I don’t know about you, but when I read some of these laws available to us in Leviticus – as well as those back in Exodus – a feeling of conviction creeps upon me.
I recognize some sins that I have committed but not done anything about. Sin sometimes is incidental or accidental. Sometimes, we don’t even know we’ve violated God’s law. Perhaps we aren’t paying attention. Or maybe we’ve simply forgotten.
And then, for some reason, we remember. What are we to do?
Well, Leviticus tells us clearly what the ancient Israelites were to do. “When he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed,” he’s to seek atonement.
The new thing here is this: God’s people are to confess their sins to God.
Four specific sins are listed in the early part of Leviticus 5. They had to do with withholding the truth, with not seeking purification after touching an “unclean” object, and with making bad or unfulfilled promises. In essence, these deal with the matter of not following through with what should be done.
Perhaps we can call these sins of “omission,” rather than “commission.” You know what this means – when you don’t do the thing you know you ought to do.
Sometimes this can happen, and we know we have sinned. It can weigh on us. Other times, we may realize only later that we’ve sinned.
A woman was violently beaten in a racial crime outside a New York hotel recently, and video of the beating went viral on the internet. It is hard to watch. But very noticeable in that video were the hotel employees who were standing by doing nothing. They did not intervene. I imagine they woke up the next morning with guilt about how they should have done something – but didn’t.
That’s an extreme example – and things happened so quickly in that episode that it can be hard to pronounce harsh judgment – but past sins can be like this. They can weigh on us. We know what we should have done, but we didn’t do it!
The way to atonement is through confession. A key text that we’ll probably come back to frequently as we study Leviticus is 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Jesus Christ provided the sacrifice that covers over our sins. We need not bring a lamb or turtledoves or grain. Jesus paid the full cost of our sins.
But confession of sin remains part of God’s plan for his children. Those who don’t confess are living in denial. The very next verse in 1 John is this: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
To confess something means that we bring it to light. We admit our wrongs. We shed light on the fact we did not follow through with our obligations, whatever those may have been.
God provided Israel a way to make atonement. He provided a way for those who had the means to acquire a lamb, and he made a way for the poor who gleaned grain from the fields. Anyone had the opportunity to return to God.
Again, Christ is our sacrifice. We turn to him in faith, confessing our sins.
Perhaps today, you may need to spend some time in confession. As you do, don’t wallow in feelings of inadequacy – like you just don’t measure up. The reality is that none of us measure up to God’s standard.
To confess is just to be straight with God. You know where you’ve fallen short. Our confession should be marked with clear-eyed honesty. We take responsibility for our actions, and we ask God to forgive us. And we know, by 1 John 1:9, that he has.
And then we lean into the Holy Spirit, to move us onward from our sins. We leave them behind. We stop and confess – and we feel whatever emotion that may come along with that confession – and then we accept the forgiveness of God and walk onward with him.
Psalm 32 might help to you in this. It is a wonderful guide to confession.