Hope in the Midst of the Warnings in Hebrews

A believing heart turns toward God. As long as it is “today”, we can turn toward God, and we can have confidence that He will forgive.


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:1-2[1]


These two verses in Hebrews 12 were shared with me by a gentleman at the church I go to who sends out daily verses by text to a group of men. Sometimes things like this are particularly timely and poignant. These verses inspires my thoughts today.

I have been wrestling with my own sinfulness lately. I have been painfully aware of areas of sinful behavior in my life and sinful attitudes in my heart that I have yet to conquer. The threads of this sinfulness go back to childhood, and they are rooted deeply.

I find myself stumbling over the same things time and again. I sometimes feel like a bird caught in a snare that cannot escape. I am tempted to be completely disgusted with myself, indignant, and condemning. Then, I recall that God is faithful to forgive; and I must ask myself, “Who am I to condemn?” Unless, of course, I am not really “saved”.

I have variously felt convicted, forgiven, hopeful, condemned, hopeless, and depressed in cycles for a long time. I tire of continually going back to God, asking for forgiveness…. again! I fear that my lack of success in overcoming these things means that I do not have the power of the Holy Spirit in me; and maybe I have fooled myself into believing in Christ’s power in my life.

I am reminded today that the letter to the Hebrews carries in it some of the most hopeful and some of the most despairing verses that can be found in the New Testament, like my cycle of feelings. I am digging deeper today to explore them. In doing so, I am reminded that the trajectory of Hebrews is hope!

The following verses provide great hope to the weary Christ follower:


“[S]ince we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:14-16


If we “hold firmly to the faith we profess” and “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence”, these verses promise mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. These words bring great comfort to a person like me.

Yet, thoughts arise in my mind that are concerning: What does it mean to “find grace to help us in our time of need”? How does this grace help us? Does this grace mean forgiveness in our time of need? If so, then I am thankful for that grace?

What is that grace in our time of need us the power to overcome the sin – to put a stop to it? What if the grace we receive is meant to empower us to stop, and I don’t stop? Does that mean I didn’t receive the grace that is offered? Am I doomed if I continue to fail?

A fear naturally arises that grace is not enough for me, that maybe it isn’t offered to me, or that I have spurned that grace by continuing to fail. If we go on sinning, we fear we will exhaust God’s well of mercy. The consequences of “falling away” loom ominously:


“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Hebrews 6:4-6


This passage is particularly ominous in its finality and the impossibility of coming back from “falling away”. I have tasted of the goodness of the word of God, If I go on sinning is there no repentance for me?

Am I the only who thinks like this? Am I the only one who fears being on the wrong side of this grace that is offered, doomed to a life of sin and, eventually, death? Fortunately for us, we have hope!

Continue reading “Hope in the Midst of the Warnings in Hebrews”

What Laws Must a Christian Follow?

The tension between the Law and the Gospel and how they relate to each other is the key to understanding Christianity.


The themes of law and grace are central to Christianity. Sorting them out gets to the very heart of the gospel message. Yet, many people inside and outside of the Christian community are unclear on what laws Christians must follow, what laws are no longer applicable, and why.

Perhaps, more importantly: is that even a question we should be asking? Someone recently posted the following question to a group to which I belong on social media:


I get the message of we are not under the law but under grace. But if we live through Christ we will follow the law. How do we know what law to follow? Does this go as far back as to not mix fabrics? 

Obviously everyone says we’re no longer under the law, but ”faith without works is dead” so I am confused. 

How do we know which laws to follow?


Human tendency is to want a list of rules to follow so we can check them off. The rich young ruler demonstrates that human tendency when he came to Jesus one day and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16)

We also have a tendency to want to quantify rules, and to simplify them to make them easier to follow. Perhaps, that that is what motivated the Pharisees one day to ask Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36)

Or we go the other direction: we add rules on top of rules on top of rules to make sure that we don’t miss anything. The Pharisees demonstrated this approach in how they handled the commandment to observe the Sabbath. The created a list of “work” that was forbidden including, among other things: sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking bread; twelve similar activities related to the preparation of clothing, from shearing sheep to sewing; and seven activities related to preparing the carcass of a deer for food or leather. (See What are some Sabbath Observance rules that the Pharisees made?)

Moses started with ten commandments. By the time the books attributed to Moses were completed, there were 613 commandments!

The Torah (the Five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy) focused on laws. That focus carries through the entire Old Testament. Though the observance of those laws can be seen more in the breach, than in the observance thereof!

The same focus continued into the New Testament. We see it in the question asked by the rich young ruler and the Pharisees’ questions to Jesus. We see it in the tension that threatened to divide the early church between Paul and Peter over whether believing Jews must follow the Law and what laws believing Gentiles must follow.

This is the tension between the Law and the Gospel. If we understand only one thing about the Gospel message, the relationship of the Law to the Gospel might be the most important thing! I have written about it often, including How the Moorings of the Gospel Were Secured.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t restate everything here. You can click in the links in the last two paragraphs to get an overview from the articles linked there. Understanding what Jesus meant when he said he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, is key.

