April 30 – A Cleansed Conscience

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Hebrews 9:14

Our safety in Christ results from “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Pet. 3:21). The Greek word for “answer” refers to a pledge, in this case agreeing to meet certain conditions required by God before being placed into the ark of safety (Christ).

Unregenerate men and women have consciences that condemn them. One who appeals to God for a good conscience is sick of his sin and desires to be delivered from the load of guilt he bears. He has a crushing and intimidating fear of coming judgment and knows only God can deliver him. He desires the cleansing that comes through the blood of Christ (cf. Heb. 10:22). So he repents of his sin and pleads for forgiveness.

When Christ suffered on the cross, hell threw all its fury at Him, and wicked men vented their hatred on Him. Yet through that suffering, He served as an ark of safety for the redeemed of all ages. And because He triumphantly provided salvation through His suffering, we are safe in Him.[1]

The New Significance

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (9:13–14)

If the Old Covenant, weak and imperfect as it was, served its purpose, how much better will Christ’s New Covenant, powerful and perfect, serve its purpose. The new not only has a better purpose, but accomplishes its purpose in a better way, a perfect way. The purpose of the old sacrifice was to symbolize, externally, the cleansing of sin. It accomplished this purpose. The purpose of the new sacrifice, however, was to cleanse actually, internally (where sin really exists). It accomplished its superior purpose in a superior way.

Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain,

Could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.

Christ the heavenly Lamb takes all our sins away,

A sacrifice of nobler name and richer big than they.

Isaac Watts

Jesus did everything He did on earth in obedience to the Father through the Spirit. Even, in fact especially, in His supreme sacrifice He through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God. In doing so, He provided the cleansing of our consciences from dead works to serve the living God. He frees our consciences from guilt, a joy and a blessing that no Old Testament saint ever had or could have had. In Christ we can “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

The former priests cleaned up the outside, and even that only symbolically, imperfectly, and temporarily. But Christ cleanses from the inside, where the real problem is. He does more than cleanse the old man; He replaces it with a new man. He cleanses our conscience, but He recreates our person. In Christ, we are not cleaned-up old creatures but redeemed new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17).

An evangelist tells a story from the days when he held tent meetings many years ago. One day, after a series of meetings was over, he was pulling up tent stakes. A young man approached him and asked what he had to do to be saved. The evangelist answered, “Sorry, it’s too late.” “Oh no,” was the response. “You mean it’s too late because the services are over?” “No,” the evangelist said, “I mean it’s too late because it’s already been done. Everything that could be done for your salvation has already been done.” After explaining Christ’s finished work to the young man, he led him to saving faith.

Our salvation is based on the covenant whose redeeming work is finished—on a sacrifice that has been offered once and for all, that is complete and perfect and eternal.[2]

9:14 If the ashes of a heifer had such power to cleanse from one of the most serious forms of outward defilement, how much more powerful is the blood of Christ to cleanse from inward sins of the deepest dye!

His offering was through the eternal Spirit. There is some difference of opinion as to the meaning of this expression. Some interpret it to mean, “through an eternal spirit,” meaning the willing spirit in which He made His sacrifice in contrast to the involuntary character of animal offerings. Others understand it to mean, “through His eternal spirit.” We rather believe that the Holy Spirit is in view; He made His sacrifice in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It was an offering made to God. He was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God whose moral perfection qualified Him to be our Sin-bearer. The animal sacrifices had to be physically spotless; He was without blemish morally.

His blood cleanses the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. It is not merely a physical purging or a ceremonial cleansing but a moral renewal that purifies the conscience. It cleanses from those dead works which unbelievers produce in an effort to earn their own cleansing. It frees men from these lifeless works to serve the living God.[3]

14 With Christ all is different. This is no unwilling animal but rather the voluntary self-offering of the Son of God; his offering is not according to human routine but “through the eternal Spirit”; whereas OT sacrifices had to be physically “unblemished” (e.g., the red heifer, Nu 19:2), Christ was spiritually perfect, without sin (4:15; 7:26); and whereas OT sacrifices cleansed the flesh, this one cleanses the conscience and sets us free from a round of “dead works” to serve the living God.

The mention of the Holy Spirit in connection with Christ’s self-offering serves to locate it in the spiritual realm as opposed to that of earthly ritual, and in the process affords one of those intriguing NT pointers toward the doctrine of the Trinity, in that all three Persons are involved in the work of atonement. “Conscience” recalls the comment in v. 9 that the OT sacrifices were unable to “perfect the conscience”; but Christ’s offering can cleanse the conscience from “dead works.” This is the same phrase as in 6:1 (see note there), and here, as there, it may be understood either morally as “works that bring death” (so the NIV and many commentators) or religiously as “useless rituals” (NIV footnote), which therefore cannot bring eternal life. Here the latter sense seems to me not only the natural sense of the Greek phrase but also more relevant to the immediate context. The “dead works” here stand over against the worship of “the living God” (see on 3:12), and the sense of “lifeless” (rather than “fatal”) makes a more appropriate contrast with “living”: it is when we are set free from the round of ineffective sacrifices offering only external cleansing that we can offer the spiritual service appropriate to the living God.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 135). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 230–231). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2185–2186). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 118). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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