Q. In Numbers 15 the Lord instructs the children of Israel how to make atonement for sins committed out of ignorance. Then in verse 30, He tells us of a man who sinned presumptuously, knowingly, and willingly and that his iniquity shall be upon him. In the next few verses, a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath was put to death. Seems like there was no atonement or sacrifice that would save him because he didn’t do it out of ignorance. Does this example have any applicability for Christians today?
A. In Old Testament times salvation was based on faith plus obedience to the Law. Although there are cases where intentional sin was forgiven (such as David’s sin with Bathsheba) for the most part the sacrificial system was intended as a temporary remedy only for unintentional sinning, or sins committed in ignorance. The incident involving the Sabbath breaker (Numbers 15:32-36) concerned an intentional and obvious act of rebellion against God’s Law and resulted in his death.
New Testament salvation is different, being based on faith alone. Colossians 2:13-14 says all the sins of our life were forgiven at the cross and Ephesians 1:13-14, 2 Cor. 1:21-22 and others clearly promise that our salvation is guaranteed from the moment we believe.
As for the lesson of Numbers 15:32-36 The writer of Hebrews explained that for us the Sabbath rest begins with our salvation and lasts through the balance of our life (Hebrews 4:1-13). Continuing to work to either earn or keep our salvation is evidence that we don’t believe the work of saving us was completed at the cross and requires ongoing effort on our part. Believing that we’re ultimately responsible for our own salvation is a violation of our sabbath rest and leaves us subject to spiritual death just as the sabbath breaker in Numbers 15 was subject to physical death.