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14. Perfected Through Christ’s Sacrifice For Us

Chapter 14

Perfected Through Christ’s Sacrifice For Us

Too Easily Satisfied With Regeneration

Regeneration, renewal, and perfection cover the scope of the Christian life from beginning to end.

Christians today don’t hear much about the Biblical teaching of perfection, and are often left with only regeneration. And even in this they seldom receive adequate instruction. And where regeneration is act­ually taught, usually little else is taught in regard to salvation, so we are left to wonder if the Christ­ian life has anything beyond being born again.

So what takes place after you are born again? We often get the impression that nothing much more happens, and that regeneration is more or less the end of the matter. But in our study of God’s word, we have seen that regeneration is only the beginning of a process called renewal, which leads on to perfection.

The Old Testament Sacrificial System

Let us continue our study of perfection in the light of God’s word, particularly in the book of Hebrews. I wonder if today’s subject may be too deep for many Christians today. Many are accustomed to elementary and even superficial teaching, and anything beyond that is often too difficult for some Christians to handle.

I will be touching on the sacrificial system in the Old Testament as well as the teaching about it in the New Testament, hence my concern whether the subject may be too hard for some readers. But how can we understand the Bible if we don’t understand the sacrificial system at all? We can hardly open the Old Testament without reading something about the sacrificial system. The New Testament, too, has many references to it, and Hebrews is a full exposition of it.

1. Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Let us begin with an often asked question: Why did Jesus have to die in order to save us? Why couldn’t God save us simply by forgiving us our sins? Couldn’t He have said to us, “I forgive all your sins,” and closed the matter at that? Why was Jesus’ death necessary?

If God’s holiness, righteousness and purity are alien concepts to us, and if we don’t know what is the purpose of the sacrificial sy­stem, then obviously we wouldn’t have the faintest idea why it was necessary for Jesus to die in order to save us. That is why, in our ignorance, we say to ourselves, “Why couldn’t God simply forgive us our sins without the sacrifice of Jesus?” If that could be done, wouldn’t God Himself have thought of it? In our blindness we sometimes imagine that we have seen something that God has overlooked!

In addressing this question, we are not dealing with advanced topics but with the very basics of salvation. I will try to explain the matter as simply as possible without technicality, if at all possible. I aim to make this complex subject as simple as the Lord enables me.

2. It is not whether we accept God, but whether God accepts us

The first point we must grasp about the sacri­ficial system is this: The important thing in Scripture is not whether we accept God but whether God accepts us. Many evangelists in all their good intent­ions have turned the matter upside down. They are always talking about accepting Christ, accepting salvation, as though everything depended on our accepting Jesus. Jesus is often portrayed as a rather pitiful character who stands at the door of our hearts. He keeps on knocking, apparently with some degree of futility, upon the door of our hearts—a door, it is stressed, that has no knob that he can access from the outside. They say that this is the picture given to us in Revelation 3.20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me.”

To apply this verse in this way is to tear it out of its context, because these words of Jesus are addressed to Christians, not to unbelievers. Here the Lord is speaking to the Christians who have in practice rejected him from their lives, even though they once had “accepted” him. Jesus is in effect saying to the Laodicean Christ­ians: “You who claim to be my people are in reality living without me, having excluded me from your lives. But if there is still anyone among you who hears my call and opens his heart to me, we will have sweet fellowship together”.

This sad picture is familiar to anyone who is acquainted with the Old Testament prophetic writings. That was the accusation that the prophets leveled against Israel time and again. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and many others were consistent in proclaiming to Israel: “You claim to be My people, and indeed I have called you to be My people. You are the people of My covenant but you have excluded Me from your lives, not necessarily in word but in practice.”

It is wrong exegesis to take a passage like Revelation 3.20 and apply it to non-Christians. Yet many evangelists and preachers today have turned the matter upside down, portraying God as a piti­ful character who pleads for acceptance at the door of the hearts of unbelievers. On the contrary, Scripture depicts God as the great King who rules.

The truth is that you and I, rather than God, are the pitiful ones. It is we who need to plead for His mercy and acceptance, because to be accepted by Him is life and to be rejected by Him is death. The God of love, justice, and holiness will accept us only if we approach Him on His terms. The apostles didn’t preach a pitiful God or a pitiful Christ who pleads at the door of our hearts. Paul proclaims that God, as Lord of all, “commands [41] all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17.30, NIV), which implies that, in His mercy, God gives everyone the opportunity to repent.

