Saturday, March 16, 2013
Sin or Sins: Is There a Difference?
The Bible seems to give conflicting reports about what has been done for us regarding our state before God. Did Jesus Christ die for our sins individually, or did He die to put sin itself away? What I’m asking is, did our Lord atone for only some sins and not for others, or did He pay for all sins for all people, past, present and future, and therefore pay for sin (singular)?
If we agree to the former there are two very popular theologies. First is Falling Away, which many Christian churches, pastors and colleges teach. This is that you have been saved and cleansed of former sins, but present sins are another matter, and one can sin their way out of God’s grace, grasp and forgiveness. Since the Bible does not address how many, or what type of, sins one must perform to hazard this perilous end we must apply our own measure of what sinning our way out of eternal life must look like. None of the apostles or our Lord gave warning as to how far is too far, and when divine grace is offended to the point that one slips through the cracks. More on this later.
The second teaching is embraced by Calvinists. It states that Christ only paid for the sins of some elect people, while others (primarily the majority of mankind) were left reprobate and destined for Hell because Jesus did not pay for their sins. In this instance one could definitely not say that our Lord died for sin, to put it away by the sacrifice of Himself, but that He died to save certain sinners and only to put their sins away. But is this what the Bible teaches about sin? Is this the message conveyed throughout the New Testament concerning the atoning sacrifice of our Savior?
Since we know from the New Testament that Jesus is our great High Priest and that He has entered on our behalf into the Holy of Holies we find in Him a depiction of the priest’s duties on the Day of Atonement; perhaps the most solemn day of Israel’s history. Our journey begins in the book of Leviticus. We find that the high priest during the Day of Atonement would come bearing a bull for himself and his house, a goat for the nation of Israel, and a scapegoat. The former two would be sacrificed and their blood sprinkled on the mercy seat, while the scapegoat served a unique purpose: “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgression, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness,” Leviticus 16:21-22.
As for the two animals already mentioned, we learn what their purpose was: “The bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp,” Leviticus 16:27. The Hebrew word for atonement literally means “covering”. In these passages then we are presented with a twofold image. We have the blood of the sacrifice covering one’s sin on their behalf; also, we have the scapegoat receiving the totality of Israel’s sins, transferring them vicariously as it were to this animal which is then released into the wilderness, where it is never seen again. In both of these images we see the accomplished work of Jesus Christ.
One may argue that the perpetuating nature of these sacrifices did not account for future sins, since these sacrifices repeat. True. In ancient Israel they were perpetuated many times over, and the writer of Hebrews tells us why: “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin,” Hebrews 10:3-4. In other words the blood of bulls and goats sacrificed on the Day of Atonement only covered the sins committed prior to Christ, anticipating the time when Jesus would come as a perfect sacrifice and put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
The singular nature of Jesus’ sacrifice was meant as the perfect sin offering that would remove not the sins of just Israel, but the sin of the entire world, John 1:29; Isaiah 49:6. The language of Hebrews leads us along the road that follows the Son’s death, sin’s demise, and Christ’s resurrection that demonstrated God had accepted the Son’s payment for sin, and that anyone whose faith was placed in Him would receive eternal life.