The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Confession, Penance & the Old Covenant Sacrificial System: Unlearn the Lies

AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

From the time of Moses to the death of Christ, Yahweh’s Old Covenant was in effect—a Covenant which the religion of Judaism claims to be based on, although in practice, modern day Judaism is a carnal mess.  During the days of the Old Covenant, there were many special rules about how sin was to be handled, and all Christians should have a basic understanding of what some of those rules were.  But here’s the problem: modern day Christian leaders are doing an abysmal job of educating people about how the Old Covenant worked.  The information we’re about to present to you is information that most of you will never hear taught in any church.  The Old Testament sacrificial system is one of those topics that Christian teachers avoid like a plague.  Why?  Well, most of them don’t understand how it works because they were never taught, and they just don’t care.  Among the few who do understand how the sacrificial system worked, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who wants you to make the connections we’re going to spell out for you in this post.  Why?  Because keeping you in the dark about the sacrificial system is extremely profitable for Christian teachers. Don’t believe it?  When’s the last time you fell for the fat lie that God commands Christians to tithe?  When’s the last time you actually paid some inflated ego money to share his knowledge with you because you were so impressed with the fact that he knew the Bible better than you did?  As long as you think your spiritual leaders have some huge advantage over you, you’ll adore them, obey them, pay them, and follow them.  If you think that kind of thing isn’t addictive, you need to think again (see Shady Shepherd Tactics: Gaining Rank). 

There is enormous incentive for Christian teachers to keep you feeling like an inferior dunce on the subject of Scriptures.  The sacrificial system?  Give it up—you’re too stupid to ever sort that out on your own.  This is what shady shepherds want you to believe because it works for them.  They also want you to think that the sacrificial system is irrelevant to you, because that was old school and you’re a “New Testament believer.”  Yet while they move fast to squelch any interest you have in understanding more about Yahweh’s complicated system of having designated priests running some kind of holy animal slaughterhouse, Christian teachers are using that same system to con you into swallowing all kinds of very harmful deceptions about how God views you in your relationship with Him today.

Ever feel like God is impossible to please?  Ever get sucked into the trap of doing some kind of penance to pay for your past sins?  Have you been taught that you have to confess your sins to another human before you can be reconciled with God—perhaps to a priest who sits in a confessional or some gossip hungry member of your weekly home group?  The modern Christian practices of penance and public confession are directly linked to the Old Covenant sacrificial system. These doctrines are also complete rot and they are resulting in all kinds of unnecessary anguish and stress for souls who sincerely care about pleasing God.  Here’s a key discernment principle to keep in mind: when you know that you really want to get into a good place with God, yet you find yourself feeling like it’s impossible to do, you need to realize that you’ve been conned.  Feeling hopeless in your relationship with God is always a result of putting your faith in lies.  The solution is to pinpoint the specific lie that you’re clinging to, reject it, and replace it with truth.

Now identifying lies often involves getting further educated about truth.  In this post, we’re going to educate you about the sacrificial system.  We’ll show you how penance and confession were major themes in that system, and then we’ll explain some critical changes that occurred when Jesus died on a cross—changes which have major implications for how you should deal with sin in your relationship with God today.  Now let’s get into it.

ATTITUDES VS. ACTIONS

When it comes to the Old Covenant sacrificial system, Christians make two common mistakes.  They either avoid the whole topic, or they grossly misunderstand it by overemphasizing the importance of the behaviors that went on.  To avoid that second trap, you need to understand the difference between soul attitude and external behavior.  Soul attitude is about how you are personally responding to God.  Before God starts personally educating you about who He is, you are oblivious to who He is.  You might be making bad choices, but God does not count any of that against you because He knows that you’re not personally defying Him.  Just as you can’t cuss out a person who you don’t even know exists, you simply can’t defy God until He initiates some kind of spiritual dialogue with you.  But once God does begin to engage with you, the game changes.  Every time God says something to you, you are forced to respond to Him either positively or negatively.  Those soul choices are what God judges you by.

Most people erroneously believe that God judges them by their actions, and yet this is quite incorrect.  It is only your soul’s response to Him that God cares about, for those responses define how you really feel about Him.  As for your actions—well, those are often quite inconsistent with your soul attitudes because actions are an earthsuit thing and your earthsuit couldn’t care less about pleasing God.

