Boldness in using our access to God
At the Wednesday evening meeting, Rev. James MacIver preached on Hebrews 10: 19-25. He outlined the pattern of Hebrews which tends towards long sections of important theology, interspersed with shorter passages of exhortation, like this one.
The key theme of this particular excerpt is found at verse 19, where the author speaks of 'confidence', or boldness in approaching God; everything else is built around and upon this idea. We should also note the glorious contrast between our permitted proximity to God in the Old and New Testaments, as embodied in verses 1b and 14. Animal sacrifices, given repeatedly, could never accomplish what Christ did once and for all, hence the limited nature of the believer's 'drawing near' in the Old Testament.
This contrast has as its bedrock Christ's finished work upon the cross. At the moment of His death, the temple curtain tore from top to bottom, the direction signifying a divine rending, as opposed to a human one. Christ has opened up our route to God in His death - He is the curtain through which we can pass with boldness.
Mr MacIver considered two main points in connection with this. Firstly, he looked at the way in which we possess boldness in our access to God. Humanly-speaking, we are inclined to flinch at this and say that there is no boldness in us for these things, and that is true if all we are doing is looking inwards at our own capability. Our confidence is not predicated upon anything in ourselves, but on the absolute sufficiency of Christ.
The 'new and living way' mentioned in verse 20 alludes to the fact that the new covenant is centred not on the sacrifice of a dead animal, but on the sacrifice of the living Jesus. All the fear and dread which was necessarily attendant upon Old Testament ritual has passed away and Christians possess a boldness based entirely upon the complete saving work of Jesus. Notice, also, in verse 21, that He is referred to as being 'over the house of God'. Old Testament priests were said to be 'in', but they never achieved the jurisdiction of Christ in this regard.
Secondly, Mr MacIver detailed how we practice boldness in our access to God.
There are three exhortations in the text, all beginning with 'let us'. They also each include one of the three Christian graces - faith, hope and love.
The first exhortation (verse 22), to 'draw near', is meant in the wider sense of our whole lives which should be lived in the closest communion with God. We are to do this with a sincere heart, which is to say one founded upon a sincere faith in Christ. Further, we are to draw near in the 'full assurance of faith'. Mr MacIver quoted John Owen to underscore the fact that assurance does not refer to our certainty that we are saved, but rather a certainty that Christ is effective to make us so. Owen wrote:
'the “full assurance of faith” here, represents not the assurance that any have of their own salvation, nor any degree of such an assurance; it is only the full satisfaction of our souls…in the reality and efficacy of the priesthood of Christ to give us acceptance with God, in contrast to all other ways and means thereof.’
The second exhortation urges us to 'hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering' (verse 23). This is, in one sense, a challenge to us, but again is not based on what we are capable of. As the verse reminds us 'he who promised is faithful', and so the security and fastness of our confession comes from Christ, and not our ability to be unwavering.
Thirdly, Paul exhorts us to 'consider how to stir one another up to love and good works'. The ESV rendering of this is somewhat misleading. It is better expressed in the King James Bible as, 'let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works'. In other words, we are to show genuine consideration of one another, which will stimulate greater love and good works. This was lacking in the Corinthian church, which was why Paul had to remind them (1 Cor.11:33) to remember each other, and to wait for one another.
Of course, in order to do this, God's people must come together both formally and informally, and they must pray for one another. This is how consideration can be made manifest, and both love, and good works, will grow in their midst.
Verse 25 stresses that this is all the more important 'as you see the Day drawing near'. This refers to the return of Christ which is, although hidden from us, undoubtedly growing closer with each passing day. The sentiment expressed here echoes Christ's own words when He instituted the Lord's Supper (1 Cor.11:26): 'For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes'.
We have the privilege of drawing near in boldness entirely based upon the blood of Christ. This is the filter through which God views us. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to show forth our faith in Him by gathering as His people; and by gathering around His table in anticipation of His coming again.