Recognition of Guilt.
Leviticus 5-6, Luke 4
If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. – Leviticus 5:17 ESV
There is a pattern here:
…and he realizes his guilt… – Leviticus 5:2
…when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt… – Leviticus 5:3
…when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these… – Leviticus 5:4
…though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt… – Leviticus 5:17
…if he has sinned and has realized his guilt… – Leviticus 6:4
While the various kinds of offerings mentioned in these chapters can get a bit confusing, it is perfectly clear that they are associated with the sins of men and their guilt for having committed them. Yet, it is important to recognize that their guilt was a reality, whether they knew about it or ever acknowledged it. Their punishment was assured because their sin was readily apparent in God’s eyes. But should they come to recognize their guilt and the sin that caused it, they had an opportunity to do something about it. God provided a means by which they could deal with their guilt and receive forgiveness. Guilt alone is not enough. To recognize your guilt, but have no way to effectively deal with it, would lead to hopelessness and despair. Guiltiness is a state of being, not a state of mind. A person who exceeds the speed limit unknowingly is just as guilty as the person who does so willingly and purposefully. Guilt is the condition in which sin leaves us. We stand as guilty, whether we realize what we have done or not. That is why the book of Leviticus seems to put so much emphasis on inadvertent sins, or sins committed in ignorance. Guiltiness is our standing before a holy God, whether we recognize our condition or not. Sin is sin, regardless of whether it is intentional or unintentional.
It is interesting that the emphasis seems to be on recognition of guilt, not recognition of sin. The fact is, all men are sinful. We sin daily, through acts of commission (those things we do that violate God’s law) and omission (those things we fail to do in keeping with God’s law). The New Testament makes it clear that we are to confess our sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). But what we sometimes fail to understand is that confession of sin includes the idea that we understand that we stand as guilty before God because of our sin. We are sinners and we are guilty. But we must recognize that fact.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God seems to want mankind to understand the true nature of their condition. Sin has permeated our ranks. It has infected each and every one of us. Our condition before Him is as a criminal standing before a judge. He is fully guilty and worthy of the judgment, whether he acknowledges his guilt or not. But our incredible God has provided a way by which we can enter our guilty plea before and place ourselves at His mercy. In the Old Testament, they were able to bring sacrifices before God. In essence, they recognized their guilt, confessed it through the act of bringing their sacrifice, then received God’s forgiveness. “And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven” (Leviticus 5:10 ESV). God forgave not just their sin, but their guilt. The sacrificial animal gave its life so that they might live. Rather than standing before God as guilty of sin and condemned to death, they were able to stand before Him as forgiven, their sins having been atoned or paid for.
When Jesus came to the synagogue in Nazareth and was asked to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, the passage he read included the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV). This Old Testament prophecy was speaking of Jesus Himself. He was the one who had come to set free those who were captive to sin, living in spiritual blindness, and suffering the oppression of a life lived attempting to make themselves right with God through their own human effort. Jesus offered a new way, a better way, the only way to get right with God. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV). He offered rest from the wearisome burden of attempting to please God through acts of self-righteousness.
What does this passage reveal about man?
The life of the average Israelite was one filled with a constant realization that they couldn’t measure up to God’s righteous demands. They were always guilty, because they were always sinning. Theirs was a life of perpetual guilt, requiring constant confession, the costly need for sacrifice, and the never-ending need for God’s forgiveness. And while that description may sound depressing and a bit unfair, it was all simply designed to teach man that his sins were serious and his guilty standing before God was inescapable and irreparable without God’s mercy and grace.
The same is true today. We all stand guilty before God, whether we recognize it or ever acknowledge it. The guilt of mankind is a non-negotiable reality. And all men are in the same boat, needing some means for having their guilty verdict irreversibly wiped away. But God could not just ignore man’s guilt, He had to pay for it. The penalty had to be paid. The sentence of punishment had to be meted out. To someone. So just as the case of the animals used in Old Testament sacrifices, God sent His Son to take man’s place. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV).
Jesus’ role as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of man was so important that Satan attempted to stop Him before He ever got started. The book of Luke records the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, and Satan’s three-pronged attack on the Savior, designed to invalidate His role as the sinless, obedient Son of God. He tried to get Jesus to replace God’s will with His own. He wanted Jesus to disobey His Father and, therefore, discredit Himself as the sinless sacrifice. But his attempts failed. Jesus remained faithful and obedient to His Father’s will. And as a result, mankind was given a means by which their guilt might be eliminated once and for all. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
I am no longer guilty of sin. My sins have been forgiven. But I must never forget the to recognize that apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, I would be as guilty as the greatest sinner. I would still be deserving of death and stuck in a never-ending treadmill attempting to satisfy a holy God through my sin-stained efforts. My former status as guilty before God makes my current status of forgiven, accepted and righteous all that much more remarkable and hard to believe. He has set me free from sin, guilt, condemnation and the ultimate penalty of death. “And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven” (Leviticus 5:10 ESV). That is exactly what Jesus did for me.
Father, never let me forget to recognize the reality of my guilt before You prior to Christ’s death on my behalf. I don’t ever want to take for granted my salvation and my standing before You as righteous. Thank You for the remarkable gift of Your Son. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men