Lenten Devotion: Sunday, March 8
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Unlike the “voluntary offerings” of Leviticus 1 – 3, which reflect the individual’s voluntary resolve to serve God, Leviticus 4 and 5 describe sacrifices that are occasioned by specific violations or wrongdoing. Such sacrificial rituals are said to “atone” (Heb “kipper”), traditionally understood as amends for wrongdoing. Atonement, in this view, is a sort of payment made to propitiate an angry deity and be reconciled with him.
Hebrew “kipper” literally means “wipe clean,” thus connotes the idea of Divine forgiveness in order to restore broken, damaged relationships between individuals and God.
God, of course, does not need the offerings. The sacrificial rituals in Leviticus are meant to relieve people from continual burden of guilt and judgement. In Romans, Paul writes that despite these Divine ordained rituals of atonement, we continue to be enslaved by sin, because such a system does not fundamentally lead people to true repentance. For after each offering, after each confession, I still “do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Rom. 7:19).
Only with transformation of heart and soul can our will to sin be broken: “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God —what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2) Paul understands baptism partly in terms of a “new Exodus.” Through baptism we move from the status of slaves to freed people. Living in accordance with a change of status requires that we recognize it and, with the help of Holy Spirit, take responsibilities to bring our actual lives in line with the persons we have become. Paul’s Letter to the Romans provides a better motivation for human flourishing than the law ever did: inner renewal (Rom 12:2), rather than fear of condemnation (Rom 8:1).