As for Rev.3.20, we need only ask the question, “Should there have been a closed door between the Lord and the (Laodicean, or any) church in the first place? What does that tell us about the spiritual condition of that church? If the door was closed, it was not Jesus who closed it because it was he who called on them to open it. If they open it, fellowship with him can be renewed, as depicted by sharing a meal together.

Imagine, a church that has closed its door on Jesus! In his gracious­ness, he calls them to remove the obstacle to fellowship with him by opening the door. The call to open the door is a rebuke for having closed the door, a warning of discipline if they remain obstin­ate, and a call to repentance. All these things are expressed in the previous verse, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discip­line. So be earnest, and repent” (v.19). The Lord is being gracious in calling them to repentance after having given them a stern rebuke (vv.15-18). They are called to overcome sin (v.21). The closed door represents the barrier caused by the sins mentioned in the preceding verses, which separate them from their God (Isa.59.2). It is not a pitiful plea on the part of God, begging people to accept Him, but a call to renewed fellowship with Him through humble repentance, along with a warning of the consequences of failing to repent.

3. New Testament References

The New Testament has many references to being acceptable to the Lord or being accepted by him, but remarkably few references to our accepting him.

With one exception, all New Testament references to receiving Jesus, or not receiving Jesus, are found in the gospels. There is one reference in Mark, but it is of an indirect character: “Whoever receives one child like this in my name receives me” (9.37). It has no direct bearing on the present subject. There is also only one reference in Luke where it reports that the Samaritans were unwilling to receive Jesus into their village (9.53). John mentions that the Galileans were willing to receive Jesus (4.45), but John 1.11 and 5.43 state that the Jews in general refused to accept him. However, those who are willing to receive him are given the right to become children of God (1.12). These are all the references there are in the gospels, and only the last three have any direct reference to receiving Jesus into our hearts.

Outside the gospels, there is only one reference relevant to “accepting Jesus”: “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him” (Col.2.6, NIV). Here it is not merely a question of “accepting Jesus” but a matter of receiving him as the Lord[42] .

By contrast, the New Testament uses at least six different Greek words to express the idea of our being pleasing or acceptable to God or to Christ, or being accepted by Him. All the passages in which they stand are of great importance for us. For example: “Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Ro.15.7). Or, “You …a holy priesthood, to offer up sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1Pet.2.5). (For further references to the six Greek words, see foot­note [43].)

The King James Version and New King James Version give a beau­tiful translation of Ephesians 1.6: “He has made us accepted in the Beloved”. The word translated “accepted” is the verb form of the Greek word for “grace,” and it means to “bestow favor upon, favor highly, bless”. It is true that God has accepted us in Christ, but there is something even more than that: God has graciously granted us a favorable acceptance in Christ, His Beloved One.

Summing up our observations, we can affirm that receiving or accept­ing Jesus is certainly necessary on our part, provided that this doesn’t just mean a mental or intellectual acceptance of Jesus as a good man, or as someone who is willing to forgive us our sins and bless us with whatever we want. It must mean nothing less than receiving Jesus into our hearts as the Lord and Savior of our lives.

Important as this may be, even more important is the question of our being accepted by God. As sinners, this would be utterly impossible for us without the atoning death of Jesus on the cross, where he died to reconcile us to God. His death for our sake was absolutely necessary to open the way for God to accept us. If God does not accept us, of what use is it for us to accept Him? His acceptance of us is an act of His bountiful grace; our acceptance of Him is an act of the grateful obedience of faith in response to His grace.

Even when we say we “accept Him,” there is still the question as to what exactly we mean by that. It is still up to God to decide if our “accepting Him” is really acceptable to Him. We mustn’t deceive our­selves with a false assurance that we are saved just because we have “accepted Him” without bothering to ascertain whether our acceptance of Him is of a kind that is acceptable to Him. The point is that acceptance does not depend on us, but ultimately on Him.

As for the Lord Jesus, only when we receive him as Lord of our lives will our acceptance of him begin to be acceptable to him. Why do we say “begin to be acceptable”? It is because, as we saw in Colossians 2.6, if we have truly received him as Lord, we must “continue to live in him” as our Head (NIV). That is to say, our lives must match our profession of him as Lord. If our lives don’t match what we profess, clearly we won’t be acceptable to him.

