Hebrews 10:1-18

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Hebrews 10:1-18

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Ron Sider died this week, on Wednesday, July 27. He was an interesting and, at times, controversial theologian. His best-known book is Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger in which he attacks materialism and indifference toward the poor among Christians. It is a fascinating book. However, I was most struck by his 2005 work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?. As the title suggests, in this book he takes a close look at the moral and ethical lives of self-professing believers. What he finds is troubling to say the least. That book begins like this:

Once upon a time there was a great religion that over the centuries had spread all over the world. But in those lands where it had existed for the longest time, its adherents slowly grew complacent, lukewarm, and skeptical. Indeed, many of the leaders of its oldest groups even publicly rejected some of the religion’s most basic beliefs.

In response, a renewal movement emerged, passionately championing the historic claims of the old religion and eagerly inviting unbelievers everywhere to embrace the ancient faith. Rejecting the skepticism of leaders who no longer believed in a God who works miracles, members of the renewal movement vigorously argued that their God not only had performed miraculous deeds in the past but still miraculously transforms all who believe. Indeed, a radical, miraculous “new birth” that began a lifetime of sweeping moral renewal and transformation was at the center of their preaching. Over time, the renewal movement flourished to the point of becoming one of the most influential wings of the whole religion…

Then the pollsters started conducting scientific polls of the general population. In spite of the renewal movement’s proud claims to miraculous transformation, the polls showed that members of the movement divorced their spouses just as often as their secular neighbors. They beat their wives as often as their neighbors. They were almost as materialistic and even more racist than their pagan friends. The hard-core skeptics smiled in cynical amusement at this blatant hypocrisy. The general population was puzzled and disgusted. Many of the renewal movement’s leaders simply stepped up the tempo of their now enormously successful, highly sophisticated promotional programs. Others wept.

This, alas, is roughly the situation of Western or at least American evangelicalism today.[1]

Church, the crisis of our day is a crisis in the area of sanctification. What is sanctification? Let me offer two definitions. First, Grant Osborne and George Guthrie define it like this:

Sanctification is the process by which we step by step become more like Christ, and this is a “perfect process” and goal for the Christian life.[2]

F.F. Bruce writes:

The sanctification which his people receive in consequence is their inward cleansing from sin and their being made fit for the presence of God, so that henceforth they can offer him acceptable worship.[3]

I might put it like this: sanctification is our journey toward becoming perfectly holy.

Does that trouble you? “Perfectly holy”? I wonder why it does? Surely perfection must be our goal, no? Jesus, in Matthew 5, plainly says:

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

So we “must be perfect.” Note that I defined sanctification as “our journey toward” perfection. Yes, we are beset by sin and the weakness of the flesh, but when is the last time you reminded yourself that the end goal of the Christian life is union with Christ in perfect holiness?

Hebrews 10 is going to argue for sanctification, but it does so in interesting ways. Above all, however, it links our sanctification to the cross of Christ. The question, then, is not, “What must I do to be sanctified?” No, the first question is, “What has Christ accomplished for us on the cross?” If we get that wrong, then any other conversation about sanctification, about holiness, about becoming like Jesus, is doomed to be misguided.

The first nine verses are essentially a restatement of the previous few chapters in which the author has argued for both the superiority of Jesus and the superiority of the sacrifice that Jesus offered on the cross.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.

In verses 10-18, however, he gives further insight into what exactly was accomplished on the cross of Christ.

Through His death on the cross, Jesus has won for us a legal declaration of holiness in heaven.

In Hebrews 10 the author makes two astonishing statements about what Christ has accomplished on the cross for human beings. Listen closely:

10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

This is amazing and shocking indeed! Through Christ’s offering of Himself on the cross He has:

  • sanctified

and

  • perfected for all time.

But how can this be? How can it be said that Christ sanctified and perfected us when we still struggle with sin? The answer is that the perfect sacrifice of Christ and the shedding of His innocent and holy blood wins for us a “not guilty” verdict in the court of Heaven. Christ’s crucifixion makes a legal declaration for all who receive the blood by grace through faith! That is, when you trust in Christ and repent of your sins you become a partaker of the verdict of “holy” and “not guilty” that He has won for you. He takes our sin, pays the price, and gives us life and a declaration of innocence!

In Colossians 2 Paul expresses this idea of a legal declaration of innocence through the use of a financial metaphor. Listen:

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

You were dead in your sins and in debt because of your sins! We all are outside of Christ! But on the cross of Christ your “record of debt” and its “legal demands” are nailed to it and thereby “set aside” and “canceled.”

Jesus, on the cross, wins for us a legal declaration of holiness in the court of Heaven.

