The Guilt Offering – Lev 5:14-19

The whole point of the guilt offering is found in Leviticus 5:17. “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.” This is an introduction to the long debated issue of atonement. In what way are we atoned, and were the sacrifices in the Old Testament truly atoning? Some theologians have said that in the Old Testament times the people of God looked forward to Christ’s sacrifice, and now that Christ as been sacrificed, we look back to His atoning work on the cross. I tend to disagree with this, slightly.

I don’t think that God is mocking here when He says to sacrifice certain things in order to be forgiven. I think that the sin was truly transferred from the person into the animal when they laid hands. I think that the burnt offering truly was the accepted sacrifice for forgiveness, and that this guilt offering is also truly accepted before God. I don’t think that God had to “look forward” to Christ, although there may be some legitimacy to that. God prescribed the sacrifices necessary for atonement. The animal chosen, the way it is offered, and the other regulations regarding the sacrifice speak directly to the issue being atoned.

With that being said, I do agree that the work of Christ Jesus on the cross fulfills all of these sacrifices. This is why God would allow there to be no temple for almost 2000 years. Without a temple, there are no sacrifices. Either we are all under judgment, or God has provided another option.

Romans 3:21-26 reads, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 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 sacrificial system was established by the word of God to Moses. We read in Hebrews 8:5 that the priests on earth “serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven”, but our High Priest, Jesus, “serves in… the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” We see here a pattern. While the sacrifices offered on the earthly altar are being accepted to God, it is not by the sacrifice in itself that it is being accepted. It has ever and always been that God accepts it by faith. The reason that we no longer consult the earthly tabernacle and priesthood to be atoned is because we have atonement from the heavenly tabernacle, which is superior founded on better promises.

When we come to the guilt offering, and the issue of the atonement in the New Testament, what we’re looking at is the issue of the two covenants. By what means were they atoned in the Old Testament? And by what means are we atoned? Let’s look at one more Scripture example before coming to concrete conclusions. Abel’s offering was accepted, but Cain’s was not. Many have looked and said that it is because Abel offered from the flock that his sacrifice was accepted. Yet, this cannot be, because the Hebrew word was minchah and not corban. The minchah was a tribute – a gift. The corban was the sacrifice mentioned in Leviticus. In Leviticus, the minchah is specifically bloodless sacrifices, although Abel would have had to offer some sort of blood offering. So it cannot be that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because of the blood. Rather, the author of Hebrews answers for us, “By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did.”

The whole point is faith. It has never been that our offerings are accepted because we brought what is appropriate. So, in the issue of atonement, we cannot say that our atonement was brought about through faith in the New Testament, but by the law in the Old Testament. That simply isn’t the case. Going back to Romans, we see that the point being made isn’t simply that we find the righteousness of God because we have faith, but because we have faith in Jesus. This is where the righteousness of God is revealed. While in the Old Testament the law prescribed forgiveness, that forgiveness was established upon regulation and sacrifice. Now the atonement and forgiveness is based solely upon faith in Jesus. There were Israelites that would be able to offer sacrifices according to the prescribed fashion without even believing – God forbid. But in the New Testament we find examples of people who attempt to make offerings and are rejected (Acts 5 has a great example).

So, yes, even according to Leviticus 5 all have fallen short. All have sinned. It is impossible to keep the whole of the Law without sin. Yet, through the New Covenant, we are no longer held accountable to the letter of the law, but rather to the Law of the Spirit (Romans 8:2). It is through the Spirit that we are set free, and for freedom’s sake at that. While in Leviticus 5 we se the guilt offering being a ram from the flock, and with it a certain value in silver, we find in the New Covenant that our guilt offering is found in Christ. As John wrote, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the sacrifice of atonement for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Our guilt offering is found in Christ, and our freedom is in His resurrection. As Paul writes in Romans 6, “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” How is it that this resurrection comes to the believer? As I already pointed out, in Romans 8:2 Paul answers, “The Law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

We can continue in Romans 8. We find that “what the law was powerless to do”, “God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” “You are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you,” and I have added to the end of that, “at all”. We read that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

Do you see how in Romans 8, and I’m not even halfway through the chapter, it continues to show the connection between the atonement of Christ and the Spirit being in you? Christ is the sin offering. The Spirit then comes and fills us that we might walk according to it instead of the sinful nature. In this, I see Christ as the sin offering, and even the guilt offering, but the Spirit as the agent in which we find atonement. They who are of the Spirit, therefore, walk by the Spirit, and are not condemned.

