It was a sweet surprise that I’ll never forget. I was nine months pregnant and one week past my due date. I was enormous and uncomfortable. Every additional minute seemed like an eternity! To ease my troubles, my husband took me out for a meal to remember—complete with a generous slice of six-layer chocolate cake. When my husband tried to hand our credit card to the waitress, she refused to take it. We were confused. Why wouldn’t she let us pay for our meal?
“Someone has already paid your bill,” she said, gesturing toward a smiling man and woman who had seen my enormous belly and wanted to bless us.
What a treat! What a gift!
We thanked them and walked out of the restaurant with light hearts.
It would have been rude and ungrateful to insist on paying, and it would have been foolish to pay for the meal twice. Our meal was paid for: all we had to do was receive the unmerited gift.
Do you insist on paying for your sin?
This is the scene that came to my mind as I was studying Hebrews 9. As I read, I realized that Jesus has paid for my sin in full, but I often try to repay him or forego his gift. I confess my sin, knowing that God forgives readily, but then I don’t let myself off the hook. My past sin paralyzes me, guilt overtakes me, and I live as if my good behavior or anxious thoughts are my only hope for reconciliation.
This is sad, I tell myself. My debt has been paid by Jesus. Why am I holding back from God, insisting on paying my debt again?
Can you relate? Are you counting on good behavior or self-punishment to pay for your sin? Are you hoping that time—or even death—will somehow free you from your guilt? Because He loves you, God has provided a once-for-all payment for your sin that you can receive today.
Let’s take a look at Hebrews 9 and find rest for our anxious, guilt-ridden hearts.
Hebrews 9 is the middle chapter in a trilogy that reflects on the Old Testament and illuminates the ways that Jesus is the minister of a better covenant (chapter 8), is a better Tabernacle (chapter 9), and is a better sacrifice (chapter 10). By looking at the ways in which Jesus is a better Tabernacle, we learn that we do not need to repeatedly pay for our sin.
What was the Tabernacle?
The Old Testament Jewish people worshiped God in the Tabernacle. Hebrews 9 reminds us that the Tabernacle was a tent that was divided into two spaces in which priests worshiped God in different ways.
- The Holy Place held a lampstand, table, and the bread of the Presence (Heb. 9:2). The priests entered the Holy Place “regularly,” “performing their ritual duties” (Heb. 9:6).
- The Most Holy Place was behind the second curtain. It held the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant, which held a golden urn of manna, Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Once a year, only the high priest entered this place with the blood of “goats and bulls” (v. 13) “for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people” (v. 7).
The blood of animals was never sufficient to pay for all sin. Because the debt was never paid in full, God required this sacrifice year after year after year. The author of Hebrews writes, “According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink” (vv. 9–10).
Why do I feel guilty all of the time?
Too often, I operate according to Old Testament regulations. I regularly offer payment for my sin over and over again, believing that it’s not truly ever really forgiven.
- I ruminate over my sin, wishing it away. Will this ease my guilt?
- I practice extra-good behavior. Can I make up for my debt?
- I let time pass without addressing my sin. Will time dissolve sin? If I forget my sin, am I in the clear?
Jesus paid for our sin, once for all.
When we refuse to accept Jesus’ gift of forgiveness, we can’t help but feel the burden of guilt. But there is hope! Let’s continue reading Hebrews 9 and we’ll discover the truth that sets us free from this struggle:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (vv. 11–12).
By shedding His blood on the cross, Jesus became “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (v. 15).
How amazing! Jesus is the perfect high priest, the perfect tent, and the perfect blood sacrifice that pays our debt of sin once for all.
Jesus died once for all of my sin.
Once for all of your sin.
Once for all humanity’s sin.
There is no need for an ongoing sacrifice, debilitating guilt, or repayment.
Once for all. What a gift!
We may try to pay for our sin, but Hebrews 9 is like the waitress at the restaurant by pointing to Jesus, saying, “Someone has already paid your debt.” In faith, we see Jesus smiling upon us, mercifully blessing our sin-heavy hearts.
How can we live in freedom from guilt?
Perhaps we can begin by kneeling in gratitude and saying, “Thank you, Jesus.” Then, let’s memorize three short words to remind us of the profound truths we discovered in Hebrews 9: “once for all.” Each time our hearts condemn us, let’s recall that Jesus paid for sin “once for all” and that He welcomes us into God’s presence where we will find peace and joy for our souls.