Suppose you see a car driving all crazy on the road.  By simply observing the car’s movements, can you accurately define what the driver’s intentions are in that moment?  Is he driving crazy on purpose or is he the helpless victim of a malfunctioning vehicle? Perhaps he’s being malicious and intentionally trying to cause other cars to crash into each other.  Or maybe he’s being pursued by a psychotic stalker and he’s desperately trying to save his own life.  Perhaps he has a passenger in his car who is having a medical emergency and he’s trying to rush that person to the hospital.  Or perhaps he’s the one having the crisis and he can’t see where he’s going or he’s having some kind of seizure.  The possibilities go on and on, and you simply can’t rule any of them out when you have such limited information.  Because the car is a separate entity from the driver which is capable of malfunctioning independently of the human riding inside of it, simply observing the car’s movements tells you nothing about the driver’s current health, state of mind, or intentions.

The next time you look in a mirror, take a minute to appreciate what you’re actually seeing.  That image that’s reflecting back at you is nothing more than a smart car that your soul is using to interact with this physical world.  That body isn’t the real you—it’s just your earthsuit—a separate machine that has its own will and its own set of priorities.  Your earthsuit doesn’t give a flip about pleasing God.  It’s only your soul that cares about God.  You can’t see or touch your soul because it’s not a physical thing like your body is.  It’s a totally different kind of matter—a kind that doesn’t show up on medical scans.  And yet as mysterious as your soul seems, it is the real you, and the only part of you that will go on to eternity after you die.  It is only your soul which God forms a personal relationship with.  It is only your soul that He grants eternal salvation to.  It’s your soul that feels convicted by God, and it’s only your soul that gets depressed when you think that God is mad at you.  Your earthsuit simply doesn’t care about spiritual issues—it only cares about feeling good and being safe.

Now if your soul was the master of your earthsuit and able to make your earthsuit do its bidding all the time, then your life would be a lot less complicated.  But the reality is that your earthsuit is like a man who is twice as strong as you, yet he’s chained to you by a set of handcuffs.  When you want to go right, but the strong man wants to go left, guess who wins?  The strong man.  He goes hauling off in the direction he wants to go in, and you get dragged along against your will.  This is how it works with your soul and your earthsuit: in real life, your soul spends a lot of time getting dragged along while your earthsuit does what it wants to do.  Your soul might loathe porn, but your earthsuit loves it, and down you go.  Your soul doesn’t want to lust after that other man’s wife, but when your earthsuit sees that sexy body, it gets a rush of arousal and there’s nothing your soul can do to stop it.  Wish you could control your temper and cultivate more self-control?  Tough.  Your earthsuit is a selfish brat which feels utterly justified in attacking anyone who gets in its way.  Your earthsuit has no use for moral codes, and it couldn’t care less about right and wrong.  It is perfectly fine with taking what it wants and trampling anyone who gets in its way.  Your earthsuit is a carnal beast, and your soul is hopelessly trapped inside of it until God sets you free at death.  This isn’t a situation that you chose, it’s one that has been forced upon you by God.  But the good news is that God understands what a carnal beast your earthsuit is, and He knows the difference between your soul choosing to do something and your soul getting dragged along against its will.  While other humans are judging you by the way your earthsuit behaves, God judges you by your soul’s intentions, and He is the only One who understands what an epic difference there is between those two things.  So when we say that God only judges you by your soul’s response to Him, that’s some seriously good news for those of you who sincerely care about pleasing God.

Understanding the difference between actions and soul attitudes is the first critical step in gaining an accurate view of how God judges humans.  The second critical step is to understand that God has always judged humans only on the basis of their soul response to Him.  Today many Christians think that before Christ, Yahweh used to judge people by their actions, and it’s only since Christ’s death on the cross that Yahweh has suddenly become possible to succeed with. This is an absolute lie.  Yahweh has always been incredibly easy to succeed with, because He has never required behavioral perfection from people.  Certain passages of Scripture make it sound like God is demanding behavioral perfection, but this is only because they are being interpreted out of context.

You can slice and dice the Bible to make it say anything you want it to say, and today many Christian leaders are promoting the deception that before Christ showed up on earth, Yahweh was some merciless Ogre who got off on punishing people over every little thing.  This is another absolute lie.  The Old Testament presents Yahweh as being an incredibly gracious, generous, and loving Deity.  Does He have wrath?  Absolutely.  He’s certainly not a doormat, and His patience certainly has lines which are terrifying to cross. But it is Yahweh’s grace, not His wrath, which is the dominant theme of the Old Testament.  Those who teach otherwise have a very limited understanding of what the text actually says, and they are often hyper focusing on a specific passage which they feel personally threatened by.

