Heb 13:9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. Heb 13:10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. Heb 13:11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.
Throughout the entire book of Hebrews we have learned that living under the New Covenant is better than living under the Old. He finishes the book still driving home this point. He has mentioned four ways we are to serve the Lord in this age; with brotherly love, sexual purity, contentment and by incorporating the Word, as given to us by the Apostles, into our lives.
In the above text he contrasts the way the OT priest purifies himself versus the way we purify ourselves as NT priests. It has always been a mark of cults to tie holiness to what we eat and drink more so than transforming our minds to love the will of God through the gospel. One reason this is tempting to do is because living under the Old Covenant one could defile themselves by touching and eating certain things. And conversely one could become holy by touching and eating certain things. The problem is that some fail to understand that this was a type of spiritual defilement and not something that applies in the same way today.
For example there were a host of things that were considered defiling and were to be taken outside of the camp of the Israelites. Lepers and dead bodies for instance were not to be inside the camp. Toilets were other things that were to be outside of the camp. The idea was that God’s people were to be holy unto the Lord and were to remove the defilements of sin and death from their lives.
We might say it represents to us as God’s people, inside us, outside them; we are to be a holy people who live unto the Lord and are constantly removing that which defiles us. But if the NT teaches us anything, we are not rendered holy or defiled by what we eat or touch. Holiness is a matter of the heart. It is easy to be attracted to this type of “holiness” because it is easier to refrain from objects and substances, food and drink and cigarettes, etc. than to love Christ and use all for his glory. Anyone saved or lost can refrain from things but only someone with a transformed heart can learn to love the Lord and what he loves and let that motivate the way he lives out his life. It is easier to follow rules and even practice self-discipline rather than examine our heart and attitudes and live humbly and lovingly with each other.
Where this can really become problematic is when one becomes very strict in outward morality but find little love in their heart. Oh, they have spotlessly clean lives and look outwardly the part in every way until you see that they are mean spirited, judgmental ogres who are miserable to live with and to be around. Or perhaps they are cold and indifferent and incapable of an intimate relationship. They are hard to live with and be around because, let’s face it, being humble and loving and serving others rather than being served is much more difficult than not drinking and any other act we can refrain from.
While we need outward holiness for sure, it is this more difficult inner conformity to the heart of Christ that is most needed in our churches and homes and in our individual lives. The text above is saying that Christians have a table (which is Christ) that those who live under the Law have no right to eat of. The food that makes us holy doesn’t enter through our mouths but through the reading and meditating on the Bread of Heaven.
Jesus made this point in Matthew 15. Mat 15:11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person."… Mat 15:15 But Peter said to him, "Explain the parable to us." Mat 15:16 And he said, "Are you also still without understanding? Mat 15:17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? Mat 15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. Mat 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Mat 15:20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone."
It sounds like what he is saying is that if you want to be Christlike we had better be concerned with what we are feeding our heart and not so much what goes into the body. The more we focus on the gospel and let the love of God be shed abroad in our hearts, the more we will look like those who have been transformed by grace.