I’ve been reading Leviticus this week. Not an easy book to read, but full of meaning once we come to understand that its theme is holiness. Our holy God had just pulled His newly chosen people out of Egypt, setting them apart for Himself, and now He was beginning the process of making them holy, too.
The word holy, as I understand it, has three meanings: set apart for a particular purpose, pure, and unique. When reading the story of God’s people, by the time we get to Leviticus, God has already set them apart for the purpose of revealing Him to the world. He plans for them to be unique, so the rest of the world will take notice and want to get to know Him, too. He also provides for their purity, though this won’t be complete until the death and resurrection of Christ. Leviticus is God’s Word to His people about the unique lives they are to live and the means He’s provided for their purity, a way for them to receive forgiveness for their sins.
Thus Leviticus opens with seven morbid chapters on how to offer sacrifices followed by an account of the ordination of Israel’s first priests, Moses’ brother—Aaron, and Aaron’s sons.
In the Bible I’m currently reading, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, share insights scattered through the text. Regarding these chapters in Leviticus, they say, “The sacrificial system prepared people for understanding the meaning of the death of Jesus (see 1 Peter 3:18) and showed that people have a great need to be forgiven.”
This caught my attention. People have a great need to be forgiven. This is absolutely true. It’s built right into us—which may be why so many of the ancient cultures had sacrificial systems of one kind or another. People knew—they just knew!— that they were doing things that were wrong. And they were desperate to clear their consciences in the name of appeasing their gods. Even today in our modern world, people who don’t know Christ (and even some who do but don’t understand what He’s done for them) find ways to offer sacrifices of a sort to make things right when they do wrong. A guilty conscience is a heavy burden. People want to get rid of it!
Without hope of forgiveness, people respond to guilty consciences in one of two ways: depression (not clinical; that’s something else entirely) or denial. The first response is one of hopelessness: “I’ve done this bad thing. I’ve ruined my life. There is no hope for me.” Taken to an extreme, this kind of depression can lead to withdrawal, cutting, or suicide—all three, in this case, a misguided attempt to punish the self, in a sense to offer a sacrifice.
The second is one of rebellion and defensiveness: “I haven’t done anything wrong. How dare you judge me? I’ll show you. I’m going to keep on living my life my way, and I’ll be perfectly happy.” Methinks, perhaps, some of these people doth protest too much. If they are so happy, why do they spew so much anger? Why does what other people think matter so much to them? Why must the rest of the world affirm their decisions?
I’m not sharing these thoughts in order to define what is sin or what is not. My point, rather, is that deep down inside of us, regardless of how we act or what we say, we know the truth. If we are doing something sinful, God’s Spirit is working inside of us to help us face the truth—not so God can punish us or demand a sacrifice (The sacrifice has already been made! See 1 Peter 3:18.); but so we can confess, so we can receive forgiveness, so He can make us pure. 1 John 1:9 proclaims this most clearly: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Our job is to be open to the truth, to pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” –Psalm 139:23-24. Choosing depression or denial leaves us carrying a load of guilt whether we acknowledge its presence or not. Choosing forgiveness through Christ sets us free to be the people God designed us to be, to find the purpose we were made for, to enjoy life abundantly.
If you haven’t already, I pray you will choose forgiveness. Talk to God (just like you’d talk to a friend). Agree with Him that you have sinned. Tell Him you’re sorry and that, with His help, you won’t do it again (no matter what you’ve done, no matter how many times you’ve failed and had to confess this sin again). Receive His forgiveness and walk with His Spirit in righteousness, peace, and joy. (See Romans 14:17.) You are forgiven. You are free!
Father, thank You for this lesson from Leviticus. Thank You for setting us apart, for giving us purpose, and for making forgiveness available through Your Son’s sacrifice. Help us to live for You; Your way is best—always! Amen.
This post is linked to Grace & Truth: A Weekly Christian Link-Up. Visit that site to find devotional posts by other Christian writers.