Once again an unforeseen delay has hit. I had surgery on my right ankle yesterday. Reading is difficult and typing is a problem. I have five or six drafts started, but it’s going to be a while till I get to them. Sorry for the delays.

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Blood on the Table — Sanctification

Four more effects of the blood of Christ remain: sanctification (Heb 13.12); eternal life (John 6.53-56); resurrection (John 6.53-56); and final victory (Rev 12.11). Here we take up the first, sanctification.

Sanctification is a concept that plays a large part in evangelical thought about life before God. Chafer gives this definition of one of three categories of the usage of the word: it designates that “by the power of the Holy Spirit operating inside the child of God that one is energized both to be delivered from sin and to be effective in every right attitude and service” (Systematic Theology, 6:46). Berkhof adds three characteristics of this idea: “It differs from justification in that it takes place in the inner life of man, is not a legal but a recreative act, is usually a lengthy process, and never reaches perfection in this life” (Systematic Theology, Accordance Version). Yet, it seems clear that these ideas do not fit our passage in Hebrews 13. Indeed, I find at least five different senses for this idea in the New Testament. What, then, does sanctification mean in Hebrews 13.12?

Westcott, in a comment on Hebrews 9.13, says, “The idea is that of the ceremonial purity which enabled the Jew to enjoy the full privileges of his covenant worship and fellowship with the external Church of God” (The Epistle to the Hebrews with Notes and Essays, Accordance version).

In the one work of Christ on the cross, He has made it possible for all His people to be fit participants int he New Covenant, for it is the sacrifice of the New Covenant that is in view in the context. We are fit for God, fitted for His service (cp. the discussions of Access to God earlier in these posts), and acceptable in God’s presence. But it is by the work of Christ. The blood on the table at the Lord’s Supper, the cup of Jesus that we drink, declares us, because of His work alone, to be to be acceptable to God!

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Cleansing the Conscience — Guilt and Cleansing — Conclusion

So what is the conclusion of all that we have been saying? Cleansing of the conscience is the solution to the problem of guilt. The cross delivers us from the penalty of sin (from objective guilt). But the problem of our personal sense of guilt remains unless God has made other provisions; and He has. The blood of Christ, that is, an effect of the work of Christ on the cross, is to cleanse our conscience. He removes the sense of blameworthiness that assails us in the wake of our sins. Of particular interest in our studies on the Lord’s supper is the role of the cup in this ministry of cleansing. Through the cup, in symbol, Jesus applies His blood to our inner person. The symbolism, drawn from Exodus 24, means that He has fitted us for fellowship with and ministry to the living God.

The issue for us, then, is that we must decide what to believe. When praying about our sin, or when participating in the Supper, we must decide whether to trust the conscience (which is formed and determined by our culture, though it is a gift from God) or the Work of Christ. We must determine whether to believe our sin or Jesus.

The effect of the cleansing is that we know our sin. We have not forgotten the sin that has blighted our life. But sin no longer defines our life. Jesus, His work and righteousness, defines us. In fact, we can and must calm our souls before Him. I may rightly deny to myself the “luxury” (sick as this is) of wallowing in guilt and allowing guilt and sin to keep me from the joy that Jesus ministers, and the joy of ministry to and for Him. This is the point of Hebrews 9.14: “How much more shall the blood of Christ … cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

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Cleansing the Conscience — Forgiveness — Red Heifers — Part 10

I grew up in the largest cow town in America, but I’m still essentially a city boy. So I had to ask what a red heifer would be. The word has two elements, in the Bible. First, a heifer is a young female cow (don’t blame me; that’s how the New Oxford American Dictionary said it!) that has not born a calf. The second element is clear from Numbers 19.2: “on which no yoke has ever come.” The animal, finally, had to be red, having red hair. In later Jewish practice, the animal had to have no more than two black hairs growing out of the same follicle. Recently, in 1999, Israel thought that a valid red heifer had been born in the country, but later it was disqualified (I did not hear the reason for the disqualification).

The law required that the priesthood burn the animal completely to ash. They then gathered the ash and preserved it for important cleansing rituals (explained in Num 19.11-22). Ritual purity was the presupposition of the entire Law of Moses. This ritual purity concerned matters, generally, such as physical conditions (childbirth, for example), but especially physical contact with death. This is the particular concern in Numbers 19. There are, then, two types of impurity: minor impurities that do not require sacrificial remedies, and major impurities that require sacrifice (as in Lev 14, the ritual for purifying someone who has had leprosy). The chief impurity is death. Contracting the impurity of death threatened severing the Israelite from his people (Num 19.20). So, going through the ritual of the red heifer made one fit to participate in the public worship of God.

