Studies in Hebrews Part 3: The Nakedness of Unrighteousness

Hebrews 3:12 – 4:13
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,

‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.  
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

To recap, so far we have seen that Christ’s testimony, the testimony of His gospel, is a testimony that can be trusted, because Christ’s glory is a greater glory than that of angels. God has never called any angel a son. But He does Christ, Son. God has never given any angel a throne without end. But He has given Christ a throne without end. God has never given any angel all authority in heaven and on earth. But He has given Christ all authority in heaven and on earth. Since Christ’s glory is a greater glory than that of angels, we have therefore have a just reason to trust His testimony.

The author of the epistle then cites an example from the Old Testament to illustrate his point that we should trust Christ’s testimony. That example is from Numbers 13. We examined this example briefly a few weeks ago, and we saw in Numbers 13 that Israel, having been led out of slavery in Israel and having been promised a land flowing with milk and honey, drew back in unbelief rather than moving forward in faith when the time came to take possession of the promised land. We saw how they drew back in unbelief after spotting the giants who lived in the land, and we looked at how they saw themselves as grasshoppers in their own eyes, rather than as what God said they were.

This week, we are going to take a closer look at this example, and we are going to see how it fits into the author’s instruction to enter God’s rest. To do this, we are going to look at the whole text of Hebrews 3:12-4:13, but we are going to focus especially on that last verse.

And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

We find in this example a parallel. A parallel is when two principles have a similar appearance, but may or may not be opposite. The sacrifices in the Old Testament parallel the sacrifice of Christ in the New Testament. There are, of course, some very big differences, but they are two principles that share a common appearance.

In the case of the author’s example from Numbers 13, Israel had just spent 400 years living in slavery under Pharaoh’s law. Perhaps you have never considered this before, but Pharaoh’s command to build bricks was indeed a law. The Hebrew slaves lived under that law. And while under that law, their obedience was the evidence of their righteousness in respect to this law. That is, if a Hebrew slave obeyed the Pharaoh’s commandment, then that slave would be judged a faithful slave.

Eventually however, Pharaoh made his law impossible to keep. He did this by Pharaoh-Tutankhamun-3increasing the amount of bricks demanded from each Hebrew slave, and by then demanding each slave also provide his own supply of straw which was needed to make the bricks. The penalty for failing to obey this law was death.

Exodus 5:21 (the Hebrews taskmasters speaking to Moses and Aaron) “The Lord look on you and judge you, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

The penalty for disobeying Pharaoh’s impossible commandment was death.

Let’s look at this then.

A. Pharaoh gave the Hebrews a law that was impossible for them to keep

B. God gave the Hebrews a whole series of laws that were impossible for them to keep.

C. The Hebrews escaped their slavery under Pharaoh’s law through the death of the firstborn.

D. God’s Israel, the elect, escape their slavery to the law’s demand for their death through the death of God’s firstborn Son.

Psalm 2 reads, The Lord said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.”

The parallel continues.

God promised to bring the Hebrew slaves out of the land of slavery in Egypt to a place of rest in a land flowing with milk and honey.
Rest does not mean He promised them a long nap. Rather, the rest He promised them was rest from their enemies, rest from the slavery. It was a cessation from the hostilities that troubled them; that is, it was peace. The Hebrew word for this peace is shalom. God promised to lead them into shalom.

Likewise, God also promised His elect a shalom.

It may help to consider it this way. When an artist has finished his painting he ceases to add anything more to it. That is, he rests. He is finished. One more brushstroke would ruin the painting. Likewise, we are told in Genesis that on the seventh day God rested from all His creative work. This doesn’t mean God was worn out from having created and so needed to take a nap. Rather, it means He was finished creating. Everything He had created was exactly as He had always planned it. There was nothing else He could add to it without ruining what He had perfectly created, and so He rested.

Similarly, when Christ spoke those words from the cross, “It is finished,” He was indicating that the work of salvation was now complete. Nothing more could be added to it. It was done. God had successfully redeemed His elect. After the cross He rested.

What makes this rest different from the rest He promised to the Hebrew slaves however, is that the rest He promised to the Hebrews was a rest that was conditioned upon their obedience. The rest He promised to His elect was a rest that was conditioned upon Christ’s obedience.