From Adam and Eve to the current day, humans have always been judged by their soul response to God, not by how well their earthsuits behaved.  You have to understand that soul attitudes have always been what matters.  Landing in Heaven or Hell is entirely a matter of soul choices—not a matter of behavior.  It’s only after you understand this principle that you can go on to understand the sacrificial system.

THE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM

The sacrificial system can be thought of as a boatload of behavioral commands.  Anytime you find God giving behavioral commands, you need to realize that the behaviors aren’t what He really cares about.  It’s really certain soul attitudes that He’s after, and He’s only using behaviors as a means of cultivating those right internal attitudes.  To understand this principle, consider the way human parents train their children to have good manners, to share their toys, and to show respect for their elders.  What’s the point in making little Tommy share his toys with his cousin?  Little Tommy doesn’t want to share—we can all see that by the bratty pout on his face.  Little Tommy’s internal attitudes are pretty lousy at first, but by training him to act in certain ways, we are hoping to develop better attitudes inside of him.  We’re hoping that by forcing Tommy to share, we’ll get him to eventually see the benefits of being nice to his fellow human beings.  If our plan works out the way we want it to, then Tommy will mature into an adult who sincerely finds joy in helping others.  This was the basic idea behind the Old Covenant’s long list of dos and don’ts.  All of those nitpicky commands that you find Yahweh laying out in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy were designed to cultivate better soul attitudes among His followers.  And since that massive mob of folks who Moses led through the wilderness for forty years were a bunch of rebellious, idolatrous gripers, there was an urgent need for some kind of maturation program to be put in place.

The Old Covenant laws were not a system of punishments, nor were they intended to make Yahweh seem like a hard Taskmaster.  Instead, those many behavioral laws performed the same function as the American mother’s endless refrain of “What do you say?” when she’s teaching her kids to use words like “please” and “thank you.”  If the children obey their mother, then they will eventually develop sincere attitudes of respect towards others.  In the same way, when Old Covenant believers took Yahweh’s behavioral laws seriously, they ended up cultivating soul attitudes of reverence, submission, dependency and trust.  Their love for God deepened, and they experienced increased soul joy and satisfaction.

Now if we were to list out all of the laws that Yahweh lays down in the Old Testament, we’d end up with over 600 items.  Let’s turn those 600 some laws into 600 coffee beans that we pour into a jar.  Let’s then take a second jar and pour some of those 600 beans into it.  That second jar now holds a lot of beans, but not as many as the first jar.  The beans in the second jar represent all of the Old Covenant laws that are directly linked to the sacrificial system.

The sacrificial system was a complicated affair which required a lot of equipment, organization, personnel, and special rules.  The purpose of the whole system was simple: it gave Yahweh followers a means of publicly demonstrating their respect and love for Him.  While it is often viewed very negatively by modern day Christians, the sacrificial system was a very positive thing to sincere Yahweh followers.  To understand how this could be, consider the way that two humans behave when they are deeply in love with each other.  Does a man find it a drag to surprise his fiancée with a bouquet of flowers?  No, he delights in the whole thing.  Does a woman cross her arms and turn her back when the man she loves returns home from a long trip?  No, she runs to meet him and she expresses her affection for him through actions as she hugs and kisses him.  Today, committed Christians get excited when God asks them to do something for Him.  They are happy to serve Him in behavioral ways, because they are eager to act out their love for Him.  Does God need us to sing Him songs before He’ll understand that we love Him?  Of course not, yet we delight in going through those unnecessary actions anyways.

Contrary to what some Christians are taught, Yahweh never needed anyone to sacrifice animals before He could stand dealing with them.  God really isn’t unable to be in the presence of sin—that is an absurd myth that Christians have come up with based on major misunderstandings of Scripture.  Remember that it is only soul attitudes which God judges humans by and you won’t fall into the trap of legalism, which is based on the false belief that God cares more about our actions than our internal attitudes (see Hellfire Legalism & Prosperity Theology: Two Different Applications of the Same Lie).