What this means, then, is that when we are born again, washed in the blood, made alive, resurrected with Christ, then, when our perfectly holy God looks at us He sees the perfection and holiness of the Son who has covered us!

Church, Christ has rendered us sanctified and perfected before the throne of God by virtue of His perfection under which we shelter when we come to Jesus! This can be the only understanding of Hebrews’ audacious claim, especially in light of the fact that we still struggle and battle with sin.

We have a positional and legal sanctification and perfection through the complete saving work of Jesus on the cross!

What, then? Should we say on that basis that there is therefore no need for us to strive for holiness? If we have a positional and legal status of perfection on the basis of the obedience and sacrifice of Christ, why be good?

Through His death on the cross, Jesus has invited us into a lifelong journey of becoming in actuality what we have been declared to be legally.

The answer is because the Christ who secures for us a legal declaration of holiness is the Christ who, through His Spirit, is every moment working to bring the actuality of our lives in line with the legal declaration! You are saved to become in reality what you have been legally proclaimed to be positionally! Once again, listen:

14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Oh my! Did you catch that? “He has perfected…” It is done! You have been declared free and alive and innocent on the basis of the perfections of Christ! But: “he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

Did you see that? “Are being sanctified…” The ESV Study Bible comments on this thus:

those who are being sanctified…The Greek present participle allows for the idea of progressive sanctification in this life and/or present positional sanctification of the believer as one who from the start is deemed perfectly holy (see 10:10; and “saints” in 6:10; 13:24).[4]

I think this is correct. In other words, we have been sanctified but we are being sanctified! We are positionally complete in our sanctification but we are in process of being sanctified day by day by day!

We have been proclaimed holy yet we are becoming holy!

The reformer Martin Luther handled this idea well when he spoke of Christians as simul justus et peccator, “at the same time a justified person and a sinner.” We are justified, saved, redeemed, but we yet struggle with sin!

How, then, are we sanctified in the process? What does that look like? Look at the very next verses.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

How powerful! How beautiful! The God who renders you positionally holy and sanctified and perfect is the God who then empowers and equips you to become this in actuality by depositing into your life the Holy Spirit who agitates for sanctification! Our great God puts His law in our hearts and writes His law on our minds!

This is why any effort to rest on the positional declaration of holiness without entering the actualizing process of holiness is utterly absurd and blasphemous! If you are truly in Christ by grace through faith then the Holy Spirit is even now pressing you to become right now what you have been proclaimed to be on the cross: sanctified and holy!

Put another way, to claim to have the blood while being indifferent to the journey of holiness is to reveal that you likely do not have the blood, that you have never truly come to Christ!

Through His death on the cross, the declaration of our holiness will one day match the actuality of it in utter perfection and complete sanctification.

But there is another sense in which our sanctification and holiness should be considered: the future tense. Listen to Paul in Ephesians 5.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Amazing, Christ intends to present us fully sanctified—“without spot or wrinkle or any such thing”—when we stand before Him in glory! But He does so on the basis of the fact that He “gave himself up for” the church. In other words the past declaration of our sanctification will one day yield to the eternal reality of our sanctification.

He will do so in glory! The day will come, in other words, when the actualized reality matches in perfection the legal declaration, when we truly are what we have been proclaimed to be!

Our sanctification is therefore, biblically, a:

  • position in its legal declaration (At the cross!)
  • process in its actualization (Today!)
  • perfection in its final consummation (In heaven!)

Theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. concluded, “It is, therefore, proper to say that we have been sanctified, we are being sanctified, and we shall be sanctified.”[5]

Brothers. Sisters. Actually following Jesus is not a nice option for super-serious Christians. It is the very life to which we have been called and, whether we know it or not, the watching world is right to expect to see such a life when we make such a profession.

We were called to be holy and, on the basis of the work of Christ on the cross and through the empty tomb, He can indeed work this work in our lives.

Let us strive now to become what we have been proclaimed to be and what we will one day actually be.

But let us strive now! Here! Let us be a holy people, a sanctified people!

 

[1] Sider, Ronald J. The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (pp. 11-12). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Osborne, Grant, Guthrie, George H. Hebrews: Verse by Verse (234). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.

[3] F. F. Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Kindle Locations 2755-2757). Kindle Edition.

[4] Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 151093-151096). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

[5] James Leo Garrett Jr. Systematic Theology. Volume 2. 2nd edition. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014), p.402.

2 thoughts on “Hebrews 10:1-18

  1. WOW, what a great reminder and the challenge was …… well, a tall call if you please. I like the Dr. Garrett quote near the end especially. The “call” to come up hither is a long way from here for some of us; pray for us as we PRAY for thee, truly grateful :-) johnboy

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