Tag Archives: sacrifice

Does James 2:10 imply that God doesn’t consider some sins more serious than others?

James 2:10 states: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble at one point, he is guilty of all” (nkjv).

Some people have mistakenly thought that this verse means that all sins are equal in God’s view, that no sins are worse than others.

In the Old Testament, there were sacrifices to atone for sins done in ignorance or through weakness. But deliberate, premeditated transgressions were a more serious category of sin for which the law couldn’t atone (Hebrews 10). People who committed such sins (Leviticus 6:1-2; 10:1-2; 20:1-27; Numbers 15:32-35; 16:26-32) either had to make restitution (as in the cases of theft or lying) or be put to death (as in the cases of adultery, violating the Sabbath, cursing one’s parents). When David premeditatedly committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, he wrote, “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:16-17 nkjv). David knew that no sacrifice could atone for what he did, and that he could only, like other Old Testament believers who committed such sins, cast himself on God’s mercy. The law provided no forgiveness. He needed grace.

Paul’s declaration in Romans 2 that God will judge “according to works,” “light,” and “opportunity” implies that there are degrees of guilt, as did Jesus’ declaration that rejecting Him and His gospel was a more serious sin than the sin of Sodom (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24). If there are no degrees of sin, then it would be pointless to struggle to seek the lesser of two evils in the kinds of situations we all sometimes face.

What James is confronting in this verse is the self-righteous attitude that we don’t depend as much on God’s grace as someone who has committed more obvious and heinous kinds of sin. This kind of thinking is self-deceiving and encourages complacency. Any violation of the law is enough to keep us from being justified by the law’s standards. A person who doesn’t murder or commit adultery but shows partiality to the rich should not feel self-righteous. He is a lawbreaker too. The function of the law is not to justify but to bring awareness of sin (Romans 4:14-16; 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 15:56). We should be humbled and conscience-stricken by the many sins we do commit, and not feel superior to those who sin in ways we don’t.


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What Do Muslims Believe About God?

The word Allah is the Arabic word for God, the word used both by Arabic-speaking Christians before the birth of Mohammed, and by Arabic-speaking Christians today. To a devout Muslim, Allah is in many ways similar to the Christian God. Allah is holy, just, infinite, and all-knowing. Jews, too, worship a holy, infinitely powerful God, and share Christian respect for the Old Testament.

The Qur’an portrays God as a just and merciful judge, but doesn’t teach that human sin and distress cause Him suffering 1 . It emphasizes the incomprehensibility of God more than His holiness2 and love 3 .

Christians believe that biblical revelation is progressive 4 , fulfilled in Christ. Although the Old Testament describes God’s supreme love ( Exodus 34:6 ; Psalm 86:5; 103:13 ; Isaiah 49:14-18 ; Jeremiah 31:10-20 ; Ezekiel 34:22-31 ; Micah 7:18-20 ; Hosea 2:14-16 ) at times its portrayal of God is troubling. With the coming of Jesus and the gospel, Christians have the peace that comes with understanding the means by which God offers mercy and forgiveness to His children. In Jesus, God took human form (John 1:14.). Through Jesus we know the infinite, holy God as “Abba,” our “heavenly Father.”

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 NKJV)

For Christians, God’s most loving self-revelation is in His Lamb (Genesis 22:8 ; John 1:36 ; 1 Peter 1:19-20 ) through whom God’s love for the human race was expressed in human form ( Acts 17:3 ; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ; Hebrews 2:8-10 ).

God’s suffering and grief at human sin and His love for the lost and rebellious begins in the Old Testament ( Jeremiah 3:1 ; Hosea 3:1 ; Ezekiel 34:12 ) resulting in His relationship with a sinful race ( Hebrews 4:15 ; John 10:11 ). It was expressed vividly in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son ( Luke 15:11-31 ) and the Gospel descriptions of Peter denying his Lord.

The Christian God loves even the lost and the rebellious, and sacrifices Himself for hopeless sinners. ( Romans 5:8 ). The Christian God is the initiator of the relationship between Himself and our sinful race ( Isaiah 53:6 ; John 10:11 ; 1 Peter 2:24 ).

  1. According to Islam our sins cannot offend our Creator. God stands too far above us to be directly concerned by our disobedience. When we commit sin we wrong ourselves; God remains unaffected. The following references are from the Qur’an: “Whoever transgresses God’s bounds does evil to himself” (65.1; cf. 2:57; 7:160; 18:35; 35:32; 37:113). Our guilt lies only in our disobedience to our Lord’s commandments. From the biblical point of view, however, sin is not just a transgression of God’s law but an offence against God himself (Psalm 51:4; Luke 15:18, 21. Sin affects God personally and does not leave him indifferent. (The Prophet and the Messiah, Chawkat Moucarry, IVP, pp. 99-100) Back To Article
  2. In the Christian view, God sees sin with such seriousness that He alone is able to provide its remedy. The God worshiped by Christians is embodied in the Lamb of God—the Messiah. Jesus reveals the intensity of God’s concern for the human race. This is a continuation of the theme of God’s suffering and grief at human sin and unbelief that is found in the Old Testament (Judges 10:16; Isaiah 40:11; 53; Jeremiah 3:1; Hosea 3:1). Back To Article
  3. Muslims do not see God as their father or, equivalently, themselves as the children of God. Men are servants of a just master; they cannot, in orthodox Islam, typically attain any greater degree of intimacy with their creator. (Shabbir Akhtar, A Faith For All Seasons, Chicago, Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1990, p. 180) Back To Article
  4. Christians view biblical revelation as progressive. That is, as we proceed from God’s earliest word to us in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and continue through the historical books, the books of poetry, and the prophetic books, we see that God reveals more and more of His nature and His will to man. The patriarchs, statesmen, poets, and prophets of the Old Testament did not have a clear understanding of the redemption that was to be offered on their behalf through the Lord Jesus Christ. They did not even have a clear understanding of the nature of life after death. However, as God progressively revealed more and more of His nature to the men of Old Testament times, He did make it clear that His greatest revelation was to come in His Messiah. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, revealed God’s nature to us perfectly in the form of a human being. In Jesus Christ (the Greek term Christ actually has the same meaning as the Hebrew term Messiah—”anointed one”) we have become aware of God’s love and grace in a manner not possible during past ages. Back To Article
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What Was the Purpose of Animal Sacrifices?