The sacrificial system was designed to help people cultivate and maintain soul attitudes that Yahweh said pleased Him.  It had nothing to do with trying to help a squeamish God deal with the icky subject of sin.  The fact that Yahweh invented the sacrificial system was not an indication that He viewed all humans as immoral scumbags who insulted His holiness.  Yahweh has never begun His relationship with any human on a hostile basis.  He always reaches out to us with love, grace, and generosity. It’s only after we’ve spat in His face one to many times that we become introduced to His terrifying side.  Today Christians frequently get this backwards—they think that before Christ, Yahweh took a hostile, angry stance towards His own creatures which He then had to be coaxed out of through the continuous sacrifice of animals.  This is total lie which you really need to unlearn if you’re going to get far in your relationship with Yahweh, so ask Him to help you get a more accurate understanding of who He is and how He views you.  Yahweh is a truly wonderful Deity, and once you get to know Him personally, you can’t imagine living without Him.

So if creating the sacrificial system was one of the ways that Yahweh helped humans cultivate the correct soul attitudes, how did it work?  Well, it had many aspects to it.  Contrary to what many Christians think, not all sacrifices were about atoning for sins.  Just as you can use prayer to express a wide range of sentiments to God today, Old Covenant believers used sacrifices to express a wide range of sentiments to Yahweh.  Many sacrifices served as physical ways of expressing one’s personal thanks, appreciation, devotion, or love to Yahweh.  These joyous, worshipful offerings were called grain, gift, peace, or fellowship offerings.  Not nearly enough is said about these offerings in the Church today, which is why many Christians aren’t aware that they existed, even though there is a lot of talk about them in the Old Testament.  When the sacrificial system was actually running the way that it was supposed to, worship offerings constituted a large part of the sacrifices that were processed.  In other words, the assumption that every offering had to do with sin is a major misunderstanding.

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Now for the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on a different set of offerings—those which were specifically described as atoning for sins.  But before you read too much into the concept of atonement, remember that God judges you by your soul’s response to Him, not by your external actions.  Bringing sacrifices to Yahweh at His Tabernacle or Temple was an action, and actions have never been enough to get anyone on the right side of God’s grace.  Under the Old Covenant, if your soul attitude was rotten, then Yahweh would reject your sacrifices as garbage and convict you to repent out of your spiritual rebellion.  At the same time, if you sincerely cared about pleasing Yahweh, yet you were physically unable to bring Him the sacrifice that His laws commanded, Yahweh would say that you were in a fabulous place with Him.

Sacrifices never saved anyone, and the lack of sacrifices never caused anyone to land in Hell.  So when you hear Christians say that Christ “had” to die for their sins, realize that those Christians do not have a correct understanding of how God judges humans.  Christ didn’t have to do anything, because sacrifices have never been a requirement for salvation.  It’s always been about soul attitude.  You’re either submitting to Yahweh as God Almighty, or you’re refusing to submit to Him.  If you’re refusing to submit to Him, then sacrificing all of the lambs in the world won’t get you saved.  Neither will pointing back to Jesus’ death on a cross.  Salvation is acquired through soul submission, not through the shedding of blood.

Now just as there were several kinds of worship offerings under the Old Covenant, there were also several kinds of sacrifices for sins.  What kind of offering you ended up making depended on four basic factors: what you did, your intentionality, your economic status, and your role in the community.  In the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, Yahweh lists many specific actions which He defines as sins, and then He says which kind of sacrifice needs to be offered in each case.  But just because you did something wrong doesn’t mean you did it on purpose. Intentional sins had to be atoned for by burnt offerings, while guilt/sin offerings atoned for accidental sins.   Of course not all sins could be atoned for—in some cases, Yahweh instructed the offenders to be executed.  But He frequently bent the rules on execution situations by mercifully letting offenders live.  One of the most famous examples of this is when Yahweh said that King David would not have to die for his adultery with Bathsheba or the premeditated murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah.  But David was just one of millions of people who benefited from Yahweh’s great mercy.  As God Almighty, it would have been a very simple thing for Yahweh to end the life of anyone who committed a sin that was supposed to be punishable by death. Corrupt justice systems and lazy judges can hardly get in God’s way if He wants someone to die.  But in real life, Yahweh choose not to strictly enforce His execution laws, and His great mercy is one of the reasons the Jewish ethnicity still exists in modern times.  Had Yahweh chose to strictly enforce His Old Covenant laws, the nation of Israel would never have survived.

