Each time I read Leviticus, I thank God animal sacrifices are no longer required for sin! I’m not sure there’s land expansive enough to hold the flocks and herds it would take to keep this girl’s slate clean. Reading the book Thanksgiving week reminded me of the greatest reason I have for giving thanks, not just one day a year, but every single day that I don’t have to slaughter the family livestock in order make atonement for my sins. What a bloodbath that would be!
I once heard Dallas pastor Tony Evans say we can never truly understand what Jesus did for us if we don’t ever read the Old Testament. That has certainly been my experience. I struggled for a long time with believing God’s forgiveness could be for me. Because I continued to stumble and sin, I thought it was impossible for the Bible to be true for me. When I began to read the Old Testament, my relationship with the Lord changed, and my comprehension of the enormity of Jesus began to take shape. Still today, God’s mercy and grace overwhelms me as I witness His protection, deliverance, and provision for a stiff-necked people who repeatedly wandered from Him, only for Him to draw them back, just like He does for me!
My plan was to write a single, simple blog about sacrifice then and now, but as I followed the trail of blood from Exodus to the Cross, God revealed new things and connected familiar ones in a fresh way. Attempting to articulate the impact of the revelation He has given me over the past seven or so weeks has felt like labor. My brain contracts and I try to push out the words only to delete what I’ve written and end up right back at a blank page. No baby. I pray He gives me the ability to effectively convey what He has shown me. Even if it is familiar, God can make it completely fresh for you, too. If not for you, perhaps for someone you know who needs to read these next few posts. Will you join me?
Let’s pick up the trail in Exodus. Three months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites are at Mount Sinai and God gives them the Ten Commandments. He establishes laws for every aspect of their lives and relationships with Him and each other. Israel enters into covenant with the Lord, and the Lord gives Moses the specifications to build a sanctuary for Him, that He would dwell among them. Anyone who did not obey the commandments of the Lord perfectly all the time, whether they knew they were breaking God’s law or not, was guilty “and shall bear his iniquity” (Leviticus 5:17).
The penalty for sin always has been and always will be the shedding of blood, so God instructs Moses in the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests and details the sacrifices and offerings He would require. Some covered their iniquity, others their trespasses, and still others their sin. I had never noticed the distinction before! The Lord Himself establishes the three terms in a list as He proclaims: “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation’" (Exodus 34:6-9, emphasis mine).
Why separate iniquity from transgression from sin? Intrigued, I researched the Hebrew roots for each word (references for Strong’s and the Hebrew definitions all come from www.blueletterbible.org).
· Iniquity is ‘avon (Strong’s H5771), which is perversity, depravity, and a condition of guilt. It is the state of our heart and/or the moral corruption into which we are born: our flesh. I think Encarta’s definition of perversity perfectly captures the essence of flesh: “stubborn unreasonableness, especially willfully persisting in actions that seem contrary to good sense or your own best interests.” The root of ‘avon is ‘avah (Strong’s H5753), which appropriately encompasses the idea of something being twisted, crooked, amiss or distorted, or doing perversely. This describes the state of being all of us are born into rather than a choice that we consciously make.
· Transgression is pesha’ (Strong’s H6588), which deals with our rebellion and guilt as we recognize it, as God addresses it, and as He forgives. It is the expression of our intrinsically corrupt condition as rebelliousness. Its root, pasha’ (Strong’s H6586), means to rebel, transgress, or revolt. As a result of our corrupt condition from birth, we naturally revolt against God until He transforms our hearts and turns us to Christ. Only then are we able to recognize our guilt, receive forgiveness, and address wrong attitudes and behaviors.
· Sin has many roots. Chatta’ath (Strong’s H2403 for) comes from the root chata’ (Strong’s H2398) and refers to the condition and guilt of sin. It is the way we miss the mark and go wrong from the path of what’s right and what is our duty. These are actions by which we incur guilt.
Isaiah 59:2 tells us, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” The condition into which we are born (iniquity), separates us from God and results in an innate hardness of heart and rebellion against God (transgression), which causes us to err and miss the mark in what we do (sin). While there is some overlap between certain meanings for each term, making them interchangeable at times, the specific differences are at the heart of the gospel: Jesus “ was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Healed in the Greek refers to being made whole, “free from errors and sins, to bring about one’s salvation” (www.blueletterbible.com, G2390, iaomai). By Jesus’ stripes, we are saved from our iniquity, transgression, and sins!
Honestly, I think a lot of people are confused about Jesus, why He died, and why being saved is a matter of eternal life and death. I had a conversation recently with a friend who was really hurting. Months prior, she saw me pray for a friend in my driveway, and she wanted me to pray with her that same way. We started talking, and I asked her if she had ever put her faith in Jesus Christ and entered into a personal relationship with Him. She had not, she explained, because both her and her husband had been very sick, they had prayed, and it didn’t do any good. It’s a common story or sentiment. You hear things like, “I read my Bible and nothing changed.” Or, “I prayed, and God didn’t do what I asked, so what’s the point?” Or, “I trusted Him and He didn’t…” Just fill in the blank. Or maybe someone’s gone to church, done all the right things, and then something tragic happened that they think God did or should have stopped.
Here’s the deal. We don’t put our faith in Jesus because He can make our lives better or because we want something from Him. We don’t seek salvation to experience a certain emotional state, like peace or joy, or to manipulate a particular outcome, like healing, financial prosperity, or better whatever. Incredibly, because of God’s goodness, many times we experience those things as His children, but none of them are the reason we should respond to God’s grace with faith.
And listen, it’s not that there aren’t good people who do good things. There are. But works don’t save. Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
There is no way to earn salvation, no matter how good a person you are or how great the things you do. Our sin condition exists at birth. We can’t save ourselves. Only God can, and He chose to do it through Jesus. And that is why we need Him.
Lord, thank You for the trail of blood that leads to Jesus, for His blood that washes away our sin. Give us a deeper understanding of who He is, what He’s done, and what You desire as we become more wholly Yours this year.
Where does the trail lead now? Join me Thursday.