How to get right with God: Sacrifice or Faith?

Sacrifices in the Old Testament

The Old Testament taught that the only way to get right with God was by offering sacrifices to ‘pay’ for our wrongdoings.

The Book of Leviticus offers detailed instructions on the various kinds of sacrifices and offerings that were thought necessary to appease God:

“If the whole nation of Israel sins accidentally without knowing it and does something the LORD has commanded not to be done, they are guilty. When they learn about the sin they have done, they must offer a young bull as a sin offering and bring it before the Meeting Tent. The elders of the groups of people must put their hands on the bull’s head before the LORD, and it must be killed before the LORD.” (Leviticus 4:13-15)

“If any person in the community sins by accident and does something which the LORD has commanded must not be done, he is guilty. When the person learns about his sin, he must bring a female goat that has nothing wrong with it as an offering for his sin. He must put his hand on the animal’s head and kill it at the place of the whole burnt offering.” (Leviticus 4:27-29)

“If a person is ordered to tell in court what he has seen or what he knows and he does not tell the court, he is guilty of sin… Or someone might touch something unclean… Or someone might make a promise before the LORD without thinking… When anyone is guilty of any of these sins, he must tell how he sinned. He must bring an offering to the LORD as a penalty for sin; it must be a female lamb or goat from the flock… But if the person cannot afford a lamb, he must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD as the penalty for his sin.” (Leviticus 5:1-7)

 

Lambs (Robek)

Lambs were offered as a sacrifice in the Old Testament  (Robek)

 

Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the sins of the Jewish people were symbolically placed onto the head of a goat, which was then sent out into the desert. The ‘scapegoat’ symbolically carried away the sins of the people:

“Aaron must take from the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering… He will throw lots for the two goats – one will be for the LORD and the other for the goat that removes sin. Then Aaron will take the goat that was chosen for the LORD by throwing the lot, and he will offer it as a sin offering. The other goat, which was chosen by lot to remove the sin, must be brought alive before the LORD. The priest will use it to perform the acts that remove Israel’s sin so that they will belong to the LORD. Then this goat will be sent out into the desert as a goat that removes sin.” (Leviticus 16:5-10)

 

Sacrifice and Faith in the New Testament

The New Testament has a totally different approach to getting right with God. When, one day, John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching, he said to his followers: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

The New Testament teaches that Jesus, by offering his life on the cross, was the ‘perfect sacrifice’. This one perfect sacrifice has “paid the price” of our sins and no further sacrifice is needed:

“Christ died for us while we were still sinners. So through Christ we shall surely be saved from God’s anger, because we have been made right with God by the blood of Christ’s death.” (Romans 5:8-9)

The author of the letter to the Jewish believers explained how the ‘perfect’ sacrifice of Jesus’s death replaced the need to keep sacrificing the blood of bulls and goats:

“Christ entered the Most Holy Place only once – and for all time. He did not take with him the blood of goats and calves. His sacrifice was his own blood, and by it he set us free from sin for ever.” (Hebrews 9:12)

He went on to explain this new covenant agreement: “He offered himself through the eternal Spirit as a perfect sacrifice to God… For this reason Christ brings a new agreement from God to his people. Those who are called by God can now receive the blessings he has promised, blessings that will last for ever.” (Hebrews 9:14-15)

 

John the Baptist (Bartolomeo Veneto, 1470-1531)

John the Baptist (Bartolomeo Veneto, 1470-1531)

John called Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29)

 

Paul, in his letter to the believers at Rome, explains how being put right with God is a free gift – given to us freely out of God’s bountiful goodness (his ‘grace’):

“All have sinned and are not good enough for God’s glory, and all need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ. God gave him as a way to forgive sin through faith in the blood of Jesus’ death.” (Romans 3:23-25)

“So as one sin of Adam brought the punishment of death to all people, one good act that Christ did makes all people right with God.” (Romans 5:18)

 

To be put right with God we can forget about Old Testament sacrifices. We need to believe in Jesus as our Lord and have faith that he has already saved us:

“The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself – that it begins and ends with faith.” (Romans 1:17)

“I mean that you have been saved by grace through believing. You did not save yourselves: it was a gift from God.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

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