So let’s say that you commit a sin that is supposed to be atoned for with a sacrifice.  Did you sin intentionally or not?  Let’s say you sinned accidentally.  That means you have to bring a guilt/sin offering to Yahweh.  But what exactly do you bring?  It depends on who you are.  If you’re a priest, then Yahweh knows you have the economic resources to sacrifice a large, expensive animal, such as a bull, so that’s what He demands.  If you’re a ruler, then you have to bring a male goat, which would be well within your budget.  But if you’re a regular civilian, then you might be wealthy, dirt poor, or somewhere in between.  Yahweh understands financial realities, and He has no interest in you destroying yourself or your family by killing an animal which is essential to your livelihood.  So for regular citizens, Yahweh provided a range of sacrifices that they could choose from.  Those who could afford to lose a goat or a lamb were expected to bring one of those animals.  Those who couldn’t afford that kind of loss could bring a pair of birds instead.  If you couldn’t even manage the birds without strapping yourself, then Yahweh would accept two quarts of finely ground flour.  There was no shame in bringing the cheaper options, as long as you weren’t trying to be a tightwad.  Yahweh accepted flour with the same enthusiasm as a big beefy bull when the soul attitudes were right.

Now suppose you sinned on purpose, and Yahweh says that your sin has to be atoned for with a sacrifice.  Once again, He gives you a range of options.  If you were wealthy, you were expected to sacrifice a more expensive animal, such as a bull.  But if you weren’t wealthy, you could choose to bring a single goat, ram, or bird and end up pleasing God just as much.  It was always your soul attitude which determined how Yahweh responded to your sacrifices, not the offering itself.

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PUBLIC CONFESSION OF SINS & THE OLD COVENANT

Now in Bible times, there was no such thing as pocket-sized Bibles.  During the Old Testament, people didn’t walk around with a handy reference sheet that told them what to do each time they sinned.  Of course they learned through experience, and many rituals became memorized. But questions were inevitable.  When you weren’t sure what Yahweh’s rules were, you would talk to a priest.  Levite priests were supposed to be well educated in Yahweh’s Old Covenant Laws—all of those pesky rules that we find in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy.  Priests were supposed to serve as the spiritual instructors of God’s people.  They were supposed to function as preachers, judges and—when necessary—executioners.  Only Levite priests were authorized to present sacrifices to Yahweh.  So if you had a sacrifice for Yahweh, you had to bring it to the Temple and give it to a priest to sacrifice on your behalf.  But suppose you hand the priest a goat—then what?  How exactly was the priest supposed to process your sacrifice?  It depended on why you were sacrificing.  In the book of Leviticus, Yahweh lays down a bunch of rules for how His priests were supposed to process various kinds of sacrifices.  Sometimes the steps were pretty simple—perhaps just slice the animal open and roast it.  But sometimes things got complicated and priests had to go through messy dissection processes in order to pull certain organs out of an animal’s carcass.  Sometimes they were supposed to barbecue body parts, other times they were supposed to wave certain body parts in the air, and still other times they were also supposed to eat certain portions of the sacrifices that they processed (only cooked portions, happily).  Because there were so many rules, communication was essential, and that resulted in people verbally confessing their sins to priests.  The confessions were critical if priests were going to obtain the information that they needed in order to honor God in the way that they processed your sacrifice.  And since you wanted your sacrifice to be processed correctly, it was to your own benefit to be forthcoming about what your transgression was.  The confession had nothing to do with getting the priest to forgive you—it was about enabling the priest to do a good job with your offering.

Now if you’re new to Judaism or you’re a kid who is being raised by parents who have years of experience with Yahweh’s rules, then you’re going to confess your sins to other people in order to get help with what you should do.  The nearest priest might be located many miles away, but your father is living in the same house with you, so why not just ask him what Yahweh wants you to do to atone for the sin you committed?  Can you see why the public confession of sin was a practical necessity during the Old Covenant?  By telling other people what you did, you would become better educated about what God requires, and you would find out what you needed to do.

