Pastor David B. Curtis


Separation Unto Christ

Hebrews 13:7-16

Delivered 04/21/2002

Kosalone, a Chinese believer, when in America on a visit, was deeply impressed with the little difference he saw between the style of living of many Christians and the men of the world. Referring to the matter, he said, "When the disciples in my country come out from the world, they come clear out."

Believers, we are called to come "clear out", to live a life of separation from the world:

2 Corinthians 6:16-18 (NKJV) And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." 17 Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you." 18 "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty."

As the writer of Hebrews closes this epistle, he once again reminds the believers that they are to live separated lives. Throughout this epistle the believers are warned of the danger of apostasy, of turning away from Christ and going back to the Old Covenant system. Just for review, what is apostasy? Many teach that an apostate is someone who superficially attached themselves to the church, someone who knew the truth and pretended to believe it. They were never really saved, they were "make believers". If this is true, than believers don't have to worry about apostasy. I think this view is wrong and destructive. I think that an apostate is a believer who turns their back on Christianity. They fall away from their fellowship with the Lord and come under his temporal judgment. The biblical warnings against apostasy are for believers!

So, again the author warns these first century Hebrew believers to break completely with their former ways and to follow Jesus Christ, living a life that is totally separated to Him. He exhorts them in:

Hebrews 13:7 (NKJV) Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.

Three times in this closing chapter, our author refers to the leaders of these people:

Hebrews 13:17 (NKJV) Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
Hebrews 13:24 (NKJV) Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.

In verses 17 & 24 it is clear that the leaders to whom he refers are those who are still alive and active in the ministry. But the leaders he refers to in verse 7 are those who initially spoke the Word of God to them, but who have since died.

They are given a threefold exhortation, they are to "remember them" - the Greek word used here is nemoneuo, which means: "to exercise memory, i.e. recollect". Both the words and lifestyles of those who taught God's word are to be remembered. They are also to "follow their faith"- the word "follow" is from the Greek word mimos (a "mimic"), which means: "to imitate or follow". "Faith" is used here in the sense of fidelity or faithfulness. Amid much discouragement and bitter opposition, those Christian leaders had not compromised but had maintained their commitment to true Christian worship. They are also to "consider them" - this has the idea of : "to observe attentively".

We have seen this kind of exhortation before, in fact the entire 11th chapter was devoted to an exposition of the lives of great men and women of faith, and the exhortation that we ought to follow or imitate their example.

It is a well-known fact that imitation of models is one of the most effective methods of learning. I can read a textbook or listen to a lecture about how to catch small mouth bass, and this will help me. But it is far better to go fishing with someone who is a good bass fisherman, watch how he catches bass, ask him questions and imitate him in the ways he effectively catches bass.

In the same way, you can listen to teachings about how to follow Christ, and this will help you to some extent. But this will never be as helpful as spending time around someone who is a spiritual leader, observing how he prays, uses the Bible, shares his faith, serves other Christians, handles money and possessions, responds to suffering and disappointment, relates to his spouse and children, makes important decisions, responds to authority - and asking him questions about what you observe.

This is how Jesus taught his disciples to follow God - not merely by teaching them, but also by sharing his life with them on this level.

Almost every victorious Christian has some mentor who has shaped his or her faith by a godly example, and their memory is a continual encouragement to faithfully follow the Lord.

The author believed that the studied observation of the lives of other saints is a valid and very helpful means to our own sanctification. There is often no greater stimulus to holy living then to study the lives of great men and women of the faith. As we look to others as examples, we must remember that there are people watching us and using us as an example. All of us are examples, the question is what kind of example are we, good or bad?

This is a veiled exhortation that we, through our lives, provide a pattern of holy living and obedience that might serve as an example to those who will come after us in the faith.

It may well be that these believers had begun to question the relevance of the faith of their leaders, they may have argued that times have changed, and the faith of their leaders was now obsolete.

