselves with drugs, it drives a wedge between family relationships and sadly, it sometimes leads to self-destructive behavior.
The weight of guilt also leaves you open to manipulation, whether by blackmail, bullying, or by the fear of a verbal guilt-trip being laid upon you. It saps our energy, opens the door to depression, and a the very least, it frustrates our relationships.
Often, the guilt we feel for wrongs done we will also bury deep within ourselves, where it does the most damage. We might perhaps speak of it to a counselor or to a pastor, but for the most part, we keep it to ourselves and it eats at us. Luther considered the role of confession and absolution so significant that he retained the Roman Catholic notion that Penance was a sacrament.
Rome, of course, had built a whole theology around penance recognizing that the natural bent of man is to want to do something as payment for our sins — essentially earning forgiveness in our minds. And so they introduced Hail-Marys, good works, beating yourselves, gifts to the church, etc… as ways of “working off” our guilt.
Even growing up as a Protestant, I had this notion deep down that if I had intentionally chosen to sin, then something bad would happen to me if I didn’t do something really good to make up for it. I felt that God wouldn’t show me favor anymore or perhaps if I were just good enough, then God would show me more favor. And that just made the next fall all that more devastating.
Have you ever tried to negotiate with God in times like that? “Lord, if I do this, then will you let me off the hook just one more time?”
It doesn’t work well, does it? God doesn’t play those kinds of games.
First, we have no grounds on which we can negotiate with God, we just don’t have that kind of authority. And Second, even if we did have the authority to do so, we could never do enough good deeds to make things right…and if we are honest, deep down we know that.
And this, folks, is why our doctrine — or having correct Biblical theology — is so important — because bad theology leads you into bad ideas. On the one hand, it leads you to trying to earn God’s forgiveness by doing endless works, which is a fruitless endeavor or, on the other hand, it excuses sin, saying that “God loves you just the way you are,” which, when we are honest, we know is not true.
In both cases, guilt begins weighing on our conscience like the chains of Bob Marley’s Ghost.
So, how does the Bible address this matter? How does a right understanding of doctrine lift the weight from our shoulders.
Now, I should say this up front. If you have never struggled with guilt over something you have done, if when bad things have happened, you’ve never asked yourself, “is God punishing me?”. If you’ve never tried to bargain with God, or if you’ve never had a guilt trip or laid a guilt trip on someone else…then this sermon is not for you. But if any of these statements apply, then listen to and take notes about what it is that the author of Hebrews is saying.
So far, he has covered a lot of doctrine in this book, but all of it revolves around 2 themes: First, how the Old Testament points us to Christ and second, how Christ is better than the Old Testament institutions and persons.
Here, the author drives home the point and begins to apply it to our souls.
Building on the text we read last week, that the sacrifices of the priest done over and over cannot cleanse our conscious and are works are impotent to lift guilt from our persons. We closed then in verse 5-7 with a reminder of Jesus’ complete obedience. So, in verse 8, the author continues:
“When he said earlier (in the preceding passage) sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire and are not pleased with — which are brought in accordance to the Law — Then he said (verse 9), ‘Behold I have come to do your will’ He removes the first in order to put into place the second.”
This, by the way, is the heart of what Paul talks about when he talks about the first and second Adam in Romans 5.
Adam was a covenant mediator — he represented mankind (all who descended from him) and in his failure to keep the covenant, we failed as well and we continue to fall short of the glory of God, which is the most basic definition of sin.
And that’s why guilt weighs us down. Not only are you unable, by your works, to atone for your sins, but even if you could have a perfectly sinless life, you would still be condemned to Hell because of the sin guilt of your father and your father’s father and of your father’s father’s father. God said he will punish the sins to the 3rd and 4th generation. And so, guilt, in a sense, is cumulative and there is nothing you can do to get out from under it — all your life you are slowly in the process of being crushed under the burden of your sin.
That’s the fruit of the covenant of which the author speaks — a covenant of works under Adam as its Mediator. But the new Covenant, we call a covenant of Grace, not because we don’t need the Law and we can live however we want with a free ride to heaven — that’s the gospel of secular humanism where everyone goes to heaven except for the people we don’t like — its the gospel of the Cult of Personality and of Self, which is no gospel at all.
Yet, I fear, this is how many professing Christians think.
The New Covenant — the Covenant of Grace — is called “grace” because God has elected/chosen a people for himself out from the whole of humanity; he draws us to himself totally irrespective of anything we have done and saved us from our righteous judgment by His grace through the faith He instills in his own.
