Pristine Grace

The New Covenant
Essay 08
Jesus Christ: The New Sacrifice
by Bob Higby
The New Covenant

"He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people: Gather to me my consecrated ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice. And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, . . . I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. . . . Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me." Psalm 50:5-7a, 8-10, 14-15 NIV

"What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Like Adam, they have broken the covenant--they were unfaithful to me there." Hosea 6:4-7 NIV

"The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. . . . The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them." Gen. 2:25, 3:21

"In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor." Gen. 4:3-5a

"First he said, 'Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them' (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, 'Here I am, I have come to do your will.' He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. . . And where these have been forgiven, THERE IS NO LONGER ANY SACRIFICE FOR SIN." Heb. 10:8-14, 18 NIV

"For Christ also hath once suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." 1 Peter 3:18 KJV

     Throughout the entire dispensation of mankind prior to the cross, the phenomenon of sacrifice was carried on. God instituted sacrifice immediately after the 'opening of eyes' in Genesis 3. It is a sign of the promise made in verse 15. The nakedness of man and woman in Genesis was not a matter of delight, as some would propose. There is no inherent beauty and innocence in the original state of being unclothed. In fact, the Bible never speaks of nudity in the positive. From the beginning of revelatory scripture until the end, redemption is always portrayed as the putting on of a garment or robe. For an example, study the allegory of Ezekiel 16. When Jesus hung naked on the cross, it was representative of his becoming sin for us. His humiliation was the purchase price of our shining white robes in eternity.

     The chapter division between Genesis 2 and 3 is in the wrong place. Gen. 2:25 does not belong with the preceding verses but is the introduction to the following ones. Immediately after the statement of man's nakedness, the serpent appears on the scene. The very reason for Eve's deception is that she had no shame in her nudity. She did not know the nature of evil as desire and impulse but only as a potential act of disobedience. Only after the 'opening of eyes' following an act of disobedience did she know otherwise!

     After the great sin, God provided the first clothing by the death of an animal. This was not to provide warmth but to signify his redemptive protection from our naked condition. From then on the sacrifices continued all the way up to Jesus. The covenant of Sinai had a special administration of sacrifice in the form of many laws. None of that had existed in earlier times. The sacrifices offered before Moses were simply acts of worship in which God's promise was signified and reinforced upon the mind.

     According to Hebrews 10:18, the new covenant promise that God will 'remember our sins no more' is fulfilled in the perfect & final atonement of Christ's sacrifice. To get the context, study the preceding few verses (not quoted). From the point of forgiveness at the death of Jesus to eternity beyond, there is no additional sacrifice for sin to be performed.

     Some points need to be emphasized about the Hebrews passage:

  1. The perfect atonement for his people (those 'being made holy') was historically accomplished when Christ suffered for sin. Although saints are declared righteous in God's presence at the point of believing, they were factually constituted just before God at that earlier point in history.
     
  2. The forgiveness achieved is final and eternal: God will never again remember those sins. This fact condemns the free-will theory that a saint can 'opt out' of salvation at any time after receiving it. If that were possible, the sins would again be remembered by God. But the fulfillment of all new covenant promises (including endurance in faith) is dependent solely on God's Word and Spirit (Luke 1:77, 1 Pet. 1:3-5, Eph. 2:8-10). The supreme new covenant law of God to be written on the heart is faith (John 6:29-40, Rom. 3:27).
     
  3. The salvation achieved was not for Christ's enemies. Quite the contrary: the atonement & resurrection sealed the doom of unbelievers. As the exalted Lord, Jesus is hastening toward the day in which all devils, both spirit and human, will become his footstool. With the present veil over history, we don't fully comprehend the extreme nature of the distinction between saints and devils in the human race. But in the unveiling of the last judgment, Jesus and his saints will rule over the wicked with a rod of iron (Rev. 19:15, 2:27). Many wonder about Christ preaching to the spirits in prison (1 Pet. 3:19, following verse 18 quoted above). There is no trouble with interpreting this event as literal: it happened after his resurrection in the power of the Spirit. It was a preaching of the certainty of final doom for all satans. None of this is a problem if we grasp the biblical concept of Christ's victory & lordship over his enemies. It is a benefit of his atonement. Some may think this point to be a strong one but the Bible does not (imprecatory Psalms, the judgment songs of Revelation & many other scriptures).

     What are the different teachings that have attempted to bring a continuing sacrifice into the new covenant? They fall into two categories:

  1. The teaching that the atonement is not forever efficacious and complete. Some say that Jesus himself is still being offered up, suffering, or making atonement for our sins. Others say that Christ's atonement only made salvation possible for all men but did not actually accomplish the salvation of anyone.
     
  2. The teaching that believers are still required to offer a regulatory equivalent of sacrifice. This is not the spiritual service of Rom. 12:1,2--but rather foolish regulation. It manifests itself in many proposed exercises that supposedly please God. Some examples that will be dealt with include methodology, disciplines, poverty, food & drink regulations, & conjugal restriction.

     Let's first evaluate the heresy that Jesus in some way did not finish the atonement. Three examples will be noted: the Roman Catholic doctrine of the mass, the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of investigative judgment, and the free-will doctrine of general atonement. All are in essence the same false teaching.

