62. Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Focus on Christ Meditations: 62.  Addendum: Christ’s work in me

Rom 8:29,30   For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

You might be excused for thinking we had arrived at the end of this series in yesterday’s study, for I had thought that. However, having done that I found this nagging feeling that actually we have not summed up the effects of Christ’s work on the Cross. Yesterday we sought to carry out an overview of the life and activity of Christ, but to more fully appreciate his work we need to try to lay out just what he has done and is doing in our lives, personally.

In our verses above the apostle Paul conveniently laid out an overview of the work of God in respect of our lives. As we have commented a number of times, at least seven times in the New Testament we are shown that the plan of God in respect of Christ and our salvation was mapped out by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. At that time they looked into the future and knew who would respond (that is not the same as making people respond) and in that sense they knew even then the total number of those who in time-space history would become believers, i.e.  ‘predestined’. In the fullness of time the process involved God, by His Holy Spirit, calling people and when they responded He declared them righteous on the double basis of Christ’s work and their faith response. i.e. they were justified. But then He also put His own Holy Spirit within every believer and established eternal life for them which would continue from this life into the next. i.e. they were glorified.

But let’s look at this ‘process’, as I have called it, first from a) what Christ did on the Cross and then b) what he does for each believer.

The Work of the Cross: The angel told Joseph that “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The sins of mankind since the Fall were the thing that not only brought down mankind and made us less than that for which God had designed us, but also kept us from God and God from us. The word ‘justice’ has come up many times in these studies because it is a strange phenomenon of the human race, this demand for ‘rightness’ (that must come from the character of God). How to ‘put right’ the human race has been the central aspect of the plan of God from the beginning. So note the following two key concepts of his work on the Cross:

i) Atonement: We noted in a previous study: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) The footnote in v.25 offers instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’, “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” But look at the reasoning: “to demonstrate his justice”. The apostle John added, He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole(1 Jn 2:2)

So here we come across a word we have not picked up on before: atonement,  which is about making amends, putting wrongs right and bringing reconciliation with God. It produces a salvation that is available for any and all, e.g. whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev 22:17 & also 1 Jn 2:2 above). Note my use of ‘available’. It is not automatic, it has to be asked for, it has to be received and it has to be appropriated – but it IS available for any to come down the path of repentance and faith.

ii) Redemption: This is a concept that suggests we have been bought back from slavery to sin and Satan (and indeed the Law’s curse, Gal 3:13), and the price paid was the blood of Christ. The idea conveyed in the Bible is that unbelievers ‘belong’ to Satan or are under his sway (dominion) and he has rights over them because of their sin. They can only be ‘ransomed’ from this way of life after they have repented and on the basis of Christ’s death. See 1 Pet 1:18,19 & Eph 1:7

The Work in our lives: That leads us on to what happens as a result of this work of the Cross which is available to each and every person.

i) Justified: we have already touched on this twice and it happens because of our faith and is received by our faith. Paul’s teaching in Romans 3-5 was that faith within us, the accepting of the truth of Christ put before us, and surrendering to God, is what God looks for to declare us justified. When He declares it, we have to believe and accept it and live it out. There is a sense whereby we were justified the moment we turned to Christ in faith, and are being justified as we live it out.

ii) Regeneration: This is not a word you will find in your Bible but it refers to the act of God by which a new life, His Holy Spirit, is implanted in the individual and can only happen because that individual has just been justified and made right with God, and so can now become a vessel of God or a temple of the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Cor 3:16). Words we associate with this are being ‘born again’ (see Jn 3:3-8) or converted (e.g. Acts 15:3)

iii) Adopted: This is God’s act of declaring us to be part of His family as a result of the above things (see Eph 1:5)

iv) Sanctified: This refers to the act and process of being set apart to God and conforming to the image of Jesus. For the act see 1 Cor 6:11 & Rom 15:16 and for the process see 1 Thess 4:3 & 5:23.

