|Philip W. Dunham
is a retired pastor and church administrator
who lives in Salem, Oregon, with his wife, Evelyn.
Since retiring, he has spoken at numerous camp
revivals, pastors’ and teachers’ conferences,
and has conducted
evangelistic meetings, as well as serving as an interim pastor 13 times. This article
is excerpted from his recent book
Sure Salvation, a work that explains how you can know you have eternal life.
What is the first step of salvation? How can a holy God accept a sinner? What must a person do in order to be right with God? How can we experience true peace, joy, and freedom in Christ?
Perhaps I should begin with a “pop quiz.” In college, it was a whole lot better to hear the
teacher use this term than to face a full-blown, heavy-duty exam. So, don’t be nervous about this quiz. Besides, you won’t be graded.
After the establishment of the sanctuary services in the Old Testament, when one of God’s
people became conscious of and convicted of some specific sin, the reason he went to the sanctuary with an offering was to be forgiven, cleansed, and made right with God. Now the quiz:
- Did God instruct the individual to be the offering or to bring the offering?
- Did God require that the offerer be “without blemish,” or that the offering be “without blemish”?
- Whose life was taken to pay the price of God’s broken law, the sinner’s or the lamb’s?
- Was it the blood of the sinner or the blood of the lamb that made atonement?
- Was the sinner justified, cleansed, and reconciled with God on the basis of being the right kind of offerer or bringing the right kind of offering?
Now, please exchange papers. The answers will follow.
The very first time the phrase “without blemish” is used in the Bible is in Exodus 12:5, where God Himself speaks concerning instructions for the Passover offering. “‘Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats.’”
Their deliverance from death depended on their offering. Their offering had to be “without blemish” because it represented Jesus Christ, “The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). They could not save themselves. They could not deliver themselves. Their only hope of deliverance and freedom and salvation from Egyptian bondage was dependence on an offering and the sprinkling of its blood. An offering directed by God. An offering “without blemish.”
This instruction concerning an offering antedated Exodus 25:8 and the institution of the sanctuary service. However, the second time the Bible uses the term “without blemish” is in a sanctuary context and specifically with setting aside the priests for their work. They were being consecrated, dedicated, and sanctified for their positions of ministry and service. (Exodus 29:1.) And the prerequisite for all of this? An offering “without blemish.” (Is it not significant that Peter speaks of believers today as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”? And our consecration, our dedication, our sanctification for our life and work and living and ministry comes about exactly the same as theirs, by an offering “without blemish.”) Forty-six more times in connection with the sanctuary services in the Old Testament and the instructions about how sinners could be made right with God through offering the right kind of offering, the Bible says that the offering had to be “without blemish.&rdquo This was God’s idea, God’s doing, God’s way of “reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
The very last time this expression is used in the Bible is in 1 Peter 1:18, 19: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot.” From Moses to Peter, in fact from Cain to “the multitude which no one could number,” the focus for salvation is not upon the offerer but on the offering. The One “without blemish.”
Let's Revisit the Sanctuary
In your mind In your mind’s eye, do you see the outer court, that altar of burn offering, the laver, and the tabernacle itself, so wonderfully wrought, with the two apartments?
Do you see the priests (in their God-designed apparel) ministering at the altar of burnt offering or washing themselves at the laver so that, cleansed, they could minister in the first apartment of the sanctuary, the holy place?
Do you see the beauty, the color, the majesty, the awe, the solemnity of it all?
Do you see the priest examining the offering of one of God’s people to make sure the offering was without blemish?
Do you see the repentant one, who, having been made conscious of his sins, places his hands on the head of the lamb, confesses his sins, and thus transfers his sins and his guilt to the perfect, totally innocent, unblemished offering?
Do you see that it was the lamb whose throat was cut, whose life was taken, whose blood was then taken into the sanctuary to make atonement and reconciliation?
From the place where they stood in the courtyard to present their offering to the Shekinah glory of God in the Most Holy Place was a distance of approximately 75 feet. Seventy-five feet to glory. Seventy-five feet into the very presence of God. Seventy-five feet from sinner to saint. Seventy-five feet from condemnation to justification, and being made right with God.
