By Andrew Arnold, Executive Director
In the concluding chapter of Hebrews the author writes a series of exhortations to God’s people. It is a beautiful piece of holy writing that sets forth a series of final statements to instruct the author’s audience and the body of Christ as a whole. If you haven’t read the whole chapter before, pause and spend time reading it and allow the Holy Spirit to highlight Jesus.
What struck me recently was the truth and wisdom that “it is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace”. The author is not referring to our actual physical heart but rather the place of our soul and spirit that communes with and exchanges the life and Spirit of Jesus. It is the same heart that Jesus refers to in John 14:27b when the disciples learn He is leaving and Jesus tells them “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” If you are like me, there are times and seasons when my heart can be troubled, fearful, grow weary, become feeble, is tempted, can grow cold or even become hardened. In these moments or seasons the temptation can often be one of two extremes. The first is to fix myself. If I can only put more effort into changing by stopping a behavior or redirecting my thoughts or adjusting my attitude, my heart will be better. The second is to do nothing. This response is one of apathy and resignation. The sentiment is one of “why try, what will it matter, I can’t do anything.” Both extremes are dependent on my actions and human will power. Neither is good and helpful to strengthen my heart.
The author of Hebrews recognized that human efforts to strengthen our hearts and grow as children of God and disciples of Christ was wasted time, energy and focus. It is a form of religious duty that replaces the grace of God with external human efforts. In the whole verse of Hebrews 13:9 we are exhorted “Do not be led away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonials foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.” It was not uncommon in the early church for false teachings, human traditions or historical religious practices to upstage and lead astray followers of Jesus who were living a radical new way of life that didn’t require human efforts “to get good before you get God”. The remedy for a troubled, weak, feeble, hurting heart is not my own inadequate efforts but rather a wholly complete and radical grace—the unmerited, undeserved, unearned mercy, kindness, love, compassion and goodness of God expressed in His Son Jesus!