Though we may continue to commit a sin unintentionally, we know that there is one who mediates between us and God – Jesus Christ the righteous one – and by His wounds we are healed. He is our guilt offering, for we are guilty of wrongdoing against the Lord. The difference between the Old Testament when we read Leviticus and the New Testament is that Leviticus simply says that God will accept the sacrifice on our behalf. In the New Testament, we see that God accepts Christ as our sacrifice, but then fills us with the Spirit – raising us up in Him unto newness of life – so that we might be dead to sin and alive to God. This is the difference between the old and new covenant. This is the glory that surpasses the letter of the law. We are offered freedom in Christ, and that freedom really is freedom.

The Cross as Life

It has been difficult for me to comprehend the doctrine of the cross for a long time. What I mean by this needs a little introduction. I understand perfectly well the notion of dying to self. I understand perfectly well the crucified life. I understand perfectly well that we are new creatures. Yet, in that last statement I find my exact point: we are resurrected. The point of the cross, as I understand, is not simply to die, but that we would be raised up with Christ by the same glory that raised Him up. So, I’ve been confused about this for a while. How is it that Christ Jesus would say, “I came to give you life, and life abundantly”, but then we want to say that we have to continue to die to self?

I’ve heard many times about the notion of dying to self. We take up our crosses so that God might raise us up. Yet, if you’ve been raised, then you’ve been raised. If your life is hid with Christ in God, then your life is hid with Christ in God. If you are crucified with Christ, it is no longer you that live but Christ that lives in you, then you are crucified with Christ. If you are a new creation, then you are no longer the old creation; you are now a new creation. Do you see my dilemma? In one sense, I understand full well that I need to die to the sinful passions of my old lifestyle, and thus be raised by the glory of God unto newness of life. I understand full well what it means to taste death and now be alive in Christ. But, once I’m alive in Christ, I can no longer die.

In Romans 6, Paul makes an interesting statement: “If we have been united with [Christ] like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection… that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died once and for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive in God in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch it? If you have died, and have been raised unto newness of life, then you cannot die again. This has an implication with the second death – the lake of fire. We know that because we have already died, we cannot die again. That old man has received its judgment, if you will allow me to say such things. Now, here is my confusion. If we have died and been raised unto life, then we can no longer die. Yet, it is told to us that we are to die daily, and that we are to continuously be giving our lives and dying to self. Just because you quote Paul’s words that he dies daily doesn’t necessitate the validity of the statement. This has perplexed me for quite sometime… until a couple days ago.

My wife and I have been looking through the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3. While discussing the words of Jesus to these churches, it dawned on me what is going on with the cross here. Jesus said, “No one takes my life.” He actually believed that. His life was taken by no one. Instead, He laid it down willingly. Now, when we talk about His life being laid down, what exactly are we talking about? I would like to suggest something rather profound. The “my” being used here might not refer to Christ in totality. Who Christ is, His essence, is found in His relationship with God the Father. Likewise, the true you, the true me, is not found in my body, but instead is something more than my body. The true Jesus could not die, because it was already alive to God. Though His body went into the grave, and though Jesus descended into the depths of the earth, the statement that Jesus is making is not about death like we think it is.

