In the master bedroom of our house, there is a little three-drawer cabinet. It contains things like my t-shirts, and did a good job of serving its purpose for years. One day, though, I pulled on the middle drawer, and – probably due to it being overstuffed – the face of the drawer came off in my hands!
Even in this state, I can still reach in and get my t-shirts, so all was not lost. However, that drawer’s lifespan is pretty much done. It isn’t of high enough quality to try and repair it, and so the entire cabinet will likely be replaced. Of course, I still wanted it to look good, so I learned to balance the front of the drawer back in its slot, causing the cabinet to still appear intact. I think that I still pulled on it a few times after that, forgetting about its condition, and ending up with just a board in my hands.
In some ways, the sacrifices of the old law (the “old covenant” between God and His people) proved to be about as useful as the “false front” on my cabinet when it came to ultimately saving people from their sins who gave those sacrifices1.
The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.
Hebrews 10:1-2 NLT
Sin is an affront to a holy God. Sin is not just a casual mistake that can be overlooked or brushed off. Instead, sin is serious, and the penalty is serious as well (see Romans 6:23).
So, a reminder of the significance of sin was always in front of the Israelite people, as animal (and other) sacrifices had to be made on a regular basis. There was a lot of death involved, but even those sacrifices didn’t make the people completely and permanently free from sin’s consequences.
We are thankful that there was one sacrifice – one even more brutal and costly than the killing of animals – that did pay for our sins, though. Jesus’ voluntary payment for our sins was a once-and-for-all atonement for the wrong things we had done (see the rest of Hebrews 10), and His heroism achieved what lesser sacrifices could not.
Today, in light of the miraculous gift of salvation, we no longer need to offer up animals on an altar regularly (which is a relief), and we no longer need to find ways to pay for sins on our own (which was never going to work, anyway). However, there are a number of lessons from the Mosaic law that still apply to us today.
For one thing, covering up our sins doesn’t get us very far. If we claim to be good enough that we don’t need Jesus, we’re lying to ourselves. No one can claim that they are worthy to spend eternity with the perfect God, no matter how many good deeds are accumulated.
On the other hand, if we have accepted Jesus, but still hide our sins, we cut off an avenue of support from the rest of the Body of Christ, who could otherwise help us to get better. When we hide our sins, we miss out on the blessings of accountability, prayer, and encouragement. Pausing to share with other followers of Jesus may also help us just by giving us something to do that isn’t sinful.
Like my cabinet, a cover-up is not the same as a solution. Don’t trade fake appearances for the real thing: following Jesus, listening to the Holy Spirit, and doing the best we can to live according to His example. We no longer have to present an artificial appearance, having been freed from needing to “look good”, and enabled to live well out of gratitude and obedience.
The other thing we need to remember is that sin is still a detestable thing in God’s eyes. Those who have accepted Jesus don’t have to fear eternal condemnation if they still find sins in their lives, but it would do us all some good to recall just how bad sin is. The Israelites had sights, sounds, and even smells to remind them of the great cost of sin. While I’m not suggesting that we sacrifice animals (since that is no longer necessary), what will remind us how severe and significant sin is? How can each of us best remember that we are sinners, saved by grace, and appreciate both halves of that equation?
I don’t know where you are in your walk, or how you best relate to these principles, but I encourage you to read the book of Hebrews (or Romans) and remember what we can all be saved from. Look behind the fake surface, and appreciate the fact that, whether we’ve accepted Jesus’ payment or not, sin has been part of each of our lives. What we do with that information will make all the difference.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- These sacrifices had other purposes, though. ↩