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“Shall be Perfect to be Accepted”
“And whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD to accomplish his vow, or a freewill offering in beeves or sheep, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein.” (Leviticus 22:21)
How many times have you heard people use this statement to justify their behavior — “Well, nobody’s perfect”? How many times have you used it yourself? Of course, the statement is true. None of us are perfect.
What an understatement! We are all sinners. Sinners by birth. Sinners by nature. Sinners by choice. Sinners by practice. Sinners at heart. In the very core of our being we are sin, nothing but sin, a constant, growing mass of iniquity, transgressors in all things and at all times (1 John 1:8-10). The Bible does not only tell us that we make mistakes, that we are less than perfect, and that we have sinned. The Word of God declares, and (if any honesty can be found in us) we must acknowledge, that we are sin, and that there is never a time when we are not sinning. So long as we live in this body of flesh, we sin. We are an ugly, hideous mass of sin.
But the holy Lord God demands perfection. He will not receive anything less than perfection. He will not accept anything less than perfection. The perfect God demands perfection. It is written, “It shall be perfect to be accepted.”
During the days of legal ordinances, under the ceremonial law, the children of Israel were taught to exercise great care in coming to the house of God. The law and the sacrifices and ceremonies associated with divine worship were meticulous. They were designed to inspire reverence for the holy Lord God, while reminding the worshipper of his sin and pointing him to Christ as his only, all-sufficient hope before God. Nothing was to be done thoughtlessly. In every detail the Lord God showed himself to be God and declared, “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” He said, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me.” He commanded, “Profane not my holy name.”
The glorious perfections of the infinite, thrice holy God demand reverence. No Israelite could come to God’s altar aright who did not carefully consider what he was doing and how it was to be done. No doubt, much fear was involved in the worship of those ancients.
God’s law and its ordinances inspired fear in the men who approached him: the fear of carelessly omitting something, the fear of bringing an unacceptable sacrifice, the fear of intruding where he was not permitted, the fear of putting his hand where he was forbidden. If one would worship God, he must exercise great care. Of every ceremony and every sacrifice, of every act and every work, it is written, “It shall be perfect to be accepted.” That was the law; and God would not budge from it.
The holy, perfect Lord God cannot and will not accept anything less than absolute perfection.
This is no easy lesson to learn; but learn it we must. I fear that in our worship we are usually terribly thoughtless. How careless, how indifferent, how half-hearted we are! We are commonly careless in preparing to worship God, thoughtless in prayer, in the reading of Holy Scripture, in our songs of praise, in hearing the Lord’s message, in preaching, in seeking God’s presence, his power, and his blessing. In this day of contemporary (contemptible) worship men and women come to the house of God dressed like they might be going on a picnic!
When we gather with God’s saints in his house to worship him, we are coming to God. Our Savior said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The Spirit of God tells us that as we gather in Christ’s name, “Ye are the temple of the living God.” The church of God is “an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Of every gospel assembly, we are assured, “The Spirit of God dwelleth in you.” Those facts ought to inspire reverence.
The glory of God, his grace toward us, and love for him ought to make us whole-hearted in worship. When we come into the house of God, when we gather with God’s saints in the presence of God, we ought to behave ourselves as men and women in the immediate presence of Jehovah. We ought to strive with the utmost watchfulness of holy care to honor God our Savior. Our God requires and deserves our best in attitude, behavior, and dress (Malachi 1:1-14).
Priests and Sacrifices
The priests who stood for the people before God (representing Christ) must be in bodily presence the perfection of manhood, men without physical blemish. When old age crept upon them, they must give place to one who showed no such sign of decay. Their garments must be perfectly white and clean in their daily service. On the Day of Atonement, for glory and beauty, God’s high priest appeared in all the glory and radiance that the purest gold and the most precious stones could put upon him.
The sacrifices that were offered (representing the Lamb of God) must be without blemish. We see this throughout the Book of Leviticus. Every sacrifice offered to God for atonement had to be rigidly examined before its blood was spilt. — “It shall be perfect to be accepted.”
