CLEARING THE CONSCIENCE OF THE WORSHIPER

CLEARING THE CONSCIENCE OF THE WORSHIPER Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Book of Hebrews states that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant, to the Law of Moses. It often is expressed that the new covenant is superior because it includes a better forgiveness. Although under the Law of Moses the worshiper supposedly was forgiven through the shedding of the blood of bulls and goats, in actuality the forgiveness of the old covenant merely looked forward to Calvary. Now, however, under the new covenant, we really are forgiven, it is claimed.

Thus the Christian salvation often is perceived as a perfect, eternal forgiveness unrelated to the behavior of the believer. We believe this viewpoint proceeds from an incorrect interpretation of the Book of Hebrews.

CLEARING THE CONSCIENCE OF THE WORSHIPER

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. (Hebrews 9:9)

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. (Hebrews 10:1,2)

The Book of Hebrews states that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant, to the Law of Moses. It often is expressed that the new covenant is superior because it includes a better forgiveness. Although under the Law of Moses the worshiper supposedly was forgiven through the shedding of the blood of bulls and goats, in actuality the forgiveness of the old covenant merely looked forward to Calvary. Now, however, under the new covenant, we really are forgiven, it is claimed.

Thus the Christian salvation often is perceived as a perfect, eternal forgiveness unrelated to the behavior of the believer. We believe this viewpoint proceeds from an incorrect interpretation of the Book of Hebrews.

The two passages above could very well lead the investigator to perceive the new covenant as a means of removing guilt from the conscience of the believer, whereas under the Law of Moses the providing of the animal sacrifice did not remove guilt from the conscience.

Based on this conclusion, the several instances in Hebrews where it is claimed the new covenant takes away our sins, whereas the old covenant did not take away our sins, must mean the reference is to the guilt of our sin. The blood of bulls and goats did not take away the guilt of our sins. However, the blood of the Lord Jesus actually removes the guilt of our sins, it is thought.

It only is one short step, then, to view the Christian salvation as a perpetual, eternal forgiveness issued by Divine sovereignty that brings us to Heaven apart from a radical change in our behavior. We just keep believing the doctrine of eternal forgiveness and even though we are leading a careless Christian life, even though we are continuing in the deeds of the sinful nature, there is no need to be disturbed.

Because we have been eternally forgiven, saved by unmerited favor, there is no reason to be overly concerned about living victoriously over worldliness, lust, and self-will.

While such a conclusion is understandable, it is incorrect. We know it is incorrect because of the warnings issued by the Apostle Paul concerning the spiritual death that will result from our living in the sins of the flesh.

It must be we are misunderstanding the writer of the Book of Hebrews. In fact, the entire Book of Hebrews is one long warning to seasoned Christians about the disastrous results of not pressing forward into the rest of God. If the Christian salvation were an eternal forgiveness unrelated to our behavior, then the warnings of the Book of Hebrews would be so much unnecessary nonsense.

I have yet to see a commentator treat the text of Hebrews in a straightforward manner. This is because the standard view of Christianity is that it is a perpetual forgiveness given to us by a benevolent God who does not see our behavior because we have "accepted Jesus as our personal Savior."

Before we attempt to explain what the writer of the Book of Hebrews is talking about in Chapters Eight through Ten, let us first impress on the reader that sins actually were forgiven through the atonement made by the blood of bulls and goats.

The LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: ‘When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands—’" (Leviticus 4:1,2)

To begin with, we must understand clearly that there was no atonement possible under the Law of Moses for deliberate sinning, nor is there under the new covenant.

Sometimes Christian people take the attitude they can do something they know is wrong, and then ask Jesus to forgive them. This is extremely dangerous. If the Lord views their action as being a game they are playing with Him, they are liable to lose their salvation altogether. Because of today’s false teaching, the Christian people usually do not have enough of the fear of God in them. They are deluded concerning the actual severity of which God is capable.

We never, never, never are to sin deliberately. If we do, the consequences can be fatal.

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, But only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Hebrews 10:26,27)

Numerous Christian teachers of our day claim the above passage could not possibly apply to a believer, to a Christian. Flee from such teachers for they are deceived and are deceiving others.

Now let us examine a few statements that prove the believer was indeed forgiven under the Law of Moses. Where we are going with this is, of course, to show that the superiority of the new covenant is not that it actually provides forgiveness. The Law of Moses provided forgiveness!

