In 1976 Francis Schaeffer published a book, tracing the rise and decline of Western thought and culture. He actually wrote the book because his son, Franky, approached him with the idea. But what’s always caught my attention is not so much the book itself (though it’s definitely worth reading) but the title. Schaeffer titled this book, How Should We Then Live? It’s a book which traces the history of thought and culture, but the title focuses on how we should live.
You see, what Schaeffer understood is that ideas have consequences. If something is true, it should shape how we think, speak, and act. This is why John Frame has noted that obeying the God of the universe in every aspect of your life is the most rational thing anyone can do because if this God exists, then what is more rational than obeying the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present Creator and Ruler of the universe? Once more, truths are meant to lead us to action.
This is why when we get to this last section of the book of Hebrews, which stretches from our text this morning (10:19-25) to the end of the book, it is filled with commands, warnings, exhortations, and words of encouragement to endure. After chapters of spelling out the truths of Christ’s superiority as priest, sacrifice, and redeemer, the author of Hebrews wants us to see that these truths should lead to us doing something. They should provoke a response in us. In other words, by this point in the letter, we should be eagerly asking, “How should we then live?”
And the great news is that we’re entering this section where the author of Hebrews answers. Our text this morning is quite straightforward in how it unfolds. In fact, I remember years ago I was taking a seminary class on preaching, and each of us was responsible for picking a biblical text and then putting together a sermon outline, showing how we would preach the text. And we’d were graded on whether the sermon outline reflected the biblical text in a way that if you really did preach it that way, people would be able to see the flow of the biblical text.
Well, the professor explained the assignment and told us to be thinking about what text we wanted to choose. We could choose anything we wanted in the whole Bible. For me, it seemed like I’d be spending the next few hours, if not days, thinking through the whole Bible to see if I could find a text I wanted to put together a sermon outline from. But to my surprise, my friend William instantly shot up his hand and said, “I want Hebrews 10:19-25.” I mean, he couldn’t have answered faster if the professor had told him about this assignment a week earlier and said, “Be ready to give me an answer.”
Well, curiosity overcame me, and at the break I approached William, asking him why he’d chosen that text. And his answer was funny. He said that he’d been reading through Hebrews earlier in the week, and when he got to Hebrews 10:19-25, he thought to himself, “You’d have to be an idiot to mess up a sermon outline on that text.” So, let’s hope that I don’t mess this up this morning.
But if you look at the text, you can see what William saw that day when he read this portion of Scripture. The text begins with “therefore,” signaling to us that the author is building on what has come before. And we could take the time to rehearse what we’ve seen before, but the author actually then proceeds to give us a bit of a summary. He reminds us of two realities that he’s already discussed in a couple of phrases, beginning each of these with the word “since.” He writes, “Since we have confidence to enter the holy places …” and “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God.” Then, in light of these truths, he tells us to do three things, beginning each of those exhortations with the words, “Let us.”
Therefore, as William noted that day, it would seem that you can outline this text by saying, “In light of these truths stated in verses 19-21 there are three things we need to do.” So that’s how I am going to approach it this morning.
Let’s begin by walking briefly through the summary of truths that he gives us in verses 19-21. We can simply see this as a summary of what he’s said, condensed into two clauses that begin with “since.”
He says, “Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a high priest over the house of God” (vv. 19-21). This, as I’ve noted, is simply a summary of what he’s been arguing over the previous chapters. Prior to this the author has noted that the section of the tabernacle where God manifested his presence (called the most holy place) was simply a replica of sorts of the throne room of God in heaven. Moreover, what separated the people from that section of the tabernacle where God manifested his presence was a curtain.
Therefore, using that imagery, he reminds us that Jesus has made a way for us to approach our God, not by tearing the curtain in the tabernacle and opening the way into his presence (though his death literally did that), but by allowing his own flesh to be torn. That is, by dying on the cross and rising from the dead, he has opened the way for all those who trust in him to have full access to God and his presence.
Additionally, Jesus is our high priest, advocate, and intercessor who is at God’s right hand. Consequently, not only has the way to God been opened, but we have one with whom we’ve been united (our high priest) who qualifies us to come into the very presence of God.
Again, this isn’t new for us. We’ve seen this in the prior weeks, really stretching all the way back to chapter 5. Jesus has done what no other priest and no other sacrifice could. He’s removed our guilt, provided us life, and reconciled us to God. So, what then should we do? Or, how then should we then live? Let’s find out by walking through the three exhortations. First, the author tells us that we should draw near to God.