Surely we are not so deluded as to think that we can fool God into accepting us on the basis of a mere profession of faith, or a manner of life that only partially or sporadically matches our profession of Him as Lord? That is why many of the references given in footnote 43 refer to things which Christians do, or should do, which are acceptable to God. We must grasp the Biblical emphasis if we are to avoid distorting the Gospel in our teaching and preaching, making it man-centered rather than God-centered.

4. The Sacrificial System Provided a Way to be Acceptable to God

It should now be clear that the fundamental question is not whether we accept God but whether God accepts us. We must get this point clear if we are to understand the sacrificial system at all. The whole purpose of the sacrifices was to provide a means for sinners like us to become acceptable to God.

But when we distort the picture and make everything depend on our accepting God, then why Jesus had to die will remain a mystery to us.

Full-time service also requires God’s acceptance

Before we examine more closely the sacrificial system, let me point out that this important truth—that everything fundamentally depends on God’s acceptance—applies to every area of the Christian life. For example, it applies not only to our salvation but also to our full-time service for the Lord. We tend to think that it is we who decide whether to serve God full-time or not. I seldom hear people say it is a question of whether God accepts them for full-time service. Some people think that it is entirely up to them to decide whether to serve God or not, and some may even think that our full-time service is a bonus for God—He ought to be pleased that someone like me has decided to do something for Him! In contrast to this, what we see in the Scriptures are men of outstanding quality who hope that God may consider them worthy of His service.

God looks into the hearts of those who aspire to serve Him. He observes the way they live and do things, e.g. the way they use money and gifts, and the way they fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them (Lk.16.9,10; cf.19.17). Those who are faithful or diligent in one area will serve with the same faithfulness in another area. A similar statement can be made of those who are unfaithful. It should be clear what is the kind of person God is likely to choose for His service. But He doesn’t choose us just because we think we are faithful, for He knows us far better than we know ourselves. Alterna­tively, we may consider ourselves worthless, but God’s way of evaluating us is very different from ours, for His ways are not our ways (Isa.55.8,9).

When a person of the spiritual stature of Isaiah was called to serve God, he immediately became painfully aware of his unworth­iness. He did not say, “Here I am Lord, ready to serve you.” No, before he said anything like that in response to God’s call, he had a profound realization of his utterly unworthy spiritual condition. In the presence of the living God he saw his wretched state and cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isa.6.5). How can a man of unclean lips be acceptable to God as His spokesman? God had to cleanse Isaiah, widely regarded as the greatest of the prophets, before he could be accepted for God’s service. Are there not a considerable number of people in the churches today who teach and preach with lips that have not been cleansed, causing turmoil, dissension, and even schism in the churches?

Let us get this clear. In the spiritual life, we don’t call the tune, we are not the boss. Let us not get ensnared in the ancient Greek idea that man is the measure of all things. In Scripture, it is God, not man, who is the measure of all things. He is the One who deter­mines everything. From Him proceeds everything that pertains to life. “For with You is the fountain of life” (Psalm 36.9). God is the One who decides whether we will be accepted into His kingdom, or into His service.

Since we don’t call the tune, much less do we dare portray Jesus as a pitiful character pleading at the door of man’s heart. But what have many preachers done in their preaching? They have turned the picture upside down. But the truth stands: God is King of kings, Lord of lords. With Him is every decision that governs the past, the present, and the future.

5. Accepted Through Jesus’ Sacrificial Blood

The sacrificial system was instituted so that Israel could ap­proach God, but at a distance. They could not come near. It allowed only one person—the high priest—to enter into God’s presence, and that only once a year. Not even the high priest himself could come into God’s presence without the shedding of sacrificial blood to atone for his own sins. He could not—he dared not—go through the veil into the Holy of Holies without the blood. The people of Israel would stay at a distance, even on the Day of Atone­ment, despite all the many sacrifices. No one dared come into God’s presence; only the high priest could enter, and even he could come only through the shed blood.

Let us reiterate, therefore, the need to clearly grasp the fundamental principle in Scripture that it is not primarily whether we accept God but whether God accepts us. Without the blood of the sacrifice, it is impossible for sinful man to draw near to Him. This was true in the past, and remains true in the present and the future. Jesus died in order to make us acceptable to God because we could never, with our sins, be acceptable to Him.

