Tag Archives: Grace

Strengthened by Grace

 

In the 13th and final chapter of Hebrews, we’ve already noted the series of exhortations, which upon first glance appeared to be disjointed and isolated.  However, now having dug into them deeper we see that they are integral to the overall scope and purpose of the Author in exhorting the recipients of this letter to persevere in the faith, which was delivered to them through the Word of God by faithful leaders, and to deny the appeal to return to Judaism or to syncretize it with their Christianity.

A critical passage that perhaps gives us additional insight into the temptations they were facing as well as the false teachings they had been exposed to comes in verse 9 of this final chapter.  Note well the passage below

“Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.” Hebrews 13:9

Upon re-reading this passage a awhile ago, I was struck with just how profound and relevant it is for today, and for me personally as I continually seek to refine my understanding of how God desires to be worshiped and more specifically how it is that He orders and regulates His ekklesia.

This verse, in context, flows out of the commands for the struggling Christian community to remember their leaders.  Recall that verse 7 formed the opening bracket of the inclusio that contains our subject passage.  Next came the extraordinary statement on the eternal, preexistent, and immutable Christ.  Here we arrive at what could be a disjointed warning, Do not be lead away by diverse and strange teachings, but a good bible student knows well that this perfectly fits with what has been communicated in Hebrews thus far.

This particular phrase is striking because of the opening commendation of leaders who had taught the gospel faithfully.  It is a clear and present reminder that not all supposed leaders are doctrinally faithful, therefore we must exercise discernment and wisdom, holding fast to the Word of God as our source of truth and Christ as our eternally present, immutable Anchor.  Keep this in mind as you approach verse 17.

Next we see a positive statement juxtaposed with this warning, ” for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods.”  While we aren’t specifically told what the errant teachings were, we may be able to deduce from the overall tenor of the letter and this passage in particular that it had something to do with attaching spiritual significance to ceremonial foods, particularly as they pertained to the Old Covenant.

Commentator George Guthrie offers helpful historical and cultural insight in this regard that’s worth citing at length

“These teachings evidently promised spiritual strengthening through ceremonial foods and apart from God’s grace found in Christ.  In first-century Judaism participants celebrated special cultic meals, particularly the fellowship meal, as a means of communicating the grace of God.  These meals involved the blessing of God, thanks for his grace, and prayers of request.  More broadly, Jewish meals were understood to give spiritual strength-strength for the heart-through the joy experienced at the table (he cites Ps. 104:14-15 here).  Every meal offered faithful Jews the opportunity to reflect on God’s goodness and thus be nourished spiritually.  It reminded them that the ultimate expression of thanks to God for redemption must be made via the thank offering and the fellowship meal at the altar in Jerusalem.  Some Jews of Diaspora Judaism, moreover, celebrated special fellowship meals in an attempt to imitate the cultic meals of the temple.” pg. 439-440

The first century situation was such that some Jews were partaking in ceremonial meals and assigning spiritual significance, essentially a practice referred to as sacramentalism.  There’s no Old Testament command or indication that these practices were from God, but of course we know that by-in-large first century Judaism was corrupted and syncretized with paganism.  This puts the warning into context and prepares us for the argument that follows in Hebrews 13:10-16.

This warning is not limited to first century Jews.  It’s likewise certainly a profound warning for us today.  Sacramentalism became a formal dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in 1439, though its early seeds are certainly present in the first couple of centuries after Christ.  The parallels between first century Judaism and Roman Catholicism are striking, not the least of which is the participation in ceremonial “meals” with the expectation of spiritual strengthening or the impartation of grace through them, i.e. the Eucharist, Mass, or Lord’s Supper.

When baptists use the language of sacrament, they need to understand this historical baggage that gets carried over from Roman Catholicism by their use of the term.  Additionally, the language of sacrament and oft-accompanying phrase “means of grace” can misleading as well, if not clearly defined.  Perhaps more on this in a future post.

