To Make Us Holy, Blameless and Perfect
What people want is not by any means the same as what they need.
In the first century of the Christian era the Jews, who had long failed to understand God’s purposes, longed to witness miraculous signs. There are plenty of folk in the world today want just the same thing – they want to be dazzled by something extraordinary that they can’t explain.
In the Greek world of the first century the main desire was for that ultimate satisfying philosophical system that would provide a rational explanation of life and everything.
Into this first century world burst Jesus Christ and he didn’t conform to the expectations of the day! When his followers went out into the world to spread the good news about Jesus they didn’t try to conform to those expectations either.
The message the early Christians preached concerned "Christ crucified". They were neither embarrassed nor ashamed of these facts of history – they gloried in them. At the same time they were not naïve: they knew that such a message was likely to be dismissed by the Jews as weakness and by the Greeks as foolishness.
They carried on proclaiming their unpopular message, however, confident that it was God’s message. In their preaching, as they focused on Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, they heralded Jesus as both the ‘power of God’ and the ‘wisdom of God’. They refused to adapt, alter or change this message in order to try to make it more palatable to their hearers. They didn’t need to because they were convinced that ‘God’s weakness’ was stronger than anything men could achieve and that ‘God’s wisdom’ was wiser than anything men could come up with.
The task of the Christian church remains the same today. We too need to preach ‘Christ and him crucified’. That is why we are taking some time to consider his death and just why he died. What was the purpose of it all?
Holy, Blameless and above Reproach
In both of the Psalms we read earlier similar questions were raised:
Ps.15:1 "O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?"
Ps.24:3 "Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?"
In other words: "What kind of person can dare to hope to be accepted in the Lord’s presence?"
The answer in both psalms is the same: uprightness and moral cleanliness are the essential qualities. But the answer raises as many problems as it solves – after all the testimony of the Bible tells us that this type of person is not thick on the ground; indeed, the testimony is indeed even severer than that!
Eccl.7:29 "God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes."
Or as the Message more bluntly puts it:
Eccl.7:29 "God made men and women true and upright; we’re the ones who’ve made a mess of things."
And the result of that is:
Ps 14:3 "They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one."
One of our Father’s purposes in sending his Son into the world was to deal with just this problem. The Son came into the world to lay down his life so that we might be presented before God – holy, blameless and above reproach.
Holy – completely set apart for God and pure, free for all sin – the complete opposite of our former state of alienation and hostility
Blameless – without the slightest spot no mark or stain of iniquity to spoil us
Above reproach (irreproachable) This means that nothing and no-
not the law – its demands have been fully satisfied by Jesus’ death
not God – he has freely forgiven us our sins for Jesus’ sake
not our consciences – for our sins have been completely taken away
not the holy angels – for they will welcome us for they are ministering spirits (Heb.1:14)
not Satan – that accuser of the brethren is thrown out (Rev.12:10); specifically he has been conquered by the "blood of the Lamb" (Rev.12:11).
Do you remember how the apostle Paul wrote about the Christian’s remarkable freedom from charge or accusation?
Glorious Prospects and Current Reality
The Christian’s future prospects, according to the Bible, are undeniably glorious and yet we are at the same time conscious of certain discrepancies – when we consider our own current experience there seems to be such a difference between what we do experience in our normal everyday lives and what we are supposed to be experiencing.
How do we handle this? The way in which we respond will have a profound impact upon our lives.
At times, conscious of the gap existing between what ought to be and what is, we can react by berating ourselves. And we can go to opposite extremes as we do so:
We can effectively give up the faith altogether saying it is impossible, it doesn’t work for me, or something similar
At the other end of the spectrum we can try to tighten our belts and redouble our efforts. And we can do so in such a manner that we give the distinct impression that it is by our efforts, our aims and our desires that we will somehow be able to secure our acceptance by Christ
The reality is very different indeed.
