An offering “without blemish”
“When I look at myself I don’t see how I can be saved. But when I look at Jesus I don’t see how I can be lost.”
That saying, attributed to Martin Luther, clearly summarizes the grandeur of the gospel.
Let’s begin with where we are. Paul tells us that “all have sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).* I am a sinner and am unable to please God. Apart from Him, I stand guilty. I am an example of total depravity. I am a fountain of corruption. On my own, I am a disaster – not one that’s waiting to happen – rather, one that has already happened. So how can I possibly make it to heaven to live in the presence of a holy God, when I am morally and spiritually bankrupt?
God’s ideal for His followers
The standard God has set for His people is high, clear, and specific: “‘Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’” (Matthew 5:48). Does God really mean this? Paul, writing to the Ephesians, spoke of Christ’s desire for the church: “that he might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). No wrinkle or blemish of any kind. That is God’s wish.
Seem impossible? How in the world can I ever meet these requirements to be saved and then remain saved? How can I or anyone else achieve such a standard? Humanly speaking, there is no way to meet these requirements. Yet we know that God is just and fair. He would not set up an impossible standard. The good news is that there is a way.
Revelation 7:9 offers us this wonderful encouragement: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” This picture of the future is encouraging because a multitude of people that no one could number is there, clothed with pure white, without any blemish. They all found a way.
There is a way
Jesus said, “‘I am the way’” (John 14:6). This is so simple, so profound, and so thrilling. Jesus is the way. The righteousness that comes from His free grace provides us the way. But this righteousness is far from our righteousness, from our good works. Our soy-milk-drinking, tofu-eating, TV-rejecting, church-office-holding, literature-distributing, Bible-studies-giving, abstinent righteousness will never make it with God, because the best righteousness we can produce on our own is only “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
When we refer to God’s free grace, we are not speaking of cheap grace that demands no obedience on our part. Actually, divine grace is the most expensive grace one can imagine, for it cost God the life of His Son. That’s what makes Jesus the Way – a truth everyone needs to understand. Religious people who have emphasized behavior, performance, obedience, law, standards, and rules need to know this truth. So-called Christians who don’t have any joy or assurance in their spiritual life need to know this truth. People trusting in their own level of achievement need to know this truth. Adventists who feel guilty, burdened, condemned, and worn out trying need to know this truth. And if you think you can never measure up, you need to know and understand the meaning of the words “I am the way!”
Because Jesus is the way, I can be accepted while He is making me acceptable. I can be perfect while He is perfecting me. I can be ready while He is making me ready. I can gladly join Martin Luther in affirming, “When I look at myself, I don’t see how I can be saved. But when I look at Jesus, I don’t see how I can be lost.”
On May 21, 1946, Louis Slotin and seven other men were carrying out a dangerous experiment in Los Alamos, New Mexico. They were working with pieces of plutonium, which produces deadly radioactivity when enough of it is brought together. During the experiment, the pieces were accidentally nudged a little too close together, and a great surge of radioactivity filled the room. Slotin moved immediately. With his bare hands, he pulled the radioactive pieces apart. But in so doing, he exposed himself to an overwhelming dosage of radiation. Several days later, he died. The other seven survived.
Jesus came down to this dangerous, deadly earth laboratory where we live. On the cross, He threw Himself on the explosive, destructive force of sin, covering it with His own body so that we would escape and live. His death saved our lives.
An offering without blemish
Go back to the Old Testament sanctuary services. One of God’s people became convicted of a sin and came to the sanctuary with an offering to be made right with God. Did God instruct the individual to be the offering or to bring the offering? Did God require that the offerer or the offering be “without blemish”? Whose life was taken to pay the price of God’s broken law, that of the sinner or the lamb? Was the sinner justified, cleansed, reconciled with God on the basis of being the right kind of offerer, or of bringing the right kind of offering?
Look back again to the sanctuary service. Do you see the priest examining the lamb to be sure it is an offering without blemish? Do you see the repentant sinner place his hands on the head of the offering and confess his sins, thus transferring them to the totally innocent, perfect lamb? Do you notice that it is the lamb’s life that is taken, and the lamb’s blood that is carried into the sanctuary to make atonement and reconciliation for the sinner?
On the nature of the offering, recall Leviticus 22:19-21: “You shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats. Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable on your behalf.”
An offering without blemish. Against that benchmark, I look at myself. I am defective. No matter how hard I try to be “without blemish,” I can never be good enough to be the offering. But I need to look elsewhere.
Christ: The one without blemish
We need to look at Christ. He is our example in how to live. But we need something more than an example when it comes to salvation. We need a sacrifice. And Christ – the one without blemish – is our sacrifice. By dying for our sins, He became our substitute, our Savior. Hence Luther could say with confidence, “When I look at Jesus I don’t see how I can be lost.”
Does this mean that my “works” don’t count? Does it mean that my spiritual growth and sanctification mean nothing? Isn’t my obedience worth anything? Doesn’t my striving to work out my salvation make any difference to God?
Absolutely, it does. It does as the “fruit” of my salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, the offering of God’s own providing. But it is not the “root.” What I do in loving obedience to the one who provides the acceptable offering is the evidence or fruit of my salvation experience.
We are not the offering. We cannot be the offering. We bring an offering, and that offering is the spotless Lamb of God. The story is told of a sculpture of a lamb on the roof of a church in Germany. When the church was being built, one of the workers fell from the roof to the ground. His friends climbed down as quickly as they could, expecting to find him dead. But he was virtually unhurt. A lamb had been grazing below, and he had landed on the lamb, absolutely crushing it. He was so thankful that he chose to carve a stone lamb as a memorial of the lamb’s sacrifice that saved his life.
Jesus, the Lamb of God, died on the cross to save you and me. We can experience the joy and freedom of salvation if we come to God in the name of that offering – the “without blemish” offering – in the name of Jesus because of whom we are counted righteous through faith.
Gerry D. Karst (M.Div., Andrews University) is a general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and chairman of the Andrews University Board of Trustees. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.
Author’s note: In writing this article, I am indebted to Philip Dunham’s recent work Sure Salvation (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 2007). Used by permission.