6. Being Perfect is a Basic Requirement

There is another important truth. Since it is God who decides whether we are acceptable to Him, what kind of person, then, is acceptable to God? The answer is found in our present topic: perfection. The only kind of person that God accepts is the perfect man. Yes, that’s right, God accepts nothing less than perfection! We need to elaborate on this astonish­ing principle from God’s word.

Perfection in the Biblical sense is, in fact, not the highest ideal that we suppose it to be. Perfection is but a basic requirement that is commanded of every Christian. “You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5.48). As we have previously seen, this also means to be holy as He is holy. God required Israel to be holy; otherwise they could not be accepted. The same applies to us. Hebrews 12.14 states plainly, “Make every effort to be holy; without holiness no one will see God” (NIV). Not to be allowed to see God in the end—what else can that mean but that such a person is rejected by God? And what does being rejected by Him mean but that he is not saved? Holiness and salvation are inseparable.

7. Three Aspects of the Sacrificial System—All Three Call for Perfection

Let us consider three main aspects of the sacrificial system. First, there is the sacrifice. Second, there is the priest who offers the sacri­fice. Third, there is the sinner on whose behalf the priest offers the sacrifice.

There is, of course, a fourth party—God—who accepts (or rejects) the sacrifices. But here we will discuss the subject matter from the human perspective, and examine these three things: the sacrifice, the priest, and the sinner.

(1) The Sacrifice Must be Perfect: Without any Defect

1. The sacrifice. According to the Law, no sacrifice is acceptable unless it is perfect, that is, without spot or blemish or defect. Every sacrifice that we offer to God has to be perfect before it can be ac­cepted. This requirement is stated in many passages. Some examples:

Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be acceptable for you. And when a man offers a sacrifice of peace offer­ings to Yahweh… it must be perfect to be ac­cepted; there shall be no defect in it. (Leviticus 22.20 21)

… the first-born of your flock…if it has any defect…you shall not sacrifice it to Yahweh your God (Deut.15.19,21).

You shall not sacrifice to Yahweh your God an ox or a sheep which has a blemish or any defect, for that is a detestable thing to Yahweh your God (Deut.17.1).

It is repeatedly and clearly stated that a sacrifice has to be perfect before Yahweh God will accept it. It must have no blemish at all, not a single flaw. The sacrifice that we offer to God will be rejected if it has the slight­est imperfection.

Under the sacrificial system, when an animal is brought into the temple as an offering to God, the priest inspects it for flaws. If it has even one imperfection, the priest will say, “Take it away. It is not acceptable to God.”

This is designed to teach Israel that only the best and the perfect are acceptable to Yahweh God. Sacrifices were being offered in the temple every day. In this way the lesson was driven home daily that the Israelites must offer to God only what is flawless, without blemish[44]; anything less than that was rejected.

The Israelites were taught this lesson day after day; yet it seems that Christians still don’t understand it even though they also have the Old Testament. Do we somehow suppose that where­as only the perfect was good enough for God under the Old Coven­ant, under the New Covenant just about anything goes? What sort of concept of the New Covenant do we have? What sort of a concept of God do we have?

Some seem to think, for example, that it is good enough that they offer some of their spare time to God. Can it be that they don’t know that if we are the Lord’s, that is because we have been bought by him with a price[45]—the life blood of Jesus—so we belong to him completely? And what does that mean for our daily lives but that we live for him all the time, no matter what job we are engaged in at the moment?

Many Christians do not even offer their tithes to the Lord (cf. Malachi 3.8,9). And even if they do offer God something, they seem to think they have done Him a great favor because God, after all, is supposedly a beggar who pleads at the door of our hearts. You would hardly give good things to a beggar, would you? If you give him anything at all, you are being kind to him. No one would think of giving the best to a beggar. He would be happy to receive a torn dollar bill, would he not?

Certainly we wouldn’t dare to openly call God a beggar since that seems to come close to blasphemy. But, honestly, is that not how He is often actually treated? We could be guilty of blasphemy, not by what we say, but by what we do. We can insult a person without saying a word, for example, simply by ignoring him—as we might ignore a beggar.

From the history of Israel, recorded for our spiritual benefit, we see that during periods when their relationship with God grew steadily more tenuous and remote, their spiritual lives soon began to plummet out of control. In that condition even the priests “despised” the Lord. If even the priests as the religious leaders of the people could do this, what can one expect of the nation as a whole? Listen to the startling words spoken through the prophet Malachi:

“If I am a Master, where is My respect?” says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, “How have we despised your name?” You are presenting defiled food upon My altar…But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? (1.6-8, cf. Also v.13).

