Steps for Spiritual Growth

We act correctly when we think correctly. Or to put it another way: we base the choices we make and the values we hold on our belief system. What you truly believe will determine what you do.

If you believe human life has no intrinsic value you will have no trouble with abortion, abuse, or even murder. If you believe power is the goal and measure of a life then you will walk over whomever you have to in order to gain an advantage. You can pick just about any belief and you will see that it will impact the choices we make and how we live our lives. And if you believe Jesus is Lord over all you will make choices that honor Him.

I believe this is partially why the author of Hebrews spent the first 9 ½ chapters of this book helping us to think correctly about Jesus. How we view Jesus, what we understand Him to be, will impact the way we live our lives.

As we move into Hebrews 10:19 and the verses that follow we see the implications of these beliefs spelled out to us. From here to the end of the book there are over forty instructions about how we should live. Each of them is drawn from the truths that we have studied in the first chapters. If Jesus is indeed superior to the angels, Moses, the Law, the Priesthood, and the temple; if Jesus is indeed the mediator of a better covenant or relationship with God; if He is the only one who can effect genuine forgiveness and a true right standing with God . . . then we should live the way He wants us to live.

We see this transition to application in verses 19-21 of Hebrews 10,

19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house,

The exhortation is clear: since Christ has made it possible for us to have a dynamic and deep relationship with God we should take advantage of the opportunity afforded us. The curtain that used to keep everyone but the High Priest out of God’s presence in the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and Temple, has been torn in two. Access has been granted. We would be fools to pass up this opportunity.

Since Jesus is our High Priest . . . since He is our advocate and our Savior, we should run to Him with enthusiasm. The Holy Spirit spells it out for us:

22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Enter With Sincerity Rather than Fear and Guilt

There are really two commands here. The first is we should “go right into the presence of God”. We should enter this relationship.

The thing about knowledge is that you can have it and do nothing with it. We can know all about Jesus; we can host conferences about Him; we can write books exalting Him; we can sing songs that refer to Him; we can even belong to a church that carries His name . . . and still never ENTER into a relationship with Him. It is possible to be a Christian IN THEORY rather than in LIFE. The Holy Spirit is urging us to act; to take a step of faith; to become a true follower of Jesus.

Second, we should do this sincerely and boldly rather than tentatively. The reason we can do this is because we have been forgiven and made new through the work of Christ. We are no longer the same people we were before. We were washed with pure water. (This could refer to baptism or it could just mean we were cleansed). We have been given a new beginning. When we turn to Christ we are a “new creation, the old has passed away and the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17)

Imagine you are a child and live in Washington D.C. Day after day you walk near the White House on your way to school. Several times you have asked if you could go in and look around but you are barred from entering. You become an expert on the White House. You read books, you examine photographs, and you know everything there is to know about the residence of the President. But it still doesn’t matter. You cannot enter.

Then one day something dramatic happens. Your father is elected as President of the United States. Now things are different. You are no longer barred from entry, you belong in the White House. It has become your home. You haven’t done anything different but your Father has done something that changes your status. Now, if you were standing outside the White House gates the Secret Service agents would not be trying to keep you out, they would be urging to come inside.

I think this is a picture of the gospel. All our religious deeds could not gain us access to the presence of God. However, because of what Christ has done for us, we are granted access. We are urged to make His presence, His Kingdom, our home.

We need not fear that we do not deserve such a privilege. It is not offered to us because of our good deeds. It is offered to us because of the good deeds of Jesus on our behalf. It is a gift that we can receive or push away. The Holy Spirit urges us to come on in and experience the joy of a true relationship with God.

I hope you are all learning good stuff about the Lord. The question is: what are you doing with that knowledge? Is it drawing you to the One who has set you free and cleansed you from sin? Are you seeking Him in your daily living? Or are you just gathering information with no real experience?

Hold Tight to Hope – Confident of God’s Character

In verse 23 we are told: “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.”