Under the law, the guilt of sin and the need of atonement were constantly before the eye. If you stepped within the holy place, everywhere you saw the marks of blood. If a man went into the tabernacle, he would see the floor, and the curtain, and the altar, and every piece of furniture stained with the blood of slaughtered lambs, and calves, and doves. Blood was poured by bowlfuls on the floor and sprinkled on almost every holy thing. Everywhere you looked, you would be compelled to read and hear this Word from God. — “Without shedding of blood there is no remission!”
There can be no approach to a thrice-holy God without the remission of sin. And that remission of sin must be obtained through the atoning blood. The Israelite, if he thought about what he was doing and what he observed, must have been keenly aware that he worshipped a God who is terrible in holiness, a God who hates and must punish sin, and a God who will by no means clear the guilty, or pardon sin without atonement. As he observed the unblemished sacrifice, with its blood gushing from its slit throat, he could not help hearing God speak from heaven, “It shall be perfect to be accepted.”
He saw in the necessity for a perfect sacrifice a declaration of the holiness of God. He must have felt that his sin was no trifling matter. God required the blood of a perfect sacrifice before sin could be removed and forgiven. A life had to be sacrificed. Blood had to be shed. The life and the blood had to come from a perfect, unblemished victim.
God’s holy law was constantly ringing in the ears of his people in those days, declaring incessantly, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die!” The law showed a man his sin, exposed his guilt, and condemned him for sin. The sacrifice showed him a door of hope, but hope altogether outside himself, for “it shall be perfect to be accepted.”
Yes, we preach the law. It is holy, just, and good. We do not preach the law as a rule of bondage. We preach the law as God intended it, to shut sinners up to Christ. I pray that God the Holy Ghost will lay his holy law, like an axe, at the root of all our self-righteousness and cut it down. I pray that he will make the law a mirror to us and make us see ourselves in it as we really are, exposing all our warts, and spots, and blemishes, and all the inward foulness of our hearts and souls. Then, and only then, will we be driven outside ourselves to Christ for cleansing.
God always kills before he makes alive. He wounds before he heals, gets us lost before he saves, shows us our foulness before he cleanses, and strips us naked before he clothes us. He always makes people miserable before he comforts, and abases before he exalts.
God says, “It shall be perfect to be accepted.” That unbending declaration shuts you and me up to Christ altogether. I want us to hear this word from God for the rest of our lives. When we rise in the morning and go to God in prayer, when we go to work, or school, or go about our daily employment, when we come into our homes in the evening, when we bow with our families before the throne of God at our table, when we lay down to sleep, when we come to the house of God to worship him, when we leave to serve him, I want us to hear our God speaking these words to us. — “It shall be perfect to be accepted.”
God demands perfection. The holy, perfect Lord God will never accept anything or anyone that is not perfect. He says, “It shall be perfect to be accepted.” The thrice holy Jehovah would not have a blemished priest before his altar, or a blemished sacrifice on it. He demands perfection (Leviticus 21:21; 22:20-21). — “It shall be perfect to be accepted.”
Put this plummet to your wall and see how straight it is. — “It shall be perfect to be accepted.” That fact shuts out all those faulty offerings by which multitudes hope to find acceptance with God. It totally nullifies any hope you have of attaining acceptance with God by something in you or something done by you.
Salvation cannot be attained by good works, no matter how good they appear to be. For a work to be good the person performing it must be good. And the Book says, “None is good but one, that is, God.” Because we are all corrupt, we are all without ability to do good (Job 8:20; 9:1-3, 20; 14:4; 15:12-16; 25:4-6). — “There is none that doeth good, no not one.”
If the bed on which you are resting and the covers in which you wrap yourself are made with the material and fabric of your works, “the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it” (Isaiah 28:20). Your imaginary “good works” could no more commend you to God, give you acceptance with him, and save your soul than adultery, rape, or murder (Isaiah 65:2-7).
