Sunday, December 4, 2011

Let us Have Grace

Hebrews 12:25–29 (NKJV)
25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.

Last week we learned that in these verses Paul contrasts the temporary, shakeable kingdom of the Jews, the period of the old covenant, with the eternal, unshakeable kingdom of the Messiah, the period of the new covenant. He insists that it is this latter kingdom of which we, in the Lord Jesus, are members. With the final dissolution of the Jewish kingdom, followers of Christ have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken.

Therefore, Paul insists, we must be careful how we respond to this kingdom. We must not refuse Him who speaks. Because God has revealed Himself even more clearly, even more certainly in the life of His only begotten Son, the Christian era is a time not of lesser accountability but greater. To reject the unshakeable kingdom is to invite the cornerstone to fall upon you and grind you to powder. If God took seriously our fathers’ transgressions in the old covenant, how much more seriously will he take ours.

But all of this could lead us to respond incorrectly – to imagine that having begun by grace, having been delivered from our sins by the sacrifice of Christ and the gift of faith, we are now left on our own to live lives of righteousness and purity. Like the British monk Pelagius we can begin to fancy that holiness is our own doing. Sure God has been gracious – after all, he has given me the Bible, he has given me Jesus’ life as a role model, he has given me other believers for accountability – look how gracious God has been. But having received these graces, holiness of life is something we must achieve by our own will power.

It is certainly true that all these things Pelagius mentioned are signs of God’s grace. But none of them in themselves are sufficient. After all, our problem as humans beings is not that we fail to will and choose and even, at times, to make great sacrifices. Our problem is that our nature is inclined toward sin and so even when we choose these great things we do so not for the Living God but for some other object of devotion. Even our most righteous acts are tainted, marred by sin.

For this reason, Paul begins his practical exhortation in our text this way: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverance and godly fear.” Paul clearly understood that the foundation of Godly worship is the grace of God – grace that does not merely give us good gifts externally but grace which sets our hearts free from the clutches of sin. “Wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is God Himself, the same God who patiently endured the failings of our fathers in the Old Testament, the same God who sent His Son to rescue us from our sin on the cross, the same God who sent His Spirit to open our hearts and eyes so we could embrace the Gospel, who gives us grace to escape our sinful pollution and to worship Him with reverence and godly fear.

So as we come to worship Him together, as we enter into His gates with thanksgiving and praise, let us be diligent to enter there clothed in the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And the only way to enter clothed in His blood is to kneel and confess our sins to God, seeking His forgiveness. So let us kneel and do so.