The Holy Spirit was making it clear that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed while the first tabernacle was still standing. This is a symbol for the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience. Hebrews 9:8-9
A conscience is a tricky thing. I can look at my own conscience as a rudder, a moral compass. It is not. It only leads me to do what I believe is the right thing. It is not reliable to sift through my own flawed views of what is good and bad and make holy choices. The writer of Hebrews wants me to know that the gifts and sacrifices the priest offered in the holy of holies did not purify a person’s conscience. What did that mean with respect to those people under the old covenant?
The nation of Israel (just like me) was driven to perform religious ritual in order to make them feel better about themselves. They checked off religious duties to assuage their guilty consciences. And when they had finished performing, there was always the compulsion to do more to please God.
It is easy for me to be trapped by the same thing. The enemy loves religious ritual. He encourages the drive within my own heart to try to make God happy and make myself feel better about me. I haul my good deeds into the holy of holies and remind God of all the things I’ve done that should make Him pleased with me. But when is enough really enough? I will just get up tomorrow morning and obsess whether I should do more today than I did yesterday? Does God expect a similar performance, or a steeper one? My conscience is never purified.
So many of God’s children live with nagging guilt. It is their own conscience (built on a faulty belief system) that leads them astray. What is the cure for any of us who do good things because we feel we should rather than because we love God? How can our hearts be at peace and get off the treadmill of performance? Only one way. By acknowledging the lies in what we believe and asking God to re-write them through the power of His Word. Scripture is a sword that puts its point on the very thing that needs to be sanctified. His Word comes and reminds us that it is by faith alone that we are able to please God. The point of the sword makes me squirm and I am given a choice to argue – disregard – and then perform in spite of what I read, or to defer to the truth of God’s Word and rest in His salvation. Only in resting and abandoning the treadmill of ritual will my conscience be cleansed.
“Peace, be still…” Jesus says to the relentless waves of never-ending performance. His standard is never impressive personal achievements but trust in the cross where my salvation was secured, I was justified, and God is forever pleased in the finished work of Calvary.
Look at my to-do list, Lord. Reveal to me the secrets of my own heart which so often leads me astray. I want to rest before I rise up to ‘do’. Amen