Stories from a life in progress.

What sacrifice was for

I'd like to take another look at something I said about sacrifice: not all sacrifices in the Old Testament were intended as atonement for sins.

I've heard general, often vague statements from Christians over many years regarding sacrifices and sin. In multiple conversations, multiple classes and discussions, someone would bring up a point like "the Israelites were always having to bring their sacrifices because of their sin. In Christ, we don't need to do that anymore."

Soooo ... yes. In Christ, there is no longer any need to make sacrifice to atone for sin. Correct. The New Testament makes this point clearly, vigorously, and repeatedly.

That's not the mistake made by the Christians with the vague statements about sin and sacrifice. The mistake is it not recognizing that there were many purposes for sacrifice in the Old Testament, and atonement was only one of them. In both the Old and New Testaments, honoring and pleasing God was one of the primary purposes behind sacrifice.

The New Testament itself does not make this mistake. Look at these:

Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:17-18 NIV)

In calling the provisions of the Philippians church a "sacrifice," Paul specifically says it carries the purpose of pleasing God -- nothing about atonement.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise -- the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. (Hebrews 13:15 NIV)

This verse follows a long discourse explaining why atoning sacrifices are no longer necessary in Jesus. Yet the author still says that sacrifice is appropriate -- otherwise, why would he say this thing in these terms? Why would he bother characterizing it as sacrifice, not just saying "let us continually praise God"?

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and1 knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
"Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?"
"Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?"
For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 11:33-12:1 NIV)

Again, in this letter Paul has gone to great lengths to describe that it is only through Jesus Christ that people are made acceptable to God, but here he says that sacrifice is pleasing to God and the "true and proper" way of worship.

Why is this important? (Why am I still going on about it?) Two things:

First, sacrifice is still a "true and proper" way to honor God and please him. Do we remember this, we modern American Christians? I don't. Trufax, I am personally challenged by studying this. I clutch on to things too tightly, both my physical possessions and my own ideas about how to do things. Am I honoring God? Would he be pleased, would he be tickled and delighted, if I started prying my fingers off some of these things? Would I discover they are not so necessary as I think? Would he have different and better things to give me instead?

Second is that there is continuity here between the Old and New Testaments regarding sacrifice, and it's harder for us to see if we hold a limited, flawed understanding of sacrifice, especially in what the Old Testament says about it. This is a theme I want to explore deeply and write about widely, that there is strong continuity between the Old Testament and the New, that the New does not "replace" or "overwrite" the Old, but rather expands and reveals it. Both sides of the Bible are a perfect fit for each other. My culture, even many fellow believers in Christ, don't see this. They're missing out. I'd like to help them see it.