Forgiveness and Atonement – the Golden Rule

I wrote this in answer to an email I received. I hope the following is not too confusing 🙂

I build my theology top down. There are two main laws (or categories of laws).

1. love your God
2. love your fellow being

The two cannot really be separated, for you cannot love God and at the same time hate your fellow being, and the love of God can be expressed via loving your fellow beings.

Some people may have never heard of the Creator, but through the love of their fellow beings they express the love of God.

For this reason you really only find one law that is in all ancient religions and philosophies: the Golden Rule.

It is engraved in humanity. And has nothing to do with what’s in the head. God is not concerned about what you know, but what you DO.

Jesus explained the depth of this law: thoughts left unguarded can lead us into temptation. They develop into desires which then create drives, which in turn may precipitate in deeds.

As long as you only have thoughts and desires, you have not sinned. But as soon as I pick up the knife and run over to the neighbour to kill him, I already sinned. This action polluted me. Stench is around. I can still stop before it becomes death though…

This is why battling with thoughts is so important. Bad thoughts are not yet sin. Sin is a deed. Desire is only sin once I act upon it.

Consider the following passage:

Luke 22:
39 And he came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed him. 40 When he arrived at the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and began to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from he; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he was praying very fervently; and his sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

Jesus is not battling with his thoughts, thoughts come and go, but once they take root they become desires. “Not my will, but yours be done”. He has a will, a desire. He doesn’t want the shame of dying on the cross.

Hebrews 12:
2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

That is, resisting sin unto death.

Thoughts, desires are not yet sin. Once you allow a desire to become an animating force, a drive, that is already sin.

There are two kinds of sin:

1. sin committed in ignorance
2. sin committed knowingly.

Sacrifices dealt with No1. You had to repent and offer a sacrifice. There were no sacrifices for No2.

Hebrews 10:
26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The above passage makes it clear, that sinning willfully is the rejection of the law of God. Depending on the kind of sin committed it may have ended in death.

1John 5:
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

Some sins were punished with death. These were “sin leading to death”. There was no repentance from these. Death paid the penalty.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death…

There were other willful sins that were not punishable with death. Repentance was available for those, but you could not offer a sacrifice. Offering sacrifices is the privilege of the righteous.

I purposely left out the second part of the last verse….

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Christians love to quote this verse in support of their idea that if you believe in Jesus you have a one way ticket to heaven.

But while the first part of the verse expresses the general idea that death pays for sin, the second part is for a very specific group of people.

The Gentile that has just repented…

17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.

Then Paul ends his argument with his famous verse:

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

He says it is NOT possible to continue in sin. Grace will not make you into a 007!!!

When we commit the sin of ignorance, reconciliation to God consists of two parts:

1. repentance
2. atonement (sacrifice)

Repentance (that includes confession) already guarantees forgiveness. But we are not yet reconciled with God. Before Jesus animal sacrifices had to be offered as atonement for the sins committed. Repentance is free, but atonement costs you.

In the absence of the Temple it is not that atonement was not possible, but that it was not required.

If I damage your car I may say sorry, but harm was done to your property. I have to take care of the repair and it is only THEN that the relationship is fully restored. If I am poor and you are well off you may accept a contribution I can afford rather than the full cost. This is how poor people could offer turtle doves.

For us, it is Jesus’s self sacrificial death, his giving up of his life for the sake of obedience, that is our atonement. God doesn’t demand any more animal sacrifices.

The blood of Jesus doesn’t cover willful sin. There were no sacrifices for those. But repentance is available for sins that don’t lead to death.

Matt. 18:
15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the congregation; and if he refuses to listen even to the congregation, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

You no longer consider him as a brother.

Do Christian churches practice this? I haven’t seen it. It is because they think they are under grace – and the Torah has been abolished. But it hasn’t. We see that the Torah will be present in the Kingdom. And if Jesus is the King, why do we think he abolished the very laws that he will enforce in his Kingdom, when he will rule with an iron scepter?

For Gentiles:

Isaiah 65:
20 “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
Or an old man who does not live out his days;
For the youth will die at the age of one hundred
And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred
Will be thought accursed.

Longevity of life restored. If someone dies at the age of 100, he will still be in his youth. The wicked will be killed (accursed).

But for Jews:

Isaiah 25:
8 He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.

Paul says this will be true of all of Jesus’ disciples:

1 Corinthians 15:
54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.


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