Rules and regulations lack any value and strength in restraining sensual indulgence. In order to overcome those temptations, we need a strong heart—a heart strengthened by grace, a heart established by grace.
But what does this look like? What does it mean to strengthen someone by grace? What does it look like to have a heart established by grace? It’s often found in emphasizing what God has done for us—not in what we should be doing for God. When we focus on what we don’t have or can’t do, sin easily entangles us. But when we focus on all we have, especially all the riches we have in Jesus that can never be taken away, the unmerited favor of God teaches us to say no to sin. What Jesus offers us far outweighs and outlasts the fleeting pleasures of sin. And since His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), we will never reach the end of the riches of His grace.
Hebrews 13:9 has been used by the Lord to form much of our ministry here in Central Minnesota. When the fellowship was first planted in St. Cloud, a good friend of the ministry called it “the great grace experiment.” After 17 years of unpacking and unfolding the depth of the riches of that verse, the experiment continues—and it’s a joy and a blessing to continue this great grace experiment together with you!
How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
The final chapters of the books in the New Testament are interesting to study—since they are so rarely read. Many of these books were originally letters written to a specific person or group of people. We naturally start reading letters at the beginning—but even with the best of intentions, the end of the letters are not as often read as the beginning.
Like any letter, many of these final remarks are personal in nature. Some may seem unrelated or disjointed from one another, like a rapid-fire list of parting thoughts. It’s almost as if the writer has finished the majority of his persuasive argument and ends the letter with a list of practical ways to live out the faith.
We see this in Hebrews 13—and while these final remarks might seem disconnected at first read, they actually weave a rich and significant conclusion to this important letter to the Hebrews. Watch or listen to our final study of Hebrews and be encouraged by the great grace of our amazing God!
“And it came to pass in those days…”
So begins the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It's interesting to observe the simplicity that Luke uses to describe the most amazing miracle that would ever take place—God becoming man. And it's interesting to consider the world at the time when Jesus was about to be born. In fact, if you listen closely to the second chapter of Luke, you'll hear the narrative of a young woman observe and consider, preserve and ponder what was happening—not only to her, but to the whole world.
God is a consuming fire. He longs for us to offer ourselves completely as a living sacrifice.
Consumed by Him. Refined by Him. Trained by Him. Discipled by Him.
This happens as we trust and obey Him and believe that He is able to work all things for the good of those who love Him—for the good of those who are called according to His purpose.
Therefore…we boldly approach His throne of grace.
Therefore…we receive His invitation.
Therefore…we run the race marked out for us.
Therefore…we do not refuse Him who speaks.
Not to the terrors of the Lord, the tempest, fire, and smoke:
Not to the thunder of that word which God on Sinai spoke:
But we are come to Zion's hill, the city of our God;
Where milder words declare His will, and spread His love abroad.
When we give in to discouragement, we tend to get sloppy with our relationships—horizontally as well as vertically. We care less about peace with one another and less about holiness with the Lord. Which is why He encourages us to strengthen our weak knees and renew our grip with our tired hands (Hebrews 12:12-13) before He gives us a new direction: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord…” (Hebrews 12:14).
In this verse, the Lord boils things down to such simplicity. He handles the horizontal relationships and our vertical relationship in one simple sentence. We are to pursue peace with all people and holiness with God.
It isn’t always easy—in fact, it can be pretty intense. But God has always been faithful. He has always gotten us through. Pursuing peace and our personal holiness is part of helping others to run the race marked out for them.
Listen to our study of Hebrews 12:14-29 as we learned from the Lord how we can renew our grip.
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
The problem we have in understanding this passage is our difficulty in dissociating discipline from punishment. God’s discipline is never punitive—it’s never intended as punishment. It’s corrective and instructive—like the role of a coach.
God is not our persecutor. He is our personal trainer, the coach for our souls. That’s why the consistent context of an athletic endeavor helps us understand God’s heart toward us. God does not persecute or punish us. He is our loving Heavenly Father who personally trains—that is, disciples and disciplines—His children.
If you maintain this perspective, you will be able to persevere through pain and endure discipline without despising it or becoming discouraged by it. You will come to see discipline as personal training, painful though it may be. Anything that He allows to come your way is filtered through His love and will be used for a redemptive purpose. It will bring about a “peaceful harvest of right living” (Hebrews 12:11). He will walk with you through all of it, whispering with quiet intensity words of truth, encouragement, and exhortation—He will never leave you.
