From what I understand the election process for Democrats in Iowa is quite the event. In Iowa they vote by means of the caucus, and, for the Democrats, each person votes by standing in a designated area.
One area is designated for this candidate and another area is designated for that candidate, and so on. So, when they vote, they vote with their feet.
So, for about 30 minutes it is an all-out political blitzkrieg. Then, at the end, everyone has to go to their specified area. They have to vote for who they deem to be the best candidate. Or, to put it succinctly, they must stand with their man.
It is a distinct way of showing one’s commitment. And there is a sense in which that is what is going on here in our passage of Scripture this morning. As I mentioned last time, we’ve come to the close of the doctrinal portion of the book of Hebrews. And you might say that the author has been making his best case for his candidate. He has presented Christ to them and shown them how He is Superior.
Now, in our passage, he’s essentially saying that the time has come. It is time to vote. It is time to commit and pledge your allegiance by standing with your man.
And our passage contains three exhortations that summarize what it means to commit to Christ. The first three verses basically summarize everything up to this point: Christ is our Savior & high priest. But the second half of the passage fleshes out what this commitment looks like. It says that committing to Christ will have three specific dimensions to it: there is a relational side, a doctrinal side, and a corporate (or communal side).
Now, you understand why he does this. He wants them to understand that they can’t simply give a head nod to Christ. These people are on the verge of apostasy and he wants them to know that anything less than what is laid out here is not sufficient.
God will not be pleased with a hodge-podge / willy-nilly commitment. If you are going to stand with Christ your commitment must embody everything that is said here.
I really like where he starts too. The first exhortation gets at the heart of the matter. He says that our commitment must be, first and foremost, relational.
I. Our commitment must be relational
Look at verse 22. It says, “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.”
Now, the emphasis is that first part where it says “Let us draw near with a true heart.” This is an allusion to what the priests did in the temple, and he’s employing this picture to help us understand the kind of relationship to which we must commit. The priests were the ones who “drew near to God” when they entered the Holy place or the Most holy place. They were the ones who we able to relate to God.
So this idea of “drawing near” is the lingo of a relationship, isn’t it? We are to draw near to God in that we commit to him and develop a committed relationship with him.
Think of it in terms of your relationship to your spouse. You are to draw near to him/her aren’t you? That closeness is indicative of your commitment to each other. If you are standing back or avoiding that person, if you are not drawing near, then there’s something wrong with your relationship. You need to fix that and commit to one another so that you can be near each other.
And this is what the author is saying here. Christ has made it possible for you to draw near to God. He’s made it possible for you to have a relationship with him. Now you need to show your commitment to him by developing this relationship.
And notice that the focus is on the heart. “It says we are to draw near with a true heart.” It is not talking about formalistic religion here. It isn’t talking about how many times you go to church or how many pages you read out of your Bible. You can do those things and never really draw near to God.
You remember that was what Christ accused the Pharisees of. He said, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” In other words, they might have looked like they were very devoted people by all the religious things they were doing, but that was far from it. Their hearts were not in it. Their commitment was only skin deep.
Louis Berkoff is famed for having written a systematic theology. It is a great work. But at the very opening of it he wrote a chapter on the nature of religion. And before he got to all the intricacies of the doctrinal components of our faith he wrote this: “Christianity is primarily a religion of the heart.”
Really, that’s where one’s commitment resides, isn’t it? It’s in the heart.
I think I’ve told the story before about the little boy who was standing up in church. Everyone else was sitting, but he was doing his own thing. His mother told him that he needed to sit down, but he stubbornly refused. After doing that a couple times, and testing his mother’s patience, his mother picked him up and sat him down. But he looked at her and said, “I want you to know that I’m standing up on the inside.”
Where was his heart? He might have been sitting was committed to standing, wasn’t he?
I’m afraid that there are many people who are like that with God. Outwardly they may be doing a lot of religious stuff, but they are not drawing near with their hearts.
I hope that is not true of you. I hope that you have chosen to enter into a true relationship with Christ—one where you draw near to him with a true heart.
Having said that, let’s remember that this commitment must not be a schmaltzy one. When we are talking about a heart felt relationship with Christ, you could easily make it into something that is purely based on sentimental feelings.
