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Riding the Coattails of Christ

Most of us have heard the phrase “Riding the Coattails” of another. The concept is actually quite biblical. When the LORD decided to destroy the earth by water, he said to Noah: “Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation” (Genesis 7:1). The pronouns THOU and THEE indicate Noah had righteous coattails that saved his family. In the previous chapter, scripture says: “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (6:8), and “Noah walked with God” (6:9). These statements do NOT prove Noah's family members weren't righteous and didn't walk with God. But they do demonstrate a spiritual singularity about Noah that (1) his family members did not share, and (2) from which his family owed their physical salvation from the Flood waters. In other words, Noah had coattails!

We know the story of Joseph, how he ended up in Egypt, found favor with Pharaoh and rose to second position in his kingdom. In time, his father Jacob and brothers rode his coattails into Goshen where they flourished for a few centuries before a hostile Pharaoh imposed harsh bondage. A few centuries later, Israel rode the coattails of Moses as he led them out of bondage and across the Red Sea. During Paul's trip to Rome, two-hundred seventy-five crewmen, soldiers and prisoners rode the coattails of Paul to safety as “the angel of God” delivered them all from a catastrophic storm (Acts 27). 

There are NO coattails in scripture bigger than those of Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 6:19-20, Jesus is said to be our forerunner, who entered within the veil for us. Forerunner is πρόδρομος (prodromos), “one who comes (runs) in advance to a place where the rest are to follow.” This is its only NT usage. As our forerunner, Jesus has provided coattails for the NT believer that were unavailable to the OT priesthood. Under OT Law, ONE man was allowed to draw near ONCE a year on behalf of the nation. Under NT Grace, EVERY believer is allowed to follow (ride the coattails of) their forerunner into the holiest. Because the blood of Jesus is the propitiation (total satisfaction) for our sins, God's exhortation for us to draw near is no compromise whatsoever to his holiness. The magnitude of God's grace is incomprehensible!  

Our text is Hebrews 10:22:

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

In its context, the exhortation is based upon two possessions: (1) having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus—10:19, and (2) having an high priest over the house of God—10:21. A believer possesses these because of his forerunner. Let us draw near is προσέρχομαι (proserchomai), “to come toward.” It's a common verb in the NT, used over 80 times. In many instances (esp. in the Gospels), it's in a context that describes one person coming into the physical presence of another. The verb is present tense, conveying the sense of: “Let us keep on drawing near!” It's also middle voice, signifying an action taken with a reflexive benefit for the actor. When one acts in middle voice, he does so in his own best interest. A man does himself the greatest service possible when he draws near to God in prayer and spends time lingering in his Lord's presence. Contrariwise, nothing is more self-defeating for a child of God than the neglect of his or her prayer life.  

The phrase true heart in full assurance of faith signifies an absolute absence of doubt. A true heart is a genuine heart, sincere, without pretense. The operation of a true heart is when the lips replicate the heart. He's a fool who tries to impress God with fiction. Jesus spoke of Israel as a people who DREW NIGH with mouths and lips, but whose hearts were FAR FROM HIM (Matthew 15:8; Mark 7:6). Full assurance is “abundance of confidence.” It signifies faith that is certain, confident; a faith with NO room for doubt. This raises the following question: Why would any believer be reluctant to draw near with boldness, knowing his forerunner awaits him there?  

In addition to the two possessions (boldness and high priest), the exhortation to draw near has two prerequisites: (1) hearts having been sprinkled, and (2) bodies having been washed. Both verbs are perfect passive participles. The perfect tense signifies a completed action with abiding results, making the sprinkling and washing one-time-for-all-time events with lasting effect. The passive voice means that both that heart and body are recipients of an action. This presents an interpretive challenge, especially where the body is concerned. What is represented by the washing with water?  One thing is certain: Paul's readers would have grasped immediately the symbolism of sprinkling and washing in relation to Mosaic Law. 

It is the blood of Christ that sprinkles the heart from an evil conscience. The Tabernacle was a bloody place that foreshadowed the blood-sprinkled way into the holiest. The priest was required to sprinkle the blood of sacrifice round about the Altar at the door of the Tabernacle. He sprinkled blood at the veil before entering the holiest. He sprinkled blood on the mercy seat upon the Ark of the Covenant. From Altar to Ark, the way to the holiest was a blood-sprinkled path. 

