Hebrews: The Trouble With Sin

Here we are again at another difficult passage. That is, it’s difficult for us, but to God, it’s perfectly plain. We complicate it by looking for loopholes or playing Twister to make it say something less abrasive. Somebody’s not going to like this, but keep in mind, I didn’t say it. God did.

The writer of Hebrews delivers a strongly-worded warning: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (10:26-27). If this sounds familiar, then you were paying attention at 6:4-6.

When Moses presented the Law that would govern the Israelites’ lives, he differentiated between “unintentional sin” and “intentional sin” (or “willful sin”). “Unintentional sin”  is used in the Scriptures eighteen times – all declaring that God offers atonement for unintentional sin. In Numbers 15:22-29 alone you will find it six times. But hear vs. 30-31: “But anyone who sins defiantly . . . blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s word and broke His commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.”

The writer of Hebrews calls this “deliberate sin.” It’s not that we stumbled into it,– but we deliberately went looking for it. It’s what Exodus 21:14 describes as “scheming” for sin. We could never tell God, “I didn’t mean to!” because we did.  There is no excuse – or sacrifice – for willful, defiant, intentional sin in a Christian’s life because “we have received the knowledge of the truth.” We know better, and in the words of Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.” The writer echoes Moses’ words when he says there is “no sacrifice for [deliberate] sins.” All that is left is judgment and the fires of hell. That is a pretty clear indication that those who follow a pattern of deliberate sin are not saved. Redeemed people will not face judgment and destruction. But God’s enemies will.

As believers who have “had our hearts sprinkled [with the blood of Jesus] to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (v. 22), the Bible doesn’t say you cannot sin. It says you won’t – at least not deliberately. And if you do . . . well, I think you get the point.

Heaven

 When I was a little girl, I heard a minister preach about eternity – and it terrified me. I couldn’t wrap my childish mind around something that would never end.  I still cannot wrap my gray head around the concept of eternity – but I am no longer afraid.

Revelation 3:12 speaks of “the New Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from God”  where we will drink “from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6). The Holy City will shine “with the glory of God,” with the “brilliance of a very precious jewel” (Rev. 21:11) Try to picture with me the descriptions in Revelation 21 and 22:  The city walls are made of jasper, the foundations are twelve precious stones, the gates of the city are giant single pearls  The gold that our world revolves around – that’s just pavement in heaven, where the streets are made of pure, transparent gold.  There is no sun or moon, “for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” 

But here is the most beautiful sight of all: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him.  They will see His face…” (Rev. 22:3-4, emphasis added).  We will see the face of our Savior!  As a writer, here I fall silent.  What words could I offer to describe the glory of beholding the face of Jesus? And we will have to privilege of looking into His face forever.  For we will have life everlasting!  As hard as it is to comprehend, it is one of the foundations of our faith – everlasting life.

Everlasting life is the promise that has kept the heart of the Christian faith beating strong through trial, persecution, and oppression.  It has been the song on the lips of the martyrs down through history.  Life everlasting is not just about existence that never ends,  It is about the uninterrupted presence of God and His everlasting love (Ps. 103:17); everlasting righteousness (Ps. 119:142); an everlasting kingdom (Ps. 145:113); everlasting joy (Is. 35:10); everlasting salvation (Is. 47:17); everlasting kindness (Is. 54:8); everlasting light (Is 60:19 & 20); an everlasting name (Is. 56:5); and an everlasting Father (Is 9:6)?  It will be an everlasting paradise (Rev. 2:7)!

Beloved, I pray that this is your hope too. Heaven is very real, and so is hell. Your eternal destiny lies in one or the other. Don’t let the day end until you know where you’re going.

Tell Them About Jesus

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Paul covered over ten thousand miles on his missionary journeys and spoke about Jesus all along the way. One significant place Paul visited was Athens, Greece. What he discovered there could be said about almost any city in the world today.  He found much curiosity about religion, but no commitment to God. The city was full of idols and temples of worship to pagan gods. All of them. To make sure they didn’t miss any of them they had created an altar with the inscription: “To An Unknown God” (Acts 17:23). Luke said Paul was “greatly distressed” (v. 16) and rightly so because satan had established a powerful stronghold in Athens and people were being seduced away from God. Satan’s hold on the world should distress God’s people. We should love people so much that we hate everything that keeps them from God.

The church today has taken a “live and let live” attitude towards the world. “If they don’t want to believe in God, it’s their life. Let them do whatever they want.” Does that sound like the heart of a God who would send His Son to die for lost souls? Charles Spurgeon said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

Paul said, “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). The church – that’s you and me – has been called to care about the lost world. No, we can’t save them, but we can share the gospel and pray for them to be saved.

I love serving the Body of Christ but I confess I haven’t been faithful to this ambassadorship. It’s not that I don’t care, but I get caught up in my own life and my own issues, and – honest statement here – I don’t have the sense of urgency that should compel me.  I think that’s true for most of us. So I’m praying for a heart to share Christ with lost souls. Because I once was one, and somebody cared enough about me to tell me about Jesus. Beloved, let’s pass that legacy on.

Please Forgive Me (Part 9 in the Apostle’s Creed series)

“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”  Luke 23:34

 

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell, The third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand

of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; The Holy catholic Church;

The communion of saints; The forgiveness of sins;

 

I believe in the forgiveness of sins.  I am grateful to the depth of my soul for the forgiveness of my sins.  Let’s take a closer look at this part of the Apostle’s Creed.