But our passage doesn't let us do this because it tells us that our devotion to Christ must be more than just relational commitment, it must also be doctrinal.
II. Our commitment must be doctrinal
Look at verse 23. It emphasizes the doctrinal dimension of our commitment when it says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
The word for confession (or profession, as some translations have it) is a compound word. It is a word that combines two words: homo (which means same) & logos (word). Really it means “Let us hold fast the same words.” So a confession is when you speak the same words. You speak together certain truths and agreeing together that these facts are true.
So this is talking about our need to believe the right things about Christ. And it is reminding us that we can’t just be sappy Christians who “just have a heartfelt relationship with Christ.” It’s got to be a commitment that involves our minds and it has got to involve astute orthodoxy.
You know, I just said that Berkhof started out his systematic theology by saying “Christianity is primarily a religion of the heart.” But let’s not forget that he went on to write almost 900 more pages. The doctrinal dimension was not neglected. He recognizes that a relationship with Christ is going to be complimented by a right understanding of who Christ is and what he has done to save us.
And that’s what is really being said here in this passage. Yes, you need to draw near to God with a true heart. But you also need to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” We need to draw near to God by embracing, not some a Christ that you’ve made up or one that suits your personal preference. You need to embrace the one that is revealed in Scripture.
So, if you are not devoted to the doctrines of Christ—or the doctrines that Christ has revealed in Scripture, then you’re not devoted to Christ. You’re a big fat apostate.
This is part of the reason why we call ourselves a “Confessional church.” When we recite the Apostle’s Creed, we are speaking “the same words,” are we not? We hold to the London & Westminster confessions because these are the “same words” that have been confessed for hundreds of years. These are the doctrines that our forefathers in the faith have gained from Scripture and have handed down to us. And we as a church commit to these Creeds & Confessions because by doing so we demonstrate our commitment to Christ.
This is something that is quite different than what most people do today. A lot of people in the American church demur from doctrine. They don’t like creeds & confessions because they think it detracts from a real relationship with Christ.
From time to time you may hear people say, “I’m into a relationship and not into a religion.” They’ll say that creeds & confessions and doctrine is all “religious stuff.” And they don’t want to be religious. They just want to have a relationship with Christ.
But a lot of times all that is an excuse to dodge doctrine. It is a cheap cover for not being specific about who it is you really follow.
But the truth is, you cannot have a relationship with Christ without having the religion of Christ. Devotion demands doctrine. And commitment to Christ requires you to speak the “same words.”
I came across an article this week that said, “1 in 3 Presbyterians believes that Christ is the only way of salvation.” (Now, of course, I have to make sure you realize which Presbyterians this is talking about. There are good Presbyterians and bad ones. This was a survey done in the PCUSA church, the largest Presbyterian denomination—and not the denomination with which I am affiliated.)
Here you have an example of a bunch of people who are going around calling themselves Christians. They probably think that they are deeply committed to Christ. But the truth is they are not holding fast the confession of their hope without wavering. The Bible is clear that there is only one name given among men by which we must be saved. The book of Hebrews is very clear to say that salvation cannot come through Judaism, but is only to be found in Christ.
And we need to recognize that this is an error that we cannot make. If we are going to be Christians we need to commit to the doctrines that are revealed in Scripture and not waver from them.
But again, don’t think that your commitment to Christ is good to go if you’ve just got the relational and doctrinal points down. You’re still an apostate. You have not yet completely committed yourself to christ.
Our passage contains one more exhortation. It is found there in verses 24-25.
III. Our commitment must be communal
It says, “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.”
Do you see what is being said here? It’s saying that your commitment to Christ has to have a corporate (or communal) aspect to it too. The words “one another” are repeated twice, and in between them is the calling to not neglect meeting together. These two verses are stressing the bond of communion that is to exist between believers in the context of a particular church.
This is one thing many people do not recognize, and specifically people who are like us. We will readily affirm the relational and the doctrinal portions of our commitment. But this part is sometimes a little flimsy.
But the truth is this: You cannot commit to Christ without also committing to his church.