Let me try to explain a different way. Because Jesus was alive to God, He could not die. So, because He willingly gave His life, it was His to take it up again. The point of the cross in this sense is not about death, but about life. It isn’t that Jesus is going to die, but that He will continue to live. Though He gives His own life, it is His to take up again. Why? Because Jesus had already passed from death to life. The reality of the cross was already at work in Him. The epochal moment of death on the cross was an ultimate climax of a succession of events that were all crosses before it. He had already died, and therefore He was already raised unto resurrection. Yet, the literal and bodily death and resurrection had not yet taken place.

Are you starting to see where I’m going here?

When we talk about dying and taking up our own crosses, what exactly are we talking about? There is a time and place to die to self and live unto God. There is a legitimacy to our phraseology of dying and being raised again. Yet, once you have passed from death to life, you no longer have to die again. You have already passed through unto eternity. You are already alive unto God. This is why Paul gets into Romans 7 and deals with our struggle with sin.

“Do you not know brothers… that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?”

Did you catch it? What is the point of Romans 6? WE ARE NO LONGER ALIVE TO SIN, BUT INSTEAD DEAD TO SIN. The whole point of Romans 7 is, then, to be understood as those who have not yet passed through death unto life. We might technically be saved, but we have not yet come unto the place of resurrection. One man said it this way: Many saved, few converted. Paul continues:

“So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might believe to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”

Our life is hid with Christ in God. For they who have been raised unto this glory no longer face the death to self that is required of those who have not yet died. This is why later in Romans 7 Paul says, “As it is, it is no longer I myself who [sins], but it is sin living in me.” And again, “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Why does Paul say this? Because the “me” being spoken of is not the same “me” that was put to death. The “me” that Paul is speaking of is the relation that I have with Christ. It is the new life. I am now alive to God, and that “me” cannot sin.

So, when we come back to our theology of the cross, we ask the question of what it means to die daily. The cross of Jesus was not about death, but instead about sacrifice. It was not about death, but instead servanthood. It was not about death, but instead selflessness. That which needed to die – the sinful man – had already died. Likewise, the cross that I bear daily is not a cross unto death that I might be resurrected. That has already happened. It is about me giving my life as a ransom for many. It is about me giving my life for my friends. Even if I descend into the deepest depths of the earth on their behalf, it is still my life to take back up. I am both priest and sacrifice, pouring myself out like a drink offering on behalf of my friends.

That is the cross as life. It doesn’t diminish my life. It doesn’t take away from who I am in God. It isn’t about dying to self. It isn’t even about dying to selfishness, because that selfishness has already died. It is about giving my life as a ransom for many. It is love covering a multitude of sins. It is me being merciful, so that through my mercy, they may obtain mercy. It is me being a living sacrifice. This theme is taken up through the whole of the book of Romans, and yet I’ve never heard anyone else proclaim it. I’ve heard others come close, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone who would speak this. I no longer live, but Christ in me. Therefore, when I lay down my life as a living sacrifice, it is not me dying – it is me obtaining even greater life. Because I lay down my life willingly, it is mine to take back up again – not because I am somehow on par with Christ, but because that kind of sacrifice is what attains unto eternal reward. It is the wisdom of the Kingdom: he who loses His life shall obtain life. How much greater life do we obtain when we willingly lay down our lives in apostolic priestliness for the benefit and glory of another?

Maybe this helps us to understand why Paul tells the Philippians, “…in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” Again, he tells the Thessalonians, “For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been in vain.” Paul has been a living sacrifice to these churches. Has this sacrifice been a waste? But, alas! In neither instance does it seem as though Paul concludes that it has. It is a labor of love – even my own death – because I know that God has already raised me up unto life. To die is to be with Christ. My cross that I bear is no longer one of death; it is now a cross of liberty. I am not forced to die upon this cross any longer, because I have already died upon it. I now walk according to the Sprit. But, that Spirit bids me back to the cross so that I might express the same love that Christ expressed on Calvary.

The cross is life for the believer, not because we constantly die to self, but because in the laying down of our life, others find life. This challenges me, but also excites me. I hope it has the same affect on you. May the Lord work this deeply in both of us that we might obtain life and meet in Zion.