Why do we need forgiveness?  Because we are creatures given to sin.  The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, committed what is known as the “original sin,” and mankind has born the burden of that sin ever since.  But surely, we don’t consider ourselves as “sinful.”  We are making “life-style choices,” living as the “free people” we are.  This is a new age, and the concept of “sin” is terribly outdated.  Our society has tried to deny the truth of sin, to call it less than what it is- a personal offense against God’s holiness.  It is the true story of the history of man.  Paul expressed it like this: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23). The penalty of sin?  “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

Well sure, we are all going to die, right?  But this is an eternal death that is best described in Revelation 21:8: “The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murder, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This will be the second death.” I tried to find a nicer way to say it, but the Bible is very clear about the result of man’s sin.  If I water it down, I am not being faithful to the Word of God.  It’s not popular or “politically correct,” but hear Paul’s words: “For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:8).

I hear you saying, “This is so depressing, I thought this was going to be about forgiveness.”  And it is, but we cannot understand and appreciate forgiveness until we understand the truth about sin.  When we are faced with the darkness of our sin, the glory of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ shines like stars in the night sky.

Paul recognized the blackness of his sin in Romans 7:24 when he cried out: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from the body of death?” It is a question that has only one answer, and Paul followed his lament with a blessed proclamation: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

Jesus Christ is the answer to man’s sin problem.  He gave His perfect life as the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin.  He bought our forgiveness with His blood.  There was nothing you or I could do to gain forgiveness. Jesus did everything necessary for us to be forgiven and made right with God.  Romans 4:25 says “He [Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”  To be justified means that we are declared innocent in God’s sight – “Just-if-I’d never sinned”  Paul goes on with this thought in Romans 5:9 – “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!”   Do you see now why we needed a Savior? Forgiveness is possible only through Jesus Christ.

If Jesus did it all, what, then, is our part?  Peter tells us the most precious truth you and I will ever hear, “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” (Acts 10:43).  Simply believe.   Believe that you are a sinner, helpless against God’s wrath.  Believe that Jesus Christ paid your sin-debt and His sacrifice on the cross is all you need to be forgiven and made right with God.  1 John 1:9 makes this promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Sweet, glorious forgiveness from the merciful and loving heart of God, made possible by the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ.  It can be yours right now, by praying this simple prayer:

God, I know that I am a sinner, and I cannot save myself.  Thank you for sending Jesus to take away all my sins. I accept Your gift of forgiveness today.  Thank you for giving me a new life in Christ.  Amen.

From Hell to Heaven

I believe in God the Father Almighty

Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell

The third day He rose from the dead;

From “The Apostles’ Creed”

 “Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Romans 8:34

We are continuing our walk through The Apostles’ Creed, as we search the Scriptures for the evidences and foundations for our faith.  Our journey finds us in a place of terror – hell – a concept that has been argued for and against for hundreds of years.  Even some Christians contend that the Bible doesn’t really support the theory of hell, citing terminology and translations they claim have turned hell into something it is not.  But Jesus was very clear on the subject, teaching about this place of torment and “darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)  As much as we don’t want to confront it, hell is the place for Satan and His demons – and it is the place reserved for those who reject Jesus Christ as their Savior.  God does not condemn anyone to hell, but by choosing to disregard God’s perfect sacrifice on our behalf, unbelievers condemn themselves.  Good as they may be, without Jesus Christ, they are cast into hell by their own pride.  Man rejects the truth of hell because hell denotes punishment, punishment denotes sin, and sin denotes the truth of “right and wrong.”  Sin is the symptom of a greater problem, that of denying the authority of Holy God to set standards of right and wrong.  . Hell is a very real place, as is heaven; one is reserved for those who accept Christ and the other for those who reject Him.  “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”(John 3:36)

Of all the foundations of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is likely the most important, for it undeniably reveals Him as God.  He performed great miracles throughout His earthly life, healing the sick, casting out demons, feeding the multitudes and even raising the dead back to life, but it is His resurrection that becomes the irrefutable evidence of His Deity.  Great men of the faith have done great things in God’s name, but they have died, and did not see the light of life again.  Even Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from death to life eventually died his final death.  But Jesus – Jesus rose from death to life and ascended from earthly life to heavenly life everlasting.  Death could not hold on to Him because He was and is eternal.

In His bold address to the Jews, Peter said simply “God raised Him [Jesus] from the dead…because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.” (Acts 2:24)  It was not a rumor nor an exaggeration, for Peter followed by saying, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (v. 32) Paul confirmed Peter’s words in Acts 13:30-31 when he proclaimed, “God raised Him [Jesus] from the dead, and for many days He was seen by those who had traveled with Him,”   Luke, the writer of Acts wrote, “After His suffering, He showed Himself to [His apostles] and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive.   He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) Paul adds yet another proof in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 (sel.) “He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time.  Then He appeared to James…and last of all He appeared to me also.”

Paul calls the Doctrine of the Resurrection “as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  It is of first importance because without Jesus’ resurrection, He is just another dead religious teacher.   And a dead man cannot save anyone.  Paul said “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) Jesus Christ had to die – there is no other way for you and me to be forgiven and cleansed from our sins.  Christ had to be resurrected – there was no other way for you and me to obtain eternal life.

The Apostle Peter gives us the blessed benediction to our look at the Doctrines of Hell and The Resurrection:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

 In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

and  into an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.

1 Peter 1:3-4

 Merciful Father, by Your great love and power, You have opened the way for us to turn from death to life and from hell to heaven.  We give you thanks and praise Your name for Your tender mercies.  Amen.