Just the other day I picked up my five-year-old grandson to take him to lunch. I always let him make the final decision, but I give him options that usually involve a chicken sandwich or a hamburger or an egg-and-cheese buttered biscuit with sweet ice-tea—I’m trying to keep the standard high.
Well, he was excited that day to tell me that he had asked Jesus to become his Savior and to forgive his sins. Later on, I asked him what sin is. He told me it’s doing something wrong but that God can forgive us.
That’s exactly right. And that’s exactly what God spells out for us here in this inspired manual of operations for the Levites, called the book of Leviticus.
Here in chapter 4, God begins to lay out several characteristics of sin, and here’s the first one: Sin interrupts our fellowship with God.
Chapter 4 and verse 2 opens with the Lord referring to “anyone [who] sins unintentionally [with regard to] any of the Lord’s commandments.”
Unintentional sins are not ones you sit around planning. That sinful thought just suddenly occurs, but, by the way, it’s just as sinful as any other sin. Well, God is making it clear that even the smallest sin affects our fellowship with Him, and it has to be dealt with.
Here’s a second characteristic: Sin entangles everybody it can.
Here in verse 3, the Lord tells the priest what he has to do for his sin to be forgiven. Then down here in verse 13, He speaks of “the whole congregation of Israel [sinning] unintentionally.” Then further down in verse 22, we read, “When a leader sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that … ought not to be done.” And even further down in verse 27, we read, “If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done.”
In other words, from the highest levels of society down to the common people, nobody is exempt from the potential of sinning against God. And in each case—no matter who it was who sinned—an offering was required. Of course, this unblemished animal sacrifice pointed toward the unblemished Savior who would provide that substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf.
Over in chapter 5, the Lord will allow people who can’t afford to bring a bull or a lamb to be sacrificed to bring instead fine flour. If they can’t spare some flour, for a couple of pennies they can offer two pigeons instead. This was called the “offering of the poor.”
When Mary and Joseph offered a dedication sacrifice in the temple for baby Jesus, they offered two pigeons (Luke 2:24). This poor peasant couple couldn’t afford a lamb for the offering. But they did bring a Lamb, didn’t they? They were holding in their arms, the newborn Lamb of God.
Back here in Leviticus, we also learn that sin operates under the radar.
We have already read the word unintentionally several times. Indeed, the idea of unintentional sin shows up six times in these chapters.
This is how subtle sin can be. Some sins are so obvious they bang on the front door and rattle the windows, and you’re aware of the danger; but some sins slip in the back window so quietly they catch you off guard, and you find you weren’t as alert to the danger as you should have been.
Here’s a fourth characteristic of sin: The sins of influential leaders cause the greatest damage. That’s why here in chapter 4, from verse 3 all the way to verse 21, the requirements for sacrifices are the most demanding for priests and leaders:
- The priest had to bring a bull for his sacrifice—not a little pigeon for him. This was the biggest and most expensive animal to sacrifice.
- The elders of the congregation also had to bring a bull.
- The leader of a smaller group of people had to bring a male goat to be sacrificed.
- The ordinary Israelite, however, could bring a female goat or lamb.
These aren’t just boring details written nearly four thousand years ago; the Lord is communicating a timeless truth here.
The more visible you are, the more damaging your sin becomes. Why? Because leaders influence so many people. This is exactly why Satan loves to go after those who have a wide influence over others.
Let me point out one more characteristic of sin: Sin disguises itself in a variety of ways.
Here in chapter 5, sins mentioned in verses 1 through 6 include things like making an unwise promise or refusing to speak up when you have witnessed a crime. In other words, we can sin against God in big ways and in the smallest of ways. It may be just one little promise, one little phone call, or one little compromise; but it’s still sin, and even the smallest sin will destroy your fellowship with God.
There’s only one solution: confessing your sin and finding forgiveness through blood sacrifice. And Leviticus points toward the final sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who shed His blood and paid the penalty for our sins.
So how do you deal with sin today? You’re not going to bring a bull or a pigeon to church—at least I hope not!
Let me give you four steps to take: (I want to highlight these steps, maybe with bold?)
Step 1: Do a heart check before God. Ask Him to show you sinful motives and thought patterns that are flying under the radar—some small offense or situation where you are compromising your integrity.
Step 2: Admit that it’s sinful. Don’t deny it or justify it or manage it. Agree with God that it is sinful. The Spirit of God isn’t convicting your heart of sin so that He can beat you over the head with it; He’s inviting you to make things right.
Step 3: Trust the sacrifice of Christ for that sin. God never demands penance—you can’t pay for your sin. So don’t go light a candle or sit outside in the rain. God has provided payment for your crimes—your sins—through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”
Step 4: Now the fourth step in dealing with sin is to provide restitution. This doesn’t apply to every sin, but here in Leviticus 5, verse 14, all the way through chapter 6 and verse 7, the Lord lays out the principle of restitution.
I knew a man many years ago who had stolen nearly a million dollars through financial fraud before he was finally caught. When I asked him about paying it back, he said, “Oh, I don’t need to pay it back; it’s all under the blood.” Well, let me tell you, forgiveness is free, because Christ paid for it; but making things right might demand restitution. And if you’re not willing to pay back what you stole, you probably didn’t mean it when you confessed your sin to God.
If you’ve taken these four steps, you need to believe God’s promise of forgiveness. In these chapters here in Leviticus, the Lord says of the truly repentant person nine different times, “he shall be forgiven . . . he shall be forgiven.” You know, some of the most wonderful words you’ll ever hear are the words, “I forgive you.”
Well, when you confess your sin, He is faithful and just to forgive all your sin (1 John 1:9). So, I want you to hear the Lord saying to you today, “I forgive you . . . I forgive you; you are forgiven.”