PUBLIC CONFESSION OF SINS & THE NEW COVENANT

Now when Jesus showed up in Israel, He ushered in a whole New Covenant.  In other words, Yahweh has written a whole new rule book which replaces the one that was in force from the time of Moses to the revelation of Christ.  When we compare Yahweh’s Old and New Covenants, we find that some things are the same, while other things are really different.  One of the things that has stayed the same is how God judges humans.  It’s still all about soul attitude, not actions.  But one of the big changes Yahweh has made is that He’s scrapped the entire sacrificial system.  Under the New Covenant, we no longer have to bring sacrifices to Yahweh to atone for our sins.  There is no Temple, no priesthood, and no long list of rules that spell out the particulars of how various sacrifices must be processed.  Under the New Covenant, Yahweh says that He when He wants you to do something specific, He’ll personally convict you.  He’ll directly communicate His will to your little soul in a way that you will be able to understand.  You’ll then be able to do whatever it is that He tells you to do, and it will be all good between the two of you.

Now that the New Covenant has been established, we can throw out our two jars of coffee beans that represented those hundreds of Old Covenant behavioral laws.  We no longer have to try and memorize a long list of rules about what we should eat, how we should dress, or when we should bring sacrifices to God at some sacred building.  This New Covenant is much simpler.  It also has a thrilling emphasis on God’s willingness to personally lead us in life.  Of course Yahweh has always been leading His people, and He’s always convicted individual souls about His will.  But all of those other rules and rituals that He had going on make it easy to lose sight of how personally He guided people before the revelation of Christ.

Today it’s much easier to focus on God’s personal involvement in our lives once we understand how simple His New Covenant really is.  All of the distracting rules are gone, and now it’s just a matter of going through life following the Voice of our glorious Shepherd.  Do you see how this new system removes the need for the public confession of sins?  You no longer need to tell a priest what you did, because that priest is no longer authorized to play an intercessory role between you and God.  Even though priestly intercession was never more than a behavioral ritual, today you don’t even need that much.  You don’t need priests at all or any other human leaders because God Himself is leading you in life.  God says He will communicate His will directly to your soul—what’s better than that?  And with God so willing to go direct, suddenly there is no need for you to bother with a middleman.  Going to church?  Who needs it?  If God wants to teach you something, He is quite capable of doing so without the aid of a pastor.  Now if God were to tell you to go to some specific church for a while, then you need to go out of obedience to Him.  But when He tells you to stop going, then you need to obey Him there as well.

Under the New Covenant, everything is supposed to be conviction led. You should only be reading the Bible, giving away money, and serving in some particular area of ministry when you feel God is personally motivating you to do so.  Under the New Covenant, there are no authorized spiritual mediators that you’re supposed to be working with.  God might choose to speak to you through some human for a while, but you can be sure He will keep that relationship temporary.  Under the New Covenant, you’re supposed to be focusing on soul attitudes and depending on God alone to guide you in life.  With its elegant simplicity, the New Covenant leaves no room for human leaders to insert themselves between you and God.  This is a Covenant without any ritual requirements, and that means you don’t need other humans to help you figure out what God wants from you in a specific situation.  All you need to do is ask God and trust that He will guide you.

THE ABUSE OF PUBLIC CONFESSION UNDER THE NEW COVENANT

Now wait a minute.  If there’s no place for human intercessors under the New Covenant, then how can shady shepherds gain leverage over you?  What can they use to threaten you into submitting to them and dancing to their tune?  With Yahweh leaving shady shepherds without any legitimate claims of authority, shady shepherds must resort to making stuff up.  They need to invent new rituals to go with the New Covenant so that they can then use those rituals to complicate your life.  Here’s where we get into this utterly absurd business of confessing sins to other humans just to do it.  Instead of teaching you to work out sin issues directly with God, many Christian leaders teach that you must broadcast your moral failings to other humans just because they say so.  And of course doing this puts you in a compromised position, because once the brothers collect some dirt on you, how tempting is it for them to try and use it against you?  The same folks who are lying to you about what God requires are inventing ridiculous rituals for malicious reasons.  Shady shepherds want to see keep you spiritually stalled, and nothing stalls you faster than dragging a bunch of humans into your personal relationship with God.  Soon it’s not good enough that God is pleased with you—you need your pastor’s approval before you can be content.  Soon you’re actually believing the lie that confessing your sins to some stranger who sits in a wooden box is critical to you staying in a good place with God.

