Sermons & Sunday Schools

A Christian’s Acceptable Worship: Mutual Dependence, Part 1

Full Transcript:

Alright let’s take our Bibles and turn to Hebrews 13, looking at and continuing the Christian’s acceptable worship. Today we will be beginning with mutual dependence. Acceptable Christian worship is what pleases God and we have already learned that the reason all believers are to offer up spiritual sacrifices like the fruit of the lips and giving thanks and sharing, and the reason spiritual church leaders and the congregation are to harmonize with each other is because it pleases God. Now, anything that does not please God is evil.

Today in our passage we come to the thing that is most important for church leaders and congregation members alike, and it is surely pleasing to God. It is the very thing that brings to light our dependence as Christians and our two inseparable spiritual responsibilities. These responsibilities we must never underestimate or carelessly lay aside.

The first one is to attend earnestly the Word of God, because through it God speaks to us. And secondly, we must engage earnestly in prayer, which this section is about. And in prayer we speak to God. In His Word, He speaks to us and in prayer we speak to God. The great need for church leaders is to be supported by the prayers of their sheep and for church leaders to earnestly support the sheep in prayer. They go together and they should always remain of the highest importance, which is where Satan attacks the most in the church.

He convinces us that we are too busy to pray and that we don’t know how to pray or just can’t seem to make it to pray. That’s the great attack, to keep God’s people from praying for one another, to keep pastors from praying for their sheep, and to keep the people from praying for their leaders. So why should we engage in this? so that our work for Christ can be effective. When it is effective, it is aided and supported by mutual and delightful prayer and mutual and loving obedience to the Word of God.

So the author of Hebrews at this point in the message is humbly requesting prayer. Look at what it says in Hebrews 13:18-19:

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things. And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Now it says there simply to pray for us. There’s a little bit of a problem here, because in all the translations, some put a period after “pray for us,” some put a semicolon, some put a colon, and some put a comma. And this creates a problem for the interpretation of the text. There is no problem in the Greek because there is no punctuation. But in English, there is punctuation. The King James Version puts a colon, the New King James Version puts a semicolon, the NIV puts a period, and the NASB puts a comma.

Now the reason could be that the author is using another imperative and it could read “pray for us.” But it could also mean that he is using a very unusual reason for the prayer request. It’s really unusual how he puts that request to be restored to them. He’s making a statement before asking for the request. I thought about that for awhile and kept looking at it, and thought there is some reason for this the way he writes it. It’s like he is saying that he’s confident about what happened on the inside.

You may ask what does happen on the inside when one comes to believe in Christ? The conscience of a believer has been cleansed when coming to Christ. Here is one of these statements that displays a person’s assurance of not only their position before God but the difference that has taken place inside of them that they are aware of. Their conscience is no longer tormented or guilty or dead. These people are experiencing on the inside rest, peace, and life. Look at how our passage reads, “Pray for us for we are sure that we have a good conscience.”

Now someone may say that that sounds arrogant statement. No one can really be sure about such things. That does raise a few questions that needs some investigation. And I think the questions could be like this, “What does it mean to be sure you have a good conscience?” A second question could be, “What does a good conscience have to do with prayer?” Those are the questions that I want to answer this morning. Remember we are talking about acceptable worship this morning, and that includes our approach to God. This means if anyone is going to approach God acceptably, they must have a good conscience.

Now to investigate this, I’m going to try and stay in the integrity of the book of Hebrews. Turn with me back to Hebrews 9:9, where we saw how the worshippers would come and bring their gifts and sacrifices to God just like they were required to do. But these gifts could not make the people perfect on the inside. In other words, these sacrifices were powerless to remove sin and guilt. When we become believers in Christ, the Lord really does a work on the inside, and that’s how we know that something has happened. We just didn’t stop our bad habits, but something happened inside of us when we came to Christ. My whole life is different because I came to Christ! The way I look at the world and people is different all because I came to Christ.

Hebrews 9:9 says this:

Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience.

