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?”

Digging into the Accuracy and Inspiration of the Bible

I wrote recently on the character of Scripture, prompted by a statement made by Marty Solomon in Episode #82 of the BEMA Podcast, focusing on the question: Does inspiration mean accuracy? The idea that Scripture is inspired by God comes from 2 Timothy 3:16:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness….” 

2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB)

This statement from Paul is one of the few comments on the character of Scripture in the Bible. In this article, I want to focus on other comments on Scripture in the New Testament.

You might be surprised to know that Peter cross-references Paul. Peter recognizes Paul’s letters and lumps them in with “other Scriptures”. (2 Peter 3:15-16 ESV) The recognition by Peter that Paul’s writings are “scripture” is highly significant because Jesus said Peter was the “rock” on which Jesus would build his church. (Matt. 16:18) If Peter considered Paul’s writings “scripture”, we should too.

Paul cross references Luke in his first letter to Timothy. Paul quotes “the Scripture”, saying “’Do not keep an ox from eating as it treads out the grain.’ And in another place, ‘Those who work deserve their pay!’” (1 Timothy 5:18 NLT) The first quotation is from Deuteronomy 25:4. The second is from Luke 10:7 (NRSV). Thus, Paul quotes Luke’s Gospel, as Scripture in the same vein as Deuteronomy.

This discussion, though, begs the question: what is Scripture? Obviously Peter thought Paul’s letters were Scripture, and Paul thought Luke was Scripture. Most of Scripture in that time would have been what we call the Old Testament. There was no “New Testament”, so what else is Scripture?

Many misconceptions abound. People claim that books were removed from the Bible. People claim that a group of church fathers got together and determined what should be in the New Testament. These claims are false. They have no basis in the historical record.

The truth is more complicated, and the NT canon developed more organically than what is popularly believed. The writings of the NT developed from the texts that were considered authoritative throughout the early church.

We may think of Christianity being controlled centrally from Rome, but that didn’t happen until the 4th Century. Before that, churches were scattered all over the Roman Empire and beyond. Various centers of influence existed, including Rome, Alexandria (Northern Africa), Caesarea (the Levant), Antioch (Syria), Lyons (France) and other places, but the top down authority of Rome (and Constantinople) developed much later.

The writings that make up the existing New Testament were shared and circulated throughout a wide area, wherever churches took root. Opinions were shared, and a consensus grew based primarily on the authorship (apostolic connection) and message (consistency with the teachings of Jesus).

Many of those writings were accepted very early by a majority of people, and others gained acceptance later by consensus. (See The Formation of the New Testament Canon) Many other writings were considered helpful, but not Scripture, and some writings were considered heretical. Late writings (turning up after the apostles were gone in the 2nd Century and later) were categorically excluded.

Eusebius of Caesarea was one of the first people to attempt a summary of authoritative writings. The 22 “books” he identified in the 3rd Century are nearly identical to the canon we have today, minus a few and plus a few. The consensus was close to settled at that time.

The first person to name all 27 writings exactly as they are known today was Athanasius in Northern Africa in his Festal Letter written A.D. 367. The same canon was accepted by the rest of Christendom at the African synods of Hippo Regius (A.D. 393) and Carthage (A.D. 397 and 419). (Not the Council of Nicaea as the popular myth goes!)

In between the 1st Century and the early 5th Century when the canon was officially settled, other lists were offered by various sources. Bruce Metzger, the Princeton Theologian, says, “The slowness of determining the final limits of the canon is testimony to the care and vigilance of early Christians in receiving books purporting to be apostolic.”

Metzger notes that “the chief criterion for acceptance of particular writings as sacred, authoritative, and worthy of being read in services of worship was apostolic authorship”. The early church focused on the source or authority – connection to the apostles who knew Jesus. They also measured them by the known message of Jesus, as preserved by those apostles.

Keep in mind that the apostles lived on after Jesus. Peter died in 64 AD during the reign of Nero in Rome according to contemporary, extra-biblical sources. John, the Apostle, died in 100 AD according to reports preserved from multiple sources.

Thus, the apostles, the closest people to Jesus, lived on 30 to 70 years after Jesus died. They were the standard by which the authority of contemporary writings were judged.

Determining (or accepting) what is Scripture is only a beginning, though. How we view Scripture and interact with it is where the real rubber meets the road. In my last article, I wrestled with what it means that Scripture is inspired, suggesting that accuracy is not necessarily the key component. I will dig a little deeper in the rest of this article.

Continue reading “Digging into the Accuracy and Inspiration of the Bible”

Immigration Policy, Declining Population Growth, the Economy and the Sheep and the Goats

As Christians, should we be more motivated by what Immigrants can do for us? Or what can do for them?

The article, Why U.S. Population Growth Is Collapsing, by Derek Thompson in a recent issue of the Atlantic reminds me of a trend I have been following for quite a few years, now, of declining population growth in Europe and the United States. I first became aware of the trend maybe 8 years ago, and most European countries were already (at that time) at unsustainable growth levels. The US wasn’t far behind.

The article linked above picks up the story as it has advanced in the last two years with COVID. Changing societal norms and expectations have led to significant declines in population growth as younger generations are getting married later in life, having children later in life and having fewer children or no children at all. COVID has rapidly accelerated the decline.

One interesting note from this article is the statement that “America’s bias against immigration is self-defeating in almost every dimension.” The article asserts (with no citation to authority) that immigrants are vital to our national economy, but I have read the studies and know the beneficial affects of immigration on an economy.

Anecdotally, I know a young woman who is a “Dreamer”. I will call her Sofia. She is the daughter of two undocumented immigrants who found themselves on the “wrong” side of the border with an infant (Sofia) after 911. They figured things would go back to pre-911 conditions when people came and went with no documentation required. That never happened, of course.

