A New and Living Way, Part 2


I. God has provided for us a new and living way. (10:19-21)

Verses 19-21 are a summary of the previous nine chapters. These chapters explain to the Jewish believers why the covenant of Christ was superior to the covenant God made with Moses. In these three verses we are given three descriptions and benefits of the new and living way God has provided through Jesus Christ: we have a new family, we have direct access to God, and we have a Great Priest in Jesus Christ.

A. We now have a new family. Looking at verse 19, the reader is instantly confronted with the idea that, as believers, we are family. The writer addresses his audience as “brethren,” or brothers. As family, as members of the house of God, the writer tells his audience that they can enter the holy place of God. To first century Jews, this idea was completely foreign. In the Jewish sacrificial system described in the Old Testament, only the High Priest was allowed into the presence of God, the part of the temple called the Holy of Holies. The law allowed him to enter the Holy of Holies only once a year to offer sacrifice for the sins of Israel.

In Ephesians 1:5-8, the apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus that, “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” The new and living way that is spoken of in this passage is the way of the new covenant that is made possible by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In his Gospel, John the Apostle tells us in 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God.”

My parents were foster parents when I was growing up. The last foster child we had, Brittany, came to live with us when she was six weeks old. After she had lived with us for three years, the state began looking for a permanent adoptive home for Brittany. Three years later, no home had been found and she had lived with us for all six years of her life. She was family. My parents filed the appropriate paperwork, made appointments with lawyers, and went before a judge to declare their intentions to adopt Brittany as an official member of the Mason family.

Once those papers were signed, Brittany became a member of our family just as if my mom had physically given birth to her. By us choosing her, she was given the right to become a Mason, and once she was a Mason, she had access to all of the legal privileges of being a member of our family that I had as a biologically born member of the family. But not only is Brittany now recognized as a legal member of our family, she is also loved and accepted as a member of our family, and is confident in the fact that she will be treated just like my biological brothers and me in matters of love, protection, and provision. Just like Brittany was chosen to be a member of the Mason family, those who have been chosen as children of God also have rights that accompany that adoption. One of those rights is direct access to God.

B. We now have direct access to God. For the Hebrew believers hearing this for the first time, the notion of entering the holy place of God only brought thoughts of death and condemnation, for no one but the high priest was allowed to enter the holy place in the temple. But here the writer tells us that Jesus made a way for us to confidently approach God. When a young child is confident of the love and acceptance of her father, she has no worries about approaching her father with any request. The writer is telling us here in verse 20 that because of the work of Christ on the cross, the veil that previously separated us from God was torn open and we now have the right to boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence.

The idea that Jesus is superior to both Moses and to the line of levitical priests is key to understanding what is meant here when the author says that Christ is the new and living way. The old covenant, which is also called the covenant of Moses and the law, was designed to show the Israelites their sinful inability to save themselves. Paul declared in chapter three, verse twenty of his letter to the church in Rome that, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” This verse tells us the law brings awareness of sin and death. Jesus Christ, through His willing sacrifice, brings a new and living way of salvation for all who repent of their sins and believe on His name.

This new and living way is now the only way to gain access to God. In the original language, the word we translate as “new” has a meaning of freshly slaughtered and not previously available. It seems odd to consider something as both freshly slaughtered and living at the same time, but this is just the point the author is trying to make. John MacArthur observed in his commentary on Hebrews, “The blood of animals allowed only the high priest to enter the veil briefly. Jesus’ blood allows everyone who believes in Him to enter the veil permanently.”

C. We now have a Great Priest in Jesus. Not only are believers now members of the family of God who have permanent access to the Father, we can see in the passage above that we also have a mediator in our Great Priest, Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews explained this in chapter 9:11-14 when he wrote:
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

So it is only through the sacrifice of Christ, our Great Priest, that we are able to confidently gain access to God as his children. Paul further explains this in Galatians 3:22-26:
But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

We are told in Romans 3:23 that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are also told that this sin separates us from God because He is perfect and holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. But to show His glory and His merciful love, God made a way for our sins to be forgiven by sacrificing his son, Jesus, who took our punishment for sin and gave his blood for us. He took our punishment and died in our place. That is why Jesus is referred to in this passage as the new and living way. Jesus himself declared in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.”

The only way that you can be forgiven of your sins and become a part of the family of God is to recognize two things about yourself. First you must realize that your sin separates you from God. Second, you must acknowledge that there is nothing you can do on your own to connect you to God. Only by turning from your sin and believing that Jesus died as a sacrifice for your sins and then rose from the dead three days later, proving his victory over death, can you be called a child of God. Have you ever done that? Have you ever realized that because you are a sinner separated from God, you will spend eternity separated from Him unless you turn from your sin and believe in Christ as your Savior? Only that will allow you to be a part of God’s new and living way. If you have never had that moment in your life, I pray that you will consider your position in the family of God and will make the decision today to turn from your sins and believe that Jesus, our Great Priest, is the way God provided for you to be His child.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 4


This is part 4 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.