God was being treated as a beggar by these ungodly priests who gave Him the animals no one else wanted. What insol­ence! What kind of attit­ude to God had they degenerated to? Little wonder that not only their sacrifices but the nation as a whole was rejected by God, and they were sent into exile.

Brothers and sisters, if you intend to offer God something that is less than perfect, you might as well not bother at all; it will surely be rejected. In some cases, He may even regard such an offering as evil, as Malachi makes clear. In view of this, will we stubbornly per­sist in thinking that if our lives are less than holy or perfect, we will still be acceptable to God?

Both Israelites and Christians should have known that only offerings without blemish are acceptable to God, because that was already known long before the sacrificial system was instituted. As early as in Genesis 4, when Cain and Abel made their respective offerings, God rejected Cain’s offering. He explained to Cain that if he had “done well,” his offering would have been accepted (Genesis 4.7). Abel, on the other hand, did well, offering his best, and his sacrifice was accepted. The truth about what is acceptable to God was known to man from the dawn of human history.

(2) The Priest Must Be Perfect

2. The priest. It is not only the sacrifice but also the priest that has to be perfect before he could be accepted into God’s service. This is repeatedly stated in Leviticus 21, in which God said the following to Moses:

Speak to Aaron [the high priest], saying, none of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long… No man of the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offering; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of God (Lev.21.17,18,21, ESV).

The message is clear. No one with the slightest imperfection may offer sacrifices to God. Both the sacrifice and the priest must be per­fect.

God was not, of course, primarily concerned with phy­sical flawless­ness. All this was designed to drive home the lesson that nothing less than spiritual excellence and perfection is acceptable to God. It was a lesson that He had drummed into the minds of the Israelites. Every priest had to be thoroughly inspected before he could be accepted into God’s service. He was not exempted from inspection despite his priestly des­cent.

Aaron was the high priest, yet none of his descendants could be accepted for the priestly ministry if they carried any defect. Being of priestly descent, and belonging to the tribe that God had appointed for the priestly service, did not automatically qualify them to serve in the temple. Even a man of priestly birth must be inspected to verify that he is perfect and without blemish. If he is not perfect, he wouldn’t be accepted into God’s presence or God’s service. Do we understand this? Nothing less than perfection is acceptable to a holy God, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Why then do so many evangelists and preachers paint a pitiful picture of a beggarly God standing at the door of our hearts, hoping that we might open the door out of compassion for Him, and admit Him into the palace of our lives? We have turned everything upside down. The truth is that no one except the perfect will be accepted into God’s holy and majestic presence.

Brothers and sisters, per­fection in Scripture is not a high and lofty ideal that is unattainable in this life. We are talking about something that God expects of everyone, a perfection without which we will be rejected. Moreover, in speaking of the fact that priests have to be without blemish to be acceptable to God, notice how it ties in with what was said a little earlier in this chapter regard­ing full-time workers in the church. For priests were “full-time workers” in the temple ministry.

(3) The Sacrifice ‘Perfects’ Us: It Frees Us from the Guilt and the Power of Sin

3. The sinner. The third point concerns the sinner on whose behalf the sacrifice is offered. The sacrifice is designed to make the person who offers it acceptable to God, by making him perfect. And what do we mean by “perfect”? The book of Hebrews gives us a definition of “perfect” that is particularly relevant because it is used in the context of the sacrificial system.

Hebrews first points out that “the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year…make perfect those who draw near” (10.1; also 7.11).

If the purpose of the sacrifices to wasn’t make perfect those for whom the sacrifices were offered, then this statement would be irrelev­ant. The whole point hinges on the fact that the sacrifices were offered in order to make sinners perfect.

But the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant could not accomplish this because it was “a symbol for the present time. Ac­cordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience” (9.9), that is to say, the sacri­fices couldn’t free him from the guilt of sin in his heart because they couldn’t free him from the power of sin. Consequently, as in Romans 7, he does the evil he doesn’t want to do, and is unable to do the good he wants to do. Though he keeps on offering sacri­fices, he is not one bit better off than before, because he keeps on sinning. “O wretched man that I am” (Ro.7.24) expresses poignantly the fact that the worshiper is not made “perfect in conscience,” being held fast under sin’s unrelenting dominion.