I bless thee, Lord for sorrows sent
To break my dream of human power;
For now, my shallow cisterns spent,
I find thy founts, and thirst no more.
“No training seems pleasant at the time. In fact, it seems painful. But later on it produces a harvest of godliness and peace. It does this for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
At times, running the race that is set before us is wearisome and discouraging. The difficulties we experience along the way may tempt us to slow down, to draw back, or maybe even turn our backs against any forward progression.
But as we’ve learned in previous studies, turning back isn’t an option for followers of Jesus. If we are disciples of Jesus, we need to be disciplined by Jesus. His discipline is not punishment but training, preparation for the work He has for us to do. When we allow ourselves to be trained by what the Lord allows in our lives, knowing every circumstance is filtered through His love and used for our good, the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of righteousness in our lives.
God acknowledges the difficulties involved with following Him. He understands the hardships we face. But He doesn’t just passively observe them—He actively trains us so that we can endure the hardships to come. He is always bringing about His glorious purposes in and through us. Watch a replay of our live stream or listen to the audio of our study of Hebrews 12:4-13 as we gain perspective that allows us to endure the pain.
The Lord has set a race before you. Maybe you feel as though it might not be worth it—outward circumstances and inward fears are tempting you to slow down, draw back, or even quit what God has called you to do. He knew this—which is why He calls us to run with endurance.
Endurance is a great word. It means “the power to continue in an unpleasant or difficult situation without giving way.” One foot in front of the other, again, and again, and again. And that adds up to one mile…and then one more…and then one more. As mile adds to mile, you outlast the pain because what is at the end is worth it.
Part of our training for this race is to focus our mind on something other than the unpleasant and difficult situations we find ourselves in. That’s why the second verse in Hebrews comes after the first—“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” Nothing averts your eyes from Jesus. Not the pain, not the exhaustion, not the outward pressures, not the inward fears.
Fix your eyes on Jesus. Just Jesus.
For not only is He the Author of your faith, He is the Finisher of your faith. He is not only the initiator of your faith, He is the source—the continual giver—of the gift of faith. The very thing that we need to live (Hebrews 10:38: “The just shall live by faith…”). In looking to Jesus, we not only see the hope that will help us to endure the difficult parts of our race, but we see the example of how to endure all difficulties:
“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Hebrews 12:2-3).
Jesus endured for the joy that was set before Him. He persevered because of His great love for you. When we consider Jesus, when we are compelled by His love, when we lay aside the weight of sin and distractions that are slowing our progress, we too can run our race with endurance. We’re almost to the finish line, dear friends.
Run the straight race through God's good grace,
lift up thine eyes, and seek his face;
life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.
There is a particular race that the Lord has set before you. This race is grueling and extremely difficult at times. It’s not a sprint…it’s even more than a marathon. In scripture, we see that God acknowledges over and over again how difficult things can get. But like a good coach, He encourages us to lift our eyes past the pain to the prize that makes all of the agony and effort worth it. He stirs our spirits and renews our minds as we find a fresh wind—a second wind—from the Holy Spirit. We have the strength to go another mile with eyes fixed on Christ.
At times, running the race marked out for us is exhausting. Just ask the first century Hebrew believers who contended with outward cultural pressures, outward persecution, and inward fears. Just ask Jesus, who was despised, betrayed, and ultimately gave up His life. How did Jesus endure to the end? How can we follow His example?
Listen to our study of Hebrews 12:1-3 this past Sunday to hear how Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, coaches us to persevere. Watch a replay of our live stream or listen to the audio of our study and receive the encouragement you will need to endure difficult times.
Abel, Enoch, and Noah. Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. And even a harlot named Rahab.
By faith, the writer of Hebrews tells us that each one of these witnesses offered, obeyed, built, received, blessed…and in doing so, gave us an example of what it looks like to live by faith.
In fact, we find that phrase—“by faith”—18 times in this chapter. They demonstrated the determination that faith provides in looking past what seems impossible to the God who makes all things possible. They showed us that living by faith means trusting in God’s word—and His word alone. They modeled what it looks like to move forward in faith, even if the fulfillment of His word would not be seen in their lifetime.
In the very next chapter, the writer of Hebrews will remind us of this great cloud of witnesses, these men and women who lived by faith, as he encourages us to run the race that is set before us. So run the race that’s set before you—by faith, with your eyes on Jesus.
From Pastor Dom...
When I first gave my life to Jesus, there were friends in my life who helped me to grow in my understanding of God, through His word, and for those friends