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Repentance

Diagram of Herod's Temple
Herod’s Temple, patterned after the Tabernacle

In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 9, the writer says that the ministry under the new covenant ministry is better than the ministry under the old covenant.

Under the old covenant in the Tabernacle — and later in the Temple — the ordinary priests could enter the Holy Place to do their ministry, but ordinary men couldn’t go there. The High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place (the “Holy of Holies”), but ordinary priests couldn’t go there. And the High Priest could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of atonement. He had to do this every year. The writer says that Jesus’ blood was so much more effective than the blood of goats and bulls in cleansing the conscience of God’s people. (Hebrews 9:13–14). (More on this tomorrow)

Application

Imagine feeling the guilt of committing a sin, knowing that it couldn’t be covered by a sacrifice for 364 days. Imagine carrying the conviction for that sin and every other sin you commit multiple times each day for an entire year. That’s a lot of guilt.

Next, imagine the feeling on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest emerges from the Most Holy Place. All that guilt from all those sins you committed for the past 365 days was covered… in an instant!

Ministry under the new covenant is so much better! No longer do God’s people have to look forward to a day when their sins could be dealt with. Now, we can look back, knowing that our sins have been covered — all of our sins, once for all time — by Jesus’ blood. What a relief!

If you are a believer, you don’t even have to worry if a sin you committed a moment ago is covered. It was already covered almost 2000 years ago, long before the Holy Spirit even convicted you of that sin and you asked for forgiveness!

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Note: Today’s devotional was supposed to have posted Saturday. Internet gremlins kept that from happening. Our next scheduled Bible reading is on Tuesday.


In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 6, we come across more scary words. The writer warns that if someone were to have been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift and God’s good word, and shared in the Holy Spirit, and then to fall away, there is no redemption, no repentance to enable them to come back because it would mean recrucifying Jesus, which is impossible to do. (Hebrews 6:4–6 CSB)

These are very scary words because it means that if it’s possible to lose your salvation, there is no way to get it back!

I remember growing up, never being sure whether or not I would go to heaven or not when I died. Sure, I was a pretty good kid, but with every white lie, every little sin, the thought would cross my mind, “Am I sure that I’m saved?”

Such questions can be healthy. The fact that we ask the question demonstrates spiritual interest. A lost person won’t worry if they’re saved or not because they have no interest; they’re spiritually dead. Spiritually dead people have no spiritual concerns.

Unfortunately, a lot of preachers have told a lot of lost people that since they prayed a prayer, since they were baptized, etc., they’re saved and they don’t ever need to ask the question again. But what if they were never saved to begin with? They’ve been given false assurance! And that’s really bad news!

Application

I was saved for almost ten years before I heard that it was possible to know that you’re saved for all eternity; I had never heard, “once saved, always saved.” I grieve for those who have never been told that it’s possible to know that you’re a child of God. And I grieve for those who fear that maybe they’ve committed the “unpardonable sin” (Matthew 12:31)

But the bottom line is, if you are one of God’s kids, you can be absolutely sure that you’re saved. And if you’re one of His kids, know that the security of your eternal destiny is based in your Father’s character. The Holy Spirit has been given as a downpayment for your salvation. (Ephesians 1:14)

For God to take away your salvation,
He would have to forfeit the Holy Spirit!

Getting back to the original point, I think that the emphasis the writer was trying to make was not on those who fall away, but the sufficiency of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice. His sacrifice is more than enough to cover our depravity and all the behavior it gives birth to. And as I said a couple of days ago, our salvation has nothing to do with our behavior — neither for getting salvation, nor for keeping it — but it has everything to do with Jesus’ behavior.

If you’re one of God’s kids, don’t have to worry about Do. Do. Do. Do. Don’t do. Don’t do. Don’t even think about doing. Just rest in Jesus’ “Done!”