If these things are true, Hebrews 9.13-14 says, then it is all the more true that one who is clean because of the blood of Christ is fit for the worship of God. Our problem, then, becomes a problem of faith, not one of sin. Is the blood of Christ more powerful than my sin? Is it more powerful and authoritative than my conscience? If not, then we really are not fit for the service of God. If so, then no amount of grieving is needed. No amount of pleading is needed. Only the blood of Christ satisfies God. Or else, my conscience is more righteous, powerful, holy, than God is.

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Cleansing the Conscience — Conscience and Guilt — Part 9 — Forgiveness

Now we turn to the other of the two issues that we must understand in facing our guilt. How can I bear the idea of being everlastingly a demonstration of God’s grace (Eph 2.7)? If that means that anyone who cares to will know that I don’t deserve the status that I will have, how can I live with that awareness? The first part of our answer is that we must become so enamored of God’s glory that we simply discount, disregard our own honor.

The second part of the answer is that we must come to understand the reality of forgiveness. We dealt with this in some detail back in August of last year. This, then, will be a summary of what we said there.

Forgiveness addresses two issues. If we have both objective and subjective guilt, then forgiveness must address both. Forgiveness addresses objective guilt (the historical record of what we have done) by releasing us from the penalty of our sin. Jesus, as the song says, paid it all (Col 2.13; Rom 4.25): He has forgiven us all our trespasses. Then, forgiveness addresses subjective guilt (our personal sense of blameworthiness) by the means of cleansing the conscience. But what is this cleansing?

Hebrews 9.14 specifically refers to this phrase. “… how much more shall the blood of Christ … cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (ASV). But what does it mean? Verse 13 will help to understand. That verse refers to a ritual under the Mosaic Law, the Red Heifer (Num 19). Since unclean, defiling Israel lives with a holy God, either God must destroy them, or they must be adapted to His character. This means that a significant body of the Mosaic Law deals with defilements and the means for their cleansing. This will be the subject of the next post.


Cleansing the Conscience — Conscience and Guilt — Part 9

How can I face my blameworthiness? It depends on whose honor I am seeking. If I am intent on seeking my own honor (as in John 5.44; 7.18!), then I am not seeking the honor of God. If I am seeking God’s honor, then no dishonor that I might bear, including the dishonor of my own sin, is too great. But how does this fit with the honor of God? (I hope this sounds familiar! I have not written these posts to be individually complete; I intend them to be cumulative.)

Jesus Himself adopted this attitude in facing the cross: He endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God (Heb 12.2). Then, what does it mean for us? God means our lives, in their entirety, to bring glory to Himself. This is the necessity of the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom 14.10; 2 Cor 5.10). There we will receive the things done in the body. Murray Harris comments that this is “the divine illumination of what has been hidden by darkness and the divine exposure of secret aims and motives. The person thus scrutinized will then receive an equitable and full recompense (‘what is due him’)” (2 Corinthians, EBC). This judgment aims, not at our humiliation, but at reward (as 1 Cor 4.5 makes clear). Hear the  Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) translation of the end of that verse: “And then praise will come to each one from God.”

But the judgment, as all other things, must bring glory to God, and this must be our highest hope. How? All of our sins will show that we are at the Judgment Seat only by the grace of God in our Lord Jesus. We deserve nothing but everlasting wrath. All our righteousness will show that He has been at work in us through His Spirit (Phil 1.6; 2.12-13; John 15.5). Thus, God must reveal all that we have done, and He must receive glory from it all. And this must be our highest hope.

If, however, our confidence is in our service to God, the Judgment Seat must show that we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17.10) since we have done only what we should have. Even more, the Judgment will demonstrate that all of our service was God’s work in us (Phil 1.6; 2.13). He gave us the desire. He gave us the ability. He did the work through us (though not apart from us). He gave the results. Then our sin and even our service  will mean shame for us, because our goals, our hopes, our confidence, were all set upon achieving, by our service, our personal honor.

If, then, I seek God’s glory, I can be content, even delighted, to have even what shames me revealed. He must increase; I must decrease.