Well, if such be the case, and apparently that is what was happening, our author quickly reminds them in verse 8 that Jesus Christ, the one in whom their leaders trusted and after whom they patterned their lives, has not changed:

Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

This is not to be understood as some theological assertion that is unrelated to the context to which it is found. This verse is here to encourage them in the fact that he who yesterday was the source and object of the triumphant faith of their leaders is still today the same all-powerful Redeemer and Lord, and will continue so forever.

The same Christ who was with them is with you, and will be with those who come after us. Yesterday he was with the fathers; today he is with you; and he will be with your posterity for evermore.

You are to follow the example of your leaders. But if they should fail you, remember it is ultimately the object of their faith that you and I are to keep our eyes upon:

Hebrews 12:2 (NKJV) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The object of our faith is unchanging.

Jesus Christ, the same always! The immutability of my savior gives me great comfort. If ever He loved me, He loves me forever. If ever He forgave me and saved me, He did so forever. If He ever promised me anything, He promised it to me forever. We live in a day when people's promises mean nothing; people break their promises all the time, but Jesus never will. His word is immutable, just as He is.

Every single thing in this whole created universe changes, except God. God never changes and neither does Jesus Christ, which shows His equality with God. This is one of the greatest statements of the deity of Jesus Christ ever made in the Bible. There is only one thing in the universe that doesn't change, and that's God.

These people were In a very unique situation, we are not facing the same temptation that they were. Yet there is one undeniable truth that links us to them, and it is this: the same God with whom they dealt and followed is with us today. Cultures and circumstances may change, but Jesus Christ does not. The same Lord in whom they trusted is with us today. So there is an obvious connection between verses 7&8, and I believe it is carried into the ninth verse. The immutability of Jesus Christ not only explains the exhortation of verse 7, but it also forms the exhortation of verse 9:

Hebrews 13:9 (NKJV) Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

Jesus Christ is unchanging. Therefore, so also is the truth concerning him. His truth is unchanging so stay away from false doctrines.

In chapter 5 the author rebuked these believers for their immaturity:

Hebrews 5:11-13 (NKJV) of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.

Verse 9 of chapter 13 is further evidence that doctrinal instability was a frightening reality among these believers.

He warns them, "Do not be carried about...." - "carried about" is from the Greek word periphero, which means: "to convey around, to transport hither and thither, bear (carry) about". It is in the present tense indicating that this was a present and an active danger. Literally, it is: "stop being carried away" the implication being that they are to put a halt to what is already true. They were being led astray to forsake the reproach of Christ and go back to Judaism and the Old Covenant.

False teaching is an ever present danger that the Church must guard against. Paul continually warned against it:

Galatians 1:6-9 (NKJV) I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

These Galatians had started out in grace but were falling back under the law. The believers being addressed in Hebrews 13 were in danger of doing the same thing.

Paul also warned the Ephesians elders of this danger:

Acts 20:17 (NKJV) From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.
Acts 20:27-32 (NKJV) "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. 28 "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 "Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. 32 "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Paul exhorts them to remember his teaching and he commends them to God's Word, the only resource they had for staying true to the faith. In his closing appeal in the book of Romans, he said:

Romans 16:17 (NKJV) Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.

Doctrinal purity is very important. Every bad practice, every bad act, every bad standard of conduct, can be traced to bad belief:

Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV) Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
Ephesians 4:14 (NKJV) "that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,"

A believer that is not sound in doctrine is unstable and vulnerable. Be no longer children; one of the marks of children is lack of discernment. They have no way of telling what is good or bad for themselves. If something looks attractive, they may try to pick it up, even if it were a poisonous snake. If something looks remotely like food, they try to eat it. Some Christians, unfortunately, show little more discernment than this in the spiritual realm. As a body, and as individual Christians, we cannot have our "heart established" unless we spend time in God's word. As long as believers are immature, false doctrine is a major danger.

