“…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What should we do in light of the new covenant? That’s a rather big question. And it could go in all kinds of different directions. But the author of Hebrews here offers us three specific things he thinks it means for us. These are not necessarily the things we might expect—especially the third one—but they are exactly what God considered most important. Let’s take a look and see what we need to be doing.
Yesterday, we did a bit of a review of the letter so far before landing with the author on the powerful “therefore” that launches us into his initial application of the wonders he has been setting before us over the last ten chapters. He’ll get into more extensive applications in chapter 12, but before then the end of chapter 10 launches him into an example-rich conversation about faith that is the great Hall of Faith in chapter 11. In that sense, chapter 12 is really an application of chapter 11, which is itself a fleshing out of his encouragement to do the things he tells about right here. In other words, these three things are the absolute heart of what he thinks we should be doing in light of the absolute and glorious superiority of the new covenant to the old.
So then, what are they?
The first thing the author calls us to do in light of the boldness we have to enter the presence of God through Jesus is to actually do it. “Let us draw near,” he says. Since we can get close to God, we need to do that. For someone to know this incredible gift of life is available and not take it would be the greatest waste in the world. It would be like discovering you have received an inheritance of a billion dollar estate which is being held in escrow for you to go claim, and then leaving it in escrow. Except it is a decision laden with a great deal more folly even than that.
Our whole lives are lived as a search for God. Everything we do is aimed in the direction of discovering and connecting with a higher power. We literally can’t help ourselves. If we can’t find a religion that suites our fancy, we’ll make one up. We may not call it that in our pridefully wanting to maintain some sort of an atheist identity, but such a deceptive insistence doesn’t make it any less true. There are all sorts of ostensibly secular groups and gatherings, clubs and cohorts, that have all the basic trappings of religion or even simply the church without using those words to describe themselves. We may not do religion the same way our ancient forebears did, but we’re no less passionate about it than they were.
Well, given that this search for God so defines our lives, and given that in Christ we can find the true and proper goal of our searching, “let us draw near.”
Let us draw near honestly and with confidence in Jesus who makes it possible. Let us go to Him and accept His sacrifice as effective in atoning for sins, and by that receive the total forgiveness and justification we can find nowhere else. And the Baptist in me can’t help but to see the last part here as an exhortation to believer’s baptism. That doesn’t save anyone, but is nonetheless a powerful symbol of the salvation we have participated in in Christ that should be a part of our public proclamation of it.
Once we have drawn near to God as we are able thanks to Jesus and the new covenant, the second thing the author calls us to do is to stick with it. Giving mental assent to the truthfulness of the resurrection and Jesus’ lordship (the two criteria the apostle Paul gives for salvation to be received) is easy. Actually letting such mental assent become a total worldview embrace that characterizes our lifestyle at every point is not.
As we endeavor to walk through this life with a confession of faith in Christ on our lips and in our living, we are doing such a thing in hostile territory held by an aggressive enemy who wants nothing more than to see us give up and turn back to the life we lived before giving ourselves to Jesus. And he is going to give us every opportunity imaginable to do so. More than that, he will engineer one challenging circumstance after another, each designed and intended to pressure us into abandoning our faith and confession. We cannot do it.
We dare not do it because the one who promised us is faithful to that promise. When He said He will never leave us or forsake us, He meant it. When He promised to be with us always until the end of the age, He meant it. When He proclaimed we could go to Him with all our heaviest burdens and find relief and help, He meant it. When He said He was going to prepare a place for us so that we could be with Him forever, He meant it. He is a promise-keeping God who will always fulfill what He said. And He is not the kind of God who fulfills it in the smallest, most miserly way possible. He is the kind of God who creatively imagines the uttermost way He could fulfill it and then goes beyond even that. Stick with this God and your confession of faithfulness to Him and He will never let you down. Ever.
The third thing here brings us to what is perhaps the single most significant way He does that: the church. Because Jesus has made a new covenant giving us pure and unmitigated access to God through Him, “let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”
What is this? It is a call to engage and stay engaged with the church. Why? Because you can’t do the Christian life on your own. Following Jesus was always intended to be a team sport. On your own, your very mind will start to attack you and deceive you and work overtime to try to convince you that this whole thing is a waste of your attention and energy. It would be so much easier if instead of fighting your sinful nature all the time you simply gave into it. Put yourself first. Get what you want before someone else grabs it. Stop worrying about being kind to the people around you and start telling them what you really think.
When you turn down the noise of the world around you, this is the internal dialogue working against you. And if you are on your own, you are going to go with it. So, don’t be on your own. Don’t fall out of the habit of meeting together. Engaging with the body of Christ on a regular, consistent, active basis or not is a habit. If you engage with the habit, you will experience all the rich rewards that come from it. If you don’t, you won’t. And here’s the thing: you and I need this help. We’re just no good on our own. There is simply no such thing as a healthy, growing follower of Jesus who is not vitally connected to a larger body of believers.
How interesting that in light of the incredible truth of the new covenant pathway we have to actually enter the presence of God—and stay there—through Jesus, that these three things are the primary conclusions the author draws for our life application. And yet, if you think about it for just a bit, what more could we expect. This trio does indeed get right at the heart of the most important things we should be doing in light of this new covenant access we have to God through Jesus. Get close to God, stay close to God, and get help from the church to do that consistently and well. If you get those three things right, everything else will fall pretty smoothly into place.