In Hebrews 10, the author is highlighting the superiority of Jesus' sacrifice of himself at the cross over the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament law. The animal sacrifices were just "shadows" which pointed to the cross and were fulfilled by Christ. The writer plainly states the point: The law "can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near" (v1). The animal sacrifices were commanded by God, and were used to teach his people about sin, the holiness of God, and the cost of worship, as well as to display for them the picture of the ultimate sacrifice to come in Christ. But these sacrifices did not save them.
The writer continues:
Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? Hebrews 10:3, ESVAn interesting point! The worshipers who drew near to God through animal sacrifices did not have a once-for-all fix for their guilty conscience. Tomorrow's sin required a new sacrifice. Next year's Day of Atonement cried out for more blood. The process never removed the worshiper's consciousness of sins. In fact, they were a constant reminder of his continuing sin (v3).
What about believers in Christ? Can faith in Jesus take away our guilty conscience?
In the previous chapter, the author of Hebrews wrote these words:
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Hebrews 9:13-14, ESVHere we find an argument from the lesser to the greater. God's people who offered animal sacrifices were doing this in obedience to God's command; though we have already seen that the sacrifices did not destroy their sin, we are told that this worship could 'sanctify for the purification of the flesh.' So the author argues that if the blood of lowly animals, offered according to God's command, could sanctify in this limited way, 'how much more' profitable is the sacrifice of Christ - the sinless Son of God, of infinite holiness, worth and glory! And in describing the benefits of Christ's sacrifice, we are told that it will 'purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God."
Animal sacrifices had to be repeated because they never erased the worshiper's consciousness of sin. Another day, another sacrifice. But faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning work at the cross actually accomplishes something in our conscience. We who believe in Christ have our conscience purified - cleansed - resulting in our ability to serve the living God. In other words, Christ did what the animal sacrifices could never do. Through faith in him we actually experience the lifting of our burden of sin; we receive a cleansed conscience so that we may approach God and worship (serve) him in peace! Hallelujah!
But what about days when we have a guilty conscience? What about those times when we are reminded of our past and feel the guilt of words, attitudes, thoughts and actions we regret? "Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart.." (1 John 3:20). John said this in the context of displaying our genuine faith in Christ by loving others. Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16) and the fruit of that is our loving others. God is greater than our heart. We have assurance of forgiveness of our sins through Christ as we continue to believe the truth of the gospel and walk in love.
When we feel the guilt of sin, Christ does not need to come and sacrifice himself for us again. His sacrifice is greater than the animal sacrifices and needs no repeating. Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, and then he sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12) because the work was finished! We do not need him to come die on the cross again; rather we simply need to look afresh to the cross and believe! Then we are able to walk in worship and service before God with a clean conscience.
When we listen to the evil one, who reminds us of our past and our sins, we begin to wallow in guilt. This is a lack of faith! God has raised Jesus from the dead, signaling his approval of Christ's sacrifice. God has declared that Christ's blood is sufficient; that the cross was enough to deal with our sins. When we wallow in our guilt we are saying that the blood of Jesus is good enough to satisfy God, but not good enough for us! We are denying the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus, and telling God that our standard is higher than his. When God has forgiven our sins and declared us righteous in Christ, we must believe God! And this he has done, for all who believe on Jesus Christ, trusting in his death and resurrection.
May we look afresh to the cross and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! See him taking your sins and standing in your place of judgment at the cross! See the Father judging Jesus so that he will never, ever have to judge you!
May we rejoice in God's declaration of the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice and walk before him in faith (Hebrews 10:14)...with a clean conscience!