Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Having built his case that Jesus offers a superior sacrifice over the Old Testament animal sacrifices and a superior priesthood over the Levitical priesthood of Judaism, the Hebrew author now exhorts the first-century Hebrew Christians to stay loyal to the Christian religion and resist the temptation to return to Judaism. He writes: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).
Under the Law of Moses, the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and temple – which signified the dwelling place of God in heaven – was off limits to all but the high priest. Yet now all can “have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (10:19). As Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The “new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (10:20) refers to the sanctified path to redemption and eternal life offered to us all by the offering of his body on the cross. It is a “living” way because the sacrifice on Calvary which opened this way is sufficient to solve our sin problem for all time. As the Hebrew writer had just pointed out, “Where there is forgiveness of (sins), there is no longer any offering for sin” (10:18). Jesus’ death on the cross has put paid to that problem for all time. He is now our high priest, the “great priest over the house of God” which is the church (10:21; cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).
Because all these things are true, the first century Jewish Christians – as well as all Christians everywhere for all time – can now “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (10:22a). Our path to God no longer has any hindrances. We can now approach his throne and accept his hand of redemption, not because we deserve it or have earned it, but because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Our hearts must be “true,” that is, sincere, and “in full assurance of faith,” a heart-felt conviction and assurance which has no doubting and nothing but confident expectation of God’s grace and mercy (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:4-5; Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 3:6, 14; 4:16; 1 John 4:17; James 1:6-7).
As the verse goes on to say, our hearts must also be “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (10:22b). What “sprinkles” our hearts “clean” is the blood of Christ, which the Hebrew writer would later bring out when he writes of “the sprinkled blood” of Jesus (12:24). Peter would teach that Christians are “elect” (i.e., chosen) “for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:1-2). It is the blood of Christ that redeems us and forgives us of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7). In like manner, the mention of “our bodies washed with pure water” is a reference to baptism in water, which “washes away our sins” (Acts 22:16; cf. 8:38-39; 10:47). One comes into contact with the cleansing blood of Christ which sprinkles one’s heart clean from an evil conscience and brings redemption and forgiveness through baptism.
It is therefore little wonder that when the very first converts to Christianity asked the apostles, “What shall we do?”, they were told, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39). Likewise, we should not be surprised that Peter wrote, “Baptism…now saves you…” (1 Peter 3:21), or that Jesus himself said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
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