     The offering of the mass is a far more imprecise and mysterious teaching than the others. It's popularity has to do with this proposed reality: we can't really know what is happening--it is too awesome and the substance transcends human reason. The 'mystery and paradox' theology of the Eastern church on the sacraments is in agreement with this point. However, certain facts relevant to our subject are insisted upon:

  1. Jesus is really offered in the present time.
     
  2. His suffering for our sins in this offering is present.
     
  3. The offering is necessary because of continuing sin and it is a continuing atonement.

     The same basic principles exist in the SDA doctrine of investigative judgment. Although the SDA leadership has continually denied in the last 50 or 60 years that it has ever taught the present suffering of Christ, those who know the 'early writings' of the sect are fully aware that this denial is false. Certain SDA professors of the 'old school' have been known to make statements like this on a regular basis: "Jesus completed one work of horrible suffering and torture at the cross, but only a few days later when returning to heaven, started another one." These teachings are a great embarrassment to most leaders and seminary professors in the sect at the current time. But in spite of their continuous pleading and reasoning, some traditionalists have never relented one iota!

     The elements of the 'continuing atonement' doctrine of the early SDA's were these:

  1. The suffering of Jesus did not begin or end with his manifestation in humanity. He suffers still and is presently making atonement for our sins in heaven. The lamb is yet bruised and bleeding.
     
  2. Every sin of his people causes Jesus to suffer afresh.
     
  3. God's people on earth are responsible to get Jesus out of the torture chamber of the Most Holy Place in heaven. At least 144,000 people must live sinlessly for long enough to prove they are safe to be saved. Then Jesus can finish the atonement and be released from his suffering.

     In spite of all attempts, the SDA church will never be able to cover-up and abandon the early teaching from which it was conceived. Is it really willing to face the abominable nature of the heresy that this was? It is so outrageous, unbiblical, and Christ-denying that an undiscerning mind would find the Roman Catholic doctrine of the mass to be a joyous relief from it! Many in other sects believe that Jesus was not impeccable: he could have sinned and lost everything at his first coming. That notion is damnable heresy also. But this other doctrine would propose that the saints must be more dependable than Jesus! According to this horrible dogma, it is reasonable to conclude that 144,000 souls of humanity may never choose to get perfect--therefore Jesus will suffer eternally. All of this in spite of the fact that he succeeded in his own struggle against sin. What a reversal of the doctrine of eternal punishment: Jesus gets it instead of the wicked!

     What many do not realize is that the Adventist doctrine was simply an extreme and systematic outgrowth of the Methodist perfectionism of the 19th century. Adventism and its 'prophetess' had primary roots in Methodism and Wesleyan theology. It's 'system of truth' is extreme and systematic Arminianism. The Oberlin theology in Methodism was just as extreme but lacked the outright heretical propositions and 'prophetic' character of Adventism. Both taught that man must achieve sinless perfection in order to obtain or retain salvation in the last judgment. Wesley did not realize the consequences of his false theology when he originally invented it. He thought that he was honoring the necessity of good works; his teaching ended up creating unimaginable monstrosities.

     The dogma of general atonement also casts disrepute upon the biblical teaching of salvation completed. It would propose that Christ made salvation possible but did not actually guarantee it for anyone. The number of adherents to this proposition greatly exceeds those of the two teachings mentioned above. It includes the entirety of the massive world of free-will loyalists. Other studies in this series refute the false teaching of revolving-door salvation. Spurgeon compared it to a bridge as wide as the ocean that only goes half-way across a stream. What good is it? In contrast, the gospel reveals that those whom God justifies he also glorifies (Rom. 8:31-39).

     In contrast to all of this dung heap, there is such good news to proclaim. How wonderful is the certainty of God's word in comparison to the foolishness of men! What a difference there is between the NT teaching of final atonement in Christ's once-for-all sacrifice--and the cancerous & soul-destructive notion of continuing atonement!

     Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Rom 12:1,2 NIV

     Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? . . These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Col. 2:20-23 NIV

     In the first part of this study, we examined how some false teachings in the institutional churches would attempt to undo Christ's once-for-all sacrifice and make it a perpetual hell of suffering. The most prominent teachings implicated were the Roman Catholic doctrine of the mass, the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of investigative judgment, and the free-will doctrine of general atonement.

     In addition, we need to consider another manner in which fallen humanity attempts to bring sacrifice into the New Covenant. It is the teaching that believers are obligated to conform to external regulations as a 'sacrifice' to restrain the flesh. What shall we say in response to the myriad of propositions regarding this?

     Those reading are encouraged to meditate on the scriptures quoted as an introduction to this study. Rom. 12:1,2 should never be contemplated without also considering Col. 2:20-23. A legion of false notions are being promoted today (and in all history) as to how we must 'sacrifice' in order to restrain the flesh. An Episcopal minister was interviewed on TV. After explaining all of the foods and other 'indulgences' that his church required to give up for Lent, the host asked if abstaining from these things for 40 days was absolutely required for salvation. The minister enthusiastically replied, 'yes!' The rationale given was that unless we restrain the flesh, we will have no hope of entering the purity of heaven--where none of these wonderful foods and recreational indulgences exist.

