Believers in Christ and in his atoning sacrifice are assured by Gods word and God’s Spirit that their sins are forgiven, and that they have peace with God. This does not, however, mean that henceforth they themselves cease to commit sin.
Indeed, it is often true, to quote familiar words, that “they who fain would serve Thee best, are conscious most of wrong within”. It is important, therefore, that we should recognise both how serious is the danger that this fact presents, and yet how sufficient is the remedy that the gospel of Christ provides.
Sin’s defilement disqualifies both for fellowship with God, and for the service of God. The old Levitical ritual of the Old Testament (see Heb 9:12) made very plain that all who are “unclean” need afresh to be cleaned and sanctified before they can enter God’s sanctuary and share his worship.
For sin committed defiles us anew. It gives us “an evil conscience”. It makes us unfit both for God’s presence and for his service. It hinders access to God. It prevents intercourse with God. It inhibits the worship of God. When we are thus ‘unclean’ we are no longer free fully to enjoy God and to glorify him.
Sin’s defilement can be cleansed by the application of the virtue of a sinless life laid down in sacrifice. The Levitical ritual provided outward ceremonial cleansing. It served to make ‘the flesh’ or the body of the would-be worshipper superficially and formally ‘clean’ so that he I could enter in to the sanctuary and engage in divine service.
Such cleansing was secured by the blood of animals slain in sacrifice for sin, or the ashes of the burnt body of a sacrificed heifer were mixed with water which was kept to be sprinkled, when needed, on the defiled (see Num 19:19,13, 17-20).
This latter ritual dramatically suggests that a sacrifice already offered in the past has abiding virtue, which can cover and purge the sins of the present.
This truth finds its fulfillment in the gospel, where the one sacrifice of Christ, once offered has sufficient virtue to cover and to cleanse all the sins of God’s people till the end of time—“till all the ransomed Church of God be saved to sin no more”.
What is more, the Christian fulfilment of the Levitical figure “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God”—gives inner moral cleansing. It can purge the conscience from dead works. It can give the defiled, inhibited, shame-stricken believer new freedom of spirit to give himself without restraint to God’s service. Stich cleansing fits for fellowship and trees for service. Once the believer is thus freshly cleansed and consciously sanctified by the blood of Christ—“through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10)—he s once more able to do the two things which are the true fulfillments of his destiny and calling as a child of God, namely to enjoy God’s company and to do him service.
So when we thus have “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience”, we may “draw near” to God “in full assurance of faith”, having “boldness by the blood of Jesus (Heb 10:22, 19). Similarly, once our conscience is thus cleansed from dead works, we may without restraint “serve the living God” (Heb 9:14).
Such cleaning can be appropriated by faith. When we are afresh conscious of sin’s defilement, we need, in principle, simply to repeat the same activity by which we first found salvation as sinners, that is, to trust in Christ and his atoning sacrifice for forgiveness and release. A special divinely provided occasion for such a transaction is when we partake of the Lord’s Supper.
There we are invited symbolically to eat Christ’s flesh and to drink his blood; that means to appropriate the benefits of his sacrifice. The first and fundamental benefit of Christ’s passion is remission of sin and cleansing from defilement. So in the significantly mixed metaphors of the prayer of Humble Access we rightly pray for cleansing through eating and drinking—“that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood”.
There is, therefore, no need of a man-devised extra so-called “sacrament” of Confession and priestly Absolution as a necessary means of cleansing and release front the defilement of the sins of our lives as Christians. For we have in the true Gospel Sacrament of the Holy Communion the Lord’s own provision of a special opportunity to confess to him our sins, to trust in his comfortable and reassuring words of promise, and to take the outward “pledges of his love” that assure us individually, and as from his own hand, that the virtue of his death is available and operative here and now for our present cleansing.
So may we know and prove that “the blood of Jesus Christ… cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
This article was first published in the Australian Church Record on 7 August 1958. In this series we hear reflections on Scripture from the Rev. Alan M Stibbs.