Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: The Grace Test

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:7-16, ESV)

I remember the young man who led me to faith in Christ.  He came to our church one Sunday night to speak to the youth, and then led the evening worship service for everyone after.  I never saw him again,  but he was part of the leadership who spoke the Word of God to me, and I can consider their way of life and imitate it.  I know what happened to me that night and I remember how life changing it was.  For the first time I got what it meant to know God.

Jesus has not changed.  “Diverse and strange teachings” have since paraded themselves past me but I was given the anointing (1 John 2:20) that all Christians have that enables us to know the truth.  I recognized it that night when that young man spoke it, and I heard it in the leaders who brought that young man to our church.  It’s not a bad test of false doctrine to see if the leaders who first spoke the Word of God to you embrace a teaching or not.  It’s not the only test, of course.

Grace must always be at the core of the true gospel.  Restrictions on foods are just one example of the world’s hatred of grace.  As long as you are committed to saving yourself grace will be a cuss word.  But for those who have tasted grace, no other food can satisfy.  And no altar but the heavenly one can draw our allegiance.

To embrace grace is to go outside the camp of human endeavor, a very unsafe place to be.  We will experience reproach and it may cost us our lives.  But our camp is not of this world.  Our lasting city is the heavenly Jerusalem.  Yes, that’s pretty Jewish.  So is Jesus.  So our sacrifice cannot be offered on any human altar in any human camp.  It belongs to God alone whose grace has made possible our praise, our doing good, and our sharing what we have, not as a way of earning His love but of reacting to it.

And yes, that pleases Him.

The movie Dead Man Walking is based on Sister Helen Prejean’s mission to care for the soul of death row inmate Matthew Poncelet. Poncelet awaits execution for brutally killing a young man and woman. Throughout the movie Poncelet vehemently denies any wrongdoing, even though the evidence contradicts him. At one point, Sister Helen gives him a Bible and tells him to read the Gospel of John. She persistently tries to help him face the truth, but he resists, blaming anyone else he can think of.

One emotional scene—the climax of the movie—shows Poncelet finally admitting his guilt.

Poncelet recalls, “My mama kept saying, ‘It wasn’t you, Matt. It wasn’t you.'”

“Your mama loves you, Matt,” responds Sister Helen.

Grieved by guilt, Poncelet begins to confess, but lapses as tears flood his eyes. As Sister Helen probes him further, Poncelet admits, “I killed [the boy].” Sister Helen then asks about Hope, the raped and murdered girl. Again, Poncelet forthrightly confesses.

“Do you take responsibility for both of their deaths?” probes Sister Helen.

Poncelet responds, “Yes ma’am.… When the lights dim at night, I kneel down by my bunk and pray for those kids.… I’ve never done that before.”

Sister Helen comforts Poncelet, saying, “There is a place of sorrow only God can touch. You did a terrible thing, Matt, a terrible thing. But you have a dignity now. Nobody can take that away from you.… You are a son of God, Matthew Poncelet.”

Sobbing deeply, Poncelet says, “Nobody ever called me no son of God before. They called me a son-of-you-know-what lots of times, but never no son of God.… I just hope my death can give those parents some relief. I really do.”

“Well,” continues Sister Helen, “maybe the best thing you can give to the Percys and the Delacroixs is a wish for their peace.”

Poncelet says, “I never had no real love myself. I never loved a woman or anybody else.… It about figures I would have to die to find love.… Thank you for loving me.”

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