FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 21, number 40, October 6, 2022
“For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” – Hebrews 9:13,14
So let’s say you have a friend from high school who has lived a debauched and wicked life for many years, but through a series of recent setbacks reaches out to you because he knows you are a follower of Jesus. He tells you that he has made a mess of his life and is open to talking about Jesus and his own sin. So you gently tell him that he was born a sinner, that his indwelling sin is running rampant in his life, and that he is far worse off in the presence of God than he can ever imagine. He seems broken by his sinful state and you are encouraged that he now is going to church with his new Bible, that he is serving weekly at the homeless shelter in town, and that he is making sincere efforts to be more engaged with his children. He even now calls himself a follower of Jesus. Maybe you are now ready to declare him a Christian.
Not so fast. By all means, he can never gain peace with God until he is troubled by his own original sin and indwelling sin. These manifestations of disobedience plague every person, even Christians, until the day we die. However he must also gain a conviction that even his “best duties and performances,” as Whitefield puts it, must be shown as incapable of saving him. Why? Because every sinner, even regenerate and sanctified sinners, tend to go back to the covenant of works, under which we, like Adam and Eve, were born. By covenant of works I mean we must obey God perfectly to reach heaven, and if we fail to do so, then we are under judgment and will surely die (Ezekiel 18:20, Heb.9:27). We instinctively think that turning over a new leaf, making New Year’s resolutions to be a better person, or to be religious will save us and give us peace. Isn’t this what Adam and Eve did after they realized their guilt of sinning against God and His manifold goodness? They hid themselves in the midst of the garden and sewed fig leaves together to hide their shameful nakedness.
This is what the writer to the Hebrews means in Hebrews 9:13,14. He is arguing the lesser to the greater, saying that if the Old Covenant of animal sacrifices cleansed the flesh of His people from sin, how much more will the blood of Christ cleanse the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. The dead works are all the religious and moral deeds we tend to do to salve our guilty consciences, like going to church, like making restitution for the wrongs we have done, like taking a vow of poverty and dedicating all of one’s resources to feeding the poor. Are these bad things? Not at all, but they do not save us nor do they move God to save us. We all are far too wicked for these to merit God’s favor. We need His free grace.
Whitefield puts it this way, “The poor sinner, when he is awakened, flies to his duties and to his performances, to hide himself from God, and goes to patch up a righteousness of his own. Says he, ‘I will be mighty good now—I will reform—I will do all I can; and then certainly Jesus Christ will have mercy on me.’ But before you can speak peace to your heart, you must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up; you must be brought to see that all your duties—all your righteousness—as the prophet elegantly expresses it—put them all together, are so far from recommending you to God, are so far from being any motive and inducement to God to have mercy on your poor soul, that he will see them to be filthy rags, a menstruous cloth—that God hates them, and cannot accept them, if you bring them to him in order to recommend you to his favor.”
In preaching the gospel of grace we do it a terrible injustice if we do not first bear down on sin—original sin, indwelling sin, and the sin of self-improvement.
Do you comprehend something of the gravity, enslavement, and hopelessness of a “damned” sinner? His every thought, desire, motive, action, word, and emotion are all hopelessly tainted by sin. He is facing eternal death and his hope of acceptance through moral renewal, favor through civic duty, psychological well being, or religious activities will only damn him further. Do you really believe that the sincere desire to do any good deed will only further condemn the sinner?
Our hope is in the blessed gospel, the person and work of Jesus on the cross. Christ, through the eternal Spirit, shed His own blood to cleanse our consciences from dead works (all the things we do to gain or try to maintain His favor) to serve the living God.
Do you believe the Bible when it teaches original sin, indwelling sin, and the sin of self-improvement? Do you believe that all sins of self-improvement or moral reformation only make people worse sinners facing hell?
Every Christian, to a greater or lesser degree, comes under a profound conviction of sin. He sees it, feels it, experiences it, fears it, and overcomes it only by the Christ and His finished work on the cross.
This, my friend, is why salvation is only in Jesus. No other religion will remedy our condition, nor will any philosophy promising wholeness, nor will any good deed peddling peace. This is why everyone outside of the mercy of God in Christ is absolutely hopeless. Paint a vivid picture of the folly of self-improvement promising peace with God. Only then will the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection make any sense at all. Indeed, it is Jesus, Jesus, and only Jesus.
- “The Method of Grace,” by George Whitefield, page 10, The Chapel Library.