Boldness and Access in Prayer - Hebrews 9-10

Grant Hawley

(Taken from The Guts of Grace)
When the temple made of stones still stood during Jesus’ earthly ministry, someone entering the temple would go through a gate in a large wall to reach the Court of the Gentiles. Here, anyone who wanted to come and worship the Lord could come. If this person were Jewish, he or she could pass through the beautiful gate and enter the Women’s Court. All Jewish people, both male and female, could enter this area. Through one more gate was the Court of Israel, where all Jewish men were allowed to go. This is where the Brazen Altar was, and where the priests would perform sacrifices. Through another large gate, the men of Israel, who were also of the tribe of Levi, who were also descended from Aaron, and whose lots had been cast that day could enter. This was the Holy Place. But still, even these could not go past the three‑inch (7.5cm) thick, intricately woven fabric that set the Holy of Holies apart.

The Holy of Holies was where God’s Shekinah glory was manifested. God resided above the Mercy Seat (Heb 9:5). In the Holy of Holies, between the wings of the large angelic images, the Ark of the Covenant sat. The Ark of the Covenant was an ornate box which contained the golden pot full of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets on which God inscribed the Ten Commandments (Heb 9:4).

There was one person who could go into the Holy of Holies. The High Priest could enter once per year on the Day of Atonement, but not without blood to sprinkle onto the Mercy Seat, and before he entered he had to fill the Holy of Holies with the smoke of incense so that he could not see the Shekinah glory undimmed. The Mercy Seat was the top of the Ark, where the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of an unblemished lamb. So, between the Ten Commandments, which were constantly broken, and the Shekinah glory of God, was the atoning blood. There was no provision in the Bible for cleaning the Ark, so year after year, the Ark would have been covered with more and more blood.

If the High Priest did anything incorrectly as he went in on this one day, he would be struck dead. If he died, the other priests would not be able to go in to retrieve his body or they too would be struck dead. So, the High Priest would wear a rope with bells so that people could periodically make sure he was still alive and pull him out if not.

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple closing off the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom (Matt 27:51). The way inside was now open to all. The author of Hebrews wrote:

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 6:19‑20)

And,

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19‑21)

Wall after wall after wall, and then a thick veil and the fear of death separated the people from God—but no more. Because Jesus died for us, He has opened the way to freely enter into God’s presence any time we need His help with anything: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). In fact, His temple now is our very body and His glory resides in our own spirit (1 Cor 6:17‑19), so nothing separates us from Him. Because of His abundant grace toward us, there are no walls or gates or veils, just full and free access into His presence (Rom 5:2).

Knowing that this access we have is based upon what Christ has done, not what we have done should impact our prayers. Sometimes it feels like we cannot approach God when we are very aware of our sins, or that when we have had a good day, spiritually, we have more confidence in prayer. But this misunderstands both the value of Christ’s blood and the purpose of prayer. Our ability to come boldly to the throne of grace isn’t based upon our merits and we cannot demerit our way out of that access. Prayer is part of the process of cleansing the sin out of our lives, and we cannot wait until we clean ourselves up to approach God. He has removed all barriers, we should not reconstruct them.
What does this mean, practically? People have always been able to pray to God. But because of Jesus’ sacrifice, the distance created by sin is gone. Know confidently that you are welcome in the Lord’s presence, not because of anything you have done, but because of what Jesus has done. And know that He delights in giving you every truly good thing.


Understanding Hebrews 6

By Grant Hawley - October 03, 2019

One of the most misunderstood passages in all of Scripture is Hebrews 6:4-8. This passage has been used to bring fear and anxiety to so many people, but it is actually a great comfort.

The passage reads:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (Heb 6:4-8)

Some take this passage to mean that people can lose their everlasting life, and some take it as proving that those who fall away never really had salvation to begin with. But if we look closer, we can see that neither of these views fits what is being said.

The first thing we need to address is, "who is in view here?" We can see that the author is talking about "those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come." Now, let's set our theology aside for a moment and consider this description. Looking over it carefully, it has to be genuine believers. Only holding to a theology that says a genuine believer cannot "fall away" would prevent us from coming to this conclusion. In fact, I would argue that there may not be a more robust description of a believer anywhere in Scripture.

Many recognize this and have declared that this is talking about an impossible hypothetical. There is one important translation issue here that causes a lot of confusion. It's found in the phrase "if they fall away." Leading up to this phrase is a list, and each aspect is joined by the Greek connector, "kai" (usually translated "and"). "Those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and [a different Greek word for this one] the powers of the age to come." In the Greek, the list doesn't stop there. It adds, "and have fallen away." There's no word for "if" here. So, these people are people "who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and have fallen away." Some people have taken the "if" in the English translations and used it to say the author of Hebrews is describing an impossible hypothetical, but that doesn't make sense because there is no "if" in the passage.

