Think about it! You tell a lie one day and nothing happens. The next day that sin is still upon your conscience. Does God forget about it because you promise to do better next time? No. It is still on the books.
Many people assume that their good deeds will be weighed against their bad deeds when God meets them at the judgment, and whichever is the greater, that will be the final result for them. They hope it will turn out all right, but they do not know if it will. That is the way works-based theology concludes.
Paul wrote of the function of the law in Romans 3:20:
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
The problem is even worse than that, however, for he later writes, in Romans 5:12-14:
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam….”
But you say, “There are the sacrifices in the Old Testament—what about them; don’t they provide forgiveness?” Yes, they do—or did, but not to remove sins. It is interesting how Jesus made a point of priority in the commandments:
“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:37-40).
These two commandments summarize the law and forgiveness is not mentioned in them. So the law stands as a stark, immoveable tower of threatening resistance. It even gangs up on us, the inevitable victims of its relentless presence, for James 2:9-10 says this:
“But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”
(The first part of that passage particularly directs the application to judges who show partiality, like “removing the blindfold from the eyes of Lady Justice.”)
So where do we find forgiveness? The moral law of right and wrong is embedded within our consciences, that of all mankind. Those outside the Judeo-Christian influence, as well as those within its reach have the same problem—they cannot find forgiveness in any of their pursuits that insists that “there are more ways to God and heaven than just Jesus Christ.”
The biblical truth is that mercy is the answer to the justice demanded by the law. The tax collector who came to pray in the temple could not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat himself upon his breast, crying out, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Jesus remarked, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified…” (Luke 18:10-14). It is also a truth that there is only one God of the universe, and it is before Him that we all must appear.
It is the unmerited favor of God—grace—that opens the door to forgiveness, yet mercy precedes grace, as is aligned in Hebrews 4:16:
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
(We will come back later to discover what precedes that verse to be referenced with its “therefore” connection.)
When Adam and Eve disobeyed in the Garden of Eden and covered themselves with fig leaves and hid from God, He had mercy on them and made a covering of blood-stained animal skins so that they would be acceptable in His presence. That was later codified in the law’s regulations, as such, in Leviticus 17:11:
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”
Those sacrifices under the law during the time of the Old Testament had to be repeated every year because they pointed to One that was eternal, that was to be once for all. Those who obeyed with faith toward God received His mercy and His forgiveness. Hebrews 10:1-4 and 11-14 tells of the fulfillment of that promised complete sacrifice:
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 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 sins.
“And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”
Those sacrifices administered year after year did not remove sins of the people, but this one sacrifice forever does so, forever, as the Psalmist said:
“For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12)
He took our sins, past, present, and future, once we came to Him for mercy, in repentance, wadded them up in a ball and flung them into the east with a mighty force! And, the ball of sin with our name on it is still going into the east, away from the west, forever and forever.
Many, many new believers have exclaimed, verbally or within themselves, “Wow, I feel clean and new inside!” That is because the sacrifice of Jesus does, in fact, remove our sins from us. 1 John 1:7 tells it plainly:
“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Earlier I mentioned that I would return to the context where Hebrews 4:16 was located and add some thoughts and references to the background of that verse. As verse 16 says, we have access to that throne of grace, and it’s because of this:
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:14-15).
While the law, the famous and often referred to Ten Commandments, do not have forgiveness in them—they, in themselves, stop short with “thou shalt not…”—God has made every provision He could possibly make to give us access to that forgiveness we need. The law of God, as summarized in the quote from Matthew 22:37-40 on the first page above, is fixed, unchangeable and eternal. But God, in the person of Jesus Christ, stepped out of His judgment seat and came down in front of us to stand there facing God, the father, and took upon Himself the guilt and punishment for our failure to keep the law.
Without any viable contradiction, that is unquestionably the greatest gift that could ever be offered to mankind. Just as John wrote, in John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”
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