     Well, if one believes this minister, I guess that he can enthusiastically sing the old jingle: "in heaven there is no beer, that's why we drink it here!"

     None of this is the spiritual service of Rom. 12:1,2. It is all foolish regulation. It manifests itself in many proposed exercises that supposedly please God. In addition to food & drink regulations, some other examples are methodology, disciplines, poverty, & conjugal restriction.

     We are confronted all the time with 'steps' or 'methods' which are purported to be the keys of achieving holiness. Methodism has been a curse to the gospel in such a way that it cannot be described in human language. As a reaction to the opposite extreme of scholastic Calvinism, it has done damage to the Christian cause that is seemingly infinite. A good number of the popular heresies in churchianity since the 18th century (including SDAism) had their roots in Methodism. From an external standpoint, it seems that humpty dumpty will never be put back together again. But what is impossible with men is possible with God. Obedience to the gospel can NEVER be reduced to a series of methods or steps that we must follow. Any time that puny men (or women) attempt to propose a series of defined steps to achieve holiness, it is time to put husher plugs in our ears and run away at 100 miles an hour.

     Methodism has its practical conterpart in the secular world. Evangelicalism has learned well from the 'management by objective' philosophy of Harvard, which was once a Christian institution founded on biblical principles. But acceptance of people based on the achievement of goals is the foolishness of human philosophy. It is practiced in nearly all churches. We have the modern 'evangelical' movement--which majors on 'steps' to obtain salvation instead of the gospel, the charismatic movement, the church growth movement, the ecumenical movement, the 'latter rain' movement, the Kansas City 'prophets' (the 'new wine' movement resulting in the Vineyard phenomenon and Promise Keepers), the 'third wave' movement of new & strange 'gifts', the pre-trib/pre-mil movement of prophetic interpretation, the reconstructionist/post-mil movement of prophetic interpretaion, & so many others. All of these add human regulations or philosophy to the gospel--either as specific legal requirements or a series of humanly-contrived methods/ideas that must be followed. But Paul is clear on the obligation of Christians to avoid all of these regulations. They deny the liberty of the gospel & attempt to threaten the rightful position of Jesus Christ as Lord of history.

     The true sacrifice of Romans 12;1,2 is that of continuously seeking God's revelation in the scriptures, which transforms our minds and hearts. It is not Methodism.

     If a 'series of steps' or acceptance of a philosophical system in order to achieve holiness is wrong; what about disciplines, poverty, & conjugal restriction? Let us contemplate how these three notions strike-out.

     God has no use for humanly-contrived disciplines. He is interested only in the renewing of our minds. What is of more use in renewing the mind--fasting or the impassioned study of scripture? The latter, of course. The way out of confusion on important but confusing issues is not to ignore them--but to study the Bible with such passion that God will reward the seeker with true enlightenment. Bible study is a not a human work. But if the gospel motivates us to seek out what God has revealed with much prayer & humility, he will reward our diligence.

     What about being poor? Is living in poverty a sacrifice required by God? No. The NT never mentions it. Although the deception of riches is continually emphasized, there is nothing taught about the inherent evil of possessing money itself. Paul has much less to say about condemning rich people than James or other authors. The Gentile culture in Asia Minor was not filled with poverty, unlike that in Jerusalem. It was slightly more like the culture of America. Paul talks about the obligation of giving in 2 Corinthians but refrains from the rhetoric of James in condemning the rich. The reason is this: true giving is a matter of a transformed heart. If a rich person with an unregenerate heart does not give to others, he/she is only doing what comes natural to someone under the power of sin. But if someone with means is compelled to ask what can be given to honor the gospel and help believers in need, that person has been transformed by God's Spirit.

     Finally, there is the matter of conjugal restriction. Western religious institutions have emphasized this issue a lot. But the NT has nothing to say about a requirement to avoid marriage or an obligation to restrict sexuality in marriage. It is very lucid on the point that the marriage bed is undefiled (Heb. 13:4) and that real spiritual danger will result from a husband or wife not giving himself/herself unreservedly (1 Cor. 7:3-5). This is not a 'duty' but an honor. We should not believe the worldly nonsense being promoted today (especially by the media and film makers) that the important thing in this area is one's own happiness. No satisfaction will ever be found if that perspective is maintained: indeed, the happiness of both partners will be lost. The joy of a 'one flesh' relationship will only be experienced if the happiness of the other party is the focus of concern. This is one of the most important tests of our Christian commitment. If Christians cannot demonstrate the unconditional love and forgiveness of Christ to their spouses, who else can it possibly be demonstrated to?

     God has given us the true gospel as our heritage. It is so amazing and transcendent that the corruptions of puny men are a pale and devilish imitation. We should not even stop to consider the notion of fleshly sacrifice. The only sacrifice that God requires is the abandonment of meritorious works and forsaking the pursuit of fleshly indulgences, both of which are a substitute for true gospel. A dedicated study of the New Covenant will reveal the futility of any substitute for the glory of Jesus Christ.