Today, Christians are trying to  hang onto the Old Covenant practice of publicly confessing sins even though there is no longer any need for it.  Why are we being such fools?  Well, it doesn’t help that we’re trying to pretend the New Testament epistles are a good guideline for how Christianity is supposed to work.  The epistles were all written by Jewish men who weren’t ready to let go of their Old Covenant ways.  When you’ve spent your whole life confessing your sins to other people—and when you live in a culture which encourages people to publicize their private thoughts and emotions—then it’s only natural that you become a confession addict.  Since you’ve blown the importance of confession way out of proportion, you don’t hear how ridiculous you’re being when you say things like:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is very powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

Why does James think the public confession of sins and the intercessory prayers of others are critical steps in getting help from God?  Because James is entrenched in an Old Covenant mentality and he’s used to depending on other humans to help him get onto Yahweh’s good side.  Of course if James had an accurate view of how God judges him, he would understand that the opinions and prayers of other humans are utterly irrelevant to his personal relationship with God. But by New Testament times, Jewish leaders weren’t practicing the Old Covenant correctly. Instead, they were using Old Covenant laws as excuses to invent many more laws that would make people feel hopeless about ever pleasing God. The point is that this confession business should have been thrown out with the Old Covenant sacrificial system, because it was only that system which made public confession a practical necessity.  But in the early days of Christianity, Jewish apostles taught people to keep practicing the public confession of sins and that useless practice continues to be encouraged today.  Some even go so far as to say that your salvation depends on you regularly advertising your moral failings to other humans.  Others say that confessing isn’t good enough—you also have to do something miserable in order to atone for your sins.  In other words, modern day Christians are trying to practice a verbal version of the Old Covenant sacrificial system.  Instead of atoning for sins through animal sacrifices, we’ve invented new ways to inflict loss and hardship on ourselves, and this whole miserable affair is what is known as penance.

PENANCE & THE OLD COVENANT

Penance is a very negative concept—one that is strongly associated with pain, tears, guilt and sorrow for those who practice it.  But how did we ever get started with penance?  Why do we feel a need to voluntarily punish ourselves for doing something which violates God’s moral code?  Well, back in the days of the sacrificial system, it was Yahweh who said sins had to be paid for in some negative way.  Old Testament Israel was an agricultural society, and animals represented wealth.  Just as no one enjoys paying a fine for speeding today, it was easy to develop a bad attitude about having to give up an animal in pristine condition just because Yahweh required it.  If you didn’t even like Yahweh, it was even harder to take a financial hit on His behalf, and the temptation to sacrifice some crippled disease bag was very strong.  So this is what people often resorted to: they’d bring Yahweh their trash animals instead of bringing Him the healthy specimens that He required.  They’d unload the crippled, wheezing, and blind at the Temple, and when Yahweh protested, they acted like they didn’t know what His problem was (see the section MALACHI in Know Your Bible Lesson 41: Meaningless Vows).  It was a carnal game, to be sure, but the fact that people resorted to such things showed how much they resented the sting of having to atone for their sins.  Even though Yahweh kept the pain at a minimum by providing economic options and only requiring sacrifices of animals and grains—never humans—atonement still became associated with pain and loss.

Now it’s important to realize that Yahweh’s system of atonement was a cupcake compared to the brutal forms of atonement and penance that other religions required.  In the Biblical world, child sacrifice was a common way of trying to appease gods, as was self-mutilation.  Because the Old Testament Israelites were such spiritual idiots, they actually turned their backs on Yahweh to go worship gods who required that they barbecue their own children and slash their own bodies with knives.  Yahweh condemned such practices as loathsome and wrong.  Yahweh has never taught that getting into a good place with Him must require self-torture or immense suffering.  On the contrary, He has always been exceptionally easy to reconcile with—far more so than humans are.  It goes back to that issue of soul attitude.  Because God only judges us by our soul’s response to Him, returning to a good place with Him is a simple matter of repentance.  True repentance is a simple change in one’s soul attitude.  You go from defying God to sincerely submitting to Him as the Supreme Authority that He is.  Repentance takes one nanosecond to do and it has nothing to do with external behaviors.  But where’s the fun in that?  How can we abuse people and beat them down with condemnation and guilt if we teach them the truth about how easy God is to succeed with?  Here’s where we come to the modern day practice of penance.