The parallel continues.

Having led the Hebrew slaves on dry ground through the red sea, having led them to victory in battle after battle with armies that came out to attack them, having kept their bellies full, their thirsts quenched, their clothes and shoes in good shape, God now brings them to the edge of the promised rest. All they had to do at this point was trust God to do what He had promised to do, and that was lead them into the land.

Likewise, leading each of His elect to the hearing of His gospel and then opening their eyes to understand and believe the good news of their salvation in Christ, God has promised to bring them the rest of the way to the last day whereupon He will raise each of them to immortality and then bring them to live in His presence for eternity. All they can do is trust Him to keep His word.

The Hebrew slaves did not trust God to keep His word. We read it in Numbers 13.

Says the author of the epistle to his readers, “You guys see how they did not trust Him and so failed to enter His rest? Well, learn from their example. Let there be none among you with an evil unbelieving heart who fails to enter His rest.”

What can we learn from this parallel? There are several things we can learn.

First, freedom for the Hebrew slaves was not found in exchanging Pharaoh’s law for God’s law. Keep in mind that God’s law was every bit as impossible to keep, if not more so, than Pharaoh’s law. Even though continuance of life for the Hebrew slave was conditioned upon his obedience, his preservation could still not be found in his performance for the simple fact that; a) he was already guilty, and b) he could not obey. This is why God included the sacrifices in the covenant. They were the proof that God knew the Hebrews could not obey.

This irks some people, because they think salvation is indeed found in their performance. I recently listened to an anti-Lordship Arminian sermon. Some of the things the pastor said about assurance I could have said. But then he said every Christian could trust they are saved, because they have given their heart to Christ. Now, besides the fact this pastor had confused subjective experience (giving your heart) with objective faith, what was he saying? He was saying that you, your choice, your decision, is the grounds for the assurance of your righteousness. This is slavery! This is the same kind of slavery the Hebrew slaves lived under even while in Egypt! The evidence of their righteousness was their obedience.

God did not give His law to the Hebrew slaves as a means to save them. Romans 5:20 tells us the law was given so that sin might abound! The Bible says this! And I know it shocks some people to hear that, but that’s what the Bible says. God gave the Hebrew slaves the law to make them sin more.

Consider this with me for a moment. Without a law in Egypt the Hebrews would have had no need of a savior. Without a law in Egypt, the Hebrews would have had no reason to leave Egypt. Without a law in Egypt, they would not been slaves! It was only because Pharaoh’s law had imprisoned them that they could then cry out to God for a savior. But that savior was not God’s law. It was, in fact, and would be, God’s son! Freedom is not found in exchanging Egyptian law for Divine law. This is not God’s rest.

Something else we can learn from this parallel is that God’s rest can only be entered into by faith. Easy, isn’t it? Except that it’s so difficult that it is easier to imagine a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

Matthew 19:16-26
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Notice what happens here. A wealthy young man approaches Christ to ask what thing must he do to have eternal life. See that? Right away we see this man thinks freedom is found in exchanging Pharaoh’s law for God’s law. He thinks he can earn salvation with his performance. What good thing must I do to have eternal life? What good law can I obey?

Jesus tries to show Him just how impossible it is for man to earn eternal life by his performance. He tries to do this first by reminding the man of the commandments, knowing full well the man could never do this to perfection.

The man won’t have it though. He is certain, absolutely certain there is something he can do performance wise to obtain eternal life. All these things I have done since my youth. Yes, perhaps I haven’t done them continuously since my youth; maybe I haven’t done them perfectly; but I have done them off and on since my youth. Haven’t I tallied up enough points then to earn eternal life?

Christ sees He is going to get nowhere by using the law, so He instead tries a different tactic. He hits the man right square where he, as a wealthy man who loves his wealth, cannot go. Sell all that you have, give it to the poor.

