Today, as I was reading the Scriptures, I found myself drawn to the 16th chapter of Leviticus, to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and the elaborate ceremony God established whereby Israel found atonement and forgiveness for their sins. It’s a fascinating chapter dealing with quaint, prescribed rituals that are difficult to understand but find their fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, these ancient rituals are literally packed with truth for us today.
From the humility demanded of the high priest in the very clothes he must wear (Lev. 16:4) to the offerings he must make for himself (Lev. 16:6), for the Holy Place (Lev. 16:16) and for the people (Lev. 16:17), we see clearly that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Then two goats are chosen by lot: one to die and shed his blood for the sins of the people and the other to be set free (Lev. 16:8-10). One goat is killed as a sacrifice for their sins and its blood sprinkled upon, and on, the mercy seat (Lev. 16:15). The other goat, the scapegoat, is to have the sins of the people imputed to it and then led into the wilderness never to be seen again. It’s a vivid picture of God and His gracious mercy and forgiveness whereby He promises to blot out our transgressions by the blood of His Son and remember our sins no more (Isa. 43:25).
But there is more.
In Leviticus 16:20-22 we read: “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.”
God has forgiven the sins of Israel and they have been imputed to an innocent goat led far from them into the wilderness to be seen no more. God wants nothing to do with their former sins and doesn’t want His children to look for them once again either. They are gone. Banished. Removed from His sight and their lives forever.
But watch what happens next.
A “suitable man” (Lev. 16:21) was chosen to lead the goat into the wilderness, far from the children of Israel, and leave it there. Since the sins of the people were now imputed to the goat, this “suitable man” was to take the sins of the people, the goat, and remove them to a place where they would never be found again. Why? Because God wants to show how His forgiveness is forever and to demonstrate the importance of not returning to the sins the blood of the other goat has already atoned for. Get the point? What has been forgiven should never have to be forgiven again. If the shedding of innocent blood was required to forgive a particular sin, then that sin should never be committed again. Why? Because it would require more blood, more pain, more death, and more sacrifice and devalues and cheapens the importance of blood and life given to make one free. It makes the sacrifice seem almost worthless.
Israel was not to go out into the wilderness and look for the goat, their former sin, that has already been forgiven. They were to remain in the camp, in the presence of the Lord, sanctified, holy, and righteous.
Leviticus states the “suitable man” who led the goat into the wilderness was to “wash his clothes and bathe his body” before he came back into the camp (Lev. 16:26). Why? Because he had been in close proximity to the very sin, the goat, the Lord wanted driven far from His people and he was, by that close proximity, contaminated by it. Also, the man who took the remains of the sacrificed goat outside the camp to burn it must also “wash his clothes and bathe his body in water” before he came back into the camp (Lev. 16:28). Why? He was also contaminated by his close contact to sin— and there was no place for sin among the people of God. In other words, for sanctification to be complete we should abstain, leave, renounce, and forsake anything that had to do with the sin, the old life, God had already forgiven. There was no place for former forgiven sins among the sanctified, Holy people of God.
We should “abstain from even the appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).
So how does that apply to us? How much of your old life do you bring into your new life? Do you still dress the new you with clothes of the old life? Do you crucify Him again and again by refusing to renounce the sins for which He died? Do you continually live in the shadows, the lukewarm areas of our culture, knowing Christ’s death has “set you free from sin”? (Rom 6:18). Do you live your life in such a way that you “crucify again the Son of God and put Him to open shame”? (Heb. 6:6).
We must leave the sin that was atoned for outside the camp. We must remove from our lives the trappings, the clothes, the relationships, the affections and passions, the carnal wants and desires, the pride and arrogance, everything that is tainted by sin and be washed by the pure Word of God and joyfully enter into fellowship with Him. To do anything else is to make light of the atonement Christ provided for us on the cross.
In essence, if you claim to wear the mantle of being a Christian, then act like one.
Anything else is sheer hypocrisy.