v) Glorified: In addition to what we have said about this above, we may speak about the glory given to believers because of their union with Christ. (Col 1:27), his expression (Eph 1:27) who glorify him (Eph 3:21) as we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6) but living out our lives here on earth. Moreover, one day we will receive gloriously transformed bodies (Rom 8:11,23, 1 Cor 15:43-53, Phil 3:21)

Now all of these things are what you will find in any book of theology but perhaps the biggest issue of all, in respect of who we are now, as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross, and now in our lives, is the potential of the relationship with God that is before us, summed up in Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) If we may expand that at the end of this series: God has done everything He has with His Son, Jesus the Christ, to bring about a new possibility in us humans, the possibility of sharing in the being that is Christ, so that we may share in the things that he is doing, things he planned from before the foundation of the world, things he wants us to share in. That is the climatic end to all of this. The Son of God came and lived and died and rose and ascended in order to reverse the works of the Fall so we could share with he and his Father in working to eventually create a new heaven and a new earth. Incredible! Hallelujah!

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45. How Faith Justifies

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 45.  How Faith Justifies  

Rom 3:25,26    God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

The thing about the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is that it uses words that we rarely encounter anywhere else in life and so we have to spend some time defining those words and seeing how they are used. We’ve been doing that for a number of weeks with the word ‘faith’. The two verses above are laden with words that need defining and once we see what some of them mean, we will see how they are related to faith.  The first is a phrase, “a sacrifice of atonement”  When you atone for something you make up for it. In the Old Testament, in the Law of Moses, the Israelites offered offerings, animal sacrifices as a way of acknowledging their sin and their repentance. As they offered it, they placed their hand on the head of the animal being sacrificed as a way of showing they identified with it and that it would be taking their punishment. As they saw it die in front of them, the severity of sin and a life having to be given for it, made it very real.

The Living Bible says of verse 25,  For God sent Christ Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to end all God’s anger against us.”  That sums it up. The Bible says that Jesus was ‘the Lamb of God’ who was sacrificed in his death on the Cross, to be the one who stood in our place and took our sin. This is at the very heart of our belief system, the very reason why we can be saved. Did Jesus die for every single person on the planet? Yes, but they have to appropriate it for themselves. It has no effect until we, individually take it as the means of our personal salvation – and that is an act of faith.

Now in those verses above, Twice Paul says God did this to demonstrate his justice. Now ‘justice’ is all about putting things right. If a wrong has been committed, it needs putting right. Children say, “It’s not fair” appealing to (in their minds at least) a universal agreement that there is right and wrong, good and bad, fairness and unfairness. If a brother, say, has done wrong against them they look to the parent to punish the other. If a toy has been taken, they expect it to be given back. Justice brings a balance and harmony whereby onlookers afterwards say, ‘yes, that is fair.’

So the first time Paul says it, he says, He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.”  In other words, people before Christ appeared to ‘get away with it’ and so Christ’s death dealt with all those sins committed before him where people had said sorry but there was no punishment given. Justice would say, ‘that was unfair, those Old Testament people getting away with it. Someone ought to have taken their punishment. But then he adds a second instance: “he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) Whenever was ‘the present time’ it should be seen that God was not letting sinners get away with it. Someone should be punished for all this wrongdoing that goes on. The only one ‘big enough’ was the Son of God. That, whether we understand it or not, is what the Bible declares and requires every ‘believer’ to accept to be a Christian. It is the only reason why God can forgive you and me. To believe this and to live according to this is faith.

But there is a word we haven’t yet considered and it is one that has very practical outworkings – ‘justify’.  When we ‘justify our actions’ we try to explain why they were the right ones.  When we justify a course of action we seek to show why it was the right one. At the end of the last world war, the Western authorities, the ‘Allies’, justified why it was right to drop two nuclear bombs on Japan to bring an end to a war that might have just dragged on and one. That argument ‘made it right’ to drop them killing so many. So when Paul says, “the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus,” he means, “Jesus, the one who puts right in God’s eyes all of those who have faith in Jesus.”