No sinner could walk into the holy place by himself, past the table of showbread and the seven candlesticks, past the altar of incense, to grab the veil that separated the holy place from the Most Holy, throw it back, brush into the Shekinah glory and say, “Here I am with my offering, God. It is I! It was three days ago that I sinned, but I thought I had better come before I did it again.” If he had made it that far, he would have been incinerated instantly by the all-consuming glory of God.
No, the only way to span those 75 feet into the presence of God was by means of an offering. An offering that God thought up. A substitute. A death. The blood of a “without-blemish” offering. Not my own sorry self as an offering, because He had said in Leviticus 22:19–21, “You shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish. . . . [But] whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable on your behalf.... it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it.”
There are two phrases that are absolutely key to understanding the sanctuary and the good news that its services taught. The first phrase is the one we have been mentioning, "without blemish." The New King James translation says several times, "Be sure your offerings are without blemish." The New International Version says some 56 times, "without defect."
The second key phrase is “make atonement,” and this phrase is used nearly 70 times. If you wanted to bridge that 75 feet into the presence of God, the bridge was called atonement, or at-one-ment.
The OT believer who understood these two phrases and who brought the God-appointed offering could leave the sanctuary singing, “Nothing between my soul and the Saviour.” He was clean, forgiven, right with God, and full of peace and joy and assurance. At one with God. No wonder the Psalmist David penned the words, “Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary” (Psalm 77:13).
Saved Without the Blood
The story is told that at the close of a Gospel service that an intelligentlooking man came to the minister and said, “I don’t see any necessity for the blood of Christ in my salvation. I can be saved without believing in His shed blood.”
The minister said, “OK, how do you propose to be saved?”
“By following His example”, the man said, and that’s enough.”
The minister added, “I suppose it is, and you propose to do just that in your life?”
“This is exactly what I am going to do, and I’m sure that this is enough.”
“Very well. I am sure that you want to begin right. The Word of God tells us how to do that. I read here concerning Christ, ‘Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.’ I suppose that you can say that of yourself, too?”
The man became visibly embarrassed. “Well,” he said, “I cannot say that exactly. I have sometimes sinned.” (What an understatement!)
“In that case you do not need an Example, but a Saviour; and the only way of salvation is by His shed blood.”
There is no question that we need an example. And there is no question that Jesus Christ is the Divine Exemplar. I personally long to be like Him, to be pure like Him, to hate sin like He hates sin, to please the Father like He always pleased the Father, to love like He loved. May the Holy Spirit create a hunger and thirst in each of us to reflect His life and to walk in
But even more than an example we need a Saviour. There are three sentences from a Buddhist catechism that second the hopelessness and the helplessness of the man in the story we just looked at. “No one can be redeemed by another. No God and no saint is able to shield a man from the consequences of his evil doings. Every one of us must become his own redeemer.”
If my atonement is dependent on my copying the example of Christ the sinless One, by myself; if I have to execute my own redemption; and if I have to work out my own salvation so that I can present all of this to God as my offering to merit eternal life, I would of all men be most miserable.
Yes, we need an example, but more than anything else we need a Saviour, a Substitute, an Offering without blemish that will be perfectly acceptable to the Father on our behalf.
Ellen White wrote, “In the heavenly courts there will be no song sung, ‘To me that loved myself, and washed myself, redeemed myself, unto me be glory and honor, blessing and praise.’”1 “We can do nothing, absolutely nothing, to commend ourselves to divine favor. We must not trust at all to ourselves nor to our good works; but when as erring, sinful beings we come to Christ, we may find rest in His love. God will accept every one that comes to Him trusting wholly in the merits of a crucified Saviour.”2
The book of Revelation mentions only two songs: the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. It pictures all the inhabitants of Heaven, and all of the redeemed are singing the same song: “You are worthy . . . for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God. . . . Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:9, 10, 12).
Behold your offering to God: “The church history upon the earth and the church redeemed in Heaven all center around the cross of Calvary.”3 In order to be right with God, accepted of God, reconciled, redeemed, saved, the Old Testament believer had to bring an offering. The plan of salvation in the New Testament is not one whit different from the plan of salvation in the Old. God requires an offering, one without blemish. You are accepted on the basis of a “without-blemish” offering. This means that today my offering must either consist of myself and my efforts and my attempts to copy the example of Christ, and my endeavors to work out my own salvation . . . or . . . the offering of Jesus Christ which the Father has provided Who knew that we could never in all the world provide the offering ourselves.