Perfection, therefore, means freedom from the guilt of sin and the power of sin. Anyone who has been freed from sin in both senses—the guilt and the power—is thereby perfected. If you have been freed from the power of sin and are no longer enslaved to it, and if your past sins have been forgiven and you have been cleansed by the sacrifice, then your spiritual state is one of perfection. If you are no longer compelled to sin, you are clearly free from its power. Now you are able to live a life that is holy and righteous, pleasing and acceptable to God.

The sacrifices were offered in the temple to remove the guilt of sin that grips the conscience. “I have sinned! What can I do?” Those in bondage to sin are constantly spiritually paralyzed by a guilty conscience. The sacrifices were offered to free the conscience from the suffocating guilt of sin.

But that is still not enough. In an earlier chapter, we saw that it is not enough to be freed from the guilt of sin. Even if a drug addict is par­doned, that does not solve his problem, because he is still under the powerful control of his addiction to drugs. To forgive him his sins without freeing him from the power of sin is not true mercy, because he will keep on returning to drugs, thus increasing his sin and his guilt.

For the sacrifice to be effec­tive, it must remove the guilt of sin, and free the person from the power of sin. We cannot be perfect in this sacrificial sense unless we are free on both counts. To preach a forgive­ness of sins without a corres­ponding freedom from the tyrannical power of sin is not the good news of the gospel at all.

Does the drug addict truly rejoice if he is told that he is pardoned when he is still in the grip of his addiction? If he finds himself compelled to go back to cocaine or to jab dirty needles into his veins, where is the good news? He is still enslaved to drugs. There is no gospel or good news to talk about unless we preach freedom from both the guilt and the power of sin, that is, to be “perfected”.

8. The Sacrificial System Cannot Free Us from the Power of Sin

This explains why the Old Testament sacrifices had to be replaced by the sacrifice of Christ. If the Law could have imparted life and freedom, then the Law would have been sufficient, and Christ’s death for us wouldn’t have been necessary. But in reality, the Law cannot free us from the power of sin. Therefore, neither can it ultimately free us from the guilt of sin. He who is still under the control of sin will continue to sin and increase his guilt.

Hebrews 7.19 says that the “Law made nothing perfect”. For this reason, “the former regulation (the Law) is set aside because it was weak and useless” (v.18, NIV).

The description “weak and useless” indicates that the temple sacrifices were ultimately unable to deal with the problem of sin’s power. Hence the law made nothing “perfect”. But a better hope has arrived by which we can draw near to God by being made acceptable to Him. And this is the Good News: “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10.10,14).

9. Jesus Christ as Sacrifice, High Priest, and Offering

The three aforementioned points regarding the sacrificial system can be applied to the Lord Jesus himself: (i) Christ is the perfect sacrifice; (ii) Christ is the perfect high priest; (iii) the offering of Christ perfects the sinner.

(1) Jesus, the Perfect Sacrifice

Firstly, Jesus has to be perfect, for he cannot otherwise be of­fered up as a sacrifice for us. 1Peter 1.18-19 affirms that,

It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (NIV)

(2) Jesus, the Perfect High Priest

Secondly, in line with the Old Testament requirement, Jesus had to be perfect as a high priest. Because he is both priest and sacrifice, he had to be perfect on both counts. Unless Jesus is perfect on both counts, his sacrifice would not avail for us.

The Old Testament’s emphasis on perfection is designed to teach us about spiritual perfection. When Peter (in the passage quoted) describes Jesus as a lamb without spot or blemish, he is not referring to physical flawlessness but to spiritual perfection. Jesus was without sin (blemishes represent sin). For this reason God could accept him on our behalf. But contrary to what we might have expected, Jesus, even as the Son of God on earth, was not simply born spiritually perfect. He had to be made perfect:

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God…should make the author of their salvation per­fect through suffering… And, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 2.10; 5.9)

(3) Perfected by the Offering of Christ, Freed from Sin’s Guilt and Power

Thirdly, Christ was both perfect priest and perfect sacrifice but did he die for himself? No, he died for you and for me, in order to perfect us. Hebrews 10.14 says that by a single offering, Christ “has perfected for all time those who are sanctified”.

To be “perfected”—set free from the guilt and the power of sin—results in a profound change. The sinner becomes righteous. He is trans­formed into a new person in Christ.

