I had an interesting email exchange about a month ago concerning whether or not it was ‘necessary’ for Jesus to atone for humanity’s sins by the shedding of his blood. In some follow up conversation, we talked about different ways of looking at the question, turning on the word ‘necessary.’ As I recall, ‘free-will’ was a component of that follow up. Since I felt that my original response could have broader application I asked for, and received, permission to post my reply. You can see it below.
Regarding your question of: Jesus saving.
Your perspective reminds me of that of a Noachide Jew I once debated with, who argued the same point. He disputed Christianity itself on similar grounds, deducing from the OT that Christianity cannot be true because blood and forgiveness do not need to be linked. I refuted him from the OT. 🙂 But for you and I, we also have the NT, and there is one passage that must be given its due weight:
“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)
My N.Jew friend was well aware of this passage and declared that such a statement is proof positive the NT was a lie, but you and I have a different perspective. Here is a passage that comes out and plainly states that forgiveness requires the shedding of blood. What then to do about passages that show a forgiveness without the shedding of blood? I don’t think this problem is as troublesome as you think.
Again, returning to Hebrews for guidance we have some clues, if not answers. Hebrews can be thought of the ‘Gospel to the Jews.’ It argues from the OT and Judaism to the truth of Christianity. Various authors have been proposed: Paul, Apollos (my pick), and even Jesus himself. Obviously, there would need to be some explanation given to the Jew as to why all the fuss through more than a thousand years of Jewish history about animal sacrifices and all the blood splatter required during their ‘worship’ services.
The short answer is that ‘the wages of sin is death’ and if we were to really atone for our various sins, the proper thing would be for us to die. As in, right now. God in his forbearance permits the crop and weed to grow together, but to remind us of the dire predicament we are in, to the Jews he instituted the sacrificial system. The Jew going to ‘church’ would have to go to the temple and slice open the neck of the animal and the blood would be flung all about, covering all involved. When they left the temple, they would be covered in the blood of the sacrifice. Historically, they missed the point: that animal should have been THEM. It was meant as a ritual for their benefit, but the Jew came to think it was for God’s benefit, as if God had some kind of need for sheep carcasses. Hebrews is crystal clear on the value of the blood of animals and the purpose of the shedding:
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming- not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. ******* But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” ******* Heb. 10:1-4
From this we see that without the shedding of blood there cannot be forgiveness of sins but shedding the blood of bulls and goats does not accomplish this. These acts were ‘shadows’ of the real sacrifice to come, when Christ blazed the way through the heavens en route to the Most Holy Place- “once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” Heb. 9:12.
What then about those who came before Christ’s sacrifice, or those who receive forgiveness without word that there was a shedding of blood immediately associated? The benefit of Christ’s atoning work is mediated by faith. As Paul says, quoting Genesis, “faith was credited as righteousness.” And what about the time issue?
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Heb. 11:39-40
Faith in the promise of Christ or the past achievement of Christ on the cross have the same effect, but that effect was brought about at a single time and place about 2,000 years ago. The death and resurrection of Christ is the crux of all of history, providing the ‘eternal redemption’ ‘once for all.’ If it was necessary for each sin to be addressed by a new sacrifice of Christ, how weak would be his blood! He would have to be sacrificed over and over again… But the book of Hebrews rages against such a notion and contends: “And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” And “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
So, we must accept that the millions of people who lived before Christ who were nonetheless saved were not forgiven by God’s mere declaration, but on account of Jesus’ “one sacrifice,” the benefit of that mediated by their faith and hope in God.
You say: “My point is that Christ can forgive sins of whomever he pleases, whether the believe in his death or not.”
But these had faith in HIM and that is the point. One need not ‘believe in his death’ to receive that forgiveness. It is the faith in God in Christ that is credited as righteousness, and we learn elsewhere what mechanism Christ used to establish that righteousness. I do not think it is all that important to understand it so much as to trust God to know what he is doing and to accept the gift that is offered. That is not to say that we can’t understand some things, just that the understanding is not the fulcrum upon which our salvation rests. We do not have to believe in his death to be saved, we believe in him, and then believing in him we come to understand what he did for us. Two different things.
It would be like if someone gave you a ticket to the Superbowl. You did not earn it or deserve it yourself. You can choose to reject the gift, of course, and not enjoy the game. You could insist on knowing how the ticket was procured, and find it unbelievable how your friend managed to get in the first place in order to give it to you. Nonetheless, your doubts notwithstanding, that ticket would get you into the game. But know this: someone, someWHERE, SOMEHOW, purchased that ticket. You didn’t get in for ‘free.’ Someone bought it; of that you would be sure. Even if it was given out for ‘free’ by the NFL, it is still not ‘free’ because the NFL would be foregoing the profit it could have made on the sale of the ticket. But all these considerations are secondary to the fact that you have a ticket in your hand that is valid and would get you admission into the game.
Insisting that there was instances of forgiveness without the shedding of blood by someone, someWHERE, SOMEHOW, is like believing your ticket to the Superbowl was free. The ticket may have been printed fresh that day, or bought by your great grandfather as an inheritance of some kind, or whatever… it was bought.
The woman caught in adultery gets to go to the Superbowl because she believes the ticket she has received is valid because the one who gives it to her is credible in her eyes. She does not need to understand how it was procured. If she thinks she got it without it being ‘bought’ somewhere along the chain, she can easily be cured of that notion, but this has nothing to do with the validity of the ticket- which is redeemed on faith.
That’s the argument in brief. 🙂