Continuing reflections on the Book of Hebrews – Jesus Without Strings Attached
“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebrews 10:14. NIV
Every follower of Christ, who understands and appreciates the Gospel, will agree that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14.). But the author of the Book of Hebrews also states that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 1:12). He strengthens the point later saying that “by one sacrifice He (Jesus) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). Paul states also that Christ is not only “our righteousness, redemption” but “our holiness” too (1. Corinthians 1:30). He states that the obedience and righteousness of Christ (not ours) makes “many righteous” (Romans 5:12-21).
Thus when one speaks of qualities of our holiness and righteousness, victorious living, sanctification, overcoming, one has to recognize that there exists a difference between the vertical, the most literal expression of those qualities, which for the time being belongs to God alone, and its horizontal, imperfect application in the lives of the saved but still fragile people, who are fighting Jacob’s battles every day, and are continually remaining in need of God’s grace (Romans 7:7-25.).
The Book of Hebrews underlines the difference between the two by distinguishing between the objective, unspoiled, perfect holiness of Christ credited to a believer (“by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever…” – Hebrews 10:13), and the subjective, limited, never-completed but always needed and necessary holiness manifest in the lives of the believers in Jesus. So, both is true for the followers of Jesus: in Chris we are already declared redeemed, righteous and holly, while at the same time we are called to a life-long process of “being made holy” (Hebrews 10:13.), always necessary and never completed this side of the eternity.
This needs to be repeated since many are confused about this matter: as we believe in Christ in Him we are already possessing the absolute, complete and qualifying holiness that makes us fit for Heaven. Thus, when we speak of holiness as “our fitness for Haven” we can only speak of the perfect holiness of Jesus Christ credited to us as we believe in him, and never of our quality of holiness, or our subjective victories. No wonder that Paul calls us His “jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2.Corinthians 4:7).
When some of us are saying that we would rather trust in Jesus’ objective holiness than our subjective attempts at holiness, we are not making a mockery of the Gospel or limiting God’s power. On the contrary, we are humbly admitting, recognizing, appreciating and uplifting such a God who had in His greatness, despite ourselves, provided the most complete salvation for us, undeserving sinners. At the same time, by lifting up Jesus, our perfect representative, the only One who has ever given a due service of obedience in tune with His Law, we are also honoring the holiness of the Law of God.
Understanding that we are covered and vindicated by Christ’s perfect righteousness, and not by our bleak attempts at perfect righteousness will motivate and energize a repentant sinner to ever new victories and godly living than any do-it-yourself religion could ever do.
In other words, if the Gospel of Christ will not change us, nothing else will. This is why the words of Paul are more than true when he states: “I urge you brothers, in a view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” (Romans 12:1.)
Where some of us differ from others is in that we do not measure the amounts or intensity of our subjective holiness, victories, overcoming, obedience and anointing because we believe that they have already been measured-up to the fullest in the obedience, perfection, holiness, goodness, and righteousness of Jesus Christ our Representative.
In short (repetitio is mater studiorum) – however feeble and fragile our subjective, horizontal holiness may be, it is always inspired by the perfect holiness of Christ. And, however far we go with it and however victorious we might see ourselves on our faith journey, in humility we will continue to be reminded that our personal righteousness is just a weak projection of its prefect original. Whichever way we look at ourselves our subjective righteousness is not much more than, in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
We shall not despair, however, because in and thanks to Christ, despite our crippled holiness, we are already and always counted clean and fit for Heaven.