Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dead works exposed

The danger of blogging daily devotions is that it becomes less personal, a writing exercise, even a ritual. Instead of listening to and obeying God, I can be thinking how to best express a biblical truth.

The other problem with daily devotions, blogged or not, is that the focus is always on me and my problems instead of Christ and His solutions. I can put myself into a little box with a magnifying glass and this spiritual discipline is not doing the job He intends, but becomes a self-centered, self-indulging exercise.

The readings in the devotional guide I’m presently using are more about what God has done than they are about what I am doing or not doing. They take my mind to Jesus Christ instead of putting a huge spotlight on me. That has been showing me that I’ve enjoyed the spotlight far more than I should. Even being convicted is better (in my selfish mind) than not thinking about me at all. Yikes.

Today’s verse ends with what I need to hear, and this isn’t the first time God has used these words to stop my silly naval gazing and rituals. He says,
For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13-14)
In the Old Testament sacrificial system called the Mosaic Law, God said sacrifices made on the Day of Atonement with the blood of bulls and goats would atone for the sins of the people. Specific uncleanness, such as being ceremonially defiled by touching a corpse, was cleansed by being sprinkled with the ashes of a heifer mixed with water. However, as the author of Hebrews says, these ceremonies purified only a person’s exterior, not their heart. Their sin was forgiven but still in them.

Complete cleansing involves the eternal Holy Spirit, God the Father, and God the Son. Sin also defiles the conscience of my inner person so this is not about needing a bath, but needing my mind and conscience cleansed. Only Christ’s death has the power to do this and only the Holy Spirit and God can apply that to my entire life.

Hebrews 9 also says the dead works of ritual in the Mosaic Law could not give life, yet as I read it, the Holy Spirit applies this to my dead rituals too. For me, they are things like reading Scripture and writing down my ideas in a routine way and without letting them change my heart.

This passage says putting faith and confidence in those old laws that have already served their purpose and are now passed away is useless. He also whispers that putting faith in my rituals is also useless. If I just want to use my devotions to indulge in naval-gazing, I am being disobedient to His intentions.

While the author of Hebrews commands his original readers, likely newly converted Jews, to free their conscience from the ritual and regulations of Mosaic Law and instead cling to Christ for cleansing, He also commands me to guard against any slide into ritual or self-effort on my part. Instead, I also must truly serve the living God and not any dead works.

Having a quiet time with God is not another item to check off my to-do list. Spending time with God is more like plugging into my power source for the day. It is getting from Him the direction I need for my attitude and actions. It is remembering continually what He has done for me and what He will keep doing. It is noting that life is not all about me, nor about doing my own thing, but about Jesus Christ and bringing Him glory by doing what He says.

It is also not about letting a good habit slide into a meaningless ritual that I can control. Instead, time with Him means presenting myself on that altar as a living sacrifice, tuned in and ready to die to myself and do whatever He asks.

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