Third, Heyward claims that Christianity is isolating and denies community. By setting rigid boundaries concerning sexual behavior and then consequently excluding those who refuse to live by those standards, Heyward states that Christianity is proving itself dated, close-minded, and supportive of “compulsive heterosexuality” (Heyward, 12). Historically, Heyward claims that women were isolated from the Christian community by being declared “as evil, ‘the devil’s gateway’” and then systematically used as scapegoats for the sexual sins of the men around them (Heyward, 14).

What is so interesting about Heyward’s quick dismissal of all things “christian” is that God’s moral law, especially his guidelines concerning sexual relations in general, create and then reinforce exactly the sort of relationality that Heyward claims she is attempting to achieve. Relationship, community, unity in diversity, profound oneness and even wholeness are recurring themes throughout Scripture. Heyward is attempting to achieve the end of spiritual wholeness through the means of sex. Scripture teaches that even the most holy sexual relationship is but a picture of the unity and wholeness experienced in being a member of the bride of Christ (Eph 6.22-33). The foundation of Christianity is found in the words of Christ Himself when He stated, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

Throughout the epistles of the New Testament, believers in churches across Europe and Asia Minor are exhorted to live as a unified, healthy body (1 Cor 12), as a well jointed building (Eph 2); they are told to lay aside petty differences (Phil 4) and to pray for one another and for their common goal (1 Thes 5). These instructions for community are plentiful, and they center on the common love of God and the common call of spreading His glory among the nations. There is one part of living in community that Heyward seems to miss—justice and love are not relative terms that can be interpreted to mean that believers should turn a blind eye to those things which Scripture condemns as going against the nature of God. Justice and love are characteristics of the nature of God, and God declares to His people, “For I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3.6). If God does not change, the characteristics of His nature are fixed and unchanging as well. Therefore, the principles of spurring one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10) and of confronting one another when fellow believers are entrenched in sin (Mt 18; Gal 6; 1 Cor 5) apply to all things described in Scripture as moral laws which reflect the character of God. So long as desires are allowed to reign unchecked and people continue to seek fulfillment in things other than a relationship with God through Jesus, true spiritual wholeness will not be realized.

C.S. Lewis described this spiritual wholeness of Christ as Joy, and upon contemplating this matter of desire and pleasure made the following observation: “Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.” Heyward and her intellectual companions have attempted to substitute pleasure for Joy by completely freeing human sexuality from all encumbrances of law and discipline, but they have yet to achieve the wholeness and fulfillment for which they so desperately search. The struggle to find wholeness through the creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1. 25) is a confirmation of Lewis’ belief that physical pleasure is an unsatisfactory attempt to fill the “God-shaped void” in the lives of people.

This God-shaped void brings Heyward to the natural end of seeking God in God’s created order—Heyward describes sex in divine terms, completing the move from a supposedly “christian” sexual ethic to a glorification and worship of sex that is essentially pagan sex worship. In her discussion of this new christian ethic of sex, Heyward draws upon the work of Freud, who described the eroticism of sex as the “life force.” Heyward also quotes Audre Lorde’s description of the erotic as “the source of our creativity, the wellspring of our joy, the energy of our poems, music, lovemaking, dancing, meditation, friendships, and meaningful work.” For the Christian believer, this description could very well be used to describe God. In the Psalms, it is the glory and worship of Yahweh that inspires David and the other psalmists to write and dance and meditate. The entire book of the Song of Songs describes the fruition of a sexual relationship between a husband and wife when that relationship is rightly focused upon God and upon one another. Paul tells the church in Corinth, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31).

The focus of the life of the believer is not self pleasure or self glorification. Rather, the believer is to focus on the glory and worship of God. To give creative or inspirational credit or worship to anything other than God Himself is to commit an act of idolatry. Heyward attempts to explain this usurpation of God by declaring, “Theologically, we are speaking of our power in right relation; from a christian perspective, the power of God” (Heyward, 15). She claims that the power of God is reached and realized through the act of sex, but God himself prohibits worshiping him through sex acts (Lev 18, 20).

These major themes—the role reversals of men and women, the search for false community, the replacement of God with an idol—work together to show that while Heyward claims that her work, heritage, and ideas are Christian, she is actually committing the very sin that she exposes in the Church; she is further removing herself from the authority of the Bible and establishing her own ethic based upon tradition and personal experience. Heyward has taken Wesley’s quadrilateral of interpretation and reversed it; instead of beginning with Scripture and clarifying it through tradition, philosophy, and personal experience, Heyward begins with personal experience and reinterprets or discounts philosophy, tradition, and Scripture. Those ideals and absolutes which go against personal experience and desire are laid aside and explained away as being culturally irrelevant. This is precisely the place that Heyward envisions: “A historical perspective on sexuality is important… because such a view enables us to envision and perhaps experience our own possibilities…. We are involved in shaping our own dreams.” By using sex as a means to channel the power of God, Heyward argues that personal, sexual realization enables humanity to make its own destiny—humanity becomes god.