As we approach the end of this great epistle, the author is particularly speaking to the Jewish believers in Christ in verses 9-16 but it has application for all believers as it applies to doctrines related to grace versus law, separation from OT rituals/legalism (and for all believers, separation from the world system) and offering spiritual sacrifices (for all believers) versus ritualistic animal sacrifices (i.e., the Jewish, OT sacrificial system) which Jesus ended with His one perfect sacrifice – "It is finished!" With hundreds of years of God-ordained dietary, civil and ceremonial laws (the moral law of God remains for all believers -not for salvation but for spiritual growth and fruit) Jewish believers were struggling with this whole new way of walking with God. We also need to remember that as it relates to God's OT laws the Jews added hundreds of their own laws (the Talmud) and even misinterpreted the meaning of the laws God gave them (e.g., the Sabbath, dietary laws, etc.).
STEADFASTNESS IN DOCTRINE – "Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited." As we saw last week there are hundreds of false religions and even false doctrines taught by the church. So we must personally know God's Word (like the Bereans – Acts 17:11) to avoid being misled. Also, all false religions are works-based versus grace-based and like the Jews spoken of here, legalism (ceremonial foods) or good works is their basis for salvation and spiritual growth. Scripture strongly speaks against both of these. "As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel (salvation by grace through faith) contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh (sanctification by grace is also through faith)? (Gal. 1:9; 3:1-3) God's grace is not opposed to effort but is opposed to earning. So we exercise spiritual disciplines (man's part) as we depend on God to change us and mature us (Phil. 2:12-13) and He gets all the glory (versus spiritual pride – like the Pharisees). ["The greatest human need is for that which we do not deserve and can never earn-the grace of God. Yet, unless we have an acute sense of need, we will not grow in grace. When we acknowledge our desperate need for God's grace, this is itself an evidence of His grace in our lives, since the natural pull of the flesh is toward the arrogance of autonomy. Begin each day by asking to grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and choosing to walk in the power of His Spirit." Ken Boa]
One prevalent example of false teaching is the prosperity gospel. In the NT nearness to God is promised but temporal "blessings" based on obedience (health, wealth, great wife and kids, etc.) is not. (See Hebrews 7:18-19; James 4:8; Psalm 73:1-17, 25) Nearness to God or intimacy with God is not enough for many Christians so they want His gifts more than they want Him. (For warnings against false doctrine/false teachers see Acts 20:29, Romans 16:17; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 4:14: Colossians 2:4; 1 John 4:1; Jude 3-4; Galatians 5:1)
SEPaRATION (FROM JUDAISM AND THE WORLD SYSTEM) –"We have (or There is) an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate." This difficult passage seems to be an analogy which called the Jewish believers in Jesus to separation from the OT sacrificial system (using a type or picture of separation – the sin offering was not eaten was and taken outside the camp to burn). And all believers are called to separation from the world system (Luke 16:15; John 17:15-19; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17).
"So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach." Believers are called to identify with Jesus by baptism (Rom. 6:1-14) and lifestyle (Phil. 3:10) and to the degree we identify with Him is to the degree we will be hated and rejected by the world system (John 15:18-25). "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim. 3:12) "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward." (Heb. 11:24-26). "We are fools for Christ…We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world…" (See 1 Cor. 4:8-13) Across the world (not yet in America) persecution and martyrdom for being a believer in Christ is at an unprecedented level.
"For here we do not have a lasting city (Jerusalem was sacked by Rome just a few years later), but we are seeking the city which is to come." Our full reward/blessing for identifying with Jesus is not here in this fallen, evil world (which is temporal and passing away) but we are looking for a heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. (See Hebrews 11:13-16) Jesus was the perfect example of self-denial in this world for the glory of His Father and His eternal joy/reward in heaven. In this life the cross comes before the crown. (John 17:1-5; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 12:1-3)
SACRIFICES OF PRAISE, OUR GOODS, AND GOOD DEEDS -"Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Separation for Jesus' sake requires sacrifices in this life. But not the blood sacrifices of animals (as the Jews did for years in the OT) for Jesus' sacrifice is all we need for the forgiveness of all our sins! But now we are called to offer "spiritual sacrifices": "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5) These sacrifices are not for salvation but because of salvation, out of love for our merciful God and for His people knowing (by faith) that God's will for our lives (including suffering and sacrifice for Him) is "good, pleasing and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2).
We see five basic forms of prayer listed in Scripture, listed as follows in their order of importance/quantity: Praise (or adoration); Thanksgiving; Confession; Intercession and Petition. Yet, if we examine our prayers, most of us probably reverse this order and quantity and fill our prayers with petitions and intercession. Although both of these are scripturally legitimate prayers they should not dominate our prayer time for then our prayers are mainly "man-focused" (self and others) versus "God-focused." Thus, we see why the author of Hebrews calls for a "sacrifice" of praise; i.e., we praise and thank God first and foremost even when we and our loved ones are hurting and needy. For example the Lord 's Prayer begins and ends with praise. "Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father, who is in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."' (See Matt.6:9-13 which also includes petition, intercession- give us and confession – forgive us.)
Doing good deeds and sharing our goods/resources (time, talents, treasures and truth) with others often calls for sacrifice and self-denial. The Good Samaritan is a great example of sacrificing all of these. We may be more stingy with our time (because "time=money") than anything.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. What is your main take away from the message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life?
2. How may you or others try to grow spiritually through self-effort (or some form of legalism) rather than depending on and praying for God's grace?
3. Have you or someone you know ever been led astray by false doctrine? How can you guard against this? Give an example when you have examined the Scriptures to see if what has been taught is true? (Acts 17.11)
4. In the NT nearness to God is promised but temporal "blessings" based on obedience (health, wealth, great wife and kids, etc.) is not. (See Hebrews 7:18-19; James 4:8; Psalm 73:1-17, 25) Why is intimacy with God not enough for many Christians? How about you?
5. "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God." (Luke 16:15) How has the Lord led you to "separate" from the world system and bear His reproach? List some ways you identify yourself with Jesus as opposed to the world's standards?
6. Which of the five forms of prayer seem to be the main focus of your prayer life? How does making sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God (even in the midst of pain and trials – like Paul and Silas in prison) speak to you? – How do YOU give sacrifices of praise to God?
7. Where do you feel led to give (even sacrificially) your goods and good deeds (time, talents, treasures and truth)?