It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace. —Hebrews 13:9
The Book of Hebrews is essentially a thirteen-chapter letter—written to challenge a group of First-Century Jewish believers to stay the course with Jesus, as opposed to forsaking Him and returning to Judaism. But for a 21st-Century Gentile believer, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying, “This letter isn’t about me, because I’ve never been Jewish—it would be rather silly to think that I would ever be tempted to go back to something I never was in the first place.”
But returning to a former religion isn’t the only way we can fall out of line with Jesus. Other things that can frame a willful abandonment of Jesus, regardless of your ethnicity. Jesus gave us the “Keys to the Kingdom” but, in his closing remarks, the writer of Hebrews gives us the “Keeps to the Kingdom,” seven ways to keep focused in your walk with Jesus. Here are the last two.
6. Keep your opinions balanced.
Hebrews 13:9, Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.
This is an obvious reference to what the writer considers “shrinking back” into a Judaistic-style legalism, specifically as it relates to your diet. But Judaism isn’t the only arena in which unnecessary burdens have been placed on the church.
I have a lot of personal convictions—some of which HDC seldom (if ever) hears about. How many of my opinions should be shared by others is a very good question, one that I wrestle with all the time. Should Sheryl and I simply believe something quietly, without encumbering you or anyone else with those same convictions or should I expect you should comply with that same conviction or hold that same view? Or, as the writer suggests here, would my insistence on your compliance be a waste of both of our time and therefore be of no benefit to either one of us? One thing that we know strengthens us, the writer says, is grace—extending freedom and forgiveness without judgment.
My role is not to simply tell HDC everything they need to do or to not do in their Christian lives—the passages that speak clearly and authoritatively on those most important matters speak for themselves. Adultery, for example, is in that category—you might not comply, but the directive is clear. I certainly should remind believers of those matters, but not much commentary is needed. Those teaching might not be popular with a lot of people, but they’re not (to use the writer’s word) “strange.”
But then there are times that my role is to be less directive than provocative—to provoke you to think and seek the Lord on some of those other, perhaps even “grayer areas” of the Christian life. My opinions may influence you to respond like Sheryl and I have chosen to, but I must also be ready to extend you grace—should you choose not to. If we disagree, our fellowship should not be threatened and our shared mission must remain intact. And when pastors can’t tell the difference between those two categories, their ministries become suffocatingly judgmental and, thereby, much less impactful than they otherwise could be.
I would confidently say, “I would never abandon Jesus!” But if I abandon a balanced view of those back burner issues, I threaten the mission that Jesus continues to engage through His church.
7. Keep a grateful heart.
Hebrews 13:15, Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.
A thanksgiving or praise offering was made to God as a way to show gratitude for His provision. When things happen that we absolutely love, it’s easy to be grateful to God—and those Hebrews, like all of us, were likely to offer their praise when God provided in our time of need. But we also know that there are a lot of things in our lives that we do not necessarily like. This last challenge reminds us that our praise offering must be continual, regardless of the hand we’ve been dealt—that there is actually good in the difficulty and reasons to be thankful all the time.
You say, “I would never abandon Jesus!” But when you abandon that heart of gratitude toward Him, you already have. The writer’s challenge was clear—“Hold fast!”