If you are not a Christian, or you are a Christian, but you are not sure you understand these things, please do not just gloss over them. The tension between the Law and the Gospel and how they relate to each other is the key to everything.

It was the focus of almost all of Paul’s writings. It is the major theme in Romans. Take some time now to wrestle with it. Don’t stop until it makes sense to you!

Hopefully, the rest of my thoughts in this piece will help.

Continue reading “What Laws Must a Christian Follow?”

A Message in a Manger


I am going to revisit some of the Christmas articles I have written in previous years in the coming weeks, starting with this one. I may freshen them up a bit as I do so. This was one of the first articles I wrote on this blog, and I think the message still resonates today: A Message in a Manger.

The Dilemma of God Demanding Justice from Beings Incapable of Meeting God’s Standard

There is one critique of the Christian notion of sin and the justice of God that is troubling on its face. That key critique for anyone who claims that God demands justice for sin is that God is seemingly unjust to require justice of beings who can’t measure up.

Many modern people bristle at the Christian idea of sin, and they bristle even more at the idea that God would punish sinners. Frankly, I think many modern people simply don’t understand what sin is and who God is.

But, that aside, there is one critique of the Christian notion of sin and the justice of God that is troubling on its face. That key critique for anyone who claims that God demands justice for sin is that God is seemingly unjust to require justice of beings who can’t measure up.

Alongside the notion that the God of the Bible and demands judgment for not measuring up to God’s just standard is the notion that all people are sinners who don’t measure up. In fact, the New Testament is fairly read to say that people are incapable of living up to God’s standard.

The doctrine of original sin says that we are all corrupted because the sin of Adam and Eve has been passed down generation after generation. Even if we don’t believe in the doctrine of original sin, however, the Bible is clear from the Old Testament to the New Testament that human beings don’t measure up to God’s standard:


They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.

Psalm 14:3


They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
    not even one.

Isaiah 53:5


as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
   .
 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

Romans 1:10-12


Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 (NIV)) Yet, he says, “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect?” (Matthew 5:48)

This is the dilemma: How can we be perfect?! “To err is human” the bard once said, and so it seems we are imperfect by our very nature.

Many people reject the idea that God can be just and demand justice from people incapable of measuring up to the standards God’s justice demands. They say it would be unjust for God to demand justice from beings who have no ability to act other than they do, and so fail to meet God’s standards.

God seems to be acting unfairly to demand that we meet His standards when we are 1) created beings, 2) born into sin, and 3) incapable of living up to the perfection God requires.

Other questions tumble after these thoughts: Why didn’t God create us perfect? If we are born sinful, how can God blame us for being sinful? If we are incapable of being perfect, how can God punish us for our imperfection?

Continue reading “The Dilemma of God Demanding Justice from Beings Incapable of Meeting God’s Standard”

How Should Christians Live Out the Gospel in a Post Roe v. Wade World?

What does God do with babies who die in the womb?

Davide French has expressed some of my own angst at the news that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a recent article, Roe Is Reversed, and the Right Isn’t Ready. Like him, I have championed the pro-life cause. My wife and I marched in Washington. We protested at an abortion clinic. We supported a crisis pregnancy center. I have largely been silent, however, for the past 30 some years.

In 1988, the year I entered law school with two children, financial difficulty, and a very uncertain future, my wife became pregnant. It was the most difficult year of our lives. She was severely sick, living in a strange place 1000 miles from her family under extreme pressure.

When the doctor told her the baby tested positive for spina bifida, and she should consider an abortion, she changed doctors. I supported her fully. We were committed to life.

My son who was born in 1989 is 33 years old now. He bears the scar tissue at the base of his spine where his spinal cord once looped outside his spinal column. He was born that way – with the scar tissue, healed over, fully formed and perfectly healthy.

He became a champion wrestler, All-State, many times All-American, many times national finalist, multi-time national champion. My wife might not have been born if abortion was legal in 1961, and my son would not have been born if we we listened to our doctor.

We were very fortunate, and we are very grateful, and I realize the story could very well have been different. Many people are not as fortunate.

There is a constitutional issue with abortion, a moral issue, and then there is the issue of how the body of Christ demonstrates God’s love in this broken world. I have some thoughts on each of these issues, and I feel compelled to weigh into these turbid waters despite my hesitation.

The constitutional issue has been settled… for now. As an attorney and having studied the Roe v. Wade decision in law school, I can say with some degree of confidence that it had thin precedential support. It’s foundations were shadowy and wispy as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, relying on a medical understanding of the day, and not legal principles, to shore up a lack of solid, legal precedent.

In the David French article he quotes Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg who seems to admit the same point. She once “declared Roe ‘breathtaking’ and warned that ‘Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped, experience teaches, may prove unstable.’” Her prescience was accurate. It stood for one year shy of 50, but those doctrinal limbs have given away under their own weight.

“The Court’s job is not to determine which rights we should possess but rather which rights we do possess,” says French. (Emphasis in the original) So, it should be. So, the Constitution is written. So, the jurisprudence informs us.