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We come across some hard words in today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 4. It’s a good reminder that not everyone who followed Moses out of Egypt made it to the Promised Land. As a matter of fact, only two did: Joshua and Caleb. Even Moses was denied entrance.

The writer of Hebrews warns believers to be careful to not grow hardhearted and therefore to fall short. He wraps up the chapter with

Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 CSB)

On one hand, the writer tells us that we can boldly approach God’s throne of grace, yet he says earlier in this chapter (and in the previous chapters) that we need to strive to enter His rest so no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11)

So how does that work? On one hand he’s talking about falling short by disobedience and on the other hand he says that we can approach His throne to find grace and mercy. Isn’t grace “undeserved favor” that God gives believers? Then how does obedience figure in?

Think about it. You probably love your children more than anything in the world. You’d do anything for them and give them anything they need. But where does obedience figure into that? Will you withhold something from a disobedient child? Of course you would — if you really love him!

Later, the writer will tell us that the discipline we receive from our Heavenly Father demonstrates that we are His kids. Disciplining our own children demonstrates our love for them. And even when they’re disobedient, we still love them and will do whatever we can for them. Our love is grace or undeserved favor we give them by virtue that they are our children.

Application

All believers have received grace and mercy from our Father. We didn’t do anything to get the favor He has shown to us. And because we didn’t do anything to get it, His continued favor is not dependent on our behavior. However, the more we know our loving Father, the more we will want to return His love and the more we will want to please Him with our obedience to His commands.

If you’re not interested in changing your behavior to obey God’s commands, you might want to check your spiritual state: Are you really one of His kids or not?

All of His children will enter His rest. Those who don’t enter His rest are not His children.

Some of the scariest words in the Bible are,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’ (Matthew 7:21–23 CSB)

Jesus points out that behavior doesn’t promise eternal life. Knowledge of Him and knowledge by Him does. (John 17:3) Knowing and being known are the key; they signify a relationship with Him.

And that’s what it’s all about.

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Many of my family members are United Methodists. Many of my friends are United Methodists. Some of my “Facebook Friends” (whom I have never really met) are United Methodists. I was saved during revival services at a small country United Methodist Church. My number one reason for leaving the Denomination and not pursuing vocational ministry in the UMC – aside for obvious theological differences – was I knew that I could not with a good conscience hold to my theological differences with the UMC while drawing a paycheck from the Denomination. Those theological differences are unrelated to this post.

Last week, the United Methodists from around the world met in St. Louis, Missouri to try to make sense of its differences and chart a way forward. At the forefront was the issue of ordination of openly gay clergy and gay marriage. There were several paths they could have chosen, including a “One Church” Plan that would have allowed churches and their clergy, regardless of their position on these issues, to affirm or forbid gay clergy and/or gay marriage.

However, the “Traditional” Plan prevailed. The “Traditional” Plan, backed by a large number of delegates from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, affirms The Book of the Discipline, UMC’s statement of doctrine and practice. The Book of the Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. Therefore, by default, gay ordination and gay marriage would also be incompatible.

In several Facebook posts, several of my United Methodist Pastor friends have expressed their deep concerns for the future of the second largest denomination in the United States. They are concerned about those on both sides of the issue being hurt by the vote. This morning, one posted a link to an article posted yesterday by another Methodist pastor. In the article, Jason Micheli’s parishioner (the article’s actual content writer) says, “The United Methodist Church’s unfixable rot has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with polity.” The writer lays out his argument that the root of the problem in the UMC is its polity, and as such, the denomination was destined to reach the impasse they currently find themselves in.

While all of these things may be true, I think the article writer – and perhaps most United Methodists – miss is an even deeper issue, which I encountered a few days ago with a “Facebook Friend”. This person shared someone else’s post. Here’s the thread:

Original Post:
“Please don’t say the struggle for LGBTQ rights is dividing the church. No one is being divisive by simply claiming their rights as a human being. What is tearing the church apart is the hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.”

