|Study of Hebrews|
By E.H. Jack Sequeira
In this study we are going to look at Heb. 12:5-11. Here the writer of Hebrews is dealing with a very important phase of our Christian experience. I have entitled this study, “God’s Refining Process.” While our salvation in Christ is secure, it is guaranteed only as long as we maintain our faith in Christ.
Christian living itself is always a struggle. I am sure that all of you are aware of this by now. This is because our human nature has not changed in the experience of conversion. When a person accepts Christ, there is a change in his mind. He has experienced repentance. Repentance is a turning around of the human mind. But our nature is still one hundred percent sinful. So the moment you become a Christian you have a war within you which is between your converted mind, which now wants to do the will of God, and your unconverted flesh which is at enmity with God and is never able to be subject to the law of God. Turn to Gal. 5:17. Paul makes this statement:
For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.
Here the word “flesh” refers to our sinful nature with which we are born. Our sinful nature and the Holy Spirit which dwells in us can never be partners. They will never cooperate with each other. They are always at enmity and, because of this, it is impossible for man in and of himself to live a holy Christian life. As Paul brings it out in Romans seven, which is the second passage I would like you to turn to, Paul is saying that our sinful nature and the holy law are incompatible, and that our mind, even if our mind was to chose to obey the law of God ... how to carry out that choice is impossible. Look at Rom. 7:14:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal [fleshly]: sold under sin.
In other words, I am sold as a slave to sin. Then he proves that statement in verses 15-25. The issue is not believer and unbeliever, but the issue here is that sinful nature and a holy law are incompatible, even though the mind may choose, may want to, may desire to be good. For example, in verse fifteen:
That which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
Then in verse seventeen and twenty, twice Paul pinpoints the heart of the problem:
Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me... [He repeats that in verse twenty]. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
The “I” here of course is the will that’s chosen to do good. In verse twenty-two he says:
I delight in the law of God after the inward man.
I suppose Paul had in mind the converted mind, but that’s not the issue here. I will deal with Romans 7 in detail when we come to our studies in Romans. Paul is saying here that in my innermost being, in my will, I have chosen to keep the law of God. But, he says in verse twenty-three:
There is another law, another force, another principle, warring against the law of my mind [i.e., the choice of my mind] bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. [Then he cries] O wretched man that I am!
This is the struggle that every Christian has and one of the works, one of the jobs the Holy Spirit has in the believer is to subdue, to repress the sinful nature so that, in exchange, the life of Christ may be manifest. In other words, Christian growth, Christian living is a dual process. On the one hand, the flesh must be surrendered to the cross more and more so that, on the other hand, Christ may live in us more and more.
Unless we Christians are aware of this, it can be very discouraging. Because, you see, in our Christian struggle we will fall many times. We will make mistakes; we will fail. And the devil will come to us and say, “You are not good enough to be saved.” Please remember that, in your Christian struggle, life may be up and down but that doesn’t mean that you are lost. Our salvation is a gift in Christ. Our salvation is secure in Christ. Our salvation is perfect in Christ. In other words, in Christ you stand before God and before His law perfect — both in performance, legally, and in nature because Christ redeemed us totally from sin when He came to this world and by His life and by His death and His resurrection He became the Saviour of all men.
But now Christian living or sanctification is a dual process that takes place simultaneously, or at the same time. We need to understand what Paul is trying to get across to us in Heb. 12:5-11. We need to realize that one of the works of the Holy Spirit in the believer is to crucify the flesh in experience. You have already surrendered the flesh to the cross but this has to be made real in your experience. To understand this, we need to realize the dual process of sanctification. Turn to 2 Cor. 4:10,11. Paul makes a statement twice in these verses where he brings out this dual process of sanctification. Look at verse ten:
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
Please notice, on the one hand, we are experiencing the death of Christ (which, by the way, is a death to sin, because Rom. 6:10 tells us that in that He died to sin). So, on the one hand, we are experiencing the death to sin, which is a painful process so that, on the other hand, the righteous life of Christ may be revealed in that same body. In other words, the body itself is not sinful; it’s the driver. Before our conversion, we had only one driver that controls this body, that’s the flesh. The mind may want to control it, but the flesh is the boss.
After conversion we have two drivers. The same body, but two drivers. The flesh, even though surrendered to the cross by faith and repentance, is not literally dead. It is still alive. It is still there in the body and, given the chance, it will control you; it will dominate you every time. But we also have experienced the new birth and have become partakers of the divine nature. The Holy Spirit dwells in us. For Him to manifest the life of Christ in us and through us, the flesh must be surrendered to the cross more and more. In verse eleven he repeats this:
For we which live [the Christians who are living] are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake.