God will not accept the worship, service, or sacrifice of any man who has any pollution of iniquity, or any blemish of infirmity, or any stain of sin upon him (Isaiah 1:11-15). Hear what God says about the most devout services of self-righteous men (Isaiah 66:3). God demands perfection (Isaiah 1:16-17). — “It shall be perfect to be accepted.”
That is what God demands, but I cannot do it. I cannot give it. — “It shall be perfect to be accepted.” It is not written, “It shall have no great and grievous blemish;” but “There shall be no blemish therein.” That is the standard, absolute perfection. God will not budge from it. Let the plummet hang straight, and see whether you can build to it. By this standard see the walls of that house you have built upon the sand of your own works. It is but a bowing wall and a tottering fence, altogether out of perpendicular as tested by God’s uncompromising requirement. — “It shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein.”
Why do you continue to look for salvation by what you do? You cannot be saved by your works (what you do, what you feel, what you experience, what you know). Your nature is tainted. God’s Word assures us well that it is so. There is evil in your heart from the very beginning. You are not perfect. You are not without blemish. This sad fact spoils all at the very beginning. You are blemished and imperfect.
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. If the fountain is tainted, can the streams be pure? Do you think it possible that you, a fallen sinner in whom there is a decided bias toward evil, can possibly render perfect service unto the holy Lord God? Your hands are foul. How can your work be clean? A sour tree cannot produce sweet fruit. Darkness cannot produce light. Sin cannot produce righteousness. Death cannot bring forth life. If we are (And we most assuredly are!) rotten at the core, how can our thoughts, and words, and ways be perfect? And yet all must be perfect to be accepted.
As for this poor excuse for a man who writes these words, I dare not claim that the best deed I have ever done, or the most fervent prayer I have ever prayed could have been accepted in and of itself before God. I know that I have no perfection in my best things, much less in my worst. My best deed, my best prayer, my best preaching, my best thought, my best feeling, my best emotion, my best love, my best faith, my best aspiration, my highest devotion, my most costly sacrifice, my most useful service is utterly vile and forbids my acceptance with God upon the basis of it! God says, “It shall be perfect to be accepted. There shall be no blemish therein.” Do you hear him? — “It shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein.”
Our faith must be bathed in the blood of Christ. Our repentance needs to be repented of. Our righteousness must be washed in Christ’s blood.
Are we, then, without hope? Is there no hope for a sinner? Oh, blessed be God, there is “a good hope through grace!” There is no hope in ourselves. But there is hope for such sinners as we are in Christ. This word from God, “It shall be perfect to be accepted,” shuts us up entirely to Christ.
After telling us how vile we are, how utterly repulsive and helpless we are in ourselves before him who demands perfection that we can never give, the Lord God, by his prophet Isaiah, bids us come to him for grace and find perfection in his darling Son (Isaiah 1:18-20; 45:20-25).
Perfection in Christ
I call you now to come to Christ and find in him that perfection that God requires, that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. He is absolutely perfect. There is no blemish in him.
He is perfect in his nature as God and man. No stain defiled his birth. No pollution touched his body. No evil soiled his soul. The prince of this world himself, with keenest eyes, came and searched the Savior, but he found nothing in him, who “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” There was not even the possibility of sinning in our holy Savior. He had no tendency toward transgression. He had no desire for iniquity. Nothing that could be construed into evil ever came upon his character. Our perfect sacrifice is without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.
As he was perfect in his nature, so he was in his motive. What brought him from above but love to God and man? You can find no trace of ambition in Christ Jesus. In him there is no thought of self. No sinister or sordid motive ever lingered in his breast, or even crossed his mind. He was purity and holiness in the highest degree. Even his enemies have nothing to allege against the purity of the motive of Jesus of Nazareth.
As his nature was perfect, so was his spirit. He was never sinfully angry, nor harsh, nor untrue, nor idle. The air of his soul was the atmosphere of heaven rather than of earth.
Look at his life of obedience, and see how perfect that was. Which commandment did he ever break? Which duty of relationship did he ever forget? He honored the law of God and loved the souls of men. He gave the character of God perfect reflection in his human life. You can see what God is as you see what Christ is. He is perfect, even as his Father who is in heaven is perfect. There is no redundancy, or excess, or superfluity in his character. There is nothing omitted in any point. Christ is perfect.
