Lou: Was there not enough evidence in Old Testament times for people to recognize God’s true character, or did they have to wait for the New Testament in order to understand?
Graham: Oh, I like that question very much. When you read all the way through, the picture of God in the Old Testament is the same as in the New. It’s the same God, the same Spirit communicating, the same Christ leading them in the wilderness. What impresses me in the Old Testament is how well people did know Him. God’s best friends in the Bible are in the Old Testament. The man that Paul uses to suggest what God wants most in us was Abraham, in the Old Testament (Romans 4; Galatians 3). Moses is called a friend of God (Exod 33:11). And look at Job, Hosea, Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah. Apparently the message in the Old Testament is clear enough for some people, at least, to get it. In fact, Jesus grew up with the Old Testament and learned the truth about His Father from it. So I think the Old Testament is magnificently clear but only when it is read as a whole. I find no break between the Old and the New, except that in the New Christ is here in human form to confirm everything that has been described and anticipated in the Old. Even His Sermon on the Mount is already in the Old Testament (see Exodus 20:17 and Psalm 51 as examples). So the Bible is a complete package, all sixty-six books.
Lou: Let’s take two or three questions that are slightly different. “You spoke about sanctification. What is this? If we sincerely accept Jesus as our Savior, how can we ever be lost? Once we are saved, aren’t we always saved?”
Graham: “Sanctification” is, of course, one of those heavy Latin terms. I prefer to use “set right” and “keep right,” rather than “justify” and “sanctify.” We can understand those words. Putting it in that way, one can be set right with God, and one can be kept right for quite a while, but one is still free to leave. And Lucifer proved that by leaving. He was right with God before he left. There was no rebellion in heaven at the begnning. And so a million years into eternity, we may have been right with God for a long time, but we are still free to go.
The once saved, always saved idea belongs to a very legal model. I’m paid up, and I’m still paid up, and I have a right to be there. I’d rather say that I’m only safe to have around if I’m willing to listen, to trust God, and to accept instruction. And I’ll always be free to turn into a rebel. That makes it even more wonderful that God’s children will choose to remain loyal. Then their loyalty means something. Their expression of love to God means something. They haven’t been reprogrammed. They haven’t been turned into robots. The price that God has had to pay to settle the questions indicates how absolutely opposed He is to programming us and making it impossible for us to go some other way. God took quite a risk, but evidently freedom means that much to God.
Lou: Graham, here are a couple of questions that are somewhat related. “If God is a God of love and acceptance, why then did He demand animal sacrifices? Couldn’t the children of Israel just have asked for forgiveness rather than going through that sacrificial ceremony?” And let me tie that together with another one. Someone writes about their daughters who are now eighteen and twenty-two. They have been vegetarians since they were young because they love animals too much to have them killed for their benefit. But they run into trouble when they go to the Old Testament, because there you have the sacrifices for God’s benefit. “We know it has something to do with the sacrifice of Jesus, but why does God have to be appeased by poor little animals dying?”
Graham: There’s a lot implied in there. But one thing is for sure, Who is the One who sees the little sparrow fall? I mean, if it upsets these daughters, how do you think it upsets the Lord? And yet He gave that whole sanctuary system. It must have been important for Him to do it. These questions are important enough that we have a whole chapter on what I call “God’s Emergency Measures.” Things like the sanctuary and the Flood were serious emergency measures because there was a serious emergency on this earth. We see God pointing to a larger picture in the prophets. “I don’t really want your sacrifices apart from the meaning. I hate them” (Amos 5:21-22; Hos 6:6).
Think of all the blood and all the suffering! God loves the animals. And yet to make a very important point, He asked Adam and Eve to kill that first lamb. So we need to consider carefully the meaning of these sacrifices. Because if we just learn about them and don’t think of the meaning, we are as ceremonial as the people in the Old Testament who missed the point. So we must ask all the way through, how could God do something which He Himself did not like? And yet it needed to be done, and we will revisit that in future chapters.
One more thing, I heard the word “appease” in one of those questions. Were these sacrifices to appease God in some way, to make Him more favorable toward us? One could get that impression from the word “propitiation” in some translations of Romans 3:25. The word “propitiation” suggests appeasement, a gift offered to change a god’s mind. But that’s not the word that’s there in the original. That’s a regrettable translation. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor 5:18). Nobody had to win Him to our side. So the implications of that are well worth some serious study, and in the chapters on “God’s Emergency Measures” (Chapter Eleven) and on why Jesus had to die (Chapter Eight), we will have an opportunity to deal with those thoroughly.