In other words, because we are Christians, we have accepted Christ, the cross of Christ becomes our cross. God doesn’t give different believers different crosses — some heavy and some light, some big and some small. There is only one cross that is the power of God unto salvation. It is the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ was a corporate cross. It wasn’t one Man dying instead of all men; it was all men dying in one Man. 2 Cor. 5:14 brings that out. A Christian has accepted the cross of Christ as his cross. He says with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ.” And, as he lives, he applies that.
For we are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
Turn to Phil. 3:9 and there you have the same idea brought out by the Apostle Paul. Here he is saying that he wants to be found in Christ. He has just told us in verses seven and eight that no longer does he cling to his self-righteousness. All that he had attained as a Pharisee and a Jew in terms of self-righteousness, now Paul is willing to count it but loss. He is willing to call it but dung:
...That I may be in Christ and be found in Him [that is the “in Christ” motif that we have covered before; he wants to be found in Him], not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
Christianity is not “I plus Christ,” whether we are talking of justification or if we are talking of sanctification. Christianity has only one formula, “Not I, but Christ.” That is clearly brought out in the writings of Paul in various ways. It is not I, but Christ. Here Paul is saying, “I want to be found in Him, not having my righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ, which is by faith.” And then, having accepted Christ as his righteousness, in verse ten he is talking now about his experience:
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection....
You see, to Paul, Christ is not somebody who simply declared him righteous. For him, justification is a truth that applies to all men. When Jesus died on the cross, legally all men were justified. Rom. 5:18 brings that out. But justification by faith is more than a legal declaration. Justification by faith means that I want to experience the righteousness by faith. Yes, I stand perfect in Christ, but I also want to have Christ manifested in me.
Paul is saying, “I want to know Him,” to experience, not just in theory and I want to experience the power of His resurrection. Now what does he mean, by “the power of His resurrection”? Well, remember that sin kills. The ultimate power of sin is death. Sin takes you to the grave. The very fact that Jesus Christ conquered the grave is the greatest evidence that He conquered sin. Because, you see, if you can conquer the grave you can conquer sin, for as I mentioned, death is the ultimate power of sin.
And the fact that no man has conquered the grave apart from Christ. (Moses and Elijah did go to heaven. Especially Moses conquered the grave, but he did not conquer in and of himself; it was through Christ that he conquered the grave.) No man apart from Christ is able to conquer the grave. I don’t care how strong you are, young people. I don’t care how powerful your muscles are, once death has got you, once sin has put you in the grave, apart from grace you are not able to conquer death. But here Paul is saying, “I want to experience Jesus Christ, I want to experience His power of the resurrection which means the power over sin.” But for that to happen, we have to be made conformable to His suffering. We have to have fellowship with His suffering. We have to become conformable unto His death.
You see, the life of Christ was a life of righteousness. Sin never, ever manifested itself in the life of Christ. Why? Because He constantly surrendered the flesh to the cross. The cross of Christ was not something He bore just three days or three hours or six hours on the famous or infamous Friday when He bore our sins on the cross. Christ bore the cross daily so that when He says in Luke 9:23:
If any man follow me let him take up his cross daily and follow me....
He is asking us to apply the cross as He applied the cross, daily. And the cross is simply: “Not I, but Christ.”
All through His life Jesus never, ever lived independent from His Father. All through the New Testament, all through the gospels, where we have the story of the historical Christ, Jesus made it very plain. For example in John 5:19,20:
I can do nothing of myself.
In John 6:57, He says,
I live by the Father.
And then He goes on to say that we need to live by Him. In John fourteen, when He answered Philip’s question, “Show us the Father,” Jesus said:
The works I do, it is not I that do it but the Father who dwells in me.
The Father dwelt in Him through the Spirit. In other words, Jesus constantly surrendered His humanity, which was our corporate humanity, to the cross so that the Spirit may manifest God’s righteousness in Him. Now Paul is saying, “I want to experience that.” For that to happen, the flesh had to suffer. For example, in Heb. 2:18, where he talks about the temptation of Jesus Christ:
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted.
Victory over temptation always involves suffering in the flesh. Why? Because the flesh will never agree to righteousness. The flesh wants sin all the time. Self-righteousness is also sin in God’s eyes. Let me give you a clear text where it tells us, it shows us, where Christ suffered when He conquered temptation. 1 Peter 4:1 says:
Forasmuch then, as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind [a mind that was surrendered to the Spirit]: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.