In the end, the worshippers’ experience no abiding rest, no abiding peace but continually live with a guilty conscience. Now just to refresh your memory a little bit, the term conscience can be defined in this way, that it is the soul. The soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, is prompted to do what is good and shun the bad. That’s what the conscience is right? When you do something bad, then you’re condemned in your conscience, and when you do something good, you are commended in your conscience.

So the conscience that is guilty is a soul conscious of sin; the person has done something wrong and broke a certain law. Sin of course is a word often used in Scripture that gives the picture of a prisoner that has been taken captive and has been dominated by its power. Sin is said to dwell in us. So basic is the hold of sin over man that sin is not merely an external power that exercises sway over a man, but has gotten into the very fiber and center of his heart to occupy him like an enemy occupies a country. Romans tells us in the Word of God that there is a close connection between the law of God and sin. The law teaches us what sin is.

In fact Paul wrote this to the Romans in Romans 3:20:

By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Once there is law, then there is also the knowledge of sin. Paul really nailed it in Romans 2:15, when he says:

They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.

There is a Biblical definition of the conscience, and who better to define it than God Himself who created it? The conscience is that which bears witness to what is right and pleasing to God, and what is wrong and evil. When one does wrong and sins, they feel guilt. Some people walk around with guilt just piling up year after year. They don’t know what to do with it and their conscience is just weighed down.

You might hear people sometimes that when they trusted Christ, a weight just fell off them. Well they’re talking about guilt. They say that their guilt is just gone. Maybe this is a good place to clarify six characteristics of what a good conscience actually is. Because it is the only kind of conscience that can approach acceptably, and that’s a good conscience. The point of the passage is that God wants you to know that you have one. Do you have a good conscience? Well after today you should be able to say yes or no.

The first thing is that a good conscience is one that comes by Jesus’ superior sacrifice. Look at what it says in Hebrews 9:13, and by looking at this passage I want you to think of this that you cannot acquire it on your own. Someone has to acquire a good conscience for you. So the gifts and the sacrifices were offered in the Old Testament by the worshipper which could only purge the flesh but not the conscience. The verse says:

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh.

Now it could only be removed externally. Under the old covenant in this passage of Scripture, the worshipper benefitted in a personal way that when they follow the procedures for cleaning and offered the correct sacrifice, then the sacrificial blood of animals did remove their defilement and set them apart as holy unto the Lord. At the end of verse 13, it says that it only does so for the cleansing of the flesh. It did not free the conscience from the guilt of all evil deeds done by a particular person. See the conscience needs a far greater cleaning to put it to rest. And of course a good conscience only comes to us by the Lord Jesus Christ who offered the sacrifice that would take care of a bad, evil, guilt-ridden conscience.

A second thing is that a good conscience is one that has been cleansed by Jesus’ superior sacrifice. The lesser sacrifices that were limited, consisted of the blood of bulls and goats. The greater sacrifice it the blood of Christ which is complete. The solution to an inner defiled conscience is found in Hebrews 9:14, which says:

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

It is the blood of Christ that cleanses from all external and internal uncleanness and defilement which incurs guilt and then cleanses the conscience. So it is the blood of Christ that is God’s answer to man’s disturbed, troubled, and weighed down conscience. So if you have a disturbed conscience, well the law of God is working in you and prompting you through Scripture to receive God’s remedy, which is of course Jesus Christ. The person who comes to Christ is forgiven. Christ sets us free from the penalty and the power of inward sin. Therefore Jesus’ atoning sacrifice provides inner purity as well as outward external deliverance.

So the believer is given the ability to believe by faith and then is set free from the slavery and dominion of sin is cleansed internally of a guilty conscience. A good conscience is one that is cleansed by the blood of Christ.

Thirdly, a good conscience is one that has bee cleared from all dead works. Look again at verse 14, it says to cleanse your conscience from dead works. Now these are your good works. In other words, dead works are all the formal, empty, false, legal observances and self-invented works whereby you and I seek to stand before God. These are the things that we try to do to please God, and to consider ourselves to be good people and acceptable to God. At the end of the day, there is nothing you can really offer God. Even if you define your own works as good, they are still dead before God because you are dead in your sins when you offer them.

