The Law of Sacrifice as Opposed to Christ’s Perfect Sacrifice

By Ed Mellott

“For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” — Hebrews 9:24-28

Over the centuries many doctrines of Christianity have been the subject of furious debate. One such debate has been over the relationship of faith and works in the Christian’s life. The view has not been uncommon that man must, by some means, earn his salvation. Though this has taken various forms, the common denominator is that man’s salvation is in his own hands. Those who maintain this view, though they may mention God’s grace, in the final analysis believe that they must earn their standing with God.

Many scriptures remind us that our salvation has been purchased by the final, perfect sacrifice of Christ. However, in the article The Law of Sacrifice (Ensign, Oct 1998, pp. 6-13) LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard reflects a different point of view – one more in keeping with the view that salvation must be earned. To some it may appear that he is merely describing the ‘sacrificial’ nature of living for God. It shouldn’t take much examination to realize that Ballard is saying more than that. This becomes evident early on with such statements as “While its practice changed during the New Testament period, the purposes of the law of sacrifice remained in place even after the Atonement of Christ fulfilled the law of Moses.” In other words, Christ’s offering of Himself on the cross did not make a final end to the need for sacrifices, but this provided an important part of the plan. Sacrifice continues by God’s people as a way to “…prove to the Lord that we love Him more than anything.” Ballard’s understanding of the relationship between faith and sacrifice is set forth by a quotation from Joseph Smith: “Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” (Lectures on Faith [1985], 69) Later in the article, he appeals to the teaching of Spencer Kimball: “President Spencer W. Kimball once explained to a young man struggling with his testimony that effort and struggle are necessary if we are to be saved through Jesus Christ.”

Such statements are better understood when we consider the Mormon doctrine of the atonement, which teaches that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice assures the resurrection of all. “All are called forth from the grave, and all except those who are sons of perdition are redeemed from the ‘second death’ (D&C 76:36-38), but all are not resurrected on equal grounds.” The character of our final state is conditional on what we do. “We cannot concoct a doctrine of redemption that denies the necessity of repentance and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (Joseph Smith: The Choice Seer, Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet). Thus, Christ’s sacrifice is important, but not final.

Animal sacrifices in the Old Testament testified to the truth that one was dying in the place of guilty man. The principle of substitution is seen time and again in the offerings made, even in the case of the scapegoat, which was not slain, but led out of the camp. Animal sacrifices were only an image of the sacrifice that would be made for man that would bring an end to all sacrifices. Eventually, however, the sacrifices became empty ritual, and as such, abhorrent to the Lord (see Isa 1:10-17).

Centuries later, during the days of our Lord, animal sacrifices were still being offered. For most, this was still a mere ritual and meaningless to those bringing the offerings. These offerings were soon to be brought to an end, though, because Jesus offered up, not an animal sacrifice, but himself. Paul exhorted the Ephesians to “…walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour” (Eph 5:2). We grasp the finality and perfection of this offering particularly in the letter to the Hebrews. That the animal sacrifices were not perfect is seen in 10:1ff: “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” Christ’s sacrifice of Himself did not have this temporal character, but was final, perfect, and effectual. “…Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

The Law of Sacrifice, therefore, was brought to an end with the sacrifice of Christ. When He cried his last and breathed His last, the veil of the temple was ripped from top to bottom (Mk 15:38; Lk 23:45). About forty-four years later, the Romans destroyed the temple and brought an end to animal sacrifices.

Does all this mean that, being redeemed, we can live as we please? (See Rom 6:1ff; Gal 5:13; 1 Pet 2:16.) That could be the consideration for a study in itself, but suffice it to say that those who are redeemed in Christ live holy lives in response to their salvation, and not as a condition to it. Ballard would have us to believe that Christ has merely started for us what we must continue, and that the nature of our final estate will be conditioned on the sacrifices we ourselves make in this life. Praise be to God who has made us accepted in the beloved (cf. Eph 1:3ff) and has sealed us with his blood (Heb 12:9ff).


For more on the topic of salvation, click here.