Now, what is Jesus doing here? Is He telling us that there is indeed something we can do to obtain eternal life, and that something is to give away everything we own and go live with the poor and sick in Calcutta? No. A thousand times no. Rather, He is hitting this man with a command that He knows the man cannot obey. Had the man been a king or a governor, Jesus might have told him to give up his throne and go live with the peasants. Had the man been a professional soldier, Jesus might have told him to sell his sword and shield and go live with the pacifists. But this man was not a king or a soldier. Instead, he was a very wealthy man who loved his wealth very much, and so Jesus tells him to go sell all that he has and give it to the poor. The point is that we cannot perform our way into eternal life. It is impossible, and Jesus even says this.

Look at the passage again. He turns to the disciples and He says something that blows their minds away. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven. The text says that the disciples were astonished. Astonished! Why were they astonished? They were astonished, because they thought they could perform their way into heaven, and having just heard this man confess that he had performed all God’s laws since his youth, they were certain he was a sure bet. Instead though, Jesus turns around and tells them it is easier to imagine the largest animal in Israel passing through the smallest hole in Israel than to imagine that man could obtain eternal life by his performance. They stand astonished at this, and the text tells us they then asked Jesus “Who then can be saved?” I mean, if that man can’t be saved, and he has obeyed the law from his youth, what chance do we have? Who then can be saved?

Jesus gives us the answer. With man it is impossible. Impossible! Absolutely impossible. But with God all things are possible.

I know of a man who found it impossible. His name was the apostle Paul. Let’s take a look at this man.

Turn with me to Philippians 3:2-9

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith

His mother would have pronounced his name, Shay-awl. The Romans would have said Paulus, the Greeks either Saul or Paul. Whatever the name he was a native of the city of Tarsus, capital of Cilicia, a province of the mighty Roman empire. Though born a Roman citizen, he was raised a Pharisee in Jerusalem, educated at the feet of the noted Pharisee, Gamaliel. (Acts 22:3)

Under the tutorship of Gamaliel, Paul’s education would have begun at age 5, with his teacher dipping a portion of the Leviticus scroll into honey and then instructing young Paul to lick the honey off the scroll so that his earliest memory would be, “Your word is like honey to my lips” (Psalm 119:103)

From this point on, young Paul would begin the arduous task of memorizing the first five books of the Bible (Genesis-Deuteronomy). At the tender age of twelve he would then be given a grueling oral exam in which he would have to answer from memory a variety of questions posed to him from those first five books. If he passed, which he did, he would have been called bar-mitzvah (son of the law).

Starting from the age of 12 after he had successfully passed his bar-mitzvah he would then go on to begin the process of memorizing the rest of the Old Testament, as well as every commentary that every rabbi had ever written about the Old Testament. By the time he turned 30, he would have been expected to have committed the entire Old Testament to memory.

phariseeAs a Pharisee, to prove how much more righteous he was than any common Jew, the tassels at the ends of his prayer shawl would have been longer than any of the common Jews. Upon his forehead, during certain prescribed periods of the day, he would have worn a phylactery; that is, a small wooden box in which would have been kept two passages from Exodus and two passages from Deuteronomy written on tiny, tightly rolled scrolls.

Exodus 13:9 And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt.

At a certain periods of the day marked out for prayer, he would have been trained to double over at the waist, bending low enough for his phylactery to touch his ankles before pronouncing a series of long and meandering prayers loud enough so that everyone around could hear and know how righteous he was.

At some point in his adult life, we don’t know for certain how old Paul was when he first meet him in the book of Acts; just that he’s at least 30, but at some point in his adult life he returns to Jerusalem from a trip, we don’t know from where. What we do know though, judging from what Luke tells us in Acts and from what Paul himself tells us in Philippians 3 is that he was zealous for the law of God, and that this zealousness is what drove him to persecute the church.

From the moment he first entered Jerusalem he must have found the name Jesus filling his ears. Everywhere he went the people were speaking the name. At the Temple, in the market, at the tax collecting booths. Now, maybe he already knew who Jesus was or maybe he didn’t. We don’t know. Even if he didn’t though, he would certainly have learned of the events that had led up to and included Christ’s crucifixion from his old friend and teacher, Gamaliel. And one thing is for certain, in his self righteous zeal and arrogance, he would have come to the conclusion that his old friend was weak.