Draw near to God
He writes, “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 with pure water” (v. 22).
Now, we’ve noted this with some other phrases we’ve found earlier in the book of Hebrews, but even though the language of drawing near to God might not be a common part of our vocabulary, it regularly occurs in the author’s vocabulary. We don’t often say, “How are you doing in drawing near to God?” when speaking to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But the author of Hebrews would. He wrote earlier in 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Then in 7:25, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” And finally, he will use this language again in 11:6 as he writes, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
So, clearly, we can see that the author believes a central act in the life of the believer is drawing near to God. He even labels those whom Jesus saves as those who “draw near to God.” But what precisely does he mean? Again, since this isn’t language we often use, it might not immediately be clear.
Well, when he mentioned drawing near in 4:16, he linked it with seeking mercy and grace in time of need. And when he spoke of drawing near in 11:6, he seemed to parallel the idea with seeking God. Therefore, I think it’s quite obvious that even if all of drawing near to God isn’t summed up in prayer, that a good portion of what he means is. In other words, the chief way that we draw near to God—which is a central aspect of the Christian life, according to our author—is through prayer. Consequently, we can say that prayer is one of the first applications of what we see in Christ’s work. If we were to ask, “What then should we do in light of what Jesus has done for us as our high priest?” the author’s first answer would be, “Pray.” That is his first answer in our text. He says, “Let us draw near.”
But he also lays out why we can draw near. He writes, “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 with pure water” (v. 22). Because the work of Christ has taken our evil, unbelieving hearts and evil consciences and purified them, then there’s nothing that should keep us from running to God in prayer. You don’t have to feel shame or guilt when you go to pray. You don’t have to be reserved, thinking he might want to hold you at a distance. The author says that we can go to God in full assurance of faith. We can approach the Lord with confidence and joy.
And this—as we have seen—has been the go-to exhortation throughout this book. Draw near to God. So, let me ask us this morning, “Do we do this?” Is prayer a faithful part of our lives? Are our lives characterized by consistent times of privately communing with God—when no one is around but you and God?
We read of that even in the life of Jesus. He would withdraw, seek a desolate place and pray (Luke 5:16). He would rise early in the morning, while it was still dark, go to a desolate place, and pray (Mark 1:35). Why? Were his needs greater than ours? Certainly he was more equipped than we are to live a life honoring to God. I think it is simply because one of the chief characteristics for living a life where we love God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength is having a regular habit and pattern of private prayer, where we commune with our God.
J. I. Packer has said, “I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face.”1 Similarly, Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.”2 And I could multiply those kinds of statements from believers who have long walked with the Lord.
So, let each of us ask the question, “If prayer is indeed the measure of a man, spiritually, what does my prayer life say about me?” Or, “If a man is what he is alone before God on his knees, what does that say about me?” Simply put, if prayer is reflective of our walk with the Lord, then what do our prayer habits show about how we’re cultivating our walk with the Lord?
But I don’t say this for us to perhaps wallow in guilt and shame. After all, Christ died to cleanse our consciences. I say this so that we might, if necessary, repent and grow and enjoy our God more. I want us to experience the Christian life as a life of regular communion with God. So, let me encourage you to create a regular pattern of prayer in your life. Perhaps first thing in the morning, after you get that cup of coffee, or the afternoon when you get home from school, or in the evening before you go to bed (or all of the above!). But set aside time to commune with the Lord.
And you can use all kinds of scriptural aids to guide you in prayer. I find myself most commonly taking the elements of the Lord’s prayer and thinking through how I can pray those in a personal and appropriate way. Maybe you want to let the psalms guide you. You could even take Paul’s prayers in his epistles and let that guide you. Surely you can do worse than modeling your prayers after the apostle Paul!
But one of the things this does is allow you to pour out your heart to God. Make your needs known to God. Open your eyes to his provision. Begin to discern his guidance and activity in your life more clearly. In short, prayer is the avenue through which we get most clearly to experience a personal relationship with God. And the more we experience this, the more we know his love for us and grow in our love for him.
At Cornerstone I feel that we have grown deep in our love for one another, but we can only sustain that in a gospel-centered, gospel-saturated way if we are growing in our personal walk with the Lord, and the key to that is prayer.
So that’s the first thing the author wants us to do—draw near to God. Second, he tells us to hold fast to our confession.
Hold fast to your confession
The whole aim of this letter has been to encourage these wavering Christians to persevere, to endure. He wants them to hold fast to their confession that Jesus is who he says he is and did what he says he did. So he writes to them, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (v. 23).