Suffering in the flesh involves pain. There is no other way that Christ’s love can be manifested in you and me unless we are willing to suffer in the flesh. When God gives you victory over temptation, He is giving you victory over something the flesh wants. The flesh wants sin. Only the Spirit can say “No.” Only the Spirit can surrender the flesh to the cross. Our job is to surrender our wills, our minds to Jesus Christ. In other words, we must apply the formula of the gospel, every moment and every minute of our lives, which is: “Not I, but Christ.”
Let us go back to Heb. 12:5-11. Having laid the foundation, I think you will discover that verses five to eleven are very clear in the light of what we just said:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him....
Keep in mind that this letter was being written to Jewish Christians who were discouraged and whose faith was wavering, who were facing the danger of returning back to Judaism and giving up Christ. They were under pressure. They were facing persecution. They were facing hardships. Paul is saying that these hardships didn’t come from God but they were allowed of God. God uses these hardships, these difficulties, these problems whatever they may be, He uses them as part of His refining process of sanctification. Look at verse six and onward:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
We need to be aware of this, especially we who are living in the last days. That’s the very same thing that you will find in the Laodicean message in Rev. 3:19:
Whom I love, I rebuke and chasten. Repent ye therefore.
Paul is saying the very same thing here. God is not chastening us; He is not allowing us to go through these difficulties because He enjoys seeing us go through them, but it is part of His refining process. Verse seven:
If you endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
When our kids were growing up, we had to sometimes rebuke them and sometimes we had to give them the paddie wack. Not because we enjoyed that but because it was for their good. Now verse eight:
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
In other words, what Paul is saying here is that, if you are not experiencing the refining process of God, there is something wrong with your Christian experience. You are not truly a child of God. Christian living is always full of hardships. It is not a bed of roses but is more of a bed of thorns. But remember that, while going through this, our security in Christ is guaranteed. That’s why we must never get discouraged. We must allow these things to do what God intends them to do for us. Verse nine:
Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
Our parents sometimes flogged us, rebuked us in anger. They were giving vent to their feelings. God never does that. God never chastises us or puts us through the grill, as it were, because He enjoys it or because He wants to give vent to His feelings of frustration and anger. He always puts us through the chastisement because of His love for us and what it does for us in our Christian experience. “But he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.”
I thank God that once we go to heaven that struggle will come to an end because this flesh cannot go to heaven. This corruption cannot inherit incorruption. So when Christ comes, this nature will be changed and in heaven we will have a nature that is in harmony with God. But as long as we are living on this earth, we have a nature that is out of harmony with God. It is at enmity with God and is not subject to the law of God and can never be [Rom. 8:7].
It has to be suppressed. It has to be subdued and that is what the refining work of God does. The chastisement of God is to deprive the flesh of its lust and its desires, so that the Holiness of God may be revealed in our lives. And that is a painful process. Verse eleven brings that out:
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous [No kid loves to be flogged. No kid loves to be rebuked], but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness [notice to whom] unto them which are exercised thereby.
If you refuse to learn from the lessons God wants you to learn, if you refuse to submit your flesh to the cross as God puts you through the grill, do you know what He will do? He will bring you back over the same ground. So why don’t you give in the first time? Why must God repeat and repeat? Why are we so stubborn and so stiffnecked? God doesn’t allow you to go through anything that is not good for you. “All things work together for good.”
Now this, as I have mentioned, is the refining process of God. It is not something that is unique to Hebrews 12:5-11. All through the Bible, Old and New Testaments, you will find that this is being taught. Here are several texts, we will not be able to read all of them now. They are for you to read in your own study time. You will notice that they are all saying the same thing. We will look at a few and see how they totally agree with what we have just covered in Heb.12:5-11.
The first one is Deut.8:5. The next one is Job 5:17. Then Ps. 94:11-15; Prov. 3:11,12; Isa. 48:10,11; Mal. 3:1-3. Now to the New Testament: John 15:2. Remember what Jesus said in John 15?
I am the vine. You are the branches. He who abides in me and I in Him will bear much fruit. Without Me you can do nothing.
Then in verse two it says that, in order to bear fruit, the branches have to be pruned. Pruning is a painful process in the Christian life because we have nerves, we have feelings, unlike the literal vine.
Then to Rom. 5:3-5, where Paul talks about the fruits of justification by faith. They are threefold. The immediate fruit of justification by faith, of course, is peace with God. Never forget that. That is the immediate fruit. The continuing fruit is that we are standing in grace, that grace of God is now made available and through that grace we can experience the righteousness of Christ. But it is through a painful process. Then 2 Cor. 4:15-18. Then 1 Peter 1:3-7 and also chapter 4:12-14. Then one more text, which is the message of the True Witness to Laodicea, Rev. 3:17-19. Let’s take a couple of texts from the Old and a couple from the New Testaments. Ps.94:11-15:
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
The word “vanity” here means self-centered. Because of our sinful nature, human thoughts are self-centered. The biggest problem that you and I face is the problem of self.