And do with this bull just as he did with the bull for the sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:20)

"And they will be forgiven."

He shall burn all the fat on the altar as he burned the fat of the fellowship offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for the man’s sin, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:26)

"He will be forgiven."

He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:32)

"He will be forgiven."

The teaching that people were not actually forgiven by the blood of bulls and goats goes against the Scripture. It is a deduction proceeding from the idea that the writer of the Book of Hebrews maintained the old covenant did not clear the conscience of the worshiper.

We are going to have to look deeper than this until our conclusion fits the tenor of the Book of Hebrews as well as the text of the entire New Testament.

What does Hebrews mean by saying "the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper"; "the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins"?

I think we can gain the biblical understanding by referring to a passage from the Book of Romans.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. (Romans 7:7,8)

Paul was an observant Jew. Perhaps he had coveted another person’s house or position in Israel. If he had done this, and he became aware of it, he would have gone to the Temple and made the appropriate sacrifice, confessing his sin and making an atonement for it.

According to the Word of God, which cannot ever be changed in the smallest detail, Paul was forgiven. The Book of Leviticus states he was forgiven. Paul, a follower of the Law, knew he was forgiven.

Why then was Paul troubled? Not because he was not actually forgiven when the sacrifice was made, because the Law said he was forgiven.

Why then was Paul’s conscience not clear? His conscience was not clear, not because he was not forgiven but because he was still coveting. He had been forgiven for a covetous action but the sin of coveting was still present with him.

So the defiling of the conscience, which resulted in Paul’s "death," so to speak, had nothing to do with the fact that the Book of Leviticus does not mean what it states. Paul indeed was forgiven by obeying God’s Word. But his conscience was not clear because the sin of covetousness still remained in his flesh. Not the guilt concerning the action he had confessed to the priest, but the sin itself.

Thus, when the Book of Hebrews speaks of the superiority of the new covenant, the writer does not mean it is superior because it offers a better forgiveness but because it has the authority and power to actually remove the sin itself; not the guilt of the sin only, but the sin itself.

Paul was distraught because of the presence of sin in his life. When he turned to Christ he found himself without condemnation, even though the sin was still present.

But something else also was present: "the law of the Spirit of life."

Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

It is true that Paul was forgiven because of the atonement made by the Lord Jesus Christ. But something else was true, something that is an integral part of the new covenant. The law of the Spirit of life, that is, the Holy Spirit, was now dwelling in Paul.

The powerful law of sin was resident in Paul’s body. But a more powerful law had now entered, a law able to overcome the law of sin.

We understand, therefore, that the new covenant was providing Paul with something more than forgiveness. He was given a power strong enough to enable Paul to resist the compulsion to sin.

The difference between the two covenants is not that one offers a more complete forgiveness, it is that the new covenant contains the power of the law of the Spirit of life.

How does the overcoming of sin operate in practical terms?

When the Holy Spirit reveals to us a sin in our personality, we are to:

Confess clearly to the Lord what we have done.

Firmly denounce the sin as being unworthy of the Kingdom of God.

Vigorously renounce the sin, telling the Lord we do not want this sin to be a part of us ever again.

Draw near to God. When we are tempted again we will discover that now we have the ability to resist the devil.

By following the above four steps you will put the sin to death, and you will begin to notice the difference in your life. The sin is still present in you, but its power has been broken. Be careful to walk in the light of God’s will for your life; because the sin, once killed, has the ability to come back to life if you do not live as a disciple.

The dead sins that remain in us are the "kings" of our personality. These vary from believer to believer. Some are of a romantic nature. Others have a great need to be preeminent. Still others are judgmental and critical. Some are covetous of material things.

Usually there is a host of transgressions that are symptoms of the "kings." These transgressions are to be overcome each day by confessing, denouncing, and renouncing them, and then drawing near to God and resisting the devil.

But the "kings," while they have been "put to death" as we cooperate with the Spirit, must be guarded carefully all the days of our discipleship. It is our point of view that the climax of the day of redemption that is to come will occur as the "kings" are removed from our personality and thrown into the Lake of Fire.

In order to receive moral deliverance you have to be serious with the Lord. No one can lay hands on you and deliver you until you really and truly want to get rid of the sin. There is ample authority and power in the Lord Jesus Christ to deliver you; He is waiting for you to make up your mind that you are through with the sin.

An ounce of resisting the devil is worth ten thousand gallons of rebuking the devil. You resist the devil and let Jesus do the rebuking.

