Chapter 9 of Hebrews is all about dealing with guilt. The author explains that the entire Old Testament system was set up to deal with guilt, though it was powerless to do the only thing we needed it to do: purify our consciences. Religious rituals only cover sin; they cannot change the heart. Christ, to whom all the Old Testament points, is able to transform us in three ways that the old Temple—and, in fact, religion—can’t:
1. From Guilt to Purity
Hebrews 9:14 says that the blood of Christ “purifies our conscience.” The tabernacle sacrifices only ever served to cover guilt, but they could never remove it. The blood of Christ takes the penalty of guilt away forever because through his death Jesus absorbed the penalty of sin—death—into himself. As Charles Spurgeon has said, God would be unjust to punish us for our sins because then He would be requiring two payments for the same sin.
The forgiveness now available to us because of Christ’s death is more than a mere waiving of penalty, however. Our guilt has not only been removed but has been replaced with purity, with love, with acceptance from the very God of the universe. In response to our sin, forgiveness says, “You may go.” The gospel tells us, “You are cherished; you may come.”
2. From Dead Works to Loving Service
Again, in Hebrews 9:14, the author tells us that the blood of Christ purifies us “from dead works to serve the living God.” Religion is filled with all kinds of works, various attempts to get God to approve of us. These works are dead because they are not love for God but love for self. We perform for God not because we love Him but because we want something from Him. If I were to take my friend out to dinner because I know he has a beach house, it’s not done out of love. I am making an investment: sixty bucks for a nice meal and I can score a week at the Outer Banks!
When you strive to do good works to gain acceptance, your works are dead. This is the difference between religion and the gospel. In religion, you do good works to be accepted by God; in the gospel, you do good works because you are accepted by God.
As John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace,” wrote in another of his hymns:
Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before,
Since we have seen His beauty, are joined apart no more.
To see the Law by Christ fulfilled, to hear His pardoning voice,
Transforms a Slave into a Child, and Duty into Choice.