“I need to be good.” That’s how a child might say it. As an adult, those aren’t the words I use, but that’s basically what I think. There’s this list of rules I need to follow, not to mention this other set of things I need not do. If I obey, then God is pleased and I’m in good standing. That’s the kind of thinking I constantly find myself falling into because it’s easy. It’s about me. And it’s absolutely wrong.
For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. – Leviticus 16:30-33, ESV
If we go back to the Old Testament, we see this concept of “substitutionary atonement.” In other words, in order for a person to be okay with God, someone else had to do the work. In Leviticus, once a year, the high priest would go into the sanctuary and perform a very particular ceremony so that the nation of Israel would be cleansed. Even priests needed this ceremony.
With Christ, we see the ultimate fulfillment of this substitutionary atonement. The ceremony provided in Leviticus was a foreshadowing of what Christ would ultimately do. In Christ the High Priest, the atonement was completed once and for all upon the Cross. We are permanently cleansed. Whether we’re pastors or lay people, we need Jesus’ atonement. We need nothing else.
In other words, my atonement is not up to what I do or don’t do. It never was. To fall into such a pattern is to fall into legalism. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t matter what we do. What we do matters, but not with regards to righteousness or salvation or redemption. Our actions don’t affect whether or not God is sufficiently satisfied in us. God is satisfied because of Jesus. Without Jesus, God isn’t satisfied. Anything we do or don’t do doesn’t change that satisfaction.
Celebrate your permanent atonement. Don’t get bound up in the chains of legalism. Don’t get caught up in lists of what you must do or must avoid. The truth of the matter is that you’re going to fall short. We all do, constantly. But it’s also truth that our Heavenly Father already knows and expects that. That’s why He sent Jesus. Our High Priest, Jesus, has cleansed us permanently. He did it before we were born. He did it forever. Rejoice in the High Priest who can accomplish such a miracle. Rejoice that it’s not about how good we are, because we cannot be good enough, but Christ is and it is in Him we find our salvation. Rejoice in the substitutionary atonement Christ accomplished because of His great love for us. Rejoice!