I am speaking of a real experience, as real and actual as having our sins forgiven; being born again; receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Having sins removed from us is the spiritual fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, a Jewish feast that follows the feast of Pentecost.

We are in a new day, and we must look to the Lord Jesus carefully at all times so we do not miss the day of our visitation.

Let’s look at some passages of the Book of Hebrews and consider them in the light we have just mentioned.

How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. (Hebrews 2:3)

These Jewish Christians, to whom the book is addressed, had all the experiences and knowledge of the Word that we have today. Yet they are warned and exhorted sternly throughout the text. We understand from this that the writer was not speaking of a sovereign, eternal forgiveness unrelated to our behavior.

And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? (Hebrews 3:17,18)

The above passage would have no application to Christians if under the new covenant we were perpetually forgiven by a Divine, sovereign, unending grace.

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:7,8)

Christian who do not continue to walk with the Lord until the fruit of Christ’s character is seen in their behavior are in danger of being cursed and burned—a severe warning indeed and completely at odds with current teaching and preaching.

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. (Hebrews 6:9)

There must be "things that accompany salvation." A "faith" in Christ that does not produce a transformation of our behavior from sin to righteousness is no faith at all. It is a modern form of Gnosticism. The believer who does not bring forth the moral image of Christ in his or her character will be cut from the Vine, from Christ.

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:9)

We have been promised resurrection into eternal life, to be with the Lord forever, and to be part of the new Jerusalem, the city that is coming to the earth. We are heirs of all the Glory of God provided we press forward each day in faith and patience. We are not to fail to serve God diligently by assuming that since we have "accepted Christ" we are eternally forgiven no matter what we do.

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:27)

We understand, from the above verse, that Christ will not be sacrificed again and again. He was crucified once and for all time, having obtained an eternal redemption for us.

This does not signify that once we receive Him there is no more to be done. Actually, receiving Christ and the Holy Spirit gives us the authority and the power to begin the long, arduous journey toward the rest of God. Small is the gate and difficult the way that leads to eternal life, and few find it. Many start on the way but most do not bring forth fruit to the maturity God desires.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. (Hebrews 8:7,8)

As we study the Book of Hebrews we find the new covenant consists primarily of our moral transformation as God writes His eternal moral law in our mind and heart. Included in the new covenant is the statement that God will remember our sins no longer. However, God remembers our sins no longer only under the condition that we are cooperating with the Holy Spirit in becoming a new righteous creation. It is not at all true that God forgives our wickedness and remembers our sins no longer even though His law is never engraved in our mind and heart.

The principal work of the Christian salvation is not forgiveness but moral transformation—the forming of a new creation as Christ is created in us.

What an area of tremendous confusion this is in Christian thinking!

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,~ so we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)

Notice in the above verse that our conscience is not cleansed so we may go to Heaven but so we may serve God.

Notice also that our conscience is not cleansed from guilt but from acts that lead to death. It is acts of sin that lead to spiritual death (Romans 8:13).

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)

"To set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant."

At first thought we might interpolate the word "guilt" so the text reads: "To set them free from the guilt of the sins committed under the first covenant." This is the manner in which it would be read by many teachers today.

However, this change in the text does not fit the theme of the Book of Hebrews, which is that of pressing forward into the rest of God and bearing the fruit of righteousness. It is true that when we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are forgiven our sins. But this is only as we then live in obedience to the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus and turn aside from our sinful nature. (Romans 8:4)

If we follow the Holy Spirit we will be set free from sin, not just from the guilt of sin but from the power of the sin itself.

Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)

Ordinarily we would interpret this to mean Christ has appeared once for all to do away with the guilt of sin. But this is not what the text states. It is one matter to do away with the guilt of sin, but quite a different affair to do away with the sin itself.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27,28)

Christ was sacrificed to take away the sins of many people. May we suggest the appearing mentioned above is not that of His second coming in the clouds of glory but a prior coming in the Spirit to remove the sin of those who have been forgiven. This would follow the statements in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew concerning the time of the end when the angels remove the tares from the Kingdom of God. First the sin is removed from the believers. Then the believers themselves are removed if they refuse to be separated from their sins.