An evil conscience is one with a consciousness of sin. The blood of bulls and goats could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience (9:9). If they had been purged, they would have had “no more conscience of sins” (10:2). But the blood of Christ purges the conscience from dead works so believers can serve the living God with a good conscience (9:14). So with hearts having been sprinkled from an evil conscience, we believers can draw near in full assurance of faith. In short, the blood of Jesus has the power to transform an evil conscience into a good conscience. 

Interpreting bodies washed with pure water is a more difficult task. Does the writer use “bodies” to represent the whole man—body, soul and spirit? Does “bodies” mean the literal physical body? What are the various biblical washings? Which one is connected to water? Specifically, what biblical washing involves both body and water?

It isn't within the scope of this document to examine all the OT requirements for washing with water. But here are a few examples. Aaron and sons (i.e., the priesthood) were required to wash their hands and feet with water before performing service in the Tabernacle. Failure to do so would result in death (Exodus 30:19-21). The Law of the Leper required the leper wash (bathe) his body as a requisite for being pronounced clean (Leviticus 14:8-9). In addition, there are instances whereby a person 'touching' something unclean would render him unclean, requiring a process to reestablish cleanliness, which involved a physical washing of the body in water.

The first 'washing' consideration is the blood of Christ. Revelation 1:5 tells us Jesus “washed us from our sins in his own blood.” But it's a stretch to interpret bodies washed with pure water as in any way connected to the blood of Jesus, especially since the previous “sprinkling” is a clear reference to the blood. A second consideration is the word of God as the washing agent. Jesus is about the business of sanctifying and cleansing his Church “with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). There's no doubt the word of God is pure water. But if “bodies” means physical bodies, then it's hard to see how the word of God could be the writer's intended meaning. 

A third consideration is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said the Spirit would be “living water” to believers (John 7:37-39). In Titus 3:5, Paul made reference to “the washing of regeneration, and [even] renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The scripture teaches the body of the believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Since the Spirit is connected to the ideas of water, washing and the body, could bodies washed with pure water be a reference to the Spirit that now indwells the believer? Doesn't it make sense the Spirit, who makes the believer's body his temple on earth, would be the same agent who provides access to the Father through the Son into the holiest in heaven (Ephesians 2:18)? Interpreting bodies washed with pure water as a reference to the Spirit is certainly less of a stretch than either the blood of Jesus or the word of God.

There is a fourth consideration that makes perfect sense IF properly understood. Bodies washed with pure water could be a reference to water baptism. Evangelicals typically reject this meaning in knee-jerk fashion due to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. But that knee-jerk reaction obscures the significance the early church placed on water baptism as one's public declaration of faith in Christ. We must remember the context here is one that accentuates fellowship with God, not salvation. 

Let's be clear. Water baptism cannot take away sins. Nor can it impart spiritual life to one dead in trespasses and sins. But what baptism does provide is a public 'answer' to one's faith. See Water Baptism: The Interpretive Key for a more complete treatment of baptism's significance. Water baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is the answer of a good conscience. In the context, the sprinkling of Jesus' blood purges an evil conscience so it becomes a good conscience, which issues forth in the answer of water baptism. Ananias commanded Paul to be baptized in order to “wash away” his sins (Acts 22:16). There's no doubt, based on the preponderance of biblical evidence, that this washing away of sins was symbolic—a public answer to a washing from sin Paul had already experienced. 

Moreover, submission to water baptism is the first formal act of submission to the spiritual authority Jesus brings into the believer's life. If a professor of faith in Christ refuses to submit to water baptism, he will NEVER have full assurance to draw near to the throne of grace. It is impossible to compartmentalize rebellion. If one refuses to yield to Christ's authority on earth, he's kidding himself if he thinks he can yield to that authority in the holiest, where yieldedness is paramount! 

Praise be to God for the forerunner Jesus is for us believers. By simple child-like faith in him, the believer can literally ride the coattails of Christ into the holiest. Boldness to enter the holiest and a high priest to meet us there are possessions we believers will always have. Nothing can change that. With hearts having been sprinkled from an evil conscience and bodies having been washed in pure water, the believer can draw near in full assurance of faith. I understand how some would disagree with water baptism as the interpretation of bodies washed with pure water. But water baptism (1) does no violence to the text, (2) comports with the importance the early Church placed on the ordinance of baptism as the 'answer' of a good conscience—1 Peter 3:20-21, and (3) is consistent with the writer's own reference to the doctrine of baptisms as integral to the principles of the doctrine of Christ—Hebrews 6:1-2.


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