Look at the perfection of his sacrifice. It was and is forever infinite, meritorious, and effectual. He gave his body to be tortured and his mind to be crushed and broken, even unto the agony and death of the cross. He gave himself for us a perfect sacrifice. All that the law could ask was in him. Stretch the measure to its utmost length, and still Christ goes beyond, rather than falls short of the measure of the requirements of justice. He has given to his Father double for all our sins. He has given him suffering for sin committed, and yet a perfect obedience to the law. The Lord God is well pleased with him. He rests in the Son of his love. For Christ’s sake, he smiles upon all the multitudes of sinners who are in him and represented by him.
My heart rejoices as I think of Gethsemane and Calvary, and of him who by one offering has perfectly sanctified all who put their trust in him. He cried, “It is finished,” and finished it is forever. Our Lord Jesus has presented a perfect sacrifice. — “It shall be perfect to be accepted.” And it is perfect. — “There shall be no blemish therein!” And there is no blemish in it. Glory be to God Most High, forever and ever!
Come with me now to God. Bring this perfect sacrifice to God. By faith take it to be yours. You may. Christ belongs to every believer. If you trust him, he is yours. Poor guilty soul, whether you have been a believer fifty years, ten years, or ten seconds, if you believe on the Son of God, you may now come with Christ in your hand and say to the Father, “O my Lord, you have given all that your law requires, a perfect sacrifice. There is no blemish in it. Behold, I bring it to you as my own.”
With that God is satisfied. What joy! God is satisfied! The Father is well pleased. He has raised Christ from the dead and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places in token of that satisfaction. Let us be satisfied too. That which contents God may well content me. My soul, when your eyes are full of tears because of sin and your heart is disturbed by countless infirmities and imperfections, look away, look away from yourself to the full atonement made and the utmost ransom paid. Christ is perfect; and Christ is accepted. His atonement is perfect; and his atonement is accepted. His righteousness is perfect; and his righteousness is accepted.
Perfect and Accepted
Christ has made us perfect in himself; and in him we are accepted, “accepted in the Beloved.” He was manifested to take away our sins; and he has done it (1 John 3:5). He came here to bring in everlasting righteousness for us; and he has done it. He came here to make us holy, unblameable, unreproveable, and utterly without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle before God — perfect! And he has done it (Colossians 1:12; 2:9-10; Ephesians 5:25-27; Hebrews 10:9-14; Jude 1:24-25).
When the Israelite sprinkled the blood on the door side-posts and the lintel of his house, he then shut the door. He was inside. He could not see the blood anymore. The blood was outside upon the posts. He could not see it. Was he safe? Oh, yes. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you!”
It is God’s sight of the blood of his dear Son that is the everlasting safeguard of all who are in Christ. It is precious and sweet beyond expression to me to look at that blood once shed for many for the remission of sins. I look upon it with delight. Yet, if ever there should come a dark night to me in which I cannot see it, God still sees it, and all is well. I am safe. I am saved, because it is written, not “when you see the blood,” but “when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” It is the perfection of the sacrifice, not our perfection of sight, which is our safeguard. It is the absence of all blemish from the sacrifice, not the absence of blemish from your faith, that makes you to be “accepted in the Beloved.”
God will never accept anything any sinner does for him until he is accepted by the merits of a perfect, unblemished sacrifice. But once he has accepted us by the perfect, unblemished sacrifice of his dear Son, he accepts even our blind, maimed, broken, scurvy, scabbed, superfluous, lacking sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving as sacrifices holy and well-pleasing to him (Leviticus 22:21-23; 1 Peter 2:5; Ecclesiastes 9:7-10).
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name! Now, in Christ, the Lord God looks upon this old sinner, Don Fortner, seeing what no mortal can see; and in the Day of Judgment he shall truthfully declare of me what he did of Job, that which no mortal can see — “He is a man that is perfect and upright, who holdeth his integrity, and sinneth not!”