It is my point of view that the program of removing the tares from the Kingdom of God has begun, and this is why we may be able to have a clearer understanding of the Book of Hebrews than was true previously.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (Hebrews 10:1)

"Make perfect those who draw near to worship." It is our point of view that forgiving our sins does not make us perfect. If we are to be perfect in God’s sight we must be reconciled to Him not only in the legal sense of having our sins forgiven, but also in the actual sense of having become a new creation. The new righteous creation must come forth. Every aspect of the old sinful nature must be removed. All things in our personality must be made new and all must be of God, if we are to be perfect in His sight.

If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:2-4)

Why was the Apostle Paul, as expressed in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, still distressed concerning his sinful nature? Not because he did not believe his sin was forgiven when the priest made the atonement with the animal sacrifice, but because sin was still present with him. Therefore the Law of Moses was causing the sin to become apparent, and Paul in his conscience experienced the death of guilt and separation from God.

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. (Hebrews 10:11)

Sins were forgiven through the Old Testament sacrifices, but the sins themselves were not taken away by the Law of Moses.

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, (Hebrews 10:12,13)

The Lord Jesus Christ was offered on the cross of Calvary on behalf of the sins of the whole world. Since that time numerous people have reached up by faith and have gained the benefits offered through that blood atonement.

However, the enemies of God still reside in those who have been forgiven. Now the Father is empowering the Lord Jesus to make His enemies in His people His footstool. We have come to such an hour.

Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: "This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds."~ Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." (Hebrews 10:14-17)

Notice very carefully the above passage. Christ by one sacrifice has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit testifies to us about this, that is, about Christ making perfect forever those who are being made holy.

What does the Holy Spirit say about this? He says two things:

First, God will issue to them a new covenant by putting His laws in their hearts and writing them on their minds.

Second, God will no longer remember their sins and lawless acts.

Carefully observe that the first aspect of our being made perfect forever is the writing of God’s eternal moral laws in our hearts and minds—in our hearts so we will want to obey them and in our minds so we understand them.

This is an act of moral transformation that the Holy Spirit performs as we live each moment according to the law of the Spirit of life, turning aside from our sinful nature.

If we are being made holy in this manner, our sins and lawless acts are not remembered against us. The problem with today’s Christian preaching is the concept that God no longer remembers our sins and lawless acts whether or not we experience the moral transformation of the writing of His laws in our hearts and minds.

I have never heard one sermon on the writing of God’s laws in our hearts and minds. Have you? Why is this, when such writing is the core of the new covenant?

The eternal moral law of God is written in our personality as each day we abide in Christ; each day we through the Spirit put to death the works of the sinful nature; each day we experience the sufferings of Christ; each day we live in His resurrection Life; each day we commit our way to the Lord, refusing to follow our own ambitions. As we serve the Lord faithfully in this manner, Christ is formed in us, which is to say, the eternal Law of God is written in our mind and heart.

We usually state that the Law of Moses has been done away with. We do not often maintain that the law of God, although not in the same form as the Law of Moses, has not been done away with but has been lifted from the stone slabs and has been transferred into our hearts and minds. Quite a difference!

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, But only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Hebrews 10:26,27)

Can you see clearly that if the superiority of the new covenant lies in the fact that it offers an eternal forgiveness independently of our behavior, then the passage above makes no sense? How do Christian teachers and preachers explain Hebrews 10:26,27? Why not ask around and see what they have to say about this?

How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people."~ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 9:29-31)

The above passage obviously refers to a Christian, someone who has treated as being unholy the blood of Christ that had made him holy. If the new covenant were an eternal forgiveness, then this passage does not apply.

Against whom does the Lord avenge Himself? Against His people!

You need to persevere so when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him."~ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 9:36-39)

Under the new covenant, perseverance through many difficulties is required. Those who endure to the end are the people who finally are saved.

"The righteous one will live by faith." The following chapter of the Book of Hebrews informs us what it means to live by faith. Living by faith has nothing whatever to do with belief in a doctrinal position. Rather, it is speaking of living in the Presence of the Lord and doing His will. The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews is a record of the obedient acts of the patriarchs, not of their belief in doctrine.

To live by faith is to turn away from our own pride and wisdom and to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

We understand the Lord Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins, not in our sins. We are not merely forgiven so we can go to Heaven when we die. We actually are converted from a sinful adamic personality into a life-giving spirit who is filled with the Presence of God and can have fellowship with God.

The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world, He does not just forgive the sin of the world. If our understanding is correct, He is coming in the Spirit to His people to help them remove the graveclothes of sin. We must walk before the Lord very carefully and prayerfully in these days so we do not miss the hour of our visitation.