But dead works just further defiles a person and provide no ability to truly cleanse the conscience or give power to obey God rightly. Some people hope that having done such things, their good deeds would outweigh their bad and they would be acceptable on their merit. That’s self-salvation, or exoterism. You’re trying to save yourself by what you do. A conscience could never be cleared of dead works by you offering dead works! You will remain dead with your works because you are just offering it up to an idol of your own creation in your mind.

Fourthly, a good conscience is one that no longer has consciousness of condemning sin. In Hebrews 10:1-2 it says:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?

In other words, because a believer has a one-time effective sacrifice which is unrepeatable and efficient, then Christ’s superior sacrifice has removed all condemnation from the conscience. Therefore, a person is freed. In fact in Hebrew 10:1 the verse has a phrase that says “can never.” This means that these sacrifices offered, even the prescription that God gave to offer those sacrifices had no ability in its effectiveness. A genuinely effective thing does not need to be repeated. Repetition is proof that there remains a deficiency in the sacrifice. That’s why it says in Scripture all the time that Jesus died once, why? Because His sacrifice was so efficient that it never had to be repeated. That means when a person understands and receives Christ, they know that the ineffective, repeatable sacrifices can never purify people’s souls.

In fact it says it there at the end of verse 10, they were not able to make perfect those who drew near to God. Never was it able to do that. If it was able to make them perfect, then two things would have taken place. The sacrifices would have stopped and there wouldn’t be a need for them. Secondly, worshippers would have no more consciousness for sins. It says that at the end of verse 2. It proves the sacrifices’ inability to cleanse from sin. When I was preaching on this passage before, there was a particular ability that these sacrifices reminded worshippers that they were not pure and that their sins still stood between them and God. They could never get farther than the next year’s Day of Atonement; it was just a vicious cycle.

But it was a reminder and a picture of what Christ was going to do. It was a hope that what was being done then finds its fulfillment in Christ, and those who did it then, did it by faith. When Christ died on that cross, they too were forgiven of their sins and made right with God. So Scripture has established the inability of the law and its prescribed sacrifices to reach God’s intended goal for His children, which is perfection. That means a far different and vastly superior sacrifice is needed, and that of course is Jesus Christ.

So the conscience is really important when it comes to prayer. A conscience that knows you are not condemned by your sin because of the effectiveness and extent of the death of Christ. You can come with confidence like that when you know those things. So what does a good conscience have to do with prayer? Well a fifth thing would be this, that a good conscience is one that may come before God with bold confidence. In Hebrews 10, a good conscience has overcome three main obstacles to prayer. What are they? In verse 21, it says:

Since we have a great priest over the house of God.

In other words, the obstacle then was the people coming before the very presence of God in prayer. We’re not just talking to anyone, but God. Hebrews talks about God being a consuming fire! So what kind of person can enter into the presence and house of God in prayer? It is a person who comes through Christ’s sacrifice who is cleansed and cleared of dead works, sin, and guilt. That is the person that can come and pray before God.

A second obstacle that is overcome by a good conscience is found in Hebrews 10:22, which says:

Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

The second obstacle was an evil conscience, which we all have! Everyone has an evil conscience, because anything that doesn’t please God is evil. All you do when you don’t know Him is displease God. The amount of things we do that displease Him is so great that we can’t even remember them after awhile. But God does. The obstacle of an insincere heart is there.

We know all about this because when we talk to others, we can often justify our words and actions before people. But the moment we come before God in prayer, our consciences begin to speak to us and we can no longer defend ourselves. All we see is our insincerity. When you come before God, don’t you see your own insincerity? Unless a person deals with conscience, he or she doesn’t really pray. Like the psalmist said in Psalm 66:18:

If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear.