Look at verse 24. It says that we must “consider how to stir one another up to love and good works.” The word “stir up” usually has a bad connotation. It typically has the idea of agitating someone so as to stir up a fight. That’s why some of you might have the word “provoke.” But here it is employed in the sense of exciting someone to do good things.
So, what he’s saying is that your commitment to Christ should cause you to help other Christians remain faithful.
But how do you do that? How do you “stir one another up?” The answer is found in the next verse. It is by “not neglecting to meet together” and “by encouraging one another.”
The answer should be somewhat obvious. You can’t stir someone up if you are not around them. You have to meet together in order to provide that encouragement.
You know there is a whole movement afoot today that downplays corporate worship and the weekly assembling together. It is actually something of an oddity in the course of Church history. Throughout history people have recognized that when you come to faith in Christ, you join a church. The two go hand in hand. As a matter of fact, it has been often said that “to have God as your Father you must have the Church as your mother.” Some have even gone so far as to say, “Outside the church there is no salvation.”
Now whether or not you agree wholeheartedly with that last statement is not a big deal. But at least you can understand why they say this. If you are going to be saved, you need to commit to Christ. If you are going to commit to Christ, then you need to commit to a local body of believers, as this passage says.
But again, there are many today who don’t think in these terms. They think that doing home church or, worse yet, watching church on TV is just as good (if not better) than joining a particular church.
This verse tells us otherwise though. You cannot be committed to Christ and not be a part of a local church. Your commitment to Christ must demonstrate itself in a committed relationship to other believers.
This becomes even more apparent when we examine verse 25.
Again, verse 25 tells you how you stir one another up. It is by not neglecting to meet together.” Some of you will have the word, “forsake.”
We could also use the word “abandon,” or the phrase that I like is “to leave in the lurch.” I like that one because it helps us get a fuller picture of what it means to be a church hopper (or someone who bails on church altogether).
Do you know what it means to be left in the lurch? That’s not a phrase that is common today. But here’s the idea. Let’s say you have a job where there is a big project. There is a lot riding on this project and you have a significant part to play in this job. Now, let’s say you abandon your job. One day you wake up and say, “I quit. I’m not doing this anymore.” You’ve just put the company in a huge predicament. You’ve left them in the lurch. They will experience a huge loss because you chose to leave them. You were a vital part of that project and without you the project is going to suffer something terrible, if not altogether fold.
That’s what is being said happens every time someone up and leaves the church. When you forsake corporate worship or break ties with a local church, you are leaving your brethren in the lurch. You are not just sinning against God, but it is a huge detriment to your brothers and sisters in the Lord. You are robbing them of the encouragement they need. You are robbing them of your gifts and graces that you pledged to them.
It is like a piece of the body has been just amputated and they no longer have a vital organ. They are left to limp along without it.
This word (forsake) is also used a little later in the book of Hebrews. If you flip over to Hebrews 13:5 you’ll see that it says, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
That’s the promise of God’s covenant, isn’t it? And really, that’s his pledge of commitment. He’s promising never to leave you in the lurch. And what he requires is that you have the same commitment to him.
You might even say that when you commit to Christ what you are doing is committing yourself to the same things that he himself is committed: You are committing yourself to his people.
St. Chrysostom was an early church father, and one of the premier preachers of his day. As a matter of fact, he was given the name “Chrysostom” because of his eloquence. It literally means “golden mouth.”
In one of his sermons Chrysostom told of a martyr whose name was Lucian. Lucian was brought before the Roman tribunal. He was going to be condemned to death for having become a follower of Christ. When he was brought in the judge began to interrogate him with a barrage of questions. He first asked for his name. Lucian responded, “I am a Christian.” Then the judge asked, “What is your country and from whence do you come?” He responded in the same manner, “I am a Christian.” “What is your business?” said the judge. “I am a Christian,” was his answer. And to every other inquiry by the judge Lucian responded, “I am a Christian.”
It was not a trick that he sought to play on the Roman official. It was rather a demonstration that his heart was fully committed to Christ and His people. He was so absorbed in his Redeemer that he could not do anything else but stand with his man and His people.
In view of what our Redeemer has done for us, may we be willing to likewise commit.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.