Lawmaking is the province of Congress, not the judicial branch. Ironically, though, the instability of that decision haunts not just the left today. Framed on the back of a politically motivated opinion for which little precedent existed for support, that one decision has greatly politicized the Supreme Court to our jeopardy.

That most people perceive the opinion that struck down Roe v. Wade as a political accomplishment is proof, and that should not be comforting news. A Supreme that can be lobbied and jockeyed and filibustered to do the majority’s bidding is a threat to freedom and sound government.

And, of course, the recent decision was just as political as the decision it overturned – maybe more so. The Court that decided such a progressive decision as Roe v. Wade was largely appointed by conservative presidents. Richard Nixon appointed Justice Blackmun, who write the majority opinion.

There was a day when Presidents made an attempt to appoint the most impressive legal minds to the high court. Confirmation hearings focused on their credentials and legal acumen. The justice appointees and the senators who vetted them knew well and respected the value of impartiality that is essential to true justice. In an odd way, Roe v. Wade, penned by a conservative appointee is proof.

For the last 40 or more years, however, most confirmation hearings on appointments to the high court have been political circuses. No question is off limits, including the direct question of how a justice will decide an issue that comes before him or her. It no longer matters that the Rules of Professional Responsibility that govern all judges forbids that very thing.

Pro-life champions are notching the recent decision as a win, but the battle rages on. This decision pushes the battle to the legislatures of the 50 states.

More fundamentally, though, pro-lifers may have won this battle, but the Republic may be losing the war. The more our Supreme operates by political fiat, the less stable we become.

As for morality, it seems that many people assume the pro-life position is a religious view. While many religious people are pro-life, many religious people are pro-choice also. I have seen many of my religious friends categorically criticize the decision in the last few days.

At the same time, the pro-life crowd includes non-religious people, including atheists, like Kelsey Hazzard, who says, “The abortion industry would have you believe that people like me do not exist.” Reducing the abortion issue to a religious category is scapegoating and insulting to people who claim not to be religious.

No other modern issue offers less common ground for compromise. A fetus is either human life with intrinsic value, or it isn’t. A women’s body is either an inviolable vessel subject to her self control, or it isn’t. A fetus in a woman’s womb is part of her body, or it’s an unborn baby with separate and distinct personage, value, and legal status.

I find the arguments for life to be compelling, but the arguments for choice are compelling also. The stories are real. The fact that women, alone, bear the burden of the consensual (or non consensual) act of sex is reality.

A man can and often does escape all responsibility, but a woman has nowhere to hide. The fact that man are not compelled by the state to bear their responsibility is criminal.

Yes, many states have laws on the books that allow a woman to prove paternity and make the man pay support, but that’s on her dime! Some local prosecutors will take those cases, but those positions are too few, too overworked, and have insufficient resources to take on all cases.

I have slowly come around to an uncomfortable angst on the morality of abortion.

Thirty four years ago, our conviction about what we should do when faced with the probability that we might have a physically deformed child was unwavering. We chose to protect the life God gave us. I still think abortion is morally wrong.

It doesn’t matter whether that life might be deformed or have down syndrome. It doesn’t matter what the economic, social, and other circumstances are. I am not saying there are no exceptions, but most exceptions do not justify taking a life.

This is the black and white, analytical position I believe in, but I know the challenge is not in the black and white, but in the grey. The exceptions to the rules are always where the difficulty lies. Life is complex, and complexity is nuanced.

I am not going to say much more about the morality. I know where I stand, but I know good people who share my faith – people I have prayed with – who do not share my position.

About 18 months go my view of things shifted through the unlikely coincidence of my annual Bible reading and a serendipitous sermon on Sanctity of life Sunday. (See Thoughts on the Sanctity of Human Life….” I hope you will take the time to read it, because it informs my questions to the body of Christ.

Does God hear the cries of unborn babies? Does God hear the cries of women who have been abused and misused? The answer is certainly, “Yes”.

There are people on both “sides” of the abortion story. I believe Scripture warns us about our focusing on the “sides” and urges us to consider the greater purposes of God. Do you remember what the angel of the Lord told Joshua, when Joshua asked which side he was on? Go ahead and check it out.

Do you think God rejects innocent babies who have not yet taken a breath? How you answer that question may well reveal how you perceive God.

How you answer that question likely influences how you respond to this issue. Read Exodus 2 and Exodus 3. Whose cries does God hear, and what cries prompt Him to respond?

I hope you don’t gloss over these questions. I hope you wrestle with the implications. Who is it that God is concerned about? And why?

Go back to the question about how God handles the death of an unborn baby who has yet to take a breath. Does He receive them? Or does He reject them?

I urge you not to gloss over these questions.

How we answer them informs how the Church should orientate itself on the issue of abortion. Our answers suggest the priority of our focus and how we should live out the Gospel on this issue.

How we do that individually is a matter of the gifting God has giving each of us, the burden He has put on our hearts, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. We will only make our way forward as the salt and light God intend us to be with much prayer and humility and trepidation.