And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. – Hebrews 10:11-18 ESV
Year after year, sacrifice after sacrifice, the Israelites followed God’s instructions regarding His pattern for receiving atonement for their sins. The Hebrew word for atonement is kaphar and it means “to cover.” In the sacrificial system, atonement was achieved when an innocent, unblemished lamb, bull or goat was sacrificed and its blood shed. That blood was then sprinkled on the altar and used to “cover” the sins of the guilty party. The death of an innocent animal was used to pay for the sins of a guilty individual. The sacrifice, the shedding of blood, atoned for the sins, essentially hiding them from God’s eyes. But this process was only partial in nature. It could not completely remove the guilt of sin and the penalty of death pronounced by God on all who sin. Each sacrifice was temporary in terms of its effectiveness and limited in duration. Every day, the priests had to stand ready to offer additional sacrifices on behalf of the sins of the people. Why? Because they could not stop sinning against God. They were incapable of keeping His divine laws and holy decrees. And the sacrifices they offered could “never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV) – at least not completely or permanently.
But when Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross, it was a one-time deal. It never had to be repeated. And because His sacrifice was effective, He was raised back to life by His heavenly Father and restored to His rightful place next to God in heaven. “For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14 NLT). Quoting from the prophet, Isaiah, the author of Hebrews reminds His Jewish readers that God had long-ago predicted the moment when something new and better would happen.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Jeremiahs 31:33 NLT
The day was coming when God would make a new covenant with the people of Israel. Rather than having to rely on some kind of external code of conduct (the law), they would have God’s will planted right in their hearts. The motivation to obey God would come from inside, not outside. And on top of that, God promised to provide permanent forgiveness for sins.
“And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” – Jeremiah 31:34 NLT
No more temporary, partial atonement. God was going to provide a sacrifice that would take care of man’s sin problem once and for all. And “where there is forgiveness…there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18 ESV). Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, offering His body and blood as the payment for man’s sin debt to God, there is nothing more required of man in order to be made right with God. That does not mean that those who place their faith in Christ’s sacrificial death are free to live however they want to live. Paul dealt with this misconception in his letter to the believers in Rome. “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 NLT). Paul went on to shoot further holes in this misguided and dangerous assumption. “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living” (Romans 6:15-16 NLT). We are free from the law (rules and regulations) when it comes to our salvation. But we are not free to live as we choose. As children of God, we are expected to live lives in keeping with our new status. That is why Peter tells us, “So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (1 Peter 1:13-15 NLT).
We no longer have to obey God’s law in order to be made right with Him. We obey God because we HAVE been made right with Him through faith in His Son. We obey out of love, not obligation. We pursue righteousness, not in order to be earn favor with God, but out of gratitude for the favor He has shown us by sending His Son to die for us. Go back to verse 14. Look at what it says. “For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.” We are already seen as righteous in God’s eyes. And yet, we are in the process of being sanctified or continually set apart for His use. We are positionally holy and we are being made progressively holy.
We are already right with God, but at the same time, God is transforming us into the image of His Son. That is why we are commanded to put off the old nature and put on the new. We are to die to ourselves daily and to live for Christ. We are in a continual process of transformation that will one day be completed by our glorification by God. At that point in time we will receive new redeemed bodies and complete freedom from effects of sin and the threat of death. But Paul would have us remember:
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NLT
Our salvation is God’s doing, not ours. In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes it as “the gospel of God.” He further defines it as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV). Faith in our own human effort? No. He is talking about faith in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. Our salvation is based on God’s plan, Christ’s work, and the Spirit’s power. We brought nothing to the table. Paul paints a vivid picture of just how amazing the grace of God and the gift of His Son really is. We have been fully forgiven. Our debt has been paid. Our future is secure. And our response is to live in willful, joyful obedience to the One who made it all possible.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV