Teaching Article #24
by Bill Nugent
The year is 1100 BC in Bethlehem, Israel and two men walk into a bar.
The old man says to the young man, “I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new in town?”
The young man says “This is my first time at this bar but I’ve been in almost every bar in Israel from Dan to Beersheba. You name it, I’ve been there: Bethel, Lachish, Jericho. I’ve been all around.”
The old man says “Where are you from?”
The young man says “I live over in Shiloh near the Tabernacle of Moses.”
The old man says “So what do you do there in Shiloh?”
The young man says “I’ve got the best job in the world. I’m a priest. I’m a Cohen. My dad is Eli the high priest.”
The old man says: “Why is this job so great?”
The young man says: “I can go to any bar in Israel. I can go to any alehouse – and other kinds of houses – and I can paint the town red. I can do anything I want and then when I wake up the next morning I go over to the Tabernacle where I work and I simply grab a lamb, lay my hands on its head transfer my sins to the lamb and sacrifice the lamb and my sins are gone!”
The old man says “Wow that really sounds like a great job you got there. Any chance that they’re hiring over there at the tabernacle?”
The young man replies: “You can’t just apply to be a priest, you’ve got to be born into the priesthood.”
The old man says: “What am I, chopped liver? I’m a Jew!”
The young man says: “You’re a Jew but you’re not a Levite and you’re certainly not a son of Aaron!”
The old man says: “Well pardon me for breathing in the air! I should have the right to be a priest and commit any sins I want and then go and transfer my sins to a lamb and burn it on an altar!!!”
[The above is loosely based on the life of Hophni, son of Eli, in First Samuel chapters 2-4.]
The little vignette above shows how some people in ancient times, and I will show later in this article, even in recent times, have abused the sacrificial system. They used the sacrifices presumptuously. They defiantly and deliberately sinned against God with a high hand and then they thought they could just simply fall back on the substitutionary atonement provided by the sacrificial system and get away with it.
The sacrificial system was a means of atonement. It was a means of God’s forgiveness of sins. It was never meant to be abused in the way described above. Later in this article I will show that to sin deliberately against God is a sin unto death. I will define the sin unto death and describe its consequences.
The Old Testament Sacrificial System
God established the beginnings of the animal blood sacrifice system in Genesis 3:21 just after man’s fall into sin. The ancient patriarchs from Adam to Abraham to Aaron offered animal sacrifices. There are three major lessons taught to us by the very fact that God provided the sacrifices. These three lessons are as follows:
1) We have sinned. The very fact that God gave us the sacrificial system is proof that our good works don’t balance out our sins or qualify us for entry into heaven.
2) Sins can be transferred from one being to another. Sins were transferred to animals and the animals were put to death and burned on altars. Centuries later, all sins of all people were transferred to Christ who died for our sins.
3) The sacrificial system is “plan B.” “Plan A” is to not sin in the first place. The Old and New Testaments command people not to sin, yet all people sin and therefore all people need “plan B.”
Abraham and his descendants offered sacrifices. The sacrificial system was codified under God’s law when it was enlarged upon greatly through the revelations given to Moses especially in the book of Leviticus. There was a very complex and elaborate system of animal blood sacrifices set up under Judaism.
There is a stern warning given in numbers 15:26-31 that warns people against abusing the sacrificial system by sinning presumptuously as discussed in the vignette above. We see a very in-depth personal example of this in the lives of Eli and and his sons. This is especially pointed out in First Samuel 2:25,29-30 and 3:14.
The Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, Fulfilled the Sacrificial System
Isaiah the prophet, in the 53rd chapter of his prophecy, predicted the coming of the Messiah, who would come and take the punishment of the sins of all mankind upon himself.
“All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:6 NASB).
This passage in Isaiah refers to Jesus of Nazareth who came in fulfillment of over 300 Old Testament prophecies. Christ fulfilled the sacrificial system through His death and resurrection on our behalf. No more animals need to be sacrificed. Nevertheless the abuse of the sacrificial system occurred even into New Testament times and we see this described in the books of Romans and Galatians.
In Romans chapter 6, Paul, the apostle admonishes the people: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that Grace might increase? May it never be!” Romans 6:1-2 NASB). In this verse Paul is making reference to the fact that some people continued sinning because they thought they could get away with deliberate sin because our sins were transferred to Christ on the cross.
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13 NASB). This passage warns them against thinking they could sin with impunity because Jesus took our sins upon Himself. That would be using grace as an opportunity to sin. This is serious error! We see some of this error today in the “hyper-grace message” that is popular in some circles.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
There are many passages in the Bible that teach us that God has called us to be sanctified and do good works. Jesus Christ commands us to repent from sin and that means: stop sinning! Christ saved us from sin, not for us to continue in sin. To deliberately continue in sin is the sin unto death. Repentance and faith are necessary for salvation. God gives us the grace of repentance. God gives us the grace of saving faith. We must walk in His grace to obey Him and do good works.
