Forgiveness changes things. In my previous post, I explained the struggle I have with even wanting forgiveness. Now that I recognize the great blessing of forgiveness, it has changed my relationship with God. It has changed my religion. It has changed my spirituality. It has changed why I do what I do for the Lord. Let me explain.
Hebrews 10:17-29 has changed my perspective on serving God as His forgiven child. Allow me to share with you the three points I understand from this passage.
No More Offering for Sin
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. –Hebrews 10:18, ESV
Imagine you looked into your neighbor’s yard and saw an altar. Before the altar, your neighbor was laying his hands on a lamb, then slit its throat, and threw it in the altar fire. Aghast, you ask, “What are you doing?” He replies, “I sinned last night. I need forgiveness; so I’m giving my sin offering to God.”
How would you respond?
“Aren’t you aware that Jesus died for your sins? Don’t you know that He can forgive you? If you have forgiveness in Him, there is no need for any more offerings for sin.”
And yet, though I’ve never sacrificed an animal, I fear I’ve conducted my religion with the exact same approach. Someone might ask me on any given Sunday, “Edwin, why are you going to this church assembly?” And my reply would have been akin to, “I want to be forgiven. I’m going so I can get forgiveness.”
All too often, like the Pharisee of Luke 18:11-12, I wear my “righteousness” like a badge, or even wield it like a club. I attend assemblies as if attendance is a gift I’m offering to God. I read my Bible, say my prayers, write my blogs as if I’m doing something great for God, paying off my debt, making it all up to Him. And if I can only have enough time, I’ll show Him that I’m worth forgiving. But, there’s the rub. If I’m worth it, then it isn’t really forgiveness, is it?
In Jesus Christ, I’m forgiven. I don’t have to try to attain forgiveness anymore. I don’t have to try to present God with gifts to get Him to ignore my sins. I don’t have to try to impress God (as if that is possible). I don’t have to prove anything to Him (as if I ever could). I can simply be like the tax collector of Luke 18:13. I know that my hands are empty. I know I have nothing to offer in exchange. I can do nothing more than toss myself on God’s mercy. “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” “God, forgive me, but I don’t have any good reason to give You for why You should do that. I only have the sacrifice You offered. There is none I can offer.”
This is tough for me. As I said in my previous post, this is the kind of thing I don’t really want. I want to sacrifice. When I mess up, I want to berate myself, punish myself, beat myself up, demand something of myself, sacrifice something. Then I can feel better about myself. Sometimes I want people to know how bad I’ve been so they can hate and punish me. Then maybe I’ll have paid off a little of my debt. But where there is forgiveness, there is no longer any offering for sin. The very frightening thing is that means where there is continued offering for sin, there is no forgiveness. Am I accepting God’s forgiveness or am I still trying to sacrifice to get it.
Free to Draw Near
The great thing about forgiveness is that I no longer have to try to pay the admission price to God’s presence. I don’t have to offer sacrifices to get close to God. I don’t have to pay the dues of “church attendance,” Bible reading, prayer, pattern following, obedience in order to get close to God. Rather, I am simply free to draw near to God.
Of course, that means I will attend the assemblies of the saints. I will read my Bible. I will pray. I will surrender to God’s way and pattern. I will obey. I don’t do that as if it is a payment or sacrifice to get to draw near to God. I do that because that is the very way I draw near to God. Now that I’m forgiven, I’m free by the blood of Jesus Christ to do exactly that.
Hebrews 10:19-25 demonstrates this.
You see, for all of this trouble I have with forgiveness, I want to be God’s friend. I want to be close to God. I want to be holy as God is holy. I want God’s righteousness. And really, that is the heart of my problems. I don’t want to be a sinner. I don’t want to sin. I’m ashamed of my sins and want to get as far away from them as possible. Every religious thing I’ve been doing has been to distance myself from my sins. It is as if I think that I can distance myself from my sins enough that God either won’t see them or will just ignore them.
But the problem is no matter what I do, my “sinner,” like my shadow, follows me everywhere I go. And as long as I refuse to accept the forgiveness God has offered me and instead keep trying to make offerings for my sins, I’m just going to be shackled to that “sinner.” When I accept the forgiveness God has offered, my assembly attendance, Bible reading, prayer, obedience actually accomplishes something. Outside of Jesus Christ, they do me no good. I can’t sacrifice my way into God’s presence. But when I accept the sacrifice of Jesus, I am free to enter God’s presence. I’m free to draw near to Him. I’m no longer defined by my sins. My righteousness is no longer filthy rags because God’s righteousness has cleansed me. Like the woman of John 8:3-11, I am free to go and sin no more.
And here is the great paradox of Christ’s grace and death on the cross. As long as I’m chasing forgiveness through my own religious offerings, I will always fall short of it. Only when I lay down my attempts to bring gifts to God; only when I understand my own poverty of spirit before Him, mourning, meekly submitting to Him, and hungering for the righteousness He offers through the forgiveness found in Jesus; only when I seek and accept that forgiveness am I able to truly draw near to God and be the person I’ve wanted to be. I don’t have to separate myself from my sins so God will forgive me. God has forgiven me, therefore, I am separated from my sins.
No More Sacrifice For Sins
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins… —Hebrews 10:26 (ESV).
Sadly, as always, we can’t simply teach the good news of God’s grace. Even the Hebrew writer knew that every good and wholesome doctrine of Jesus Christ will be abused and perverted by those who don’t really want what God has to offer.
Unfortunately, there are those who don’t really want forgiveness. That is, they don’t want separation from their sins. Sadly, they don’t really want to make up for their sins either. Rather, they simply want permission to sin. They don’t really want to be close to God. They don’t want to draw near to Him. But they don’t want to go to hell either. So they hope they can get away with the sins they hang on to. They hope God will just look the other way. For them, religion is not a means to make up for their sinfulness; it is a business transaction. “Maybe if I go to church this Sunday, God will overlook the fact that I cheated on my test, lied to my boss, looked at pornography.” Then they spend their time arguing about the going exchange rate: “How many times a week do I really have to attend the assemblies, read my Bible, say my prayers?” They do this as if they’re negotiating their salvation with God.
It doesn’t work like that. While there is a glorious and comforting side to the one sacrifice of Jesus. There is also a frightening side. If I refuse to draw near to God through the forgiveness Jesus offers, there is no other sacrifice that can draw me near to God. There is no amount of “going to church,” putting money in the plate, dressing nice, sacrificing some sins, that will take my sins away.
When there is forgiveness, there is no more offering. That is, I don’t have to try to chase forgiveness by my own personal religious offerings. However, where there is impenitent continuation in sin, there is no longer a sacrifice for sins. That is, nothing I do to offer for my sins will bring me forgiveness. You see, my only option is either to surrender to the sacrifice of Jesus, drawing near to God through Him, or I will die in my sins.
If I refuse to draw near to God through the sacrifice of Jesus, then I’ll have nothing but a terrifying expectation of judgment. Forgiveness is not permission to sin. I must not treat it as such.
Forgiveness is freedom from sin. Now I’m going to live like it.
That leaves me with one final question:
Do You Want Forgiveness?
Thanks so much for being my guest at God’s Way Works today. I hope this post has encouraged you in the sacrifice and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. If you haven’t done so, you may want to check out my previous post: My #1 Struggle: I Don’t Really Want Forgiveness. Do You?