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If we ever break with our religious framework, it always comes at the intersection of disagreement with how the institutional power expects us to live our lives. We can only walk in harmony up to the point where we are required to change something we don’t want to change. From then on, a rift exists and we either venture out into isolation, or we suffer internally while we dance between compliance and resentment.
If we are to understand the remaining chapters Hebrews 12-13, we must understand this very nuanced dynamic which is not visible in a black and white binary system. How we live matters. We are all human BEINGS. We are not human DOINGS. Nonetheless, the predominant ethos of our increasingly religious world (by this point you know I use this term inclusively of all institutional powers) is that: “Our doing creates our being.” By contrast, the Good News or Gospel, which this study has been revealing to us, operates upon the ethos, “Our being creates our doing.” Anytime we fail to grasp this liberating nuance, the automatic result is religion. However, if we assumed that this freedom from religion means there is no bearing upon how we are to live, then we are sadly mistaken and still enslaved in our unbelief, or “non-faith“, or what the author calls sin.
There is right way to live, but it can’t be found in a binary (right vs wrong) framework. Right living or what this author call righteousness, is each individual living in conformity to the truth they comprehend. Righteousness, ironically, is not merely obeying the ten commandments, or five pillars, or eight fold path, per se, but it may include them. While these may provide a framework of behavior modification, we now know that this framework is less important than what is happening inside us at the soul level. In short, as this author has shown, if the Christ is what is ultimately powering our faith from its beginning to its ultimate trajectory, then the net effect upon us will be a change in how we live. The remaining chapters comprise some of the author’s guidelines for living, but it isn’t a fixed framework.
- Get used to Discipline:
If faith is transformation from the inside out rather than religious compliance from the outside in (what I’ve been calling the kitchen remodel) then the experience will be one of disorder, and constant failing. A child learning to walk will struggle and fall continually and once he or she stands upright, they are continually off balance and the fall risk gets more severe, not less. The result of faith is self-awareness which reveals everything we must change and which requires work. The immediate gratification of sin or non-faith, temps us toward the short game of death, true liberation (authenticity) requires we undergo constant (spirit illumined) self-critique.
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:7-8)
Though painful, frustrating, and even disheartening, the very presence of this “growing awareness of just how much we suck” is actually a graced indicator of the love of God, inviting us into the discovery of our true self, the one on the other side of our trials, and temptations. The free person is not the one who does as he or she pleases, for that is to be utterly lost, but he or she who is painfully aware that they cannot please their appetites. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:17)
The author calls this the discipline of the Lord. (v11)
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
2. Get used to weakness and powerlessness.
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” (V.12-13)
Remember we are going from a Garden, into and through a curse, and unto a City. We thought everything was perfect in our garden, but like an unborn child we cannot remain in the warmth and comfort of the womb. Once we are awakened, by faith (usually through tremendous pain, struggle or suffering) we discover just how powerless we actually are. The bible uses the word “paraleluména” which means Paralyzed. It connotes an awakened mind within an ineffective body which is beginning to regain it’s strength.
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (v.3)
Until we undertake the work of changing what our new self awareness reveals needs to be changed, we always overestimate how good or strong we are. Once our paralysis becomes obvious to us we realize the benefit of looking to someone who has been through this transformation through suffering. This why the author spent so much time up front pointing us to the life of Jesus. He is our inspiration (spirit within) who endured everything we are now enduring (yet without sin) so that he can show us what is to be gained on the other side of our weakness. He becomes our strength.
3. Start tightening up your game.
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” (V. 14-16)
Principles are not ideals, they are inflexible and given for our benefit not as killjoys. Life principles are philosophical epicenter of a rule or law which is intended to be obeyed. The difference is that a rule or law is applied specifically, while a principle is applied generally. Out of single principle can flow many rules and laws. The ethos of the Gospel is not to burden us with countless rules and laws as religion does, but to drive us toward fidelity to the single under-riding principle of love (that of God, ourselves, and others). When we live by a precept or principle, we begin chiseling away at the slap of granite which is our life. Each tiny speck moves us closer to the work of art hidden within the stone. We can’t live according to our impulses for food, power, sex, wealth, or status any longer. The world we live in is based in such things and its corruption has no end. The City we are building arrives as we each discover who we are on the other side of temptation and weakness, where our faith is “perfected” through this struggle with the short term.
Every failure meets a commensurate rejection of authenticity because each one is as Kierkegaard would say is to be “in despair, not willing to be ourself before God.” We know that Esau was ultimately blessed as we see in Genesis 33:9 “Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” And in the bigger picture, there was never a moment where Esau was going to be blessed beyond his younger brother, however, in the short term he had to endure the suffering of being passed over.
“For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” (V.17)
4. Faith integrates our potential for greatness and failure, it doesn’t separate them.
Too often, the religious mind convinces itself it has put sin, weakness, and failure into the rear view mirror. When it does this, it creates fundamentalist communities that think they are better than everyone else. This leaves a nasty taste in the mouths of everyone. Faith reveals that God is more optimally glorified by our struggle with sin than he is by it’s removal. This keeps us continually dependent upon our “high priest” who has suffered for our sin “Once for all” as the author puts it. Nothing humbles us more than deeply yearning for the long game, and then willfully receiving all that the short game brings. It’s important to know, that the victory of where we are going is not based upon our sinless perfection as if it is a meritocracy of religious performance. The victory is that we can see that we failed, and that we keep striving.
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (V. 4)
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (13:1-2)
If any person upholds the law of love, it is impossible to sin in anyway against God or others. All sin is essentially living detached from the influence of love. This is easy to test. Love sees “others” as themselves and acts accordingly. Love self empties and serves and esteems others and according to the author, we can’t always tell who the “others” are. The law of love will keep us from sexual misconduct, money problems, and marriage problems (v. 3-7). Ignore it and every corner of our lives will meet struggle and suffering. Love will remember those who have served us (leadership) and helped us along our path. We will follow likewise in their footsteps. Love frees us from obligation and compliance into compulsion and service.
The point is that there is this really long chain of being (even our being) which begins and end with Christ. There has only been one who has done this and that is why our faith, which is Christ, becomes a faith in Christ. In all of human history, only Jesus has been able to back up the claim of being the Christ, and in no other person is there a promise of such limitless grace to the struggler. Religion has enemies. Jesus taught us to eliminate our enemies by loving them. This inspires us to never give up, to honestly face just how deeply flawed we are and just how deeply loved we are despite it. We’ve come so far. May we keep going. The trajectory here is that we are building a city that has only one law for all its citizens.
Each small bit of conformity to love brings a commensurate, measurable blessing and healing into the world and every failure to apprehend or apply this love prolongs the suffering and delays the arrival of our promised city.
How we live really does matter. How we live is measured by the kind of city we are producing. Come back next week when we conclude this series at a look at what is to come.