She shared with me that her father is a businessman. He has multiple businesses. He employs many people, and he teaches other people to be entrepreneurial. He pays taxes. He pays into Social Security, but he will never reap any benefit from it.

He doesn’t qualify for Social Security, and he never will. If he overpays his taxes he gets no refund. He is always afraid of being found out and deported to a country that he no longer considers his home.

Sofia grew up with the same fear. She grew up with the burden of having to be a perfect citizen. Any negative attention could expose her to to deportation to a country she has never known. She told me she knew from an early age that she would never qualify for student aid or student loans, so she would have to earn way to obtain the education she aspired to.

I didn’t realize this, but I have since learned that the IRS will assign a number to anyone, with or without a Social Security number. The IRS doesn’t care, as long as people pay taxes.

When I met Sofia, she had graduated from high school in three years with a perfect GPA, and she was on pace to finish college in three years. She had a perfect 4.0 GPA, and she planned to go to law school. She was exceptional in every way. (Since then she went to law school where she currently is.)

This story is anecdotal, but it’s indicative of the data that shows that undocumented immigrants are not a drain on our economy. Undocumented immigrants pay into the system, but they don’t qualify (in most ways) to take from the system they pay into. The statistical difference (on average) is $80,000 per person paid into the system more than what is taken out.

We actually make money off of undocumented immigrants. They shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants, pay real estate taxes, pay income taxes, pay into Social Security, provide labor for our employers (who are happy to pay them minimal wages), and more. (The popular assumption that immigrants commit more crime turns out to be false also.)

Not only are we turning our backs on the boost to our economy that more generous immigration policies would provide, but we are entering a “population danger zone” according to the author of the article cited above

All of this is to bring me to the point in writing this article, which is a little different than the points made in the article. I borrow these things from the article and from my research to get to a different point.

How should Christians generally view the issue of immigration?

Continue reading “Immigration Policy, Declining Population Growth, the Economy and the Sheep and the Goats”

How the “God of the Old Testament” vs. God of the New Testament Idea Might Inform Our Politics

We should have the same mindset as Jesus in doing politics.


In the short YouTube segment, Are There Two Different Gods in the Old and New Testaments? (Part Two), Gareth Black does a good job describing why God appears differently in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. There is one God, but He relates differently to people.

I have explored this dichotomy before, but I don’t want to focus on it here, other than to set the stage for what I really want to lay out. The difference in the way God related to people at different times might just become a guide for Christians doing politics.

First, we know the orthodox view: that the God of the Old Testament is the same God revealed in the New Testament through Jesus. While, heretics abound, this is the accepted view. Still, it sometimes seems like a tough pill to swallow.

God in the Old Testament focuses on commandments. He seems full of judgment and anger. The Ten Commandments God gave Moses became legion with all the ceremonial laws, food laws, cleansing laws, and dozens of other laws people were commanded to follow.

In the New Testament, it may seem like Jesus paid “lip service” to the laws (saying he didn’t come to abolish the Law), because he simplified them into just two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. Easy, right?

At the same time, Jesus seemed to turn up the heat. In the same discourse in which he said he didn’t come to abolish the law, he told his audience the following:

  • It’s not enough to refrain from murdering people; harboring disdain in your heart is like committing murder;
  • It’s not enough to refrain from committing adultery; lusting after a person in your heart is like committing adultery.

He said more than that, but you get the point. So, it’s as simple as loving God and neighbor. At the same time, it’s as difficult as controlling what is in your heart!

To say that Jesus went easier on people is to ignore these things that he said. At the same time, Jesus confronted the men who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery and saved her. He said he didn’t condemn her (though he also told her, “Go and sin no more.”)


What in the world is going on? If it seems difficult to sort out what is going on here, join the club.

Black offers one explanation in the video. He says God relates to people differently at different times, just as a parent relates differently to their children at different times. Parents tend to be strict with little children, imposing lots of rules about bedtimes, eating, watching TV, playing video games, doing homework and doing chores and so on.

That relationship can get contentious at times, especially as children get older and become more difficult. After children move out of the house, though, the relationship changes. It’s not that parents think the rules were bad; rather the children become adults, and become responsible for setting their own rules.

The analogy isn’t exactly the same with God, but similar. Paul says the Law was given to us as a guardian (tutor, schoolmaster, instructor, etc.). (Galatians 3:24) The Law was given to teach us something, to lay a certain foundation of understanding. The idea that Paul probably had in mind was a stern, taskmaster, training the children up with discipline.

The taskmaster’s relationship to the children is different than a parent’s relationship. A tutor only trains the children for a time when they are young. The instructor’s job is to make sure the children learn their lessons, and that is the only focus.


A parent is always a parent and never ceases to be a parent who loves and wants the best for the children. A taskmaster doesn’t love the children like a parent does.

But, it’s more complicated than that, and this is the key. The prophet Jeremiah talked about it in the context of a new covenant this way:

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33)

This is God’s ultimate goal: that we would be receptive, willing and able to receive God’s law in us, written on our hearts.

God isn’t looking for law followers, but for children who desire to be like their father. He wants us to internalize His values and be like Him – not because we must, but because we want to!

Until Christ came, men were under the Law, but Christ came to earth in the form of a human and fulfilled the Law. He died to take the penalty for our transgression; he rose from the dead to demonstrate his authority and power over death; and he ascended to heaven, leaving the Holy Spirit as a guide and comforter for us.

The Holy Spirit is how God now writes his Law in us, on our hearts. The Law is set aside, now, with its commands and regulations. (Eph. 2:15) God is looking for people willing to receive is Spirit and internalize His character in themselves as His children.

But what does this have to do with politics?

Continue reading “How the “God of the Old Testament” vs. God of the New Testament Idea Might Inform Our Politics”