No matter what our circumstance we should be confident people. Why? Because we are becoming familiar with the character and the promises of God. We know that He has promised He will never leave us. He has promised that nothing will separate us from His love. He tells us that even though we may have trouble in this world; He is stronger than the trouble we face. The Bible even tells us that God brings good out of the worst of situations. He uses those times to teach us, deepen us, and draw us closer to Him.

So how do we strengthen our hope? Let me suggest three things:

  1. Ground yourself in sound doctrine. In other words, know what is true. Be a student of the Bible. Learn about God’s character. Pay attention to the first 9 ½ chapters of Hebrews. Right understanding will lead to right behavior.
  2. Focus on the sufficiency of Christ. As we move forward in life we can focus on our ability or His. Focusing on us will make us tentative, focusing on Him will fill us with hope. Likewise we can trust our wisdom, or trust His. One will leave us uncertain the other will bring us peace. The song is right: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
  3. Remind yourself that God is absolutely faithful. He is the One who always keeps His promises. He is unlike anyone else in the world. Even when we are good intentioned we often do not carry through. The great thing about the Bible is that it shows us that God does what He says he is going to do. He follows through. He is the same today as He was back in the Old Testament or in the early church. He NEVER forgets us. He is never caught by surprise.

Look to Motivate Others Rather Than Compete with One Another

What a great command this next one is: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” (v. 24)  Following Christ means that you see and consider the needs of the people around you. As Christ followers we begin to love others as Jesus loves them. The practical outworking of this is that we try to spur one another on instead of trying to defeat or compete with each other. We are all part of the same family.

Don’t we desperately need more people who make it their goal to motivate others? Think about people in the stands at a sporting event. There are too many people who are critical of everything. They criticize the officials, they criticize the coach, and they even criticize the players. They sometimes say horrible things to people who are trying to do their best.

Fortunately, there are also those people who are cheering the team on. They are applauding good traits, encouraging them to not give up, they are like the people near the finish line of a marathon . . . they say things like: “you’ve got this!” “You can do it!” “Way to finish the race!” What these people are doing is infusing the runners with some of their own strength. It is like an injection of courage and strength.

So, which kind of person are you?

In order to spur one another on we need to do several things

  1. We should set a good example. Nothing encourages someone more than to see that someone else has survived or overcome. This is why survivors are such good counselors. They show that it is possible to keep moving forward. When you live faithfully you encourage others to do the same.
  2. We must study and pay attention to others. Different people need different kinds of encouragement. You see this in marriage. Gary Chapman’s book “the Five Love Languages” is simple explanation of this point. You may be trying to encourage your mate with lots of hugs and stuff but they remain frustrated because what would actually make them feel more loved is if you took out the garbage! We can apply this in the church. Some people respond to quiet encouragement, some want hugs, some respond best to physical help, some want you to pray for them. The best way to learn how best to help is to pay attention.
  3. Third, we must lead the way in reconciliation. We can’t encourage people in acts of love unless we also encourage them to forgive and be reconciled in areas wehre there is pain and tension. We have to take the first step. We can’t wait for another person to act.
  4. Finally, you need to look for good actions to celebrate. This is going to mean for many a re-tooling of your thinking. We are so good at spotting errors, solving problems, and making sure no one takes advantage of things that we become “failure focused”. The challenge here is to deliberately and intentionally spotlight positive things in other people. Everyone has plenty of people in their lives who are happy to point out when they have messed up. What we all need are some people who will cheer us on.

Make Worship a Priority Rather than an Option

In verse 25 we are told, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”  I have observed that we are ignoring this command more and more. We seem to find all kinds of reasons to neglect worshiping together.