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Cleansing the Conscience — Conscience and Guilt — Part 8

Now, of course, one may grant what we have said, without therefore granting that we have answered our basic question. We are immediately dealing with glory (two posts ago, we made this step). What has glory to do with facing my blameworthiness? I would argue that it has everything to do with it. Glory, or honor, and its opposite, shame, were fundamental to all that ancient people did. They sought honor above money and all other things, and they feared shame more than all else.

When we think about shame, it is primarily because we have done something wrong, Shame is a “painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior” (New Oxford American Dictionary). We think of violations of a moral code. For a person in an honor-shame culture, shame came by failing to support the right cause (the honor of the family or other in-group to which one belonged). The shameful behavior might be right in our eyes, but to them it is shameful. I have taught in places where it is shameful not to cheat on tests. To allow one who is in my in-group to fail the test is a greater shame than cheating on the test. This is hard for us to understand, but it is the way of much of the world.

All of this bears on our question. How can I face my blameworthiness? It depends on whose honor I am committed to. If I am intent on seeking my own honor (as in John 5.44; 7.18!), then I am not seeking the honor of God. If I am seeking God’s honor, then no dishonor that I might bear, including the dishonor of my own sin, is too great. But how does this fit with the honor of God?

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More information on John

For those who would like to check the data I referred to in the previous post, go to where you can download a pdf. Don’t be afraid since it’s in Greek. The references in John are the important issues for me. You can see all the selections that I have made and think through them.

As always, thank you for reading this blog. May God bless you through it.

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Cleansing the Conscience — Conscience and Guilt — Part 7

To honor God, I have argued, requires that my blameworthiness be on display (Eph 2.7). How, then, does this honor God? We have turned to the gospel of John (15. 8; 14.15)  to address these questions. How, then, can we “bear much fruit,” and “keep my commandments”? And how do these ideas fit with what we have said about Ephesians 2.7?

I have just completed reading the Gospel of John to look at the commandments Jesus gives. Not everyone, since some are evidently of significance only, or primarily, to the characters in the story. The instruction not to marvel in 3.7 (to Nicodemus) is an illustration of a command that could go either way: an instruction primarily for Nicodemus, or one that has also the reader in mind. There are, counting that verse and 8.11 (which is not likely original to John’s gospel), 22 direct imperatives in the book. There are 98 other passages that I class as indirect commandments, in that they have no imperative, but the evident sense of the statement is to impose an obligation on, primarily, the reader of the book. This happens either by expressing a purpose statement (“in order that all may …”) or by giving a positive or negative example of what the reader should do (cp. 8.42).

The conclusion that I draw from this review is that Jesus fundamentally gave only two major commandments in John: to believe in Him (3.16), and to love one another (13.34-35). All of the other instructions, from “feed my sheep” to “go and sin no more, lest something worse should come upon you,” fit under one of these two heads.

So, when Jesus commands to bear fruit and to keep His commandments, what is He talking about: living by faith in Him and loving one another. We do not, by Jesus’ teaching, return to a works style of living. These are the things that evidence our love for Christ and that give honor to God.

But how are they to be achieved? By faith, living in faith in the Son (cp. 5.38 with 15.14). This is the life that honors God.

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Cleansing the Conscience — Conscience and Guilt — Part 6

But how can I face the fact that my blameworthiness remains?

This question dogs many who confront these ideas. First, it is a necessity that my blameworthiness remain. It is the presupposition of being a recipient of grace. Ephesians 2.7 imposes this necessity: “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable  riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” How can God demonstrate His grace in us and to us unless we are known to be blameworthy sinners? God intends us to be “for the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph 1.6). How can we bring glory to His grace if we are not known as blameworthy sinners?

How can I bear such a destiny? I thought all of that was forgiven. There is no way in print to express the anguish that these thoughts impose. The answer is twofold: the nature of forgiveness and the issues surrounding the notion of glory.

First, the issue of glory. What is it that you believe gives you honor? We have the obvious things that our culture raises: money, position, influence, character. But what gives us honor before God? Certainly none of these. Then what gives us honor before God. John 15.8 might come to mind: “By this my Father is glorified, that you  bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” But how may we be Jesus’ disciples and bear much fruit? Surely, someone will say what Jesus said, by keeping His commandments (14.8). That’s easy to answer. But what are His commandments? One limitation, though, I would place on the answer: to answer a question about something in the Gospel of John, I ought to stay with John’s gospel. So what are Jesus’ commandments in John? That we will answer in the next post.

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