So if we are talking about real believers who have fallen away, the question is, what happens to these people? They have fallen away from the basic elementary doctrines of Christian freedom (see vv 1-2). The eternal destiny of these believers is never mentioned in the passage and is simply not the point. All believers are secure in their eternal destiny, no matter what (John 6:39-40; Rom 11:29).

The phrase "since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" from v 6 refers to the fact that by returning to law especially through animal sacrifices, they are actually denying the value of Christ's crucifixion and "insult[ing] the spirit of grace" (Heb 10:29). This shames the Son of God. Because of this, falling into legalism is one of the most destructive sins a believer can commit.

The text says it is impossible to renew these brothers to repentance (turning from dead works toward faith in God, see v 1). The word "impossible" here has the place of emphasis in the Greek and is the emphasis of the passage. This is not describing something that is impossible with God, however (nothing is, Matt 19:26), but something that is impossible for us to do.

It is often missed in discussions on Hebrews, but the book really isn't about encouraging individuals to press on in perseverance. Instead, the book pleads with the body of believers to encourage one another to that end. Hebrews 3:13, "but exhort one another daily, while it is called "TODAY," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin," is the peak verse in an elaborate chiasm going from 2:9 to 5:9 and it carries an enormous emphasis. This theme is carried throughout the book.

When a brother falls away from grace into legalism, we cannot convince him to return to grace. We've missed our opportunity to play our part as encouragers in his perseverance. Only God can do that now, and it must come through chastisement. This is what vv 7-8 are about.

Hebrews 6:7-8 is describing by illustration the experience of the believer described in vv 4-6. That believer is like the earth drinking in the rain, and actually bearing useful herbs, and receiving blessing from God, yet still going on later to bear thorns and briers (useless plants that choke out the good). Like that field, this believer needs drastic measures to recover it. The Greek word translated "end" here does not mean eternity, but the "conclusion of an act or state." The state of falling away is concluded with chastisement. A field is not burned in order to destroy the field, but to return it to productivity. This is an illustration of chastisement for the good of the fallen believer. A parallel concept is found in First Corinthians 5.

What happens to believers who fall away? They have to go through chastisement in order to be renewed, just like a field that bears thorns and briers must be burned to be renewed. This passage is a warning of chastisement, but it is also one that expresses the love that God has toward His erring children which is demonstrated through chastisement to bring renewal. Like any loving parent would, God will discipline us when it is necessary, and that discipline is for our good. "Whom the Lord loves, He chastens" (Heb 12:6a).

Even more, this passage should not simply be taken as a warning against falling away, but also as an exhortation to all of us to help our brothers and sisters in Christ to hold fast their confidence in Christ.


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"Is so-and-so Free Grace?"

The question often arises, “Is so-and-so Free Grace?”

I understand the desire to ask the question, but the answer isn’t always a simple one. Of course, the bigger issue is, “Are they biblical?” Someone might understand justification, but be off in different areas. Such differences can range on a scale between something minor (what should be a difference of opinion or difference of interpretation in non-essential topics) to heretical. And often, the two that disagree on the topic or passage may well disagree on where the difference lies on that scale!

However, given that the question is, “Is so-and-so Free Grace,” I start by checking so-and-so’s soteriology: What do they say is the condition for salvation and what do they teach about works and/or “fruit production”? We need to then evaluate the answer to that question based on what is meant by “Free Grace” (FG). My broad definition is, “Salvation (justification) is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone with no strings attached.” “No strings” simply means nothing is necessary to earn, keep, or prove salvation. Notice that I do not include here what one must know about the person and work of Jesus. The greater FG camp has debated this for the last several decades with no resolution in sight, and I’m not going to address it here. It is an important issue, and I do have convictions about it, but that’s a discussion for another day. From my perspective, if someone holds to the above definition, they are, in a broad sense, Free Grace – at least in their view of justification. But that is insufficient to recommend someone’s teaching or ministry. Often, there are other issues.

Someone asked, can you be FG and not dispensational? I would say such people hold a FG view of justification but hold different views on dispensationalism. Someone else asked, “Can someone be FG if they hold to a flat earth?” (Yes, there are some out there who profess this combination!) In a similar fashion, I would say they seem to hold a FG view of justification, but they hold different – and I believe seriously flawed - views on other important topics. Yet another asked, “is Joseph Prince FG?” (I’m only using his name because it has popped up a number of times). He, too, seems to lean towards a FG view of justification, but holds different views than me on a number of other issues. I say he “leans toward a FG view” because he does emphasize grace but his “salvation prayer,” as recorded in Destined to Reign is fuzzy, although he specifically uses the phrase “justification by faith” three times in the book. Personally, I cannot recommend him or his writings because of significant issues with many of his other views (but this, too, is a discussion for another day).

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“Is so-and-so FG?” Not always a simple yes/no question!