In this devotional we will explore how, despite our flaws, to gain access to the almighty God.
Text: Hebrews 7:11-19
(11) Now if one could gain access to God through the Levitical priesthood, (for the people knew the law by the priesthood), what need would there be for a priest to arise in the order of Melchizedek rather than being named in the order of Aaron? (12) For whenever the priesthood changes, out of necessity, there is also a change in the law. (13) For this one of whom these things were spoken belonged to another tribe, one of which no one has ever officiated at the altar. (14) For it is obvious that out Lord is descended from Judah, about this tribe Moses said nothing concerning priests. (15) Also, it is even more evident, since there has come another priest in the likeness of Melchizedek, (16) who has come, not by virtue of the law concerning physical descent, but by virtue of the power of his indestructible life. (17) For the scripture testifies, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (18) For, on the one hand, annulment comes to those commandments that previously led the way due to their impotence and uselessness (19) – for the law gives nothing access to God – on the other hand, a hope of something better is introduced by which we can draw near to God.
The crux of the matter for this section of scripture is the Greek term “τελιωσις” (teliōsis). This term literally means “complete, perfect, whole.” This term is used in verse 1 above; I translated as “gain access to God” because that is what the author is getting at when using the term. Becoming perfect is not an end in and of itself. In other words, someone does not become perfect in every way in order to look down at themselves and say, “well, that’s great. Now what?” Instead, a person, in the author id Hebrew’s context, is becoming perfect for the specific purpose of gaining access to God. The only way that is possible is to be perfect. This is what the author is getting at here, not a perfection that tilts the eternal scales in your favor, nor a perfection to be the better in comparison to everyone else around you, but a perfection to gain access to God Himself, or draw near to God (v. 19). Gaining access to God has two aspects, opposite sides of the same coin: 1. When God judges you, you will not be sent to hell (no judgement/apart from His presence) 2. When you draw near to God, he will in turn draw near to you (eternal bliss/in his presence). How can you avoid eternal judgement? How can you enjoy communing with God? That’s exactly what the author of Hebrews sets out to explain: not by keeping the Mosaic law, but only through Jesus Christ.
(As an aside, you might think of an interesting predicament: 1. what about the Old Testament saints? And, 2. why did God make the Levitical law in the first place if he knew it was “impotent” and “useless”? Check out my answer here.)
If there’s anything at all we can learn from the Levitical sacrifices and the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), perfection, or being right with God demands sacrifice. God designed the old testament sacrifices as just a shadow to point to the reality in Christ. But, the shadows, only produced a shadow of an effect towards drawing one close to God. In other words, Old Testament animal sacrificed do no gain people access to God. Notice especially that God has never changed on this issue. For example, Malichi 1:10 says, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.” The priests during this time were wicked, God did not accept their sacrifices. And Psalm 51:15-16, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David understands God’s heart toward animal sacrifice. He understood that he could not just go sacrifice a goat and everything would be okay between him and God. The Old Testament cultus (or religious/ritual practices) were not what gave people access to God. What did God look for to restore the relationship between him and David? Repentance. Afterwards, David could then obey and follow through with the sacrifice. (As an aside, the same thing goes for NT cultus. We are commanded to seek the Lord and others in repentance, and then, afterwards, we partake of the Lord’s Supper).
In short, even some people who followed the Levitical cultus were precluded from drawing near to God. Why? Because God desires repentance and faith. When OT saints wanted access to God they did not necessarily use the cultus (that is, the Levitical practices, for instance). Instead, they used other means such as petition, prayer, and repentance. The law was useful in the past, not to bring access to God, but to provide standards for civilization. Sacrifice and law keeping did not fain superb audience with God, faith and repentance did; and, oftentimes, faith and repentance would lead to sacrifice and law keeping (under the old covenant). Now, faith and repentance leads to modern Christian cultus implemented by Christ (e.g. baptism, Lord’s Supper, covenanting oneself with a church, et. al).
What an amazing hyphenated statement: the law completes nothing, or law keeping gives no access to God whatsoever. If one does not believe this truth from this text, they are by definition a legalist. I’ll say it again, anyone who believed they gain access to God by keeping the law is a legalist and according to this very verse, has no access to God whatsoever. If you think you can gain God’s good favor by only behavior, you should check who is really your savior. All that you do is never enough! That’s why we think God’s law is so tough. Only the Christ superbly performs the law. Only his death can work to reverse our fall. This is what separates Christianity from the other major monotheistic religions. Islam and Judaism gain access to God by law keeping. True salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, by knowledge of the scripture alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
God’s purpose for every believer’s life is purification. We have a more strict law than even the law of Moses because the law of Christ binds even the conscious and the heart. Our thoughts and attitudes must conform to the image of Christ, otherwise we do not meed his standards of purity and cannot have access to God.
But notice all the steps God took to ensure the believer’s purity: thousands of years ago he promised a seed (Gen 3:15), He introduced an obscure character to typify the priesthood of Christ, He established a law and sacrifices to show the seriousness of sin, He even guided the genealogy of thousands, even millions to bring the Christ. All of this for your purity! What an impetus, what a catalyst for our sanctification. If God took all these steps over millennia for our purity, how much more should we take the steps necessary for our sanctification?
We must have perfection to enter into God’s presence. That truth has been evident since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden. The question is, how can we attain it? Obviously, we cannot attain it on our own, we need and require mediation and propitiation. God provided for us a shadow of this propitiation through the Levitical order, but ultimately, it only produced a shadow of affect. Instead, the author had to convince his audience to throw off the old practices. Notice how he accomplishes this: by proving categorically that Christ is greater. He spares no punches to prove Christ’s superiority to the recipient’s past way of life. I should strive earnestly to do the same. The false convert knows how great Christ is with his head, the true convert uses that knowledge to cleanse his heart.
God Most Righteous,
You are the perfect standard above all else. You alone attain the utmost righteousness. You gave the Israelites a law, a specific law to order and sustain them. People have hoped in this law to bring them to you. I pray you would dash those false hopes against the rocks and show the one and only true hope: Jesus Christ our Lord. Search in me where I trust in my own righteousness and take it from me, no matter how painful it is, and let me trust in you alone. It always seems that when I pray this honestly I am lead to an extreme fear of what could be brought about to increase my sanctification; but, I know bad things do not occur without my volitional decisions and by your guiding sovereign hand. Help me to trust and hope in you more than the things of this world I cling to, and lead me to your righteousness. Help the fear of worldly loss subside and renew a joy for you and you alone.