Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.Hebrews 13:9(NASB)
The book of Hebrews is of tremendous spiritual importance and has significant doctrinal value to all Church-age believers. However, much of its content was of special relevance to Jewish believers in the early Church who found difficulty in letting go of the long religious history of Judaism - which was deeply rooted in Mosaic Law - in exchange for Christianities post-Cross doctrine.
It compares and contrasts the important doctrinal changes that took place because of the Cross. Although salvation has always been by grace through faith - the book of Hebrews details the differences between Christ's pre-Cross teachings to Israel and the post-Resurrection doctrine given to New Testament believers.
Then as now, Judaisers insisted that holiness depended on participation in external ceremonies and customs relating to clean and unclean food, together with the keeping of a multitude of other man-made traditions which were entrenched in a myopic misunderstanding of God's purpose for the Law. They had not yet understood that a believer is justified through faith and strengthened by grace. They found it hard to believe that their salvation was through faith in Christ - alone and did not depend on strictly following various food laws, as laid out in Jewish tradition.
The Law and the prophets was God's tool to prepare His people for their long-awaited Messiah - Who as God-the-Son, would become their great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. He would be the final Sacrificial Lamb Who would save His people from their sin, by grace through faith, and His death would be the ransom price for the sin of the whole world, by grace through faith. He would defeat the power of sin and Satan, death and hell. And he would break the curse of the Law in the lives of all who believe.
How difficult it was, therefore, for Jewish converts in the early Church to disassociate themselves from strict religious rites, Judaistic rituals, and a multitude of rules and regulations, which were so much a part of their national heritage. How hard it was for them to realise that their salvation did not depend on works of the Law, the maintaining of religious activities, or the keeping of cleanliness codes or food regulations, but rested entirely upon God's grace - by faith in the sacrificial death and glorious Resurrection of their King and Saviour - Jesus Christ, the righteous.
And so in his epilogue, the writer to the Hebrews explains the acceptable way to honour God is by believing His Word and not through eating certain foods or partaking in religious rituals. It is through demonstrating Christian kindness and brotherly love towards others that the Lord is honoured. It is by being gracious towards strangers and prisoners and by maintaining sexual purity and inner humility of heart. "Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings," he tells them. "It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefitted."
He warns against monetary greed and reminds us of the need to be content in all things - as we trust our heavenly Lord to provide for all the needs and necessities of life. He chastens us like a loving Father Who corrects the son He loves. He outlines a range of spiritual and moral directives including the need to consider our leaders and to respect those with oversight in the Church of God. And he reminds us once again, not to be carried about by strange teachings and to remember our position in Christ, so that our heart is strengthened in the inner man by the grace that we have in Him.
It is the washing of our souls in the cleansing power of the Word of God that purifies a heart - not a ritual bath, the eating of clean animals, or any other Mosaic ritual - all of which were big parts of pre-Cross religious practices of Israel. It is the washing of the water of the Word and the feeding on Christ that nourishes our soul, washes us clean, satisfies our hunger, and benefits our lives. It is Christ Jesus the Lord Who is our living bread. He is our spiritual food and the living water of life. It is not the eating of ceremonially 'clean' food or the abstinence of ceremonially 'unclean' food which cleanses our hearts and benefits our lives.
Too many believers, then as now, place too great an importance on the outward show of our Christianity through man-made rites, rituals, rules, and regulations, rather than the important cleansing of the heart by grace through faith in Christ - as we die to our own desires and live each day for Him.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Jesus. Thank You that He broke the power of sin and death and removed the curse of the law from all who have found their salvation in Him. Keep me from the varied and strange teachings that are invading our churches, and give me wisdom and discernment to know what is doctrinally unsound. Strengthen me by Your grace and prevent me from being drawn into any form of legalist teachings. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.
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