“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The Epistle to the Hebrews is found toward the end of the New Testament. We don’t know for sure who the author was, but his purpose in writing is clear. Believers who were part of the churches a few decades after Jesus left the earth were being confused by self-appointed teachers who were adding their ideas about how the Christian life should be lived. In effect, they were telling people: “Yes, Jesus Christ is the one-and-only Savior who has brought to you Eternal Life. However, here are the rules and patterns you need to follow in order to express this new Life in your daily living.” The author of Hebrews reminds them that “rules and practices” was the old way, the way that had proven inadequate to assure them of Eternal Life. God had indeed revealed these “rules and practices” through prophets over many years of teaching his children the baby steps of faith. But now that he has spoken the Last Word by sending his Son, there is no need for them to go over the baby steps again. The Son includes all of God’s truth, about his nature, his purposes and his final goal. To return to living by “rules and practices” is insulting to God’s Last Word of Eternal Life in his Son. Throughout the rest of the Epistle, the author repeatedly gives examples of the vast superiority of God’s Last Word.
This cycle has been repeated over and over again in the two-thousand year history of the church since then. The Last Word of God in his Son (the Gospel message) is accepted and embraced by a person, and they experience the thrill of Eternal Life. Then, it seems that right around the next corner there is someone waiting to lay some kind of a trip on the new believer: “Here are the disciplines you should follow.” “This is the correct doctrinal statement of faith.” “Are you sure you’re in the right church?” Many times this comes from good intentions to be helpful, but it can stall or stifle the spontaneous initiatives of the Holy Spirit in this unique new believer. After all, this person is experiencing Eternal Life? How can anyone believe that a set of “rules and practices” can shape their life more effectively than this new reality within?
John’s Gospel tells about a woman who was accused of adultery before Jesus (John 8:1-11). Instead of focusing on her, Jesus subtly exposed the hypocrisy and guilt of those who were judging her, and they all left. Jesus then asked the woman, “Who is standing to accuse you?” and she answered, “No one, sir.” He responded, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Now, suppose those men were waiting around the corner with renewed self-righteousness and confronted the woman, “You’re a fallen woman; you should feel the full weight of your guilt.” She should be able to answer back, “Jesus does not condemn me, and he has the Last Word.”
If you have heard Jesus say, “I forgive you,” why do you listen to any voice (from inside or outside) that still makes you feel condemned?
If you realize that Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished,” why do you keep trying to do more to earn your salvation, as if you were the one finishing what he started?
If Jesus says, “I have freed you from bondage,” why do you still submit to rules and practices others lay on you?
If you hear Jesus whisper in your heart, “I love you so much that I gave my life for you,” how can you refuse to love yourself?
Let Jesus be God’s Last Word to you, and enjoy your Eternal Life!
— Pastor George Van Alstine