According to Scripture, sacrifice was instituted and approved by God. But when worship of the true God was abandoned, blood sacrifice was transformed into a way to magically appease, manipulate, and avert the anger of imaginary gods. The apostle Paul wrote:

Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:21-25).

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting (Romans 1:28).

(See the ATQ article, Why Did Ancient Pagans Practice Blood Sacrifices?)

Faithful sacrifice in worship of the true God was reinstated at the time of the Flood (Genesis 8:20-21) and confirmed when God established a special covenant with a man of faith named Abraham.

Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Faith in God’s goodness and grace became the bridge between sinful creatures and a holy God ( Hebrews 11:6-19 ). Abraham demonstrated his genuine faith by his radical obedience. He was willing to offer his long-awaited, precious son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22:1-3). God didn’t dispute or deny human unworthiness, or imply that death wasn’t the necessary price for atonement. It was necessary, after all, for Abraham to be willing to bring Isaac as a sacrifice. But God didn’t require Isaac to die. God Himself provided a sacrifice—a ram (Genesis 22:12-13)—to die in his place.

On the mountain top in Moriah (traditionally identified as the temple mount in Jerusalem), God revealed His grace and mercy in a way that—for Abraham and his descendants—clearly ended the practice of human sacrifice. In the Old Testament law, God clearly forbad that man shed human blood in sacrifice (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).

Since God was now known as both holy and merciful, sacrifice was no longer to be motivated by superstitious fear. It was to be the expression of conscious acknowledgment of guilt, 1 of belonging to God, and of desiring to be restored to fellowship with Him. 2

The Old Testament law ( Leviticus 16 ) introduced the ritual of atonement, in which the life of a goat was accepted by God as a symbolic substitution for the lives of a corrupt people who were individually and corporately worthy of death. But Old Testament sacrifices were not in themselves sufficient to atone for sin. They were sufficient only to point forward to the coming of the Messiah who would die in atonement for the sins of the world. Hebrews 10:4 declares,

It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Further, Hebrews 10:10-14 tells us that “by one offering He (Christ) has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”

One of the main purposes of Old Testament law was to make the people of Israel conscious of the great gap between their own weakness and corruption and the expectations of a Holy God ( Romans 5:12-20 ). Old Testament sacrifices accustomed the Jews to acknowledge their guilt and their need for divine grace and forgiveness. But it was only through Christ’s perfect life and death that actual and permanent atonement was made for the sins of an evil world. By entering His own created universe and assuming the penalty for its sin, His infinite suffering has atoned for the natural and moral evils that resulted from His creatures’ freedom to sin (Luke 22:20 ; John 6:53 ; Romans 3:25 ; 1 Corinthians 10:16 ; Ephesians 2:13 ;Hebrews 9:14 ; 1 Peter 1:18-19 ). Jesus Christ was a human sacrifice, but not a sacrifice offered up by fallen mankind to God. He offered Himself up freely as a sacrifice by God to God for mankind 3 ( John 3:16 ; John 11:27-33 ; Romans 8:32 ; 1 John 4:9 ).

  1. Unlike the sacrifices of the pagans, Old Testament sacrifices had to be offered in a spirit of humility and repentance ( Numbers 15:22-31 ; Isaiah 66:1-4 ; Amos 5:21-24 ). It wasn’t enough that they simply be performed as magical means of appeasement. Back To Article
  2. “The object of the sacrifice is to establish a moral relation between the man as a personal being and God the absolute Spirit, to heal the separation between God and man that had been caused by sin. Now, as free personality is the soil out of which sin has sprung, so must the atonement be a work rooted in free personality as well. Being outside the sphere of moral freedom, the animal may be regarded as innocent and sinless; but for the same reason it cannot possess innocence in the true sense of the word and thus have a righteousness that could form an adequate satisfaction for the sin and guilt of man” (New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p.1100). Back To Article
  3. “Who makes the propitiation? In a pagan context, it is always human beings who seek to avert the divine anger either by the meticulous performance of rituals, or by the recitation of magic formula, or by the offering of sacrifices (vegetable, animal, or even human). Such practices are thought to placate the offended deity. But the gospel begins with the outspoken assertion that nothing we can do, say, offer, or even contribute can compensate for our sins or turn away God’s anger. There is no possibility of persuading, cajoling, or bribing God to forgive us, for we deserve nothing at His hands but judgment. Nor, as we have seen, has Christ by His sacrifice prevailed upon God to pardon us. No, the initiative has been taken by God Himself, in His sheer mercy and grace” (John Stott, The Atonement). Back To Article
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