But a good conscience overcomes coming into the presence of God because they have a High Priest Jesus Christ who has entered in before them as their atoning sacrifice. Also, we overcome by a good conscience this insincere heart because the Lord has cleansed our hearts and has given us clean hearts. Of course, this leads to a third obstacle at the end of Hebrews 10:22, which is the sense of uncleanness:

Our bodies washed with pure water.

When we come to prayer, we sense the pollution of sin and we feel dirty because of it. We feel the sense of total unworthiness when we sin. Christians feel that even more than unbelievers, but we don’t lose our confidence or boldness because we already know what Christ has done. That prevents us from going on and on in our sin because we know that that displeases our Lord. So we don’t let our sin become a habit or pattern in our lives so we cut it off and put it to death. We grow in gratitude and praise to God because you know that you don’t deserve His praise. I know that I can get up and sense that I am made clean and worthy because of the truth I know in God.

So how is it that a person riddled with an evil conscience can come to the presence of God. I think we need to realize these obstacles and overcome them. And we do so by a good conscience. This is how we approach God in the way He requires; here are some essential practices so we can really pray with confidence.

He’s describing here the kind of heart that draws near to God in prayer. It’s not a proud, sufficient, or insincere heart that does that. But it is a good, sincere confidence and in fact some way these are descriptions of a good conscience. In verse 22 again, it says:

Let us draw near with a sincere heart.

A sincere heart is literally a true heart. Let us come to God honestly and let’s not try to cover or push aside our sin. Let’s just come to God honestly with a sincere and true heart. One that is not fictitious but real. One that is not counterfeit but authentic. One that is not just imagining things but is the real deal. One that does not pretend but is without hypocrisy and that is honest with God about sin.

Believers according to our text, are to draw to God with a true and sincere heart which assumes that we are to be aware of what kind of heart we are to come to God with. There is an understanding about what happens on the inside. We need to have some level of discernment about our own hearts. We can’t meet with God with insincere hearts. Some of the people do that, but we are not going to.

According to Hebrews, no creature is hidden from His sight and all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. So we come to God in a new way, not by the old, dead works. We don’t come to Him through ceremonies or rituals, but in the new way that God has planned. There is no real access to God but by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ because He alone answers the problem of a guilty, polluted, evil conscience.

So a good conscience has a true and honest heart towards God. Also a good conscience again has a cleansed heart. In verse 22, it says:

Having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience.

It is the heart that has been cleansed on the inside, that Christ is the end of the law so it cannot any longer condemn me by His all-sufficient, totally effective sacrifice. Christ bore my sin and condemnation and by His blood, has washed my evil conscience. So if the law is satisfied because Christ has bore our sin and guilt, then our consciences are clean. Christ has satisfied my dirtiness because I have overcome those by the blood of the lamb.

Good conscience not only has an honest heart, but also has a cleansed heart. So to know that your heart has been comprehensively cleansed by the blood of Christ inside and out. Our bodies have been washed by pure water. So there is no outward cleansing that can cleanse real pollution of sin, but it is only by the blood of Christ. And even when the old enemy of our souls come agains us, I can point the devil to my Lord Jesus Christ who is exalted and risen, and I will proclaim with confidence that if God is for me then I have nothing to fear, even the devil himself. Because he will stir up all the guilt of the past and make it as real as if it were just happening.

Unless you know that you have a good conscience because of Christ, he can’t get a foothold on your life. As a matter of fact, there is nothing that can get a foothold on your life if you know that. So here is the bottom line, true believers with their doctrine and understanding of what Christ has done can enter with confidence into God’s presence and come with freedom of speech and courage to express their prayers to God on their own behalf and on the behalf of others. That’s why prayer is mutual. You pray for me and I pray for you.

