Thursday, 27 August 2009

Drawing near and drawing back.

The letter to the Hebrews contains some of the most solemn warnings in the Bible. Souls with ultra-sensitive consciences often struggle through some of its statements. The letter is full of contrasts. It contrasts Christ with every other servant of God, and contrasts the New Covenant with the Old. There is another, underlying, contrast which is the whole basis of the letter; it is the contrast between drawing near and drawing back.

The letter focuses strongly on faith. Faith is the way that we respond positively to the word of God. In my little thumbnail definition I usually describe it as 'right response to revelation'. The letter to the Hebrews was written to people who have come to a place of personal faith in Christ and had received His Spirit but were in danger of reverting to their original Judaism. The writer, whoever it was, reminds his readers of the way in which old Israel 'drew back' from the promise that God had given them and died... 'out of Egypt' but never 'in the promised land'. I wonder how many this description would fit today? Have you turned your back on the old and known the beginnings of God's redemption but know you have not received all that was promised and find yourself stuck in a 'sub-standard Christianity'? Hebrews has a word for you.

Historically Israel had an Exodus, a meeting with God and, finally, a full entrance into their promised land. I am not suggesting that we create a three stage theology from this but only that these events may focus our attention in a helpful way. It is so easily forgotten, especially by preachers that 'he brought them out so that he could bring them in' is not the whole story. The full story is 'he brought them out so that he could bring them to himself, and after entering into a covenant with them he could then bring them in'. It's not as snappy perhaps that's why we usually go for the shortened version.

Do we have any consciousness of having 'drawn near to God' or is that just the language of the old hymns? On what basis would we be able to 'draw near to God'? Our author has no doubt; it is on the basis of faith. They did not 'draw near' because they had achieved some qualification in terms of righteousness; they 'drew near' because they were invited. Christ's death for us on the cross is the basis for our 'drawing near', nothing else will do. The apostle Peter once summed up the gospel in the words... For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God... 1 Pet 3:18 There is no other basis upon which we can draw near.

But being declared right with God is not quite the same as 'drawing near' to God. It is the necessary condition but not the automatic consequence. The apostle Paul writes of this fact in his letter to the saints in Rome, speaking of Christ he says; through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Rom 5:2-3 He has been speaking about 'justification by faith' but notice now that he says 'faith' gives him 'access into grace'. Faith opens the door and puts us on a right standing with God but we must then walk through it.

The danger for the readers of the Hebrew's letter was twofold; that they would not draw near AND that they would draw back. To 'draw back' in this context is to retreat from the understanding of acceptance with God by faith in Christ's sacrificial death and to set up our camp on the old ground of acceptance with God through human obediences. Those who do so, according to the writer are in mortal danger; Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” Heb 10:38 Just in case you missed it the first time he repeats the statement but in more positive terms in the following chapter; But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Heb 11:6

Acceptance with God is by grace through faith, but the reward is promised to those who 'diligently seek' him.

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