Hebrews (Part 09) – The Consciousness of Sin

08/03/2009 07:21

Ever since explaining the order of Melchizedek at the beginning of chapter 7, the author has unveiled more and more detail in the comparison of the old Hebrew form to that of Christ’s high priestly ministry. Chapter 7 showed how Christ’s priesthood was superior. Chapter 8 revealed the better covenant. Chapter 9 lauded the blood of Christ’s sacrifice over that of the old system. Chapter 10 continues peeling the onion, but with a subtle change. The subtleness is noted in the very first line: “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come….” Chapter 9 ended with the law and its tabernacle as a copy of the true heavenly things. Now, the law has but a shadow of the good things to come. The switch is from a greater concentration on the external form to that of the internal (spiritual) consequence.


In the argument, the author seems to appeal to a philosophical idea with which Greek (and Roman) society would likely be familiar. In his Republic, Plato had written, centuries earlier, of the allegory of the cave. In the allegory, people had been compelled to sit in a cave facing one of the rock wall faces. A huge fire is built behind them. Between the fire and their backs, people move casting their shadows against the wall of the cave. The people that sit facing the wall see only the shadows or images as they are reflected. Plato argues that these shadows represent what we see in the world. Truth exists in a higher form of which these shadow images are only the physical manifestation. Notice how the cave allegory fits so well with verse 1: “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” The law has but a shadow of that which is of a true form. Of course, this is not a blessing pronounced on all of Plato’s thought as good and right. The author merely uses a concept with which his/her readership may be familiar to press a point.


Part of the “true form” is explained in the next verse. The rest of verse 1 and verse 2 tell us that the old system could not possibly have worked because it had to be repeated. If those taking part in the sacrifices had been truly cleansed, they would have had no consciousness of sin requiring additional sacrifices. While this seems to make sense, the statement is meant to stand in contrast to the sacrifice of Christ. Do we who have been cleansed once for all by Christ have no consciousness of sin? We must be careful to understand the concept as the author intends. In 9:9 we were told that the old covenant sacrifices could not “perfect the conscience.” In 9:14 we learn that the blood of Christ “purify[ies] our conscience.” Sin consciousness, therefore, is the weight of sin upon our conscience.


To understand this concept more fully, let’s step back to consider the conscience a bit more. God created people for a purpose—to enjoy relationship with him. As we have discussed already many times, relationship with God covers four distinct elements (life, rest, righteousness, and rank) all of which must be in right order for satisfaction of purpose to exist. When Adam and Eve fell, relationship was destroyed. And the millions born since Adam and Eve all were born stripped of relationship because of sin and its necessary separation from God. Yet, sin and the resultant fall don’t change the fact that humanity was created for the purpose of relationship with God. Because of sin and separation, that purpose remains unfulfilled, unsatisfied, and frustrated. We, as human beings, yearn for fulfillment. It is the call of our souls for the purpose of our being. But the weight of sin leaves us frustrated. And I think it is that frustration, in part, which keeps the human mind in its state of depravity, unable to understand spiritual truth, beauty, and goodness. Consider Titus 1:15: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”


But God does not leave us in our depraved stupor. He interacts (Romans 1). The Israelites were a people who, by God’s gracious interaction, had been enlightened to a degree in their understanding of his being. In God’s covenantal interaction with them, he established the sacrificial system as a picture of atonement necessary for relationship with God to be restored. But it was only a picture. Thus, as they performed the sacrifices, that weight of sin on their consciences was not relieved. And the sacrifices were offered each year as a reminder of the sin (10:3) though they did not effect a cleansing and resultant restored relationship. That is the thrust of the phrase in verse 2. This weight consciousness of sin, had it been removed, would have left the worshippers without need of continuing the sacrifices. But the “consciousness of sin” remained because “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:4).


In verses 5 through 18, the author contrasts the old covenant’s “failure” with Christ’s effectual sacrifice. The author first appeals to the Old Testament. The quotation is from Psalm 40. Its first declaration needs a bit of explaining. Christ tells God, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired.” How can this be? Did not God command the sacrificial system? Why would God have commanded them to perform something that he did not want?


Remember that the sacrifices were a picture—a representation. God gave them this picture because it spoke of the true atonement which Christ would perform in order to wipe away sin and restore relationship. That restored relationship was what God desired. And restored relationship, of necessity, requires a proper trust and faith in God. Adam and Eve’s fall was precipitated by the removal of their faith from God and placing it in themselves. For restored relationship, God requires the restoration of that faith in him. That’s the point of the Bible’s emphasis on faith.


Thus, the point of the quotation in contrast to the old covenant sacrificial system is that God desires faith in him evidenced in willing obedience. The Psalm 40 quotation emphasizes Christ’s faith and willing obedience. God prepared a body for him (10:5). That body designed for the purpose of sacrifice was Christ’s willing obedience. Philippians 2:6-8 expresses that clearly: Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”


Some question may exist about this quotation since it differs somewhat from what we read in Psalm 40. Verse 6 of that Psalm states in part: “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but you have given me an open ear.” The difference between the “open ear” of Psalm 40 and the “body” prepared in Hebrews 10 is a difference between the Masoretic Text (Hebrew) of the Old Testament and the Septuagint (Greek). Literally, the Hebrew of the MT states “dug an ear.” Many scholars consider the Hebrew as merely using a part (ear) to relate to the whole (body). But the consideration of the Law’s voluntary slave who had his ear dug or pierced as a sign of giving himself forever and totally to his master does seem to relate. The sense is the same—that of willing obedience of the whole person to God. Again, that is God’s desire—not sacrifices of animals, but the faith placed in God, evidenced in total willing obedience. And on Christ’s faithful obedience, the New Covenant is established (10:9-10).


Through his own sacrifice, our high priest sits at the right hand of God waiting until his enemies are made a footstool (10:12). Enemies being made a footstool speaks of the conquering that Christ effects—first, at the cross over sin and death; last when the final judgment occurs; and, in the meantime, through the individual “resurrection” (the changing from being dead in sin to alive in Christ) of all those who are his church, his bride, his people, the true “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).


Verses 19 through 25 of Hebrews 10 then emphasize the access to God that we enjoy through Christ’s work as opposed to the curtained barrier of the old covenant. We may have confidence as a result of this once for all removal of the “sin consciousness” mentioned in 10:2. And to that we hold faithfully, encouraging one another as we wait for the consummation of the age.


We must take care in our interpretation of verses 26 through 31. Christians have had the sin consciousness (weight and frustration of the ever present guilt on the conscience) removed through Christ’s work. Christ has dealt with all sin for those in his New Covenant. The Holy Spirit testifies to the Christian’s spirit that he/she is a child of God (Romans 8:16). The persons addressed in this section, therefore, cannot be true Christians for these people have a “fearful expectation of judgment” (10:27) and deliberately sin without sacrifice (10:26). These people are the same as those in chapter 6 who have associated with the Christian covenant community but have not truly trusted in Christ. They have been enlightened, having received “the knowledge of truth” (10:26), but have rejected it through their deliberate continuance in sin. The Greek word here translated “deliberately” is hekousios. It is used only twice in the New Testament—here and in I Peter 5:2. The meaning relates to that yearning of the soul for satisfaction in created purpose. Those without Christ continue to yearn, sinning deliberately or willfully or longingly to reach satisfaction. They are the ones who have spurned Christ in their rejection. They had been sanctified (10:29) in the sense that they have received understanding of spiritual good in Christ. But their rejection has yielded the “fearful expectation of judgment” that troubles and frustrates their souls. 


The author ends the chapter with a call to hold fast to the faith. Only through faith in Christ will our souls be preserved.