We’ve been working through the book of Hebrews at my church on Sunday evenings, and last week our Senior Pastor preached a great sermon on Hebrews 9. The passage explains how Jesus fulfils and supersedes the Old Testament laws as the ultimate priest, by offering his own blood as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins! Hebrews 9:22 simply states: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
And a few verses on into chapter 10 we are told that: It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Gloriously, the passage continues on to say in verse 10 that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”!
Now I say all of this by way of explanation for the thoughts that sparked off in my mind as I read Hebrews 9-10.
I thought to myself “This is all pretty clear. The writer of Hebrews doesn’t pull any punches. So why do I often behave as if I don’t believe him?”
I came up with the following reactions that I often have to the knowledge that A) I am sinful, and B) I need God’s forgiveness for my sin:
1. Penance – I punish myself for my sin and failure, the more wretched I feel about my failings, the better!
This kind of thinking denies what Jesus has done, or doubts the total effectiveness of his forgiveness. Jesus has totally satisfied God’s just anger at sin. We please God with appropriate sadness and repentance over our sin, but self punishment will get us nowhere.
2. Bargaining – I create my own false system of rules in order to please God. So if I sin against God by thinking lustfully, or lying to a friend, I ‘make it up to him’ by reading my Bible for longer, or doing something nice for someone at church. It sounds stupid, because it is! Yet we often do this almost without noticing, as though we can trade our good deeds in to replace the bad!
3. Staying away – “Surely such a glorious God doesn’t want to put up with a sinner like me? The best thing to do is to stay out of his way, and try not to bother him.” This is like continuing to sit miserably in a jail cell that you’ve been freed from! Actually it’s just another form of sinful pride, because I’m effectively saying that I don’t trust, or agree with God’s decision to offer me forgiveness! – And this leads into the next one:
4. Legalistic Righteousness – Because actually, I’d feel a lot better if I could work towards earning forgiveness. In my heart of hearts, I don’t want to rely on God’s free gift of grace, I want to be the master of my own destiny, and sometimes I believe I can meet God’s standards if I just try really hard. (I know – you’re thinking “Nim what does Hebrews 9:22 say?!” Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
5. Workaholic Servitude
– Maybe I’ve accepted God’s forgiveness, but I feel so guilty for Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf that I go into overdrive, trying to make it up to God by working really hard at serving him. Again, pride and self sufficiency appear, as I convince myself that my good works are enough. I’ve forgotten God’s overwhelming love and willingness to save me – he doesn’t want me to try to make it up to him. It’s as ridiculous as a man buying flowers for the wife he loves, and her fishing around in her handbag and saying “Ok, how much do I owe you for these?”
What is the real solution?
Hebrews 9 and 10 show us clearly that all of these reactions are unnecessary and foolish.
We’ve been told that blood is needed, and that animal blood is not good enough, so we can be sure that none of the above ways of dealing with our sin will work either! Thankfully, once the diagnosis is given, scripture is clear in offering us the solution too:
…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Did you catch that? “Made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ” “once for all” “made perfect forever”. It’s so complete that Jesus is now sat down. He has finished offering his precious and perfect self on our behalf, the sacrifice has been accepted! He is now seated next to the Father.
So you and I can stop all of our pathetic efforts to fashion ourselves a suitable sacrifice! There is no longer any need for any follower of Jesus Christ to try to pay for sin or earn their forgiveness, it has been done.
We’re free to rejoice at abundant grace, to bask in the too good to be true feeling, and to praise and glorify God for his astounding rescue plan!
(Now I’m not saying there is no need for good works that please God. The Bible book of James shows us the clear relationship between faith in God’s salvation, and the good works that grow out of our love and obedience in return! But in this context I want to show that it’s vital that we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for sin as the one thing that enables our forgiveness, and nothing else.)
Friends, please don’t miss out on the joy of knowing and enjoying full forgiveness now! Don’t mess about trying uselessly to do what has already been done for you.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24