Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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by George C. Clark
God’s instruction to Israel, when He made them His chosen people, was, “You shall be holy because I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). Then He instituted the tabernacle service, with all its types and ceremonies, to teach men the way to holiness. After that, when an Israelite sinned, he was required to bring an offering, a kid of the goats or sheep, to the door of the sanctuary, confess the sin or sins he had committed, and then slay the victim with his own hand. The object lesson was plain – sin brings death. Israel was told by the prophet, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). Paul later confirmed this by saying, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
The death of the sinner is justly demanded by the broken law. But the Israelite transgressor who presented himself at the sanctuary with an offering brought a substitute. His lamb or goat could die in his stead. Thus, God provided a way by which a sinner could be forgiven and the law could be satisfied, a way by which justice could be vindicated, and yet the transgressor could retain his life. That way was vicarious atonement; someone else would bear the penalty for the sinner’s transgression.
An additional lesson available to the guilty Israelite who appeared at the door of the tabernacle is that in his progress back to God and holiness, he could do only a few things. He could bring a lamb or a goat; he could confess his sin; he could slay the victim; but there, his work ended. At that point, God had to provide Israel with a mediator to complete the process – His priest. Only the priest had direct access to God’s altar. He alone could approach God to offer the blood, the essential element of sacrifice. “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you to make an atonement upon the altar for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). Thus, even in the Old Testament’s symbolic service, man was taught that he cannot be saved by what he can do alone. An anointed priest must take the blood of the sacrificial victim, place it or sprinkle it upon the appropriate furniture of the sanctuary, and, in the words of instruction to Aaron, “make atonement for them before the Lord” (Lev. 10:17).
When a transgressor brought a lamb to the temple, he placed his hands upon its head while he confessed his sins, thus symbolically placing his sin upon the head of the innocent animal, which then died in his stead. His sin was thus transferred, through the animal’s shed blood, to the altar itself. In the case of ordinary sins, the blood was either placed upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering or sprinkled upon its side. This constituted a record of the sin itself. Then, after the Israelite slew his offering and the priest administered the blood, the Israelite was forgiven. But the record of the sin remained. In fact, the sin itself had simply been transferred to the altar in the tabernacle’s courtyard, and in some way it still had to be disposed of. This was accomplished in the yearly ceremony called the Day of Atonement.
This holy day was a day of judgment, on the outcome of which depended the life of the nation. Every sacrifice from the preceding year was, in type, reviewed. The apostle describes it: “In those sacrifices, remembrance of sins is made every year” (Heb. 10:3). On the Day of Atonement, God commanded that the high priest enter into the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary with the appropriate sacrifices. “He shall make atonement for the holy place because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions in all their sins. And thus shall he do for the tent of meeting. . . . Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord, and he shall make atonement for it. . . . And he shall sprinkle with his finger some of the blood on it seven times, and cleanse it and sanctify it because of the sins of the children of Israel” (Lev. 16:16–19).
As part of this ceremony, the priest figuratively sent far away the accumulated sins of the year, as God commanded: “Aaron shall lay his two hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, and he shall put them on the head of the goat. And then he shall send [the goat] away by the hand of a ready man into the wilderness. And the goat will bear on itself all their iniquities to a separated land” (Lev. 16:21–22). Here, in type, was a prophecy of Christ taking our sins away, removing them forever. No Israelite, as he afflicted his soul before the tabernacle that day, could have avoided the lesson: God would do away with sins, once those sins were confessed and repented of. In Christ, that prophecy is fulfilled. He bore our sins on the cross and took them far away.
Sin separates us from God. But God wants to separate us from sin so that He might reunite us to Himself. Tenderly, He calls on His people to “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
Yes, my Reader, it is God’s will for His people to be holy. This was typified, as we have seen, under the law. But, since “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” Jesus had to shed his own precious blood in order that we might obtain true holiness, the holiness of the heart. And, “if the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the defiled sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more does the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:13–14)?
Friend, do you know anything about this experience? Has the blood of Christ been applied to your heart? You see, the Lord wants to cleanse us as well as forgive us. And “If we confess our sins,” 1John 1:9 tells us, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins AND to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Doubtless, many will ask whether this cleansing is essential. In the Old Testament, God’s answer was that His people were to be holy and perfect because He was holy and perfect (Lev. 19:2; Dt. 18:13). But now, His answer is that they are to be holy and perfect as He is holy and perfect (cf. Mt. 5:48; 2Pet. 1:4). To be holy and perfect the way our heavenly Father is holy and perfect is impossible for man, but not with God, and in the Spirit that Jesus purchased for us with his blood, what was once impossible for man has become possible – indeed, it is now required.
One does not grow into the experience of holiness; however, he does, or should, grow in it. The experience of being made holy is referred to in the Bible as the “baptism of the holy Spirit”(Acts 1:5; 1Cor. 12:13), and it is a definite experience, an instantaneous operation of the Spirit of God. Unfortunately, some of God’s children, after receiving this blessing of holiness, wander away from the holy life to which they are called. We see this among the saints who lived in the days of the apostles, too. Unwise saints at that time, such as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), departed from holiness, even though the apostles were living and working among them.
My dear Friend, if you have received the baptism of the Spirit and been made holy, then pursue holiness with all your strength. The reward is not to the one who starts the race but to him who completes it. Remember the exhortation of the man of God: “We are made partakers with Christ if we hold fast our first confidence firm until the end” (Heb. 3:14). We are going to holiness when we go to Christ for his baptism, and he expects us to grow in holiness after we receive it. Otherwise, we will not be saved from the coming wrath.
Every sanctified believer who is wise will strive to please God after his conversion. Paul warned the saints in Corinth, who were evidently unstable concerning the faith, to cleanse themselves “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” This exhortation is a challenge to every double-minded believer, to every soul torn between a love for this world and love for Christ.
We notice the burden that was on Paul’s heart for the Thessalonians when we read of his longing to come to them “to see [their] face and to perfect the things lacking in [their] faith” (1Thess. 3:10). And why did Paul want to bring this perfection to the Thessalonians? “So that [their] hearts may be established, blameless in holiness before our God” (1Thess. 3:13).
My dear Reader, when God called us to holiness, He was calling us not just to be made holy but to stay holy, so that we might always be vessels suitable for the Master’s use. God’s family is made up of believers whose sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ. But how many of us are still clean, still walking in and growing in the holiness we were made partakers of?
May God grant us all the grace to be among the number who will stand before Him with “clean hands and a pure heart” because we have “kept the faith” after He brought us into it.