In Acts 5:34, we read that it was Gamaliel who urged the Jewish council not to kill the disciples, citing that if this were not the will of God, then it would go away on its own. I can imagine the look of anger flashing across Paul’s face when he learns of this. If it be God’s will? If it be? How on earth could it not be anything else? Of course this wickedness was not God’s will! The Man had obviously been a sorcerer and a blasphemer, and if not for the fortitude of faithful men like Caiaphas, who knows where it might have led.

We are told in Acts that there arose in Jerusalem a great persecution, and that at the head of that persecution stood Paul. He began with the murder of Stephen and then from there moved from house to house in a furious rage, entering the homes of suspected Christians, beating them, flogging them, having them arrested.

Try to imagine what he must have felt like at this time. If these Christians are right, then it is the end of everything he has ever counted as his righteousness. His entire life, his identity, everything he has ever counted as his righteousness and reason for existence is so thoroughly wrapped up in his performance for God that he is unable to separate the two. He is a Pharisee of Pharisees. He is a law keeper of law keepers. If the Christians are right, then it marks the end of everything that he is. And this just simply cannot be allowed to persist.

In his mind he must have thought of himself as one of the faithful heroes of old, a Samson, a Gideon, a David, perhaps even a Moses. He who, not unlike the rich young ruler, has kept the law of God since his youth is the champion and preserver of man’s performance; a man whom the Lord has raised up to quench the evil that has risen within Jerusalem. If righteousness is to be measured by one’s zeal, then in his mind, his righteousness far exceeds that of the Jewish leaders now presiding over the beloved city. So driven to prove himself righteous is he that he decides that after finishing with Jerusalem, he will move on to squelch this evil from every Jewish outpost the world over. Future generations will speak of his righteousness with reverence. He may even have a book of the Testament named after him. The book of Saul, chapter 1 . . .

Eventually, he drives the church in Jerusalem into hiding. The name is no longer even whispered in public. He then turns to the Jewish council and with self righteous indignation in his voice, he will tell them that he will now do what they should have already been doing. He will go first to Damascus, and then from there he will wipe the earth clean of the name of Jesus.

Except things don’t go the way he had hoped. On the road to Damascus he is met with an explosion of light bursting down through the clouds from heaven. Now, in Scripture, there is only one light that shines down from heaven and that is the shekinah glory, the radiant imminence of the glory of God. Well versed in the Scriptures, having committed every word of them to memory, Paul knows this. He knows this is the appearance of God. But there’s something wrong.

This light from heaven bursts suddenly through the clouds and down upon the horse and its rider. The horse bucks, throws its rider from its back. Paul tumbles down to the ground, disoriented.

With the light has comes the sound of a voice, a voice like the sound of many waters. And if you have ever stood by a waterfall and listened as the roar of the waters as they wipe every other sound right out of existence, then you will know what this means.

Disoriented, Paul finds himself blinded by the light, while the sound of the voice rings in his ears. And boy has it just asked him a most confounding question. Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?

Persecute? Who has he persecuted? He has persecuted no one. He has been defending God’s glory, that’s what he has done. He has preserved the value of his performance along with it. The only people he has persecuted are those unrighteous, law breaking, Jesus idolaters back in Jerusalem. But he hasn’t been persecuting any of God’s faithful.

He is sure it’s the Lord speaking to him, the light is proof enough of this. But the question. The question isn’t right.

“Lord”, he asks. He is very confused. Are You the Lord? “Lord, who are You?”

Comes the answer that will undo everything.

“I am Jesus. The one you persecute.”

Hear those words. Hear them through the ears of a man who has for all his life placed his confidence in his flesh. His entire life, from the time he could first read, he has learned to trust in his performance for righteousness. Added to this, he has just spent the last weeks, perhaps months, arresting, torturing and murdering God’s people. Everything he had ever trusted in for righteousness is now stripped from him in a sudden burst of light. He has nothing to hide behind, nothing that will help conceal his guilt in God’s presence. He has been stripped naked and found utterly unrighteous, and there is nothing he can do about it.