My response:
“No one’s being divisive by pointing out a denomination’s written statement of doctrine and practice and calling those paid by that denomination to adhere to it. No one’s being divisive to say the Bible is still authoritative. John Wesley held a high view of the Bible and based his own ethics and behavior on all of it.”

My Facebook friend’s response:
“Scripture does not condemn Homosexuality.
Policies are not scripture or the Church.”

My responses:
“Which Bible are you reading? I know which one you aren’t reading.
It shouldn’t be too much to expect organizational employees to faithfully represent the organization, regardless of the organization – McDonald’s, Starbucks, UMC, IBM, etc. – if they wish to keep a paycheck. The Book of the Discipline is what the UMC has codified. Those drawing a paycheck should faithfully represent the UMC, or find another organization they can faithfully represent.
This is reason #1 I did not pursue ministry in the UMC.”

– End of Thread –

The problem with the UMC which has brought division is not the “hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.” The problem with the UMC is that they can’t agree on the place of the Bible in the Denomination’s theology and practice. Therefore, they can’t define sin in an objective way, because they don’t have an objective source. From the reaction I have seen in the press and on social media, it would appear that “sin” would be to act in an “unchristlike” way: judgmental, intolerant, and unaffirming of others.

And therein lies the problem.

Those on both sides of the gay ordination/gay marriage issue claim the other side is being “unchristlike“. But how can someone actually define “unchristlike” apart from a Biblical standpoint? After all, everything we know about Jesus Christ and what He was like is in the Bible. Jesus had some very divisive things to say to a lot of people as He called out their sin. And those He reached out to in mercy and grace, He told to repent of their behaviorand sin no longer.

There can be no objective definition of “Christlike“/”unchristlike“, “sin“, “repentance“, and “reaching the world with the gospel” apart from the Bible.

And until the United Methodist Church decides the place and authority of the Bible, there can be no definition of “unity” or any of these crucial and highly relevant words.

Until good people are more concerned with fidelity to the Bible and historic, Christian teachings on homosexuality – consistent for nearly two centuries – than with their concern for “friends on both sides of the issue who are hurt by the vote”, the future of the United Methodist Church is bleak.

Methodist friends, you have passed a historic vote to stand firm on your position stated clearly in The Book of the Discipline. The only two choices you have is to remain true to Biblical truth (as you voted last week) or bend to the modern morays of the Sexual Revolution. I’m not saying that homosexuals and those ordaining them and/or performing homosexual marriages are evil. But the Bible unequivocally denounces homosexual behavior.

On January 30, I asked the question, How low can we go? The context of this question had to do with how Virginia and New York seemed to be besting each other to be more liberal than the other.

And then I read about yesterday’s Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (S. 130) that failed to pass in the Senate. If passed, the Bill would protect babies who survived an abortion, granting them full, protected human rights and would require medical professionals to report such situations.

Unfortunately, the bill which received somewhat bipartisan support failed to reach cloture (2/3 majority vote). Three Democrats voted in favor and no Republicans voted against, and three Republicans did not vote, Lisa Murkowski (AK), Kevin Cramer (ND), and Tim Scott (SC).

The bill couldn’t get a 2/3 majority vote! Who can’t vote to protect a living, post-birth baby?! This shouldn’t be considered a “Right vs. Left” issue. This is a “Right vs. Wrong” issue. Can we not agree on this basic definition?!

President Woodrow Wilson was right when he said of the US Senate,

“the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.”

I commented on Facebook this morning, “The fact that this legislation didn’t sail through with 100% support is a terrible indictment on our nation. I honestly cannot see how any decent human being could vote against infanticide. God have mercy on us!”

“Decent human being”. Evidently, the bar for my definition is set too high.

It is past time for God’s people to fall on our knees and cry out to God to have mercy to us and to grant us the grace of a deep repentance. We need a Spiritual Awakening greater than the First and Second Great Awakenings to right this ship.


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