One particular aspect of this false teaching has to do with food. When he says that the heart is strengthened not by foods but by the reception of grace, he plainly means that a person experiences spiritual strength by the reception of grace, not the reception of certain foods. Paul says something very similar in:

Romans 14:17 (NKJV) for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

These believers were deceived in imagining that the heart could be strengthened by partaking of foods which, in reality, have not benefitted their adherents. That is, those who adhere to food regulations receive no benefit from them.

1 Corinthians 8:8 (NKJV) But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.

Food goes into the stomach for strengthening of the body; but only grace strengthens the heart.

It is amazing that most of the cults today go in for special diets. I believe that food is important as far as the health of the body is concerned, but it has nothing to do with your relationship to God.

Verses 10-14 are very controversial, there are multiple interpretations, and it is not good to be to dogmatic here. I believe that these verses together serve one purpose, that being the exhortation in the 13th verse. Verses 10-12 are designed to establish the theological basis for that exhortation, and verse 14 adds a much needed incentive to the fulfillment of that exhortation.

Hebrews 13:10 (NKJV) We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Who is the "we"? Believers! "We have" has the same force as "we have" in:

Hebrews 8:1 (NKJV) Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,

Our alter is not material or physical, the meaning of "alter" is found in remembering what the epistle of Hebrews has been saying to us. All the Old Covenant system was a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment. The "alter" is Jesus Christ or His sacrificial atonement. This is very similar to:

Hebrews 10:12 (NKJV) But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,

Our high priest has made one sacrifice for sin forever.

When the author says, "...those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat" , I believe he is referring to the Levitical priest of the Old Covenant. What he is saying is that those who choose to remain within the boundaries of Old Covenant Judaism and who persist in offering up the sacrifices of that system, can by no means participate in or feed upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

He than illustrates this in verse 11 by an appeal to the ritual ceremony of the day of atonement:

Hebrews 13:11 (NKJV) For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp.

On the day of atonement the priests were not allowed to eat the sacrifice but had to take it outside the camp or city and burn it. Our author now says that analogous to this practice, the Lord Jesus Christ was also led outside the camp where he might suffer:

Hebrews 13:12 (NKJV) Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.

Our author sees a great deal of spiritual significance in Christ's suffering outside the camp. What is it? Well, first we must see that "camp" in verse 11, "gate" in verse 12, and "city" in verse 14 are all synonyms. The "camp or city" was the focal point of Old Covenant worship. The "city and camp" were holy ground, everything outside was unholy. Outside the camp was a place of reproach where communion with God was denied. In the Old Covenant if you went outside the camp you had to be ceremonial cleansed before you could come back in:

Leviticus 16:26-28 (NKJV) "And he who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 "The bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. And they shall burn in the fire their skins, their flesh, and their offal. 28 "Then he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.

In other words, in our Lord Jesus Christ being led outside the "camp or city" we have a sign of his rejection by the people of Israel and the shameful stigma and reproach which came with it. But Calvary being on unholy ground has made holy that which was unholy.

Participation in the spiritual benefit of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ "feeding from the alter"; worship and fellowship cannot be obtained as long as one remains inside the camp. That is, as long as one remains identified with and dependent upon the established ordinances of Old Covenant Judaism. They must renounce their dependence upon Old Covenant Judaism and the Levitical system.

Philippians 3:3 (NKJV) For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,

Verse 13 is a call to discipleship, a call to separation from the world:

Hebrews 13:13 (NKJV) Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

The recipients of this letter had gone forth outside the camp to associate themselves with Christ and his cross; but now their resolve is weakening, and they are being tempted to turn back in the hope of finding an easier and more respectable existence inside the camp.