I imagine that at some point as he is stumbling around in blindness at Judas’ house in Damascus waiting for Ananias to arrive, that he does the only thing he can do at this point. Search the Scriptures. Remember, he doesn’t need his eyes to do this. He has committed the entirety of the Scriptures to memory.

In the shock of the darkness he must have kept pouring over the same questions. How could the Holy One of Israel, the immortal, eternal, sinless God who resides in unapproachable light accept the most unworthy people Paul has ever seen as righteous? And how could He, the Holy One of Israel take upon Himself frail, weak, disgusting human flesh? And why, why would He have submitted Himself to death, and the worst kind of death at that, a death reserved for the worst of the worst, the very cursed of God?!

We know the Holy Spirit must have been working on him, opening his eyes to passage after passage in the Scriptures. I like to imagine that at some point, the Holy Spirit must have opened his eyes to Isaiah 53. And though still physically blind, yet in the deep, sin smothered darkness of his mind, a voice like the sound of many waters spoke. “Let there be light!” And there was light.

And we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned – every one – to his
own way;
and the Lord laid on Him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and He was afflicted,
yet He opened not His mouth;
like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its
shearer is silent,
so He opened not His mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him;
He has put Him to grief,
When His soul makes an offering for
He shall see His offspring; He shall
prolong His days,
He bore the sin of many,
And makes intercession for the transgressors.
By His stripes we are healed.

That’s why He came. That’s why He entered into the weakness of human flesh. He didn’t give His people the law to save them. He gave His people His Son to save them!

Paul found all his fig leaves stripped away. Everything he had understood about God, about righteousness, about sin, about God’s law, it was all wrong. God didn’t give His law to man as a means for man to establish himself as righteous. Rather, God gave His law to man in order to imprison all men under sin so that God might glorify Himself by taking upon Himself human flesh and then dying for His people so that He might save them from the punishment due them for disobeying His law.

I said all his fig leaves were stripped away. What do I mean by that?

Well, we now come to our text.

“And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Recall in the first three chapters of Genesis that Adam and his wife were naked and they were not ashamed. Is that referring strictly to the fact they wore no clothes? No. Think about it. If you and your spouse were alone on a desert island somewhere, I don’t think either of you would be all that bothered were you both to go around naked all the time.

There is a sense in which nudity is not really nakedness. I mean, in a sense, I’m not really naked in the shower, I’m just nude. But I were strolling down the street in full view of the public and all my clothes were suddenly ripped off, well then, I would be naked. Nakedness implies I am nude and someone is looking.

Who was doing the looking in Genesis? Well, we know God was. He is omnipresent, after all, meaning He is everywhere all at the same time. But it wasn’t God the text is talking about, because later, after the couple disobeyed, they tried to hide themselves from God after they heard the sound of Him walking in the garden, implying that they hadn’t thought of Him as looking before they had heard the sound of Him approaching in the garden.

Who then were they ashamed of? They were ashamed of themselves!

You see, that friendly little snake over there told me I would be as God if I but disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden tree. Well, I ate, but I didn’t become as God. And rather than saying the snake must have lied to me, I instead say, I’m broken, there’s something wrong with me, the fruit didn’t take.

Not only were the couple not as God, they were far less than God. The most astounding part about this is that this had never embarrassed them before they had disobeyed. They had always been far less than God, but it hadn’t embarrassed them before. Now it embarrasses them. The guilt at having disobeyed, and the fact they have not established themselves in righteousness, this embarrasses them, because you see, righteous people don’t feel guilt.

Think about that.

If I really could establish myself as righteous, then I wouldn’t feel guilty. God doesn’t feel guilty. Adam and his wife though, they feel guilty. And the problem is they feel guilty about feeling guilty!

Of course they should feel guilty! They have disobeyed! But because they still believe they can establish themselves as righteous, they feel guilty about feeling guilty. And they are ashamed of this guilt. They are ashamed of feeling guilty for feeling guilty.

And so they tried to hide their shame and guilt from each other. The husband thinks, I can’t let my wife see how ashamed I am at feeling for guilty for feeling guilty, because then she would discover I’m broken, the fruit hasn’t taken. And she does the same to him.