Blessed is the man [David goes on to say in verse twelve] whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law....
See the law points to love. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew twenty-two, “Love is the fulfilment of the law,” love for God and love for our fellowmen. This is the basis of all law-keeping and please remember the word “love” here is agape, which seeketh not her own. David says here:
Blessed is the man whom thou chasteneth, O Lord, and teachest him out of the law. That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked. [In other words, we will have to suffer the flesh until the second coming of Christ] But the Lord will not cast off His people neither will He forsake His inheritance.
Please remember that God hasn’t cast you off when you go through the ordeal. In Isa. 48:10,11, the prophet Isaiah says the same thing:
Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
Precious metal has to be refined. “I have refined thee.” Remember what Jesus said in the Laodicean message? “Buy from me gold tried by fire.” We will see what that means when we look at 1 Peter. Continuing in Isa. 48:11:
For mine own sake, even mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.
The flesh has to be crucified that Christ may be revealed. There is no such thing as, “I plus Christ.” No glory is given to man even in sanctification. We must not think that only justification is by faith alone. Folks, even sanctification is by faith alone. But please remember, faith is always a struggle. Whether you talk in terms of justification or talk in terms of sanctification it is always saying, “Not I, but Christ.” That is painful to our ego.
Now to the New Testament, both passages are from Peter. 1 Peter 1:3-7, keeping in mind what Jesus said to the Laodiceans:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten [or having regenerated us is how the Greek puts it. The NIV puts it as having given us the New Birth.] hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you....
That’s justification by faith. Now verse five onwards:
...Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.
Please notice, we are justified by faith and we are kept by faith until the second coming of Christ when the salvation of Christ will become a reality. That’s what he means when he says, “Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Verse six:
Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations [or trials]; That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
Every time you are facing difficulties and trials your feelings will tell you to give up Christ. Your faith will tell you, “No.” And that’s what he means by the trial of your faith. In Hebrews eleven we read how Abraham’s faith was tried when God asked him to offer up Isaac. When you go through the grill, your faith is tried because your feelings will say “give up,” but your feelings must be crucified because your feelings belong to the flesh. Sometimes your feelings may agree with your faith, but please remember they belong to your flesh and they must be crucified. Let’s look now at 1 Peter 4:12-14. We read verse one. Now look at verses twelve to fourteen:
Beloved, think it not strange [don’t be surprised, don’t question] concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you...
When you are facing difficulties and problems, persecution, famine, hunger, whatever it is, please don’t say to God, “Why did you allow this to happen to me?” Don’t complain. Don’t turn your back to God and say, “God doesn’t love me. Why does this happen?” How should we react to the trial of life as Christians? Look at verse thirteen:
...But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
You will never, ever have to suffer like Christ. Christ suffered on the cross something that you and I will never suffer because there He had to face the agony of the second death, good-bye to life forever. He went through that difficult time but He would not give in. By faith He was victorious. But if we do partake of Christ’s sufferings in a small manner, we should count it all joy. He suffered so much that we might be saved; can’t we suffer a little bit that He might be glorified through us? “And that when His glory shall be revealed you may be glad also with exceeding joy.” Verse fourteen:
If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
The world may mock you. They may ridicule you for putting up with the trials and difficulties. But folks, it is by suffering in the flesh that Jesus Christ through the Spirit is revealed.
I want to go through this refining process. I want God to reveal Himself through me. Great is the mystery of godliness. God must be manifested in the flesh. He was manifested in Christ two thousand years ago but now through the Spirit Christ wants to live through you. Christ in you the hope of glory. The world desperately needs to see the gospel in action. The world desperately needs to see Christ manifested in the church.
We are living in the scientific age. Science always demands a demonstration, otherwise it’s only a theory. To the world, the gospel is a theory. God wants to prove to them that it is more than a theory. It is a scientific fact that in Jesus Christ we do have salvation and redemption not only from the guilt and punishment of sin but from sin itself. So folks, when you and I go through this refining process, these trials and temptations, these difficulties, this refining process of God, let us accept it with joy; let us realize that it works the peaceable fruits of righteousness. With Paul, let us say, “For me to live is Christ.”
May God bless us that we may understand these things so that when we go through them we know why we are going through them. Then we will not moan and complain but will rejoice because we have become partakers of Christ’s suffering so that the life of Christ may be manifested in us. God bless you as you live the Christian life. Don’t give up, hold on because, when Christ comes, it will all be over. Amen.