‘Sacrifice must be abolished in order to establish obedience.’ Or so says the ESV commentary on this passage. I’m wrestling with that.
Is this a practical argument that could be made, say, about institutionalized confession? For instance, might we argue that the psychological ‘out’ that exists in the knowledge that my sins can be individually addressed and forgiven makes it that much easier to sin in the first place? So without altering doctrine (that there is no condemnation for those in Christ), the ritual mechanism gets in the way of obedience. Hmm. I’m not sure. Makes sense, I suppose. That is, it’s plausible, but is it actually true?
I end up distinguishing between holiness and obedience and wondering if God values one over the other. How important is it to lead a ‘sinless’ life? That’s obviously not possible, at least not in terms of the understanding of sin as a nature rather than a list of (mis)deeds. But the Pharisees are good examples of a life that prizes holiness over obedience. That is, they were concerned with being technically perfect within the limits of the law, with leading lives that would win them God’s approval (Kellers’ elder brothers par excellence).
But I think this self-driven pursuit of holiness, expunging all evidence of our sinful nature, ultimately inhibits obedience to the most important commands. Jesus said the two most important commands were to love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and souls and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Preoccupation with making ourselves holy, then, leaves little room for obedience. Where is love in legalism? Where is love in the machine of sacrifice and ritualistic confession?
The only hesitation I have is that I do not mean to embrace licentiousness or dismiss holiness. ‘May it never be!’ Paul says. But holiness has to come from a life lived loving God and others. Acting in love and for love (practically) leads towards holiness in decisionmaking and (spiritually) opens the heart to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Obedience leads to holiness; holiness does not necessarily lead to obedience.