This can only happen, though, because Jesus, the Second Adam, established a second Covenant while fulfilling the first. He lived the perfectly obedient life that Adam failed to live, that you fail to live, and that I fail to live. And then, as a perfect and unblemished, covenant Mediator, he offered himself up as a perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of his own.
And as proof that he atoned for our lives — he sanctifies us.
So, while you are saved by Grace and kept in the covenant by Grace alone, the fruit of God’s work in your life — of your election — is found in the good works of your life and in the sin that the Holy Spirit is rooting out in your life.
And thus, the author writes in verse 10…
“and by that will (the purpose of God) through the once and for all time offering of the body of Jesus Christ, we are being made holy.”
So, you want assurance of your salvation? Look to the fruit in your life. Or, maybe ask what makes your life look different than that of your unbelieving neighbor?
Verses 11&12 contrasts the sacrifices once again, but this time the author adds a new twist.
You see, the Levitical priests make their offerings daily, and what is the fruit of their offering? Go back again tomorrow and repeat it over and over again. It is frustrated labor with no end in sight.
But what is the fruit of Jesus’ offering? He sits down at the right hand of God — completion of his work.
Over here, on one hand, frustration and burden that never eases our conscience and that can never give us assurance — that is what works brings to us. On the other hand, completion, done — nothing can be added to it or taken from it — assurance and peace of mind is found by resting in the completed work of Christ.
And in that light, the psalmist says, “You’ve turned my mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:11) and through the prophet Jeremiah, God says, “I will turn their mourning into joy” (Jeremiah 31:13).
And in completing his work, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God having done the work of saving the elect. And now we awaits the time when his enemies are made a footstool under his feet.
It is a reminder that with the salvation of God’s elect comes the assured judgment of Christ’s enemies — a warning to all who would stand against the Son of God.
And so (verse 14):
“through one offering he has perfected always those being sanctified.”
The promise: I will never leave you nor forsake you is rooted in this, but notice too how he connects this in the following verse with the testimony of the Holy Spirit — in other words, there is an ongoing internal testimony through the Word and Spirit and sanctification that we are believers. This is of what Paul is talking in Romans 8:16 when he says:
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
People often ask me about assurance…questions like, “How do I know that I am a believer?” or “Can I lose my salvation?” And, the answer is found in this — if you are resting in Christ’s completed work, it is complete. And, if the Spirit is testifying to us that we are Children of God, then we must be.
So, is God sanctifying you to strengthen your faith? If he is, that is a sign that the Spirit is at work in you. Is life comfortable and are you not being stretched, perhaps it is a sign that He is not.
Too many professing Christians have bought into the idea that if God gives you a comfortable, easy, stress-free, and healthy life, that is a sign of God’s favor. But that is not the testimony of Scripture. James says “Count it all joy, brethren when you face trials of every kind…” why? Because that is how God strengthens and makes your faith complete. Even Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:10 that when God reduces him to weakness under trial, that brings out his strength.
The Buddhist worldview has been gaining traction in our culture over the last generation. And in that worldview, practitioners are taught to seek the path of least resistance.
In contrast, the Christian worldview teaches us that we are to expect the path where the resistance is the greatest, to the glory of God, because that will make your faith strong.
So, which worldview is yours closer to?
The author closes this section by citing the words of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:33-34) who spoke about the covenant of Grace and God writing his Law on our hearts, saying this is fulfilled in Christ…and then ends in verse 18 with the words:
“Where there is forgiveness of these (sins) there is no longer any offering for sin.”
And those are words we need to hear, for our Biblical doctrine corrects the false notions of the world. You who are believers in Jesus Christ, who are resting in his completed work alone for your justification before God. You have been forgiven — past tense and a completed action — it took place on the cross. We still need to confess our sins and repent, but the sacrifice has been made and you can add nothing to it.
So, think this way:
If the guilt you feel drives you to repentance, it is a good thing. But, if the guilt continues to weigh you down after you have repented, then it is little more than a tool in the hands of Satan to draw you into bad ideas. Because, when you doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s completed work, you doubt the power of God to forgive you. You cannot add to what Jesus has done…he has done it. And so your right response is to have that guilt lifted from you and serve Him with whatever you do.
I heard a preacher once say that he had never been warmed by the fires of doctrine. I disagree. My response is that it is only by correct doctrine that we can be warmed by the fires of Christ.