Since that time all the way down till today, mankind has become a master in fig leaf fashion. Man has mastered the wickedness of trying to hide his shame at feeling guilty for feeling guilty. Paul, before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, was a master in fig leaf fashions. His fig leaf wardrobe consisted of everything he once placed confidence in. These included his circumcision, his nationality, his heritage, his zeal, his law keeping. Any attempt to place confidence in the flesh is a fig leaf.

Man’s belief that he can establish himself as righteous by doing good and not doing evil results in feelings of shame and guilt for failing to do the good and the bad that he thinks will make him righteous. Guilt for having failed to do it, and shame for feeling the guilt in the first place. If I wasn’t so damned broken, then I could make the serpent’s promise work for me!

After Paul was converted, he did not trade in his old fig leaves for a new set of fig leaves. That is, he did not continue to try to justify himself by his law keeping after he believed the gospel.

Israel had been promised rest from slavery and rest from all their enemies. All they had to do was believe God would keep His word. But they didn’t believe He would keep His word. Instead, they believed they had gotten this far and could go the rest of the way by the strength of their own might. Except when time came to go all the way, what they found in the place of their supposed strength and might was the weakness of grasshoppers instead. And it frightened and embarrassed them. We must be as grasshoppers. That is the only thing that could explain our weakness.

This is exactly what happens to the self righteous man. He thinks he can establish himself in righteousness by obeying the law, and he thinks his obedience is proof of this. Except that when he turns to count up all his works and tally up his performance, what he finds instead of rest is shame and guilt instead. He finds that he hasn’t kept the law as perfectly as he thinks he should have, as perfectly as the law has demanded, and he is convinced he hasn’t been able to because he is a broken god.

So what does the self righteous man do? First he tries to double down on his efforts to keep the law. He rededicates his rededication. And when this gets to be too much, he then starts comparing his flawed performance to the flawed performances he sees in other people. You read your Bible and prayed for fifteen minutes today? Well, I read mine for thirty, I must be righteous.

This is what the Pharisee did in Christ’s parable of the two men who went up to the Temple to pray. It wasn’t enough for the Pharisee to list off all the laws he had obeyed. He had to also compare his law obedience to that of the tax collector’s. I thank you, O God, I am not like other men. I might not have kept all of Your laws as perfectly as I should have, but thank God at least I’m not as bad as that man over there.

This belief that man can establish himself in righteousness is what God brings His people to repent of, and with that repentance comes the removal of all the fig leaves. He brings them to absolute, utter spiritual nakedness before Him. And they are not ashamed.

And why are they not ashamed? Because He clothes them in Christ’s righteousness, that’s why. No more shame. No more fig leaves. I don’t have to strive to earn righteousness anymore. Now I just rest in His righteousness.

About David Bishop

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One Response to Studies in Hebrews Part 3: The Nakedness of Unrighteousness

  1. markmcculley says:

    David Gordon—John Murray (and his followers) implicitly believe that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer (which, by my light, is not a relation but an office, but I won’t quibble). I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it.

    God’s pledge to be Israel’s God, via the terms of the Sinai administration, committed Him to curse Israel for disobedience just as much as to bless her for obedience. In being Israel’s “God,” He sustained the relation of covenant Suzerain to her; He did not bless-or-curse any other nation for its covenant fidelity or infidelity. In this sense, He was not the God of other nations as He was the God of Israel. Murray’s (unargued and unarguable) assumption that “I shall be their God” implies gracious redemption, election, or union with Christ, is entirely unmerited (should I say “unwarranted?”) by the biblical evidence.

    The first generation of those to whom the Sinai covenant was given died in the wilderness, in a situation that they perceived as being worse than their situation in Egypt. Why? Because Yahweh was not their God? No; because Yahweh was their God (i.e. Covenant Lord); and because, as such, He was committed to imposing the sanctions of the Sinai covenant upon them. I suppose one could strain language here, and say that it was “gracious” of Yahweh to impose curse-sanctions upon the Israelites (but not upon the nations); but I certainly would take no comfort in God’s “grace,” if it entailed such.

    Galatians 3:19 law came in to increase sin

    Romans 5: 20 The law came along to multiply the trespass

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