Hebrews 13:9-25

Children are eager about certain things. Wanting to see Santa at Christmas. Wanting to get what they asked Santa to give them. Wanting to go on vacation. “Are we there yet?” is their favorite question.

When our middle grandson was one and a half years old, my wife, daughter, and I took him and his brother to a nearby town to visit Santa. We thought he was ready to meet Santa, to sit on his lap, and to have his picture taken with him, but he wasn’t. From a distance, he hollered, “Ho, Ho.” But he only wanted the candy canes Santa had to offer. He wasn’t ready to sit on his lap.

Sometimes believers aren’t ready to serve because of certain things present or missing in our lives.

We Must Avoid Fatal Attractions

“So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them” (Hebrews 13:9 NLT).

The attraction almost always ends in death. Native to the wetlands of North and South Carolina is the Venus Flytrap. What makes the plant odd is that it’s a carnivorous plant, which means it eats meat—particularly insects and arachnids. The leaves of the plant are bright red, but the leaves are also decorated with tiny hairs. If an insect brushes two of the hairs within twenty seconds, the leaf closes, trapping its prey. The trapping mechanism is so sophisticated it can distinguish between a drop of rain and the prey that will provide sustenance. The meshwork of hairs allows smaller prey to escape, while encasing larger and more nutritious prey—subjects of a fatal attraction.

The early church preached a simple message: Jesus Christ was the Messiah, he died for the sins of humanity, and God raised him to life. Unfortunately, fatal attractions lingered. The main one was preached by Jewish legalists who insisted observing Jewish ceremonies and customs was necessary for salvation. Believing this distorted the pure Gospel. Jesus confronted this type of philosophy and tried to correct it during his ministry but wasn’t successful with convincing many of the religious authorities. After his resurrection and ascension, they continued to spread the poison.

I’ve witnessed quite a few fatal attractions in my lifetime—beginning with the hippie movement. Some of their religious ideas were unbiblical and proved fatal. Mixed in was the Hare Krishna’s, along with a number of other attractive cults. Also in the mix were Christian legalists who weren’t much unlike the Jewish legalists of the first century—just with a different list of dos and don’ts. Many hippies were encouraged to “Use the Backdoor,” rather than encouraged to enter the church.

Fatal attractions still attract. They’re embodied in anything that attempts to draw my attention away from the pure Gospel of faith in Jesus Christ. The uncontaminated Gospel is encased in the two greatest commands: love God with my entire being and love others as myself. My strength to avoid the fatal attractions—or distractions—comes from God alone. I can’t muster it nor can any person or substance deliver it. God’s grace, however, is always sufficient.

We Must Operate with a Cleansed Conscience

“Pray for us, for our conscience is clear and we want to live honorably in everything we do.” (Hebrews 13:18 NLT).

His remedy for a good night’s sleep was easier said than done. I was his pastor, and he was one of the godliest men I’d ever met. One day our conversation turned to sleep—and specifically my trouble doing so. Although some elderly people have trouble sleeping, he wasn’t one of them. He did take a Benadryl before he retired for the night, but that was for his allergies—not a sleeping aid.

When I asked what his key for restful nights was, he said, “I go to bed with a clear conscience.” Knowing him as I did, I had no trouble believing that. He continually performed kind deeds, his speech was uplifting and clean, and he made an honest living by tending to a small farm while drawing his retirement check.

Whoever the writer of this epistle was, his conscience was clear also. Many others may have been preaching and teaching a corrupt gospel, but not him. Others many have felt guilt over past mistakes; he didn’t. He simply wanted prayer support from his fellow Christians.

My conscience hasn’t always been clear. During my periods of rebellion against God’s will and commands, it bothered me tremendously. God was trying to get my attention. But when I finally confessed my orneriness and straightened things out between me and God, it occasionally still bothered me.

No longer was it God pricking my conscience; now it was Satan. He wanted to keep me in chains to what God had freed me from: the penalty of my sins which were now confessed. Living with a clear conscience entails being able to distinguish between God convicting us and Satan tricking us.

From God’s perspective, confession and repentance cleanse my conscience. Satan would love nothing more than for me to believe I’ve been too bad for God to forgive—but I haven’t…and neither have you. Based on what Christ has done—and my acceptance of his gift—I can live with a clear conscience. Knowing I’m on good terms with God frees me from worry, anxiety, and feelings of false guilt.

We Must Believe God Equips for Service

“And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will” (Hebrews 13:20 NLT).

If I was going to do it and enjoy it, I would have to purchase the right equipment. Having the necessary equipment is essential for success and enjoyment when backpacking. A cumbersome, heavy pack weighs on the back and steals my enjoyment. Packing a good backpack with unnecessary items will do the same. Waterproof tents are crucial. I’ve spent nights enduring storms in ones that weren’t. A good pair of shoes or boots is also a must. If they’re too heavy, too loose, or too tight, blisters will appear. Cold food isn’t tantalizing, so a light stove is also a nice companion. If I’m backpacking in the winter, I’ll need a sleeping bag with a low-temperature rating. Otherwise, I’m going to get hypothermia or just spend an uncomfortable night sleeping in every pair of clothes I have. An endurable rain coat is another must. I’ve hiked in the rain in cheap ones that leaked and funneled water against my body.

This first-century writer wanted his brothers and sisters in Christ to be equipped to serve God. He knew God would equip them; he just hoped they’d see the need of putting on the gear he offered.

Praying this prayer for myself and other believers is still a good idea twenty centuries later. If I attempt to do God’s work in my own strength, I’ll fail miserably—or either do it with the wrong motives and receive human rather than divine recognition. When young David tried to wear the king’s armor to fight the giant Goliath, he discovered immediately it wasn’t the right equipment. God provides the equipment—salvation, forgiveness, a desire to share his love, faith, truth. All I must do is put it on. Perhaps a better prayer is that I’ll see the need of wearing God’s equipment as I work in his Kingdom.

God provides us with a full armor; all we have to do is wear it. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere (Ephesians 6:11-18).