A Crushing Test of Faith
More than 500 years before the sanctuary services were instituted, God laid upon Abraham an extremely heavy test, the offering of his son Isaac. You know, his only-begotten son, the one who was to be the means of fulfillment of the covenant blessings. And yet, out of the midst of this almost crushing test of faith, came one of the most beautiful revelations of the Gospel and the plan of salvation revealed in Old Testament times. For at the very last moment, even as his arm was raised to kill his son, came the voice from heaven, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God. . . . Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided” (Genesis 22:11–14).
In His Son, God has provided an “instead of” Offering. An “in place of” Offering. An “on our behalf of” Offering. This means that we are “accepted in the Beloved.” And out of His incomprehensible love, God provided an Offering, the acceptance of which on our part would mean redemption, reconciliation, and eternal life.
So many today have not caught the beauty of this simple truth that brings such relief, and peace and joy and freedom in Christ. Their obedience, tithing, and healthful living are more to propitiate the Deity, to please God, to get His favor, to win His approval. “Lord, here is my vegetarianism, and I hope You like it.” “Lord, here is my offering to You: no TV in my home, and when You come I trust You will remember that I don’t have one.” “Lord, here is my offering to You: There is no electricity here where I live, which really makes me unworldly; and I hope You see this.”
Doing these things may be just fine, but the only offering to God that will bring salvation is the Lamb of God, the One He provided to Abraham who was the father of all who believe. Our gracious Heavenly Father has provided the perfect Offering, the one “without blemish”: His Son! There’s no other offering like the One He has provided.
Does this mean that my works don’t count? Does this 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 your salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, the Offering of God’s Own providing. But it is not the root. The things I do in loving obedience to Him, the life I live, the growth I attain (because of the work of the Holy Spirit) is the fruit of the loving, saving Offering that God has provided for my salvation. Someone has written, “I cannot work my soul to save; this work the Lord has done. But I will work like any slave for love of God’s dear Son.”
Someone may object, “Paul wrote that we’re to present our bodies ‘a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service’ (Romans 12:1). Doesn’t this say that we’re supposed to be the offering”?
As the army slogan said, “Be all that you can be,” and by the grace of God let this be a gratitude offering, a thank offering, a praise offering to God for the offering He has provided. But we can bring only one sin Offering, reconciliation Offering, atonement Offering that is holy and without blemish, without defect, without one flaw—the Lamb of God.
It is of the utmost importance to remember this truth of how the people in Old Testament times got right with God. How they got reconciled, forgiven, accepted, redeemed. And this happened not by being the offering but by bringing the offering. It is the same today!
If I present my progress, my growth, my level of sanctification, my obedience, or whatever, as an offering to God, expecting Him to accept me on the basis of what I have done, what I am, or what I have achieved, there would be a huge question about what God would think of me. But if I present as my offering to God the “instead of Offering,” the “in place of Offering,” the substitutionary Offering—the Lamb of God—there will be no question about what He thinks of that Offering made on my behalf. This is why Ellen White wrote: “We are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute. Ye are accepted in the Beloved.”4 And there is no question about what He thinks of His precious Son.
I don’t know if the following story is true, but I like it. On a little church in Germany stands a stone lamb with an interesting history. When some workmen were building the roof, one of them slipped off the roof and fell to the ground. His friends got down as quickly as they could, expecting to see him dead, but he was virtually unhurt. A lamb was grazing below when the workman fell, and he landed right on the lamb, absolutely crushing it in the process. The man was so thankful that he chose to carve a stone lamb as a memorial, since he owed his life to that lamb.5 As Christians, we know what it is to have a Lamb die to save us!
1 Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 456.
2 Selected Messages bk. 1, pp. 353, 354; emphasis supplied.
3 Testimonies to Ministers, p. 43.
4 Selected Messages bk. 2, pp. 32, 33.
5 Paul Lee Tan, The Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Rockville, Md.: Assurance Publishers, 1982), p. 940.