"Tensions in Our Faith" by John Rice

We hear a lot at City Salt Church about the tensions within our faith. Whereas two things sometimes come across as contradictions, most often it seems we are to somehow hold those two things in tension at the same time, both of them expressing something of God’s truth. There is the tension between being predestined to be chosen by God on one hand and then the significance and power of our free will to choose or not choose God on the other hand. There is the tension between truth and grace, between judgment and forgiveness, between justice and mercy, between giving and receiving, between being like a child and being mature.

This week I came across a Scripture in Hebrews, chapter 10 verse 14, which caught my attention as another of these tensions and truths. Paul says:

By one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Wait. What?

By Jesus’ sacrifice, He has made us perfect FOREVER. In grammar terms, the tense used here indicates something which has been done in the past and continues up to the present time and beyond. The word forever indicates that pretty clearly as well. We have been made perfect, and we are perfect now and will continue to be forever. Wow. That certainly raises some questions, doesn’t it? I don’t feel very perfect. In fact, I feel like I’m a long ways off from being perfect! But look what Paul says next. Who exactly has been made perfect forever?

….those who are being made holy….

Wait. What?

If we have been made perfect forever, how can we still be being made holy? Why do we still need to be made holy? This verb tense indicates we are being worked on in a continual manner, possibly, but not necessarily, with some end in the future. Maybe this “holy-making” goes on into eternity? Who knows?

So how do we deal with these two different concepts? How about this for a stab at an answer? When Paul is talking about us being made perfect forever, he is following an argument that Jesus’ sacrifice was exponentially different from the sacrifices of animals made at the temple year after year. Those sacrifices only had the spiritual power of covering sin for a definite period of time, one year. Jesus, though, having sacrificed not animals but His very self, and He, being the Son of the living God, had the power to cover sins forever. So spiritually speaking, those who believe in Him and accept His gift of atonement, truly are viewed by God as perfect, as the Son is perfect. And this is both now and forever. Scripture tells us that God remembers our sin no more. It has been removed, as far as the east is from the west. It’s kind of like God looks at Jesus and sees all His people through that lens. We truly are made perfect in Jesus.

But, on the other hand…..

We still struggle with sin, weakness, brokenness, addictions, sickness, bad thoughts, bad motives, etc, etc every day of our lives! Using some biblical language, we are told “to pick up our cross” or that we might have a “thorn in the flesh” or that there is a “sin that easily entangles us”. We are obviously not perfect yet! So how do these ideas work together? Here’s a thought….

Having been made perfect by Jesus’ sacrifice, spiritually speaking, the bridge between us and God has been restored. With the bridge restored, we can be confident to move back and forth, talking to God, learning from Him, establishing a stronger and stronger relationship with Him, experiencing His goodness, mercy, grace and love in new ways. He welcomes us freely and generously. And in doing so, we find that we WANT to be more like Him, we WANT to please Him, we WANT to learn His ways and we trust Him more. Living like this, we are truly in the process of being made more holy. We still will struggle with sin and brokenness in this life, but with our eyes turned toward the Lord, we will experience the formation of our souls as we are made more like Jesus.

Because of this tension, I take great hope in the following verse:

He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus!
Phil 1:6