We’ve considered it before but let’s just remind ourselves, “those who have faith in Jesus,” simply means those who trust that Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of their sins, their guilt and their punishment. Now there is another side to this coin that we’ll consider in the next meditation but for the moment let’s consider how we may rest in this knowledge that we have observed so far in this particular study.

Writing to Timothy, Paul refers to “holding on to faith and a good conscience.” (1 Tim 1:19) and later on when speaking about deacons he says “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim 3:9) Similarly the writer to the Hebrews said, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” (Heb 10:22,23). Now the idea that is being conveyed through all these verses is that as we hold on to the truths that we have been considering, we hold to them by faith and when we “hold unswervingly” to them they will ensure we maintain a clear conscience before God.

Now I say all this because so often Christians lack assurance and that lack means they worry about their relationship with God, worry about whether they are truly accepted by God and worry about the sins they have committed and worry about that Sin thing that still lurks in the background. You will lack assurance if you do not hold firmly to those verses and the truths we have been considering here. You ARE forgiven and your guilt HAS been fully dealt with because of Jesus’ work on the Cross. Every single sin you ever committed or are likely to commit is covered by his death on the Cross. The Judge has made the final declaration over you when you turned to Christ and put your trust in him – not guilty! Your guilt has been removed. This justification thing is about completely clearing you of all guilt, NOT because somehow you have made up for your past wrongs but simply because the Son of God has been punished for them and as far as justice is concerned, they have been adequately dealt with in the eyes of the law.

If we hadn’t decided to start considering faith by working through Hebrews 11, then this perhaps should have been the starting point of everything to do with faith – how faith in what Jesus has done on the Cross is applied to your life and that opens up the way for you to live a life of faith. And that is a good place to stop and pick up again tomorrow.

35. Christ’s Work

Meditations in 1 Peter : 35:  Christ’s Work

1 Pet 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Some think this verse is Peter diverting to the atonement as another subject that comes to mind when he thinks of Christ’s example, but when we look at in detail we will see that it is because of Christ’s work on the Cross that we can now live new lives, lives that will reveal God to the world. This verse is thus an extension of Peter’s ongoing theme here about testimony and witness. Let’s consider it in detail.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” This is without question a reference to Christ dying on the Cross. In the New Testament accounts, the Cross is often referred to as ‘a tree’, e.g. “whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 5:30) and “They killed him by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 10:39) and Paul specifically links it to the Old Testament reference and curse: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Gal 3:13 quoting Deut 21:23). So yes, this is a clear reference to him dying on the Cross, but what about the reference to “bore our sins in his body”?

Think about the Old Testament sacrificial system. Within that, when a man sinned, he had to take an animal to the Temple to be sacrificed. He placed his hands on its head, as means of identification, and the animal was then killed. It was a picture of the sins of the man being passed to the animal who then took the punishment (death) for those sins. So the New Testament teaching is that in the same way, when Christ died on the Cross he was dying in our place and took our sins. For it to apply to us, we have to come to God in repentance, believing in Jesus as our substitute and God then declares us forgiven and cleansed. Because he is the eternal Son of God, he acts as our substitute wherever we are in history, even though he died in time-space history two thousand years ago.

Now that is what Jesus did so that two things could then happen to us: “so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” We have already explained when and how it takes place (at our conversion) but that is only the start. When we came to Christ, we rejected our old self-centred life of failure and guilt and turned away from that old sin-focused life. Peter uses the same language as the apostle Paul when he refers to this for he speaks about us dying to the old life, dying to sins. The apostle Paul taught, “We died to sin… count yourselves dead to sin.” (Rom 6:2,11)  This teaching says the old life has gone; we no longer live like we used to. Sin no longer dominates us and no longer has power over us.

We have been freed FROM that so that we may now ‘live for righteousness’. Righteousness – living rightly according to God’s design for us, is now the basis for our lives.  Paul’s counterpart teaching is, “we too may live a new life… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God… offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:4,11,13).

Do you see the link now between what Peter has been saying previously? He was saying, live out lives of witness and testimony, responding differently to everyone else when you suffer unjustly, so that you glorify God, but you also do it and live like that because of what Christ has achieved for you on the Cross and the nature of the life you now live because of that.  You cope with suffering unjustly because you are a new person, a Spirit-energised person, a Cross-redeemed person, a person with the nature of Christ being formed in you.

He closes the sentence with, “by his wounds you have been healed.” In that short phrase he uses two shorthand words, words used to summarise a lot more. When he speaks of Christ’s ‘wounds’ he means all that was done to him before and on the Cross. He is in fact quoting Isa 53:5 exactly: But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Pierced, crushed and wounded are words that do have specific applications but they also apply generally in a spiritual sense. You might like to meditate on how Christ was pierced in his spirit, crushed in spirit and wounded in the spirit. These are all part of what he went through, and the result is that we are ‘healed’. This is usually taken to mean in spirit. Previously we had been sin-sick, our lives deformed by sin, damaged by sin, and by his work on the Cross Christ made it possible for sin to be removed from our bodies, our twisted lives straightened out and the effects or damage done by sin to be removed. Those are the possibilities that we have to claim and take hold of, part of the salvation that is ours through the work of Christ on the Cross, which now enables us to live as people different from the rest of the world. May it be so!

40. Justice

Meditations in Romans : 40:  Justice Demonstrated

Rom 3:25,26 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Justice is a key issue at the heart of life. The word ‘just’ means ‘equitable, fair, right, and proper’. Justice is about achieving ends which are equitable, fair, right and proper. In our relativistic age there is a lot of talk about ‘understanding criminals’ or understanding why people are ‘driven’ to do bad things and we excuse them on the basis of their bad backgrounds, their bad education or their bad parents – until they do something to us! The modern trend is to do away with rights and wrongs – until they affect me personally. It is easy to theorise about such things until they hit home personally. Rape is academic until I am raped. Murder is academic until someone tries to kill me. Theft is academic until someone steals what is mine. When any one of those things happens to us, we suddenly want justice! Until then justice, too, can be an academic thing. It can be academic until we are offended against.

Now put yourself in God’s position. He has made a perfect world, given us every form of provision possible for a good life, encouraged us again and again, and all He gets is rejection and reviling, and He has to watch as we abuse one another, abuse His world, and abuse Him. It is very personal for God for He is there and sees it all.

Justice demands that what is wrong is put right. Justice demands that what is stolen is returned. Justice demands that the offender is corrected, even punished, and stopped repeating the offence, for until he does we are all under threat from him. Justice looks at our sins – our wrongs, our failures, our rejections of God, our abuses – and demands they are dealt with, that they be stopped, that they be punished. The easy answer from God’s point of view would be to instantly wipe out and remove all signs of the offender so they no longer offend or threaten people or His earth. How easy that would be to God. But He doesn’t do that because we are told that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and love wants to help, to change, to improve, to bless, to remedy. God wants to act to change the person or situation.

But justice is there demanding action. Justice has always been there demanding action. Something needs to be done, someone needs to pay! There is payment in that every sin does bring upon the person some sort of negative consequence. When we fail to ‘work’ as we were designed to work, then there are repercussions, but those are just normal consequences, natural outworkings of doing foolish things. Justice still stands in the wings and looks for the wrong to be righted, for the offender to be punished. How to punish every sin without destroying the sinner who God wants to draw out of Sin?

The answer has been for an eternal being to come and stand in the place of execution and to take our punishment. Only an eternal being is ‘big enough’ to take any and every sin’s punishment, and it happened in time-space history on the Cross at Calvary two thousand years ago when Jesus died for us. That was exactly what was happening, a ‘sacrifice of atonement’ or a means of fulfilling the demands of justice. This was God who had come ‘to demonstrate his justice.’ This was God ensuring that the demands of justice were fulfilled.

Prior to that there had been the sacrificial system which “left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” The sinner was able to walk away unpunished. Yes, under the sacrificial system an animal died, and animal was seen to carry the punishment for the sinner, and that appeased the conscience of the sinner as they conformed to the law that God had laid down as a means of dealing with their sin. But that, we now understand, simply pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah who would be the eternal Son of God who would died in our place to carry the punishment for each and every individual sin we have ever committed.

This, Paul says of God, he did .. to demonstrate his justice at the present time.” Yes, now in history, he says, we have witnessed justice being administered as an eternal being has died in our place. He did it “so as to be just.” He made sure that justice was genuinely administered, and in so doing Hejustifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Yes, all those who will come in repentance on the basis of what they have been told about what Jesus did on the Cross for them, are forgiven and released from the sentence of death that hung over them. They have been ‘justified’ – made right in God’s sight – because their punishment has been taken, their sins have genuinely been deal with, and justice is satisfied. THAT is what this is all about. Receive it humbly and rejoice with thanksgiving for the wonder of what God has done for us.

38. Blood

Meditations in the Law : No.38 : Blood

Lev 17:8,9 Say to them: `Any Israelite or any alien living among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to the LORD–that man must be cut off from his people.

Again and again in the laws of Leviticus, I suggest, we come across things which to us today seem most strange and yet, once you think about them, make a lot of sense. My underlying belief, having read God’s word for many years, is that the laws make sense! God gave them for a purpose and each one conveys some truth about life. These instructions that we find in chapter 17 convey strong messages about life, about death and about God.

Our starting place, in our verses above, is very simple: if you bring a sacrifice then you must bring it to the tabernacle. The tabernacle or Tent of Meeting was the place ordained by God where the Israelites would come to meet with God – the only place that He had ordained. Thus, to sacrifice anywhere else meant a) you were doing your own thing and disregarding God and b) it was likely you would start offering your sacrifice to some other imaginary god or idol. The truth, as the early Ten Commandments remind us, is that there is only one Supreme Being and so anything else is drifting into superstitious fantasy. These verses summarise what has already been said in verses 1 to 4 and they were given because already the Israelites were sacrificing out in the open (v.5) to goat idols (v.6), obviously from other nations.

Having dealt with this issue, the Law then moves on to a specific prohibition of eating (or drinking) blood: Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood–I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people.” (v.10). In case we might wonder why this should be so, the reason is then given: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (v.11) When a sacrifice was made of an animal, the person offering it could see the blood pouring out of the animal and it was very clear that this was the very life of the animal seeping away. Today we know that blood carries oxygen and without that the body dies. Mostly certainly “the life of a creature is in the blood.” In the previous meditation we said that Atonement refers to the act of a substitute dying to pay the price of sin for the Offeror to reconcile them to God and so if the creature’s life is contained in the blood, as the blood is taken it is the life being taken and hence the Law says, it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Thus the blood was seen as the very life being given up and so there had to be great respect for that life and so it went on, “Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood.” (v.12)

This respect for life continues on to include the act of hunting: “Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.” (v.13,14) Hence once you have killed an animal in hunting for food, to respect the life, pour the blood away and bury it – and then comes yet again a third injunction about not eating the blood (v.10,12,14).

Near the end of the Bible in chapter 19 of the book of Revelation we find an incredible picture of a coming conquering king who is Jesus and one of the descriptions states, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13) Even in this picture blood is emphasized and of course it is his own blood shed for us. It is his badge, if you like, what gives him authority for he has purchased men through his blood: “And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9) The writer to the Hebrews summed it up: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb 9:22)

Justice demands that wrong is punished. The enormity of the wrongs of every human being, a lifetime of wrongs, demands a life be taken. That is justice. The blood, representing a life being given under the old covenant of the Law, was simply a picture of the life that would be given by the eternal Son of God. He alone was great enough to pay for every single sin that has ever been and will be committed. We either receive his work on our behalf, or we pay the price ourselves in eternity. It is pure folly to opt for the second choice.

