In the middle of this passage of Leviticus which deals with the very physical reality of infection in the camp of Israel, there is a spiritual lesson to be learned for the church of today. Infection has disastrous effects on the community. In the OldTestament, physical infection represented sin in the minds of the people. If a person, clothing, or a house, had become infected, it had to be isolated from the Tabernacle (worship of God) and the community (fellowship). If the infection never went away then the infected person essentially became the “living dead” and would have to stay outside the camp, in complete isolation, crying out “unclean, unclean.” While this seems like cruel and unusual punishment, we must remember that the person was not necessarily being made to pay for their own personal sin. Rather, they were a living testimony to the reality of the infection of sin and its effects on worship and community.
Sin isolates. There are just no two ways around it. Today, when we allow sin to creep into our lives, we are infected. When this infection is detected by the priest (we are all priests…remember) it is the duty of the priest to take drastic action to isolate the infection and get rid of it. What would have happened if the priests in Moses’ camp had just let the infection slide out of “grace and compassion”? The tabernacle would have been defiled, God would have been dishonored, and the infection would have spread like wildfire throughout the camp, perhaps killing everyone. So it is with sin. Sin in the camp of God is serious business. It is a spiritual infection that goes way deeper than any skin disease, it worms its way into the soul of a person and kills him with eternal death. Sin must be identified and isolated.
Is that where it stops? Should we just take anyone who is a “sinner” and throw them out of the camp? Not at all. Yes, we must isolate the sin. We must not deal lightly with sin. We must isolate it, but then we must wait “seven days” and see if the infection is gone. In the Old Testament the number seven was a symbol of perfection. It was God’s number. It is during those “seven days” of isolation when the healing can take place. When there is sin in the camp, it is not God’s desire to punish the sinner. God loves the sinner. Yet, sin isolates. Sin cannot come into the presence of God. If it does it throws the whole worshipping community into chaos. God loves the sinner, but He hates the sin that isolates His child from Him. The purpose of the isolation is not punishment, the purpose is healing. If after seven days the person returns and is found to be without infection, if the sin is gone, then they can be reinstated into proper worship of God and fellowship with the community. They must make their sacrifices, shave their head, wash from head to foot, and then they are back.
When we sin, it takes some doing to get back into the swing of things. We need to sacrifice ourselves before God again. We need to ask God to forgive us for our sin. We need to humbly stand before the community and seek forgiveness and restitution. We must be cleansed with the Spirit of God. Then we will be renewed. Never again will that sin have effect on our worship and our fellowship. We are clean. God doesn’t hold it against us. The community doesn’t hold it against us.
Do you see the point here? It’s not that God delights in punishing us for sin and sits around waiting to zap anyone who steps out of line. The natural effects of sin are the punishment in themselves. When you sin you are hurting yourself and everyone else in your community. You are disrupting your relationship and open worship of God. You are dishonoring His name. You are jeopardizing the health of the community. That sin must be isolated or else everyone, starting with you, is going down. As a community we cannot allow sin to fester in our people. We must deal with it quickly, speak the truth about it, isolate it, repent of it, get healed from it, seek forgiveness, make restitution, and experience the cleansing power of God once again. Too many times, in our Christian perspective, in light of Grace, we think that sin is no big deal and that God will just forgive us automatically. That’s not how it works. Grace happened in the fact that God made the once-for-all atoning sacrifice for our sins and made it possible for all people to enter into His presence without a human mediator. That didn’t wipe out the effects of sin in our day-to-day lives. Sin is a nasty infection. It must be dealt with in truth and in love.
What infection do you have today? Is there cherished sin that you hold on to? Perhaps you struggle with lust and private fantasy in your thought life. Perhaps you harbor resentment or bitterness toward someone. Perhaps there is an act that you have done in secret that haunts you. Perhaps you have an addiction that seems “safe and harmless” but hangs around your neck like a 100 pound chain. That infection is destroying your fellowship with God and your fellowship with others. Oh, you may be able to go through the churchy motions, but deep down inside you know you are already standing outside the camp screaming “unclean, unclean”. Remember that Jesus went outside the camp. He touched the unclean one and said, you, too, can be forgiven. God loves you. He does not want you to suffer from this infection. Your community loves you. If you want to be clean, here’s’ what you need to do.
- Find at least one godly person who will sit down with you and listen.
- Verbally name the sin and confess to that person that you have been committing that sin.
- Pray, verbally, with that person and ask God to forgive you for the sin.
- Commit to God that it is your desire to not go back to that sin in your life.
- Verbally speak the name of Jesus and claim that it is through His blood sacrifice that you have been forgiven and through the power of the Holy Spirit that you can be set free from your sin.
- Ask God, verbally, to give you the strength to move away from that sin.
- Ask the person to hold you accountable through regular follow-up conversations to not repeating that sin.
- Make any restitution to offended people that need to be made.
- Publicly, in the context of your true spiritual community, confess (not necessarily in the same level of detail as with the individual) that you have sinned and would like to re-enter a healthy relationship with the community.
If we, as the church, would function in this way, we could begin cleansing our camp, and the Spirit of God could be unleashed to do His work in us and through us.