What’s interesting is the way he frames this. He tells us to hold fast to the confession of our hope. That is, keep following Jesus. Keep professing faith in him and obeying him. But when he tells us why we are to hold fast, he says, “For he who promised is faithful.” You might expect it to say, “Hold fast because you are of such fortitude that nothing should be able to shake you.” But actually the ground of the exhortation to us doesn’t say anything about us at all. It says something about the faithfulness of God. Why?
If we think hard enough about it, I think we’ll see why. Imagine a dad, standing in the deep end of the swimming pool, holding his arms out toward his toddler who is standing on the side, and telling him to jump. Now, if you think of this from one perspective, this is terrifying. You’re asking the toddler to jump into water deep enough that it could lead to his death. Yet the dad is urging his toddler to jump in. Why? It can’t be based on the toddler’s abilities. He can’t swim. And this is the deep it. No, it’s because the dad knows his own abilities and faithfulness, isn’t it? He is able to catch the child and is committed to the safety of his child. He’s not going to let any harm come to his little one. Thus, you can say to the child, “Press on and jump into these dangerous waters, for your dad is faithful.”
So it is here. The Scripture urges us to hold fast to our confession. Hold fast though it may result in ridicule, persecution, loss, and suffering. Moreover, obeying Jesus can just be difficult in matters. He may well lead us to tasks that stretch us in a variety of ways, teaching us obedience through our sufferings. So how can I keep pressing on and endure when I know all that it may well cost me? I can press on for the one who tells me to hold fast is faithful. He will hold fast to me until the end. He will be with me in these difficulties. He will love me through them. He will never leave me. He won’t let anything lead to my eternal demise. He promises us eternal life.
Brothers and sisters, we need only consider the faithfulness of our God to see why we must hold fast to our faith. The Father loves us enough that he sent his Son. The Son loves us enough that he died for us, rose, and intercedes for us. The Spirit loves us enough that he dwells in us, moving our hearts to cry out to our Father. Those are realities in this life. And sin invites us to walk away from that, telling us that there is a better road. Let us hold fast, for the one who has promised us life and grace and mercy is faithful. And eternity is coming.
Finally, let us encourage one another to love and good works.
Encourage one another to love and good works
As much time as I spent talking about our personal walk with the Lord, you cannot live the Christian life alone. It was never God’s intention that we do so. He calls us to himself and calls us to one another. The greatest commandment is that we love our God, but the second is like it; we must love our neighbors.
And as believers this means that we spend time and effort and energy attempting to encourage one another to love and good works. Specifically the author of Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (vv. 24-25).
The author is telling us that part of our lives as believers needs to be spent thinking and plotting and considering how we might stir up our brothers and sisters to love and good works. This is one verse that shows why an understanding of holiness that just revolves around you is impossible. After all, holiness—if nothing else—is striving to obey all of Christ’s commands. And here Christ commands you to consider how to stir up others to love and good works. How then can you pursue holiness by isolating yourself?
This, in fact, is the author’s next point. He first shows how not to do this. He says, “Not neglecting to meet together.” That is, if you do not faithfully gather with the saints, you’ll not be able to obey this command. Then he tells us how to do it, writing, “But encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
So, you and I are tasked with encouraging one another, causing each other to be stirred up in our pursuit of love and good works. In other words, part of your pursuit of love and good works involves you encouraging others in their pursuit of love and good works. Paul will elsewhere tell us—picturing the church as a body—that it is only when each joint with which the body is supplied is working properly that the whole body grows up in love. Christian growth is to be corporate growth.
Therefore, one of the things that should fill our times of private prayer is requests to our Father to give us insight and gifts to know how to encourage our brothers and sisters and to be equipped to aid them so that they grow in love and good works. This requires us not to gather on Sundays or in small groups in a passive way but to come as men and women on a mission. We are meeting together to stir others up to love and good works. And, brothers and sisters, if each of us makes that our mission, who would not want to be part of a community like that?
So, in light of all that Christ has done as our high priest, how should we then live? We should regularly draw near to him in prayer, hold fast to our confession for he is faithful, and encourage one another to love and good works. And as we do, we can know that our God is honored and his people edified. We can know that we are honoring the one who lived, died, and was raised for us. We can know that we are showing the world that we belong to him. Let us then come and give him thanks now as we come to the table. Amen.
J. I. Packer, in My Path of Prayer, David Hanes, ed. (Worthing, West Sussex: Henry E. Walter, 1981), 56.
Quoted by D. A. Carson in A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 16.