  • We choose to be involved in other activities. We complain that more and more people are scheduling things on Sunday and even Sunday morning. There are family gatherings, sporting events, club activities and dinners. Do you know why? It’s because Christians are choosing to neglect meeting together rather than take a stand for Christ. People (our children) are watching to see whether or not the Lord is first in our life or only something we do when we have nothing better to do. If Christians would consistenly choose worship, organizations would stop scheduling activities in competition to the church. Why? Because there wouldn’t be enough people to make it worthwhile!
  • We say Sunday is the only day we have to rest. But, it is also the only day we have to worship. We can get rest by going to bed earlier. Life is about choices. Many of the same people who don’t worship because they “need to sleep” are the same ones who will get up early on Sunday if it is a different activity. The message comes through loud and clear: The Lord just isn’t that important!
  • We have to work. I actually understand that one (since I am working right now). However, many people can get their schedule changed if they really want to make a change. You change your schedule for other things, why not worship? I have found that if you are a good employee, and you are consistent about your Christian life, many employers are willing to make allowances for you to worship.

William Barclay takes it even further. He says people some people don’t go to worship out of fear. They don’t want others to make fun of them. They try to be secret disciples. However, the reality is that true discipleship runs counter to secrecy.

Still others choose not to worship because they don‘t like some of the people in the church. They seem to think that the church should be made up only of people who are just like them. One of the benefits of corporate worship is that we learn how to love, to forgive, and to see past differences. The church is the laboratory for learning to live like Christ. If you withdraw because people are not like you, you will shrivel up in your faith.

Some don’t worship because they believe they don’t need it. Barclay writes,

There is no man who can live the Christian life and neglect the fellowship of the Church. If any man feels that he can do so let him remember that he comes to Church not only to get but to give. If he thinks that the Church has faults, it is his duty to come in and help to mend them.[1]

There is at least one more reason people disobey the command to worship: shame. There are people who remove themselves from worship because they have messed up, are struggling, and they don’t want others to talk about their failures.

Frankly this is just as much an indictment of the church as it is the individual. This is supposed to be a place where hurting people come to find grace and mercy. Where else should someone turn who has stumbled or failed? It is a sad commentary that the local tavern is often more understanding than the people of God when struggle, failure, and hardship comes into our life. This is something we have to work on as a church family! People should come into this place and find our arms opened rather than our arms crossed.

And for those of you who are just too embarrassed to worship when you have faced a struggle . . . let me remind you that this is a place of SINNERS who have been saved by grace. We have all failed (and will do so again). We are all in the process of growing in Christ. No one has it all together. No one. Not even your Pastor. We are broken people who come to the Lord for healing. Our fellowship should be like a group of cancer survivors who form a support group . . . we are sin survivors and should be drawn close by our shared experience. If you will find understanding anywhere it should be among God’s people.

Our passage ends talking about encouraging one another as the day of Christ’s return draws closer. We certainly need to work at being encouragers. However, I think the Holy Spirit is telling us that when we gather together in worship, the very fact that we are here encourages the others who are here.

Think about the encouragement you receive from a Christmas Eve Eve or Easter service. We are encouraged because we gather together and in so doing have reminded each other that we are not alone fighting this battle for the Kingdom of God. When we make time to gather together we encourage each other to live more faithfully by our very presence!  Even if you “get nothing out of the worship” you will be encouraged and be an encouragement by your presence (I know you will encourage me!) When you sing, it encourages others to sing. When you are enthusiastic for the gospel, you encourage others to be enthusiastic. When you are honest about your failings you encourage others to be honest.

We need this time we spend together every week. It is not getting less important, it is getting MORE important. As society continues to decay and as we inch closer and closer to the Day when Christ will return, our times of worship should have the highest of priorities. As values crumble we should be more determined than ever to get our children involved in Sunday School and youth groups. They desperately need the counterbalance to everything else they are getting in the world. As people become more and more outspoken against Christianity (and it IS happening) we have a greater need than ever for our adult discussion groups, Bible studies, and other times of thinking through what we believe and why we believe it. There has never been a greater urgency to think clearly and carefully about the truths of the Scriptures. We need it to stand personally and we will need this knowledge to explain what we believe to others.

How we think is how we will live. If you are lax in your faith you may not even recognize that you are compromising and at times denying the truth. But others will see it. And the fact that YOU may not even see that you are drifting should motivate you all the more follow the instructions God has laid out for us in Hebrews 10.

[1] William Barclay, ed., The Letter to the Hebrews, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 121–122.

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