If participation in the Lord’s Supper was an opportunity to be strengthened by the grace that it conveys, the Author of Hebrews had the perfect opportunity to assert as much in this chapter, especially given the context.  However, His contrast is between the false intentions of ceremonial meals with the sacrifice of Christ, not the celebration of His sacrifice, but His actual sacrifice.  That is the source of Christian grace.

 

Supplement your Faith

 

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” 2 Peter 1:5-7

The very title of this post should give even the most tenuous confessor of justification by faith alone reason to set up and take notice. Anytime we hear of anything coming alongside faith an internal red-flag goes up and all defenses say ignore what follows, lest it derail into notions of legalism. Immediately the Luther-like debate of Paul versus James comes to mind and we divorce ourselves from any responsibilities other than a one-time belief in Christ at the moment of our justification. That idea has become popular today, a sort of Lutheran revival of effortless Christian living. But that is not what James was saying and that is not what Peter is saying in the passage above. Let there be no mistake, justification is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but the Christian life is one of effort, not passivity.  Let us not be guilty of quoting Ephesians 2:8-9 and forgetful of verse 10 that follows, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Those twin truths need to be held together.

In 2 Peter, the Apostle begins his letter with the charge that believers (those who have obtained faith, vs. 1) ought to make their calling and election sure. The foundation for his exhortation comes in verses 3 and 4 when he states,

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” 2 Peter 1:3-4

In stating this, he ensures that his message to follow is grounded in the saving and justifying work of Christ who has granted divine power, via the Holy Spirit, and united believers with Himself such that they now are partakers of the divine nature and consequently have separated themselves from worldly corruption that comes by way of sinful desires. It is because of that he exhorts believers to supplement their faith with:

  • Virtue
  • Knowledge
  • Self-Control
  • Steadfastness
  • Godliness
  • Brotherly affection
  • Love

With this encouragement in mind, we should not shrink back from good works, but instead should push forward and desire high moral standards, a desire to grow in our knowledge of God, fight for self-control in battling the desires of the flesh, determined and resolute to stay the course of faithfulness, with a character defined by godliness in loving the things that God loves and hating the things that God hates, evidencing itself in love towards fellow believers and love toward others. If we make these our duty, not in the hopes to add to our salvation, but working from the basis of our salvation then Peter says, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:8

Have you wondered why you may be unfruitful or ineffective in your Christian walk? Like a weightlifter with muscle atrophy it becomes all the more necessary to take the necessary supplements to ensure proper strength and growth. In doing so, we will find ourselves growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), fruitful and effective in all that He calls us to do.

Sustaining Grace

“1 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

In the passage above, the Apostle Paul provides for us a glimpse of the sovereign sustaining grace of God.  In sustaining grace, I’m referring simply to grace provided by God, at the time we need it, in the amount we need, such that it sustains us through difficulty, be it trials, tragedies, or tests of faith.  In Paul’s account, he had been given a vision of heaven, one in which he was instructed to keep silent about.  In God’s omniscience, He knew that such a grand vision would create in fallen, sinful man (even one as righteous as Paul) the propensity to boast, so in order to humble Paul, we are told he received from God a thorn in the flesh.  Many commentators have speculated about what this could be, but that may be an unnecessary point of contention.  The real focus of this passage is the grace of God.  Note, Paul pleaded with God for removal of the thorn, yet God persisted in saying that His grace was sufficient and that through Paul’s weakness the Lord’s power would be made perfect.  Simply stated, Paul’s struggle, whatever it may have been, caused him to rely on God’s strength and not his own.  And that’s where sustaining grace comes in.  Paul was able to rely on God because of grace.  Certainly his own strength was emptied, such that his reliance was solely on the strength of God through the grace of God.  A powerful reminder for us indeed.

What are you struggling with believer?  Health?  You need grace.  The loss of a loved one?  You need grace.  An unwelcomed change in circumstances?  God’s grace is sufficient.  Marital, financial, employment, relationships, the strengthening of your faith.  All require the sovereign sustaining grace of God.  May that be your prayer today, that God would supply grace in your time of need, such that you can say with Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Grace and Peace to you!