Deliberate Sin is Different From Ordinary Sins of Human Weakness
Those who abuse the sacrificial system and sin defiantly against God, commit deliberate sin. Deliberate sin is very serious and it brings immediate chastisement and discipline from God. Deliberate sin can be forgiven. Deliberate sin brings temporal chastisement. Temporal chastisement is chastisement from God in this life, not necessarily extending into eternity.
Most sins that a Christian commits are not deliberate sins. These are sins committed in times of weakness and yielding to temptation. These nondeliberate sins are offensive to God but do not bring chastisement if the person repents in line with I John 1:9. God is forgiving and merciful.
Deliberate sin is also called the sin unto death. It’s called to sin unto death because the chastisement of God can be as severe as the early death of the Christian. Once a deliberate sin is committed there is chastisement. It can’t be avoided. Repentance and prayer can lessen the chastisement but can’t eliminate the chastisement. King David was forgiven of his sin with Bathsheba but was still chastened severely. “And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin” (II Samuel 12:13).
We see the sin unto death mentioned in First Corinthians 11:30. “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” The foregoing verse refers to the fact that the Corinthians were abusing the communion service in a serious way and the chastisement of God came upon them and some where taken out by death, which the word “sleep” is a euphemistic way of describing.
We see the sin unto death mentioned in First John 5:16 in which John writes “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” A presumptive, high-handed sin is a very serious sin and the chastisement of God comes on the sinner. There is essentially no escaping that chastisement, not even through prayer. That’s not to say that the Christian who commits a sin unto death ends up in hell.
God Will Reward Us According to Our Works
We see in First Corinthians 3:15 “If any man’s work is burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” This refers to a Christian who has lived his life in a flamboyant and presumptive way and not produced good works but has lived for himself and has built up a life made of straw. When he stands before God his works will be destroyed before him by fire. He will enter heaven because God’s gifts and calling are without repentance and he had received Christ as Savior and to some small extent followed Christ as Lord. However, he enters paradise under a cloud of regret and disgrace. Don’t be like that!!!
I want to also mention that there are many people and who tend to minimize the sacrificial system and put a such a strong emphasis on good works that they ignore or minimize the sacrificial system. So there are two extremes to avoid. There are passages in the Old and New testaments that exhort us to good works and I believe that God put these passages in there to guard against the presumptive over-reliance on and abuse of the sacrificial system and its fulfillment in Christ.
I could cite many passages exhorting us to do good works but perhaps the most poignant is the often quoted passage in Micah 6:6-8: “With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams? In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
The above passage has been misinterpreted by many people to minimize any concept of blood atonement and to assert that man can enter heaven by good works, by living a clean and moral life. As I mentioned earlier in this article, the very existence of the sacrificial system clearly teaches us that our good works do not balance out our sins. The sacrificial system was a very complex system established under the law of Moses in Leviticus and in other books of the Old Testament. Such a complex system was not set up in vain!
This passage in Micah 6:6-8 does not do away with the sacrificial system. It does present the sacrifices in such a way that it is de-emphasized compared to good works. The passage in Micah emphasizes that people must obey God and do good works. Human beings being what they are and being inclined towards sin, nobody, and I mean nobody other than Jesus has ever walked humbly with God throughout their entire life without fail. Every person has sinned many times. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
The lessons from all this is that the sacrificial system has been in existence since the time of Adam in the book of Genesis and it is vitally important. The sacrificial system has been expanded and regulated by God over the centuries and reformed by God through Moses and later fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system by becoming the ultimate sacrifice. If we turn to Christ by faith and sincerely repent of our sins, we receive forgiveness of sins by benefit of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection on our behalf.
On the other hand, the scriptures teach that good works are not to be minimized. Keeping God’s law and doing God’s will to the best of our ability by the grace of God who works in our hearts is vitally important. Doing good deeds is important for our walk as Christians in this temporal life and also determines our future rewards and our station in life in Paradise for eternity.
The importance of obedience to God’s commands and the importance of the substitutionary atonement sacrificial system must be kept in balance.
Steps to salvation:
Jesus said “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).
Prayer to receive salvation:
“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
To receive the salvation that Jesus purchased for us at the terrible cost of His suffering and death on our behalf I invite you to pray this simple prayer:
“Dear heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Jesus, the promised Messiah, to die for my sins. I admit that I am a sinner. I repent of my sins and I ask for your forgiveness on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit to empower me to serve you under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
If you prayed this prayer in the humble sincerity of your heart then you have received everlasting life, which includes power to live right in this life and entrance into heaven in the afterlife!