One ongoing struggle I have with myself is my inbuilt desire to be seen to be successful. I seek to achieve success so that others will say “well done Neil”. As I read Leviticus 11:45 this morning, “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy”, my response is to strive for perfect personal holiness so that God will say “well done Neil”. If God left me to do this on my own, I’d chase the rainbow and hate myself for not finding the pot of gold. I’d eventually burn out from the slog of trying to be holy and the guilt of failure. I’d never know God’s smile and his “well done Neil”. I know, because I’ve been there and done that.
That’s why the gospel is so beautiful. In his book The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty reasons why he came to die John Piper points me to one reason why Christ’s death meets my deepest felt need. Christ Suffered and Died …To Make us HOLY, BLAMELESS, AND PERFECT
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time
those who are being sanctified.
He has now reconciled [you] in his body of flesh by his death,
in order to present you holy and blameless and
above reproach before him.
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.
1 Corinthians 5:7
One of the greatest heartaches in the Christian life is the slowness of our change. We hear the summons of God to love him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30). But do we ever rise to that totality of affection and devotion? We cry out regularly with the apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). We groan even as we take fresh resolves: “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” (Philippians 3:12).
That very statement is the key to endurance and joy. “Christ Jesus has made me his own.” All my reaching and yearning and striving is not to belong to Christ (which has already happened), but to complete what is lacking in my likeness to him.
One of the greatest sources of joy and endurance for the Christian is knowing that in the imperfection of our progress we have already been perfected—and that this is owing to the suffering and death of Christ. “For by a single offering [namely, himself!] he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). This is amazing! In the same sentence he says we are “being sanctified” and we are already “perfected.”
Being sanctified means that we are imperfect and in process. We are becoming holy—but are not yet fully holy. And it is precisely these—and only these—who are already perfected. The joyful encouragement here is that the evidence of our perfection before God is not our experienced perfection, but our experienced progress. The good news is that being on the way is proof that we have arrived.
The Bible pictures this again in the old language of dough and leaven (yeast). In the picture, leaven is evil. We are the lump of dough. It says, “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” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Christians are “unleavened.” There is no leaven—no evil. We are perfected. For this reason we are to “cleanse out the old leaven.” We have been made unleavened in Christ. So we should now become unleavened in practice. In other words, we should become what we are.
The basis of all this? “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The suffering of Christ secures our perfection so firmly that it is already now a 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.