Hebrews 9:13-14, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Since the kingdom of God is already present but is not yet fully realized, we might be tempted to ask how we are better off under the new covenant. Since the earth is not yet renewed, we might wonder why it is better to live under the new covenant than under the old.
These questions, no doubt, were in the minds of the original audience of the epistle to the Hebrews. After being reminded of the superiority of the new covenant over the old (Heb. 8), the question arises: “How is life better for us now? All we are getting is ridicule and torture. Sin is still present among us. How then are we better off?”
There are many answers to this question. One answer is that the way into the Holy of Holies has been opened to us forever (10:19); another answer is that we live in the era after which the true sacrifice, the efficacious sacrifice, has been made. We live after Christ Jesus has made the sacrifice that purifies our consciences and enables us to serve the living God truly. We no longer live in the day in which we hope for such a sacrifice to come.
Today’s passage tells us that old covenant believers had sacrifices that purified their flesh (9:13). Under the old covenant, believers were able to attain outer purity and only a temporary and fleeting inner purity through these sacrifices.
But these sacrifices did not effect a permanent inner purity. The blood of Christ was still needed to cleanse the conscience by offering the perfect atonement for sin (v. 14). To be sure, believers under the old covenant did receive the benefits of the work of Christ. Yet they received these benefits largely unawares. They approached the Lord through the signs and symbols of sheep and goats, trusting that He would save them according to His promise.
The old covenant signs and symbols were only temporary, but we have an eternal sign in the person of Christ. Christ shows us the holiness and the love of God, and He demonstrates the extent to which He will go to maintain the covenant on behalf of His children. And unlike the sacrifices of old, which also demonstrate these things (albeit imperfectly), the sacrifice of Christ is eternal. Christ’s indestructible life (7:16) provides us with a deeper assurance of God’s salvation than the temporary old covenant sacrifices ever could.
All believers have struggled at one point or another with the assurance of their salvation. It is a mistake, however, to look to our inner feelings over against looking toward the One who guarantees salvation. We are sure of salvation because His atoning blood and indestructible life guarantee that He will keep His promise to save us.