Identifying with Christ means that we will have to suffer -"bearing His reproach". When a Christian separates from the world system and turns to God, they will bear varying degrees of reproach. The practical point is this: as Christians, we must be willing to go out from the world system, to bear the reproach and the shame that Christ Himself bore, and to be rejected by men. This is the attitude that Moses had toward the world:

Hebrews 11:26 (NKJV) esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

Many believers then, as well as today, are not willing to leave the world system and suffer with Christ. We conceal our true identity in order to escape persecution and reproach. We have an example of this in:

John 12:42-43 (NKJV) Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

They wanted the acceptance of the world more than they wanted the acceptance of God. Are you like this? Or do you openly confess Christ?

Romans 10:9-10 (NKJV) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Is confession a condition for obtaining eternal life? If it is, this is the only place where it is so stated.

John 20:30-31 (NKJV) And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

The book of John explicitly claims to be written to bring people to eternal life. Yet, John never once lays down confession as a condition of that life.

In Romans 10:10 "confession" has nothing to do with righteousness, faith alone is the condition for that. But confession with the mouth is a condition for salvation, Paul wants them to go beyond believing and to confess Christ.

Confession is a public identification with Christ. My whole experience of fellowship with God and victorious Christian living depends on my willingness to do this. Salvation here is not synonymous with eternal life, salvation in this context means: "practical sanctification" which results in eternal rewards. This salvation involves deliverance and victory now, and exaltation and dominion in eternity.

Look at:

Philippians 2:12 (NKJV) Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

Obedient works are a condition of salvation, it must be worked out. He is referring here to their practical sanctification. Verse 12 starts out with "therefore", which takes us back to verses 6-11. Jesus was obedient, and God exalted him; you be obedient, and God will exalt you also.

Practically all commentators agree that Romans 10:10 is primarily addressed to Jewish believers. Until they confess Christ, they are secret believers, and they will not progress in sanctification.

Romans 10:13 (NKJV) For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."

To "call upon the name of the Lord" is a characteristic Old Testament way of expressing worship. As they called upon His name, they were living in dependence upon Him. They couldn't call upon Him if they were not already believers, as verse 14 makes abundantly clear:

Romans 10:14 (NKJV) How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

Hebrews 13:13 Is a call to confess Christ, to identify with him and separate from the world.

Hebrews 13:14 (NKJV) For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.

This gives the readers some incentive They were seeking a city that was mello (about to come). They were looking for that same city that Abraham looked for in:

Hebrews 11:10 (NKJV) for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

The city they were looking for that was about to come was the New Jerusalem, the New Covenant in its consummated state.

The writer closes with an exhortation in verses 15 & 16:

Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV) Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

Jesus Christ is our sole Mediator, and it is accordingly "through him" -not through the priestly ritual of an outmoded order, or any other person or system- that we offer up sacrifices to God.

These spiritual sacrifices are defined here as, first "praise to God" - this includes, but is not exclusive to singing; it is thankfulness, gratitude. Do you spend time sacrificing to God, how often do you thank him for all his blessings?

Psalms 47:6-7 (NKJV) Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! 7 For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding.
Psalms 50:23 (NKJV) Whoever offers praise glorifies Me..."
Psalms 107:8 (NKJV) Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Philippians 4:6 (NKJV) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with (meta= after) thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

The time we spend in praise reflects the gratitude or ingratitude of our hearts.

Hebrews 13:16 (NKJV) But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

The second of spiritual sacrifices is defined here as compassionate service to our fellow man - "...doing good and sharing". Our sacrifices are not just verbal, they are works of love. When we minister to someone in need, we are as a priest offering up spiritual sacrifices to God.

A beautiful illustration of this is found in Philippians 4. The Philippian saints had sent a gift to Paul:

Philippians 4:18 (NKJV) Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.

Don't you enjoy it when you can please someone you really care about - your wife, husband, parents, child or friend? Sure you do. Well, we can please God, we can offer up spiritual sacrifices that please Him, but in order to do this, we must separate ourselves from this world and be willing to identify with Christ and suffer for His sake.

May God help us "to go forth unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach".May we boldly confess Christ.

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