To be perfected is not a hypothetical ideal but something we can experience in our daily life. To be freed from guilt is something to give thanks for. But unless we are also free from the power of sin, our guilt will soon return. If the death of Christ only frees us from the guilt but not the power of sin, then it is really no different from the Old Testament sacrifices. As Hebrews tells us, those sacrifices had to be replaced precise­ly for that reason. Otherwise, the sinner, like the drug addict, though he is offered a pardon, is nevertheless left in the vice-like grip of sin.

For this reason, God would not justify us from sin solely in the sense of declaring us forgiven and righteous without also liberating us from the tyranny of sin and making us new persons “created…in true righteous­ness and holiness” (Eph.4.24). In other words, in the New Testament, justification by faith cannot be nar­rowly defined as “declared righteous” but must include “made righteous”.

To be freed from the guilt of sin is something that could be described as being “declared righteous,” but also “made righteous” in terms of being freed from the power of sin. In Biblical teaching, to be perfected is not limited to a pronouncement of forgiveness, but incorporates within it an effective freedom from sin’s dominion. “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8.36)—free to live a new life as a new person in Christ.

Are we living in this freedom? Let no one live in self-deception, thinking himself to be a Christian while living far below the Biblical standard. We might call ourselves “Christ­ians” or have been baptized, but the pivotal question is: Does God accept us? He will accept us only if we receive Christ’s sacrifice in such a way that it is efficacious in our lives, freeing us from sin’s guilt and power.

This precious truth is expounded in Romans chapters 6 and 8. Free­dom from sin’s oppressive power is given to every true disciple of Christ as his spiritual birthright and heritage. The law of sin and death formerly held us in bondage, but now the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus enables us to live in freedom.

10. Freedom and Assurance

If this freedom is not a reality in us, in what sense has Christ’s sacrifice perfected us? If we have not been perfected, how can we be accepted by God? We may accept Him, but does He accept us? We will have the assurance of His acceptance only if we experience in us the perfect­ing power of the sacrifice of Christ. In practice it means that we live a life of being “led by the Spirit of God”—the Spirit who “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Ro.8.14,16). Herein lies true assurance of heart.

Do we easily lose our temper for lack of self-control? Do we chase after money as the main motivation of our lives? Do we habitually harbor a critical attitude towards people, picking on their every fault? Do we see the splinter in their eyes but not the log in ours? If so how can it be true that we have been freed from the law of sin and death and are experien­cing the new life?

Do you know in yourself that you have been perfected and are a new person living a new life in Christ? We know what it is to be physically alive but do we know what it is to be spiritually alive? Can we be alive without knowing we are alive? It would be pointless to ask a dead person whether he is alive. But a living person ought to know he is alive. You may have to pinch yourself, but at least you can say, “Yes, I’m alive.” Well, pinch yourself spiritually to see if you are spiritually alive.

The Lord Jesus in his boundless love welcomes us. His outstretched arms upon the cross expressed his willingness to accept us sinners. If we fail to come within his embrace, it won’t be because he was unwilling but because we were unwilling.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Ro.15.7, NIV)

For God has accepted him (Ro.14.3).

 


[41] παραγγέλλω “give orders, command, instruct, direct”. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich (BAG).

[42] BAG defines it as, “παραλ. τὸν Χριστὸν Ἰης. accept Christ Jesus, i.e. the proclamation of him as Lord, Col 2:6”. A Gk-Eng Lexicon of the NT.

[43] (1)ἀποδεκτός means acceptable and ἀπόδεκτος pleasing, 1Ti.2:3; 5:4.” (2)εὐάρεστος, pleasing, acceptable (said of pers. and things)” Ro.12.1,2; 14.18 (3)εὐπρόσδεκτος, (easily) acceptable, pleasant, welcome” Ro.15.16; 1Pe.2.5. (4)παραδέχομαι, accept, receive” Heb.12.6. (5) προσλαμπάνω receive or accept in one’s society, in (to) one’s home or circle of acquaintances τινά someone of one Christian receiving another Ro.14:1; 15:7a. Of God or Christ accepting the believer 14:3; 15:7b”. (6)πρόσλημψις or πρόσληψις acceptance (by God) Ro 11:15.” All quotations are from A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, BAG.

[44] See also Ex.12.5; Lev.1.3,10; Ezek.43.22-25; 45.18,23; 46.6,13.

[45] 1Cor.6.20; 7.23.

 

 

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