But if there is a defect in it, if it is lame or blind or has any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 15:21)
Worship is the wonderful gift of being able to fellowship with and give glory to our God. It can also be a prickly subject, one all too easily manipulated by personal needs and agendas, and the true and pure purpose of it can be lost in one of two extremes. There are those who place worship at the centre of everything, putting God’s Word in second place to a highly emotive response that is little more than self-gratification. Then there are those who place it separate from the Word, living Christian lives that are almost legalistic in outlook and thus denying the Holy Spirit the right to work actively in people and in services. Both of these extremes place self at the very centre – what we are comfortable with, what we need and want, how we believe worship should be conducted. Both of these also manifest disobedience in bringing imperfect sacrifices to God.
But how can we be guilty of bringing imperfect sacrifices to God when the New Testament teaches us that we are all imperfect?
I so often hear believers dismiss the Pentateuch based on the grace of the New Testament covenant in Christ. Of course, I completely agree with the wonderful truth that we are set free, in Jesus, from the Law of sin and death. I agree that we don’t have to follow the elaborate rituals and laws set out in these five books of the Bible to the letter, because Jesus has met all the conditions for forgiveness on our behalf and purchased our salvation with His blood. But grace finds its definition when set beside the Law, just as mercy can only exist alongside judgement. To completely disregard the Law would make the new covenant of grace meaningless. So how does this truth relate to us bringing imperfect sacrifices to God?
What is important to us as followers of Jesus is not the letter of the Law but the principles on which it is based. These spiritual principles form the basis of the entire Bible and carry forward from the Old Testament to the New. Jesus did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. He has met all of the conditions of the Law so that we can be empowered to live by the principles of the Law. Today’s verse is just one of those principles. It relates to our attitudes – to self, to God, and to worship, and it is essentially a principle that is also a command. If we are bringing imperfect sacrifices to God, we are breaking a fundamental command that God has put in place as a principle to guide us in worship.
But if we no longer have to adhere to the rituals and traditions laid down in the law, we no longer have to sacrifice animals. Today’s verse seems meaningless until we consider two important truths. These two truths reveal how we are bringing imperfect sacrifices to God as well as how we can change and prevent this. God may be ‘spiritual’ but His is also always very practical.
The first truth to consider is the perfection that is Christ and His place on the cross. To fully understand this, we must remember that Jesus went to the cross as the Son of Man. He was, in all things, a man. He did not go to the cross clothed in His divinity as the Son of God. This is because only a man could become a substitutionary sacrifice for man. To effect this, Jesus set aside His glory and majesty and became a man in every sense of the word. But He was also the only perfect man – wholly surrendered, totally obedient, sinless in all things, and completely led by the Spirit. To be the once-and-for-all sacrifice, He had to be perfect. Had He been anything less than perfect, He would have been bringing imperfect sacrifices to God.
Of course, the Bible teaches us over and over that none of us are, or ever could be, perfect. But this is not the basis of our bringing imperfect sacrifices to God. We need to understand that when we come to God in the right way, we ‘wear’ the perfection that is Christ, just as He wore the imperfection that was ours. The cross is essentially a place of exchange. It’s a place of substitution and identification. It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that the perfect saviour, when He hung on the cross, became fully imperfect because He carried the weight of every single sin of every single person. In a spiritual sense, He who was perfect didn’t simply carry my sin. He became me in that moment, i.e. He took may place and fully identified with me. That was why God turned His face aside.
This truth is key to understanding how we are bringing imperfect sacrifices to God. It has nothing to do with the reality that we are all imperfect. God knows that, and through the death of Jesus He has made a way for us to come to Him despite our imperfection. When we come fully ‘in Christ,’ God sees the perfection that is Jesus rather than the imperfection that is us – the full exchange of the cross. Today’s verse, for believers, is not about the actual physical animal. It’s about the principle behind it, that what we bring should be pure, perfect, and without blemish.
So what was this principle? It was one of attitude, and it still is, and it all comes down to me-myself-I. Human beings remain human beings. Weaknesses we see in the early Bible characters are the same weaknesses we find in ourselves. It wasn’t unheard of for a man to use his damaged or sickly animals as sacrifices and thus keep the good ones for himself. People are people after all – and why give away the best when we need it for our benefit? It’s ours, isn’t it, even if we acknowledge that God gave it to us in the first place. This, in simple terms, is what bringing imperfect sacrifices to God really means – we give Him the ‘leftovers.’
The second thing we need to look at is the truth that ‘imperfect’ in the context of today’s verse doesn’t apply to our personal imperfection. God has made provision for that in Christ. It relates to the imperfection of attitude. When looking at this, it’s equally important not to fall into a place of ritual and legalism. That removes us from grace and places us back under the Law. The real truth is that we can bring the best of all we have, but if the attitude is wrong, we’re bringing imperfect sacrifices to God. Remember the verse that says that ‘obedience is better than sacrifice?’ This is the key to understanding the principles behind our reading for the day.
The new covenant of grace is defined and fulfilled in the person of Jesus. He Himself said ‘If you love Me, you will obey me.’ To understand the difference between bringing imperfect sacrifices to God and bringing sacrifices that are acceptable, we need to revisit those things that made Christ perfect. He was obedient and He was led by the Spirit in all things. These are what empowered Him to be perfect and sinless, and they are the same things that empower us as living sacrifices.
We can very easily discern whether or not we are bringing imperfect sacrifices to God. When the Spirit says ‘give everything in your purse’ do we obey or do we hold back? When the Spirit prompts us to get up and pray in the middle of the night, do we compromise and force out a few words before we drift back to sleep? When the Spirit nudges us to visit a church member who is difficult and argumentative, do we pray for them instead? If the Spirit leads us to volunteer for something we don’t particularly enjoy or which doesn’t seem big or important enough, do we respond willingly and joyfully or do we do so resentfully or out of obligation?
The act of worship – praise, thanksgiving, giving glory and worship to God – is the outpouring of a life of worship, a life lived as a living sacrifice. God has given His all, once and for all, and expects us to give our all. If we give anything less, we are bringing imperfect sacrifices to God. We cannot be half obedient, and we cannot obey some things and not others. Obedience is an all or nothing concept. That is God’s standard, one towards which He daily trains and grows His people. But we are imperfect and will remain so while here on Earth. Does this mean we must then walk in condemnation. Absolutely not. That is where grace works to fulfill the Law in Christ.
In all things, God looks at the heart. If obedience in all things is the desire of our heart, that is what God sees. If our hearts are set on living in obedience as Jesus did, that is what God sees. The heart attitude determines whether or not we are bringing imperfect sacrifices to God. If we struggle with our heart attitude, grace through Christ will work in us to change it. But if we wilfully hold back that which God has asked us for, we are disobedient.
God’s infinite grace, manifest in the person and sacrifice of Jesus, is the perfect answer to imperfect people. There is no more condemnation because we no longer live under the Law. But, to borrow from Paul, we who now live under grace should give so much more in response. Yet all God desires from us is obedience in whatever He calls us to do. We may be bringing imperfect sacrifices to God without even realising. We may have slipped into a form of legalism, giving religiously of our time and resources without willingness and joy. We may have fallen into focusing only on the act of worship and not living lives of worship. God looks at the heart behind the sacrifice. It’s something we should all do ourselves.
Lord God, we ask Your forgiveness for the sacrifices we have brought in the past that have been unacceptable. We ask, according to Your Word, that You give us new hearts and new spirits, hearts that yield in obedience with willingness and joy even when it may be something we don’t want to do. Help us to examine our hearts with You, to repent where it is needed and to obey Your Word and Your Spirit in all things.