STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.”
For decades, the car manufacturer Porsche used the slogan “There Is No Substitute” for its cars. With that slogan, Porsche wanted people to believe that while there were other sports car manufacturers out there, there was nothing quite like a Porsche. In our text, the writer to the Hebrews wants to drive home the point that there is no substitute for the grace of God.
It is striking how many warnings there are in the New Testament against being deceived by false doctrine. Jesus warned His disciples in Matthew 24 not to be deceived by false christs and false prophets. The Apostle Paul includes warnings against being led astray by false teaching in his letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, and to Timothy. These repeated warnings emphasize the fact that there are many false teachings out there, and people will be enticed to follow them.
The book of Hebrews was written to Christians who were being enticed to go back to the ways of Judaism because of the persecution they faced. This whole letter is written to convince these Christians of the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ and that going back to Judaism would be worse than futile. It’s no surprise, then, that as the writer concludes this letter, he gives one final warning about being carried away by various and strange doctrines.
We are not specifically told what these “various and strange doctrines” were. With the mention of “foods,” it is likely that these false teachings had something to do with the promotion of Jewish rituals at the expense of Christianity. Whatever these teachings were, they were apparently meant to satisfy some spiritual need but failed to do so.
There are many false doctrines floating around promising to satisfy our needs. We rub shoulders every day with teachings and philosophies that seem as though they’ll give us the support we need, but in the end serve only to weaken our faith and turn us away from the Lord.
We do, of course, have to be on the lookout for the false teachings of other denominations. But perhaps even more enticing are the false teachings of the world that tell us that one’s body can be shared with anyone, or that lying and cheating is nothing more than shrewd business. These philosophies promise to make us feel good—to give us the satisfaction that we need in life. And, for a time, we do feel satisfaction from these things. That’s what makes them so enticing—and so dangerous.
So the writer to the Hebrews focuses us on that which gives true, lasting satisfaction. He says that “it is good that the heart be established by grace.” It is God’s grace that truly satisfies us as it is only by the grace of God that we are made heirs of the hope of eternal life. By God’s grace “we have an altar. . . .” That altar is our Savior’s cross where Jesus suffered and died to pay for every one of our sins. That is the revelation of God’s grace. That is how God demonstrated His great love for us.
There is no substitute for what our Savior has done for us. May God keep our hearts firmly established by His grace.
Robert Sauers is pastor of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions.