Summary: The fourth in a series of messages about the complete sufficiency of the Gospel.
Picture the scene. An Israelite camp in the desert, several thousand years ago. The tabernacle, pitched on top of a hill in the center of the camp. The high priest, running down the hillside shouting that he has found the perfect spotless lamb, which will be sacrificed on behalf of all the people, taking care of their sins for the rest of their lives.
Imagine the excitement! After that one final sacrifice, all the men of Israel gather to begin tearing down the tabernacle. Then they move on with a whole new way of life. No longer do they have to worry about sacrifices to clean up their track record. Instead, they can live guilt free, knowing that a perfect lamb has done away with their sins once and for all.
Of course, this never happened. Instead, what we see is the Israelites having to offer animal sacrifices over and over throughout their history, because no single sacrifice was sufficient to perfectly cleanse them. Hebrews explains clearly: [The law] can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. (Hebrews 10:1--2)
Although we never read of an Old Testament priest finding the perfect lamb, this announcement was, in fact, made. When? Not long before the sacrifice that would initiate the New. Upon seeing Jesus, John the Baptist declared, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).
Today, we have a perfect Lamb in the person of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice rendered the temple ceremonies null and void. There’s no longer any purpose for the tabernacle, the temple, or the daily sacrifices.
Because Jesus Christ’s sacrifice cleansed us once for all, not repeatedly over time, there’s no method or procedure required for us to remain forgiven. We’re invited to depend on the onetime sacrifice as the means to lifelong forgiveness, without any strings attached: "Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3:18 NIV).
The issue concerning forgiveness becomes crystal clear if we understand God’s economy, which hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. To illustrate, let’s travel back in time as an investigative reporter to interview a Jew as he exits the tabernacle.
"Excuse me, Mr. Jew, you seem very relieved compared with the way you looked when you entered the tabernacle just a short time ago. What’s your secret? What makes you feel so much better about the past year of sinning? Did you promise Yahweh that you’d do better this coming year--that you would turn over a new leaf?"
The Jewish man responds, "No, nothing like that took place."
Slightly confused, you press on to discover the truth. "Well, did you carefully name off each sin and ask Yahweh to cover your sins?"
"Certainly not!" the Jewish man exclaims.
"Well, then, what exactly made you feel relief from guilt for all the sins you’ve committed over the past twelve months?"
At this point, any well-educated Jew would give the same response: "What made me feel better? The blood of bulls and goats that covered my past sins, of course! Yahweh has always demanded a blood sacrifice for sins, and now--because of the animal I bought to offer as a sacrifice--my sins are covered!"
This imaginary interview with a Jew outside the tabernacle illustrates God’s economy. It has always been the case that one thing brings forgiveness of sins, namely, blood--nothing else: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22).
If we accept God’s blood-only economy, it revolutionizes our perspective on how we stand before him. The bottom line is that no amount of dialoguing with God about our sins will bring us more forgiveness. No amount of asking God to forgive us will initiate his cleansing in our lives. Instead, blood sacrifice is the only action that results in forgiveness and cleansing. This was true in the Old Testament, and there’s no exception today.
Because there are no more blood sacrifices being made for sins, we must conclude something about the onetime sacrifice of Jesus Christ: either it was or was not sufficient to bring a lifetime of forgiveness and cleansing. If so, then God is satisfied regarding our sins, both now and in eternity. If not, then we are stuck with no biblical way of dealing with God’s wrath toward us.
Unfortunately, right here is where many Christian authors and teachers take a plunge into the realm of creativity, using terms such as positional truth and heavenly bookkeeping. They say we’re forgiven and cleansed "in God’s eyes." But then they claim that Christ’s death does not translate into "once for all" forgiveness in the here and now.