If we are Christians then we need to understand that we have already been fully accepted by Christ or else we are not Christians at all. Christ’s death has been effective and continues to remain effective to bring about everything for which he actually died.
In other words in Christ we are now already fully reconciled to God all that remains to be done is for our lives to be conformed to his life.
As Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi:
Phil.3:12 "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own."
The key words to hang onto here are "because Christ Jesus has made me his own".
However imperfect our spiritual progress towards the ultimate goal of complete conformity to Christ actually is, we keep on going because we now belong to Christ and in Christ we have already been perfected in God’s sight. All that remains is for us to become what we are!
In writing about Jesus’ sacrificial death the writer to the Hebrews put it like this:
Heb.10:14 "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."
The utter effectiveness of the sacrificial death of Christ is here contrasted with the limitations of all the earlier animal sacrifices which needed to be regularly repeated. So effective is Christ’s death that it has attained all of its ends. Just stop for a moment and contemplate what is being said here:
Sanctification is a progressive work and the only people who need it are imperfect people. The Christian is saved – his future is secure – but he still needs to be sanctified, he is still in the process of being made holy for he is not yet fully holy in himself
And yet it is precisely these—and only these—who are identified as having been made perfect!
The joyful encouragement here is that the evidence of our perfection before God is not to be found in our "experienced perfection", but instead in our "experienced progress". The good news is that being on the way is proof that we have arrived.
Are you "on the way?"
Christ’s work is so sure and so certain that in God’s sight the fullness of his work is already complete and finished
Cf. "he who has begun a good work WILL bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil.1:6)
In the light of this we are encouraged to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" – it is a serious task after all – yet with joyful confidence and expectation knowing that "it is God who works is us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Cf. Phil.2:12-
The salvation that is secured for us by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is regularly portrayed to us in the terms of fullness and completeness the reality of which we, who are bound by time, have not yet begun to personally experience. This salvation is a unified whole, a complete salvation package if you like – while we may experience different elements of this package at different times we must not imagine that our salvation comes in a piecemeal fashion. If in Christ you have a part in Christ you will have the whole.
Listen to some more words that Paul wrote in Romans ch.8. This time he is describing the golden chain of salvation:
And how should we react to such things? We are certainly not meant to stumble over the detail but to rejoice and that is just how Paul continues:
Rom.8:31 "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"
Dough and Leaven – One More Picture
Elsewhere the Bible we find another picture is employed to tell us to become what we already are in the reality of God’s sight.
This picture uses the old language of dough and leaven (yeast), where leaven is to be understood as that which is evil.
Paul wrote about this to the church in Corinth:
1Cor.5:7 "Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"
Paul’s line of reasoning is once again that Christians must become what they are!
Christians he writes are "unleavened" there is no leaven – no evil in their lives for, in Christ, they have been perfected. This perfection in Christ is then given as the reason why the Christian is to press on and "cleanse out the old leaven." Having been made "unleavened" in Christ the Christian must now become unleavened in practice.
And the basis of all this? The answer that Paul gives is that it is all due to the death of Christ!
"For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed."
The suffering of Christ secures our perfection so firmly that it is already now a divine reality. Therefore, we fight against our sin not simply to become perfect, but because we are. The death of Jesus is the key to battling our imperfections on the firm foundation of our perfection.
When we can grasp this what a change is wrought. Our battles and struggles are now entered into from a position not of weakness but of strength. We are not desperately trying to attain some imagined standard that will enable Christ to accept us – that would be to fight on very poor ground indeed: how could we ever be sure we’d done enough? how could we ever be sure we’d tried hard enough? How could we ever be sure we were sincere enough?
To fight however realising that the war has already been won, that the outcome is already determined, that we will and must be victorious puts a very different complexion on the matter. The end for the Christian must be victory because he is united to Christ the Victorious Conqueror.
May God grant us all peace and joy in believing, knowing that when Christ appears we will be like him. Jesus died for us and is returning for us – his work has not failed, is not failing and will never fail.