But see that the precursor is that have to have a good conscience. Why do you have a good conscience? Because of Christ. Doesn’t that give you a level of boldness and assurance? Also they know how to regularly draw near to God in prayer with their honest and cleansed hearts, and they are sure that the have a good conscience. Now look back at Hebrews 9:14 one more time because I want you to notice another thing that is linked back to our text in Hebrews 13. That is that all this leads us to outward service of God. Look at what it says in Hebrews 9:14:

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

That means that a good conscience leads to consecrated service. The reason why Christ cleanses me of all these things and the reason why the Lord brings me into a position before Him in which I am cleansed in this way and made right with Him is to serve Him while I’m here. It brings me to serve Christ while I’m here.

You and I have received this new life that restores our fellowship with God so we can exchange and engage in energetic service to Him. With that in mind, it says in Hebrews 13:18:

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.

This means that my good conscience has now affected my behavior. It has affected my desires. We’re looking at inward cleansing and outward service, at someone who is now really serving God. This person’s desire has become comprehensibly changed about how and where they want to live their life. He wants to let his people know that he is sure he has a good conscience and a good relationship with God. He has boldness that when he prays to God, it will be effectual. James 5:16 says:

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

This is because he knows who he is coming to. And then his desire is to conduct himself honorably in all things, not just a few that he chooses. If this passage of Scripture doesn’t grip with real conversion, then I don’t know which one will. He’s concluding here what really believers are like! And then they are free to go and serve God, which they weren’t able to do before. They wanted to do it God’s way. It’s just like the Thessalonians who turned from idols to serve the living God and to wait for Jesus.

So how is it that we can ask for prayer, pray for others, serve God with such confidence and assurance. It is only because we a have peaceful conscience. There is nothing to condemn you anymore. Number two, you have access to God through Christ and there is nothing to prevent you from enjoying God’s presence. You have new desires to serve God, which you never had before. You have no more fear of hell because there is nothing that can send you there because Christ has been punished in your place and therefore justice cannot touch you again. And you have the expectation that in death there is sudden glory and that heaven has an open door for you.

So what are we to do? The most we can do for another is to pray, and sometimes that is the last thing we do if we even get to doing it. Then by the time we do get to it, we are so exhausted and beat up that you we can’t even mumble the words out. You know how I know that? It’s because I’ve been there! For any service that’s gonna have any effect, we must pray for each other and we must take it seriously. This upcoming year is an opportunity to make some changes in this area. And I believe we need to.

Now we do have prayer meetings on Wednesday nights and I know everything in the world is going to prevent you from coming out, from being tired, to traffic. We can do other things to pray for each other but I’ve always had a prayer request from a long time ago, that our prayer meetings would be attended more regularly than they are. That people would know why they are there, and would just pray. But mutual prayer starts with people’s good consciences. Do you have one? Have your desires changed because of your good conscience to want to serve God? Have you changed your desires to want to pray?

In fact this was getting the author so excited that this was his prayer request in Hebrews 13:19:

And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.

It seems that the author was part of this congregation at one time but something pulled him away and he couldn’t get there to preach this message. Hebrews really is a homily, something that should have been proclaimed. He said he couldn’t be there to see them face to face but even after sending the letter, he wanted to come to them. He knew that they could benefit each other with their prayers. That’s the point of the church, to build up one another.

Let’s pray this morning that we would really take prayer this year seriously. I can beg, and email, and text you to make it out on Wednesdays. We can organize different prayer groups and do all kinds of things so that everybody prays, but you have to want to do it. You gotta get through the wrestling of just getting to prayer and then offer up to the Lord only things He can answer.

Let’s pray. Lord, I pray this morning. You’re so good for doing this for us. You’re so good for working out such a great plan of salvation where we can know that we have a good standing with you. I can come before you with an honest heart, how many people can know that? That their guilt has been taken care of once and for all. Lord, I pray for myself and Your people that this year would be one that we take more seriously than ever before the discipline of prayer. We’ve already had our obstacles to prayer removed. So any other obstacles must be placed there by the enemy. I pray that You would help us to juggle schedules and responsibilities so at least we could get together at a certain time during the week so that we can seek Your face. We know that from the Word of God that is acceptable worship and it is pleasing to You. Make us people who pray. And I thank You, Lord, for what You will do. I pray this in Christ, Amen.