33. Guilt Offering

Meditations in the Law : No.33 : What is a Guilt Offering

Lev 5:14-19 The LORD said to Moses: “When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD’s holy things, he is to bring to the LORD as a penalty a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value in silver, according to the sanctuary shekel. It is a guilt offering. He must make restitution for what he has failed to do in regard to the holy things, add a fifth of the value to that and give it all to the priest, who will make atonement for him with the ram as a guilt offering, and he will be forgiven. If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible. He is to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the wrong he has committed unintentionally, and he will be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; he has been guilty of wrongdoing against the LORD.”

We now come to a further offering which seems to be very similar to the Sin offering we have just considered, but which has some clear differences. Let’s note first of all when this offering is applicable: When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD’s holy things.” (v.14) and “If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though he does not know it” (v.17), so again it is when a person goes against the Lord in respect of the things (probably) of the Tabernacle (v.14) and then generally against any one of the decrees that the Lord had given Israel (v.17) and in both cases they did it without realising that it was wrong. The emphasis is that it is a “wrongdoing against the Lord.” (v.19)

One of the biggest differences appears to be in the language used with this offering. The focus is on the cost or value of the offering which is first being given as a ‘penalty’ (or fine) but then is to have to add something more to ‘make restitution’ and then the original ram offering is to be considered to be making ‘atonement’ for the offender. So, we thus have a fine to make the point that this is a wrong which is to be punished, second that there is to be restitution or making good, and finally there is cleansing or putting right the sin before the Lord (atonement is about changing the circumstances to bring reconciliation with the Lord, and ensuring justice is done.). The focus thus comes on the consequence of the misdemeanour, upon what should have happened but didn’t. It wasn’t just that you had sinned (that was the Sin Offering) but that what you had failed to do, or did do, was something tangible that had a cost attached to it.

Within all this there is a reminder to us that sins have consequences. The apostle Paul taught, A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” (Gal 6:7,8) We may face up to a sin and say sorry to God but forget that there are consequences that follow it. We need to ask for Jesus to also deal with the consequences when we have repented else we may find ongoing problems occurring. In the Isaiah 53 ‘Servant Song’ prophetically referring to Jesus we find, Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.” (Isa 53:10). Through the Cross God made Jesus a guilt offering with the result that not only sin but the effects of sin can be brought under his work and dealt with so that we can instead receive God’s blessing on our ongoing days.

Now although it is not very clear, most commentators link the first seven verses of Chapter 6 to the preceding ones because of the similarity of purpose: “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbour about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do– when he thus sins and becomes guilty.” (6:2-4) i.e. sins against people are seen as being unfaithful to the Lord. In these cases we find specific instructions for restitution: he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering.”(6:4,5) Not only must he make restitution but he must add a fifth to it as an act of goodwill (implied) and this restitution is separate and distinct and extra to the Guilt Offering that he brings. This restitution is to put the offended person in a similar place as if the thing had never happened. This is similar to English Law in respect of Damages.

However it is still a sin against God and that is acknowledged in what follows: “And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.” (6:6,7). i.e. there is a cost to be borne before the Lord in bringing the guilt offering which also acts to bring about atonement.

To conclude, when we sin against another person, we need to remind ourselves that we are first and foremost sinning against God. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus has the son thinking, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” (Lk 15:18) Note he had sinned against God as well as against his father by the way he had left home. Some people may be casual about sin but we must not. Our sins may be against people, but they are also always against God. Remember as 6:2 said, If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbour.” We are unfaithful to the Lord when we sin against others. We should not only say sorry to that person and sorry to God for sinning against that person, but also sorry to Him for being unfaithful to Him! May that clarify our understanding of things that mostly the Christian church is casual about!