PENANCE & THE NEW COVENANT

With the sacrificial system thrown out, we no longer have to pay fines for our sins.  When He died on a cross, Jesus claimed to be the ultimate atonement sacrifice—the sacrifice that ended the need for any future sacrifices.  Is this amazing?  Yes and no.  It is certainly a fabulous lesson on the gracious Nature of our Gods.  But when we remember that God judges us by our soul attitudes and not our actions, it changes the way we view Jesus’ sacrifice.  After all, Jesus knew perfectly well that no one would ever get saved by good deeds.  In His many parables, Jesus often emphasized the importance of the soul attitude of submission and He warned people not to think that good works would be enough to save them.  Since bringing sacrifices to Yahweh was a form of good works, how critical was that to salvation?  It wasn’t critical at all.  No one needed Jesus to atone for their sins.  The whole atonement concept was just an excuse Yahweh used to create behavioral rituals that were designed to help His followers develop right soul attitudes.  The goal was always maturing the attitudes—not reaching some quota of sacrifices.

Instead of serving as the ultimate good deed which saves us all, Jesus’ death on the cross really served to help Old Covenant believers grasp that Yahweh was making epic changes to His Covenant.  After you’ve spent your whole life thinking in terms of sacrifices, atonement, and priests, it’s going to take something pretty grand to convince you that Yahweh is really calling all of that off.  Jesus’ death and miraculous resurrection served as the iron clad proof we all need to be sure that we’re staying in alignment with Yahweh by viewing His sacrificial system as null and void.  We certainly don’t want to be ignoring something that God says is still relevant, but happily Jesus has made this atonement issue quite clear by what He did.  With the  sacrificial system abolished and no other system brought in to replace it, we suddenly find ourselves with no basis for practicing penance.

Under the current Covenant, there are no sacrifices required. All God wants is for us to swiftly repent whenever He convicts us that He is displeased with our soul’s attitude towards Him.  In cases of unintentional sin when no rebellion is involved, not even repentance is required (see Understanding Repentance).  Yahweh’s New Covenant is gloriously simple.  It frees us up from the distraction of behavioral rituals and it encourages us to focus on improving the way we treat God in the privacy of our own souls.  When He commands us, we want to be swift to obey.  When He educates us, we want to cherish the insights He shares.  If He should instruct us to do something to make amends for damage we’ve done in this world, then of course we want to obey His instructions, but in many cases we’ll find He does not tell us to do anything at all.

God is simply not interested in pain for its own sake.  He’s not impressed by our efforts to punish ourselves, and He will not allow us to earn His grace through works.  Instead of submitting to our value system, God demands that we submit to His.  Hurting bodies, starvation, heartache, and self-inflicted poverty—such things do nothing to improve God’s opinion of us, but they greatly hamper our own spiritual progress.  Now that Yahweh has dispensed with His sacrificial system with its major theme of having to pay for sins through a form of personal loss, we need to be content to let it all go without elevating ourselves as the superior judges.  The fact that we feel we deserve some form of punishment does not make it okay for us to inflict misery on ourselves.  The fact that we don’t feel worthy of God’s mercy doesn’t make it okay for us to reject it.  God is the Judge whose opinion trumps all others.  Submitting to Him involves embracing His judgment of us, no matter how much we might disagree with it.  Under the New Covenant, there is simply no basis for practicing penance rituals, nor is there any justification for self-abuse.  Because God judges us by our soul attitude and not our actions, He has no use for us crawling in the dirt like abject worms.  He has no use for groveling or self-abasement.  Instead, He wants us to fully submit to Him and to stop telling Him how He ought to relate to us.

CONCLUSION

Christianity and Judaism are two very different religions.  But because Christianity was so heavily influenced by Judaism, today we find modern Christians trying to preserve certain Old Covenant rituals and concepts which Yahweh and Jesus have made obsolete.  With so many misguided leaders pressuring you to practice useless rituals while they fill your head with lies about what God wants from you, it is critical that you ask God directly to teach you His truth.  Ask Him to review your rituals with you and show you if any of them need to go.  Be receptive to Him showing you that your motivations for doing something are wrong.  If we’re going to learn, we must be teachable, and that means we don’t get into a huff every time God tries to correct us.  Yahweh is a kind and gentle Teacher who delights in maturing us one baby step at a time.  When we listen to Him instead of just listening to what others say about Him, He leads us to a wonderful place.

FURTHER READING:
Know Your Bible Lesson 6: The Sacrificial System
Relating to God: Recognizing the Trap of Symbolic Pain
Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy
Soul Attitudes That Please God: What They Are & How We Develop Them
Rethinking Your Christian Rituals
Jesus vs. the NT Jews: What it Means to Please God
All About Tithing

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