You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18–19)
We’ve lived so long with our sin, we may honestly struggle to imagine an entire earthly life — over decades — without it. And yet Jesus really lived a truly holy life.
No matter how tired he was on any given day, no matter how many hours he had put in at work, he always did the loving thing. No matter how much pain and loss invaded his home and neighborhood, he always had more reasons to rejoice. No matter how much stress and uncertainty he experienced, he always felt a deep and observable sense of peace.
When his friends and family asked too much of him or sinned against him, he never once responded impatiently. When his enemies did all they could to sabotage or even kill him, he never resorted to cruelty, but in every instance showed them kindness. When he waded through wickedness of every conceivable kind, even facing Satan himself, he never gave in. At every moment of his life, God could say, “Very good.”
Even as his mission grew violent and dangerous, he took every next step in faithfulness. Even when insults rained down on his thorn-pierced head, his nail-pierced hands, his sword-pierced side, his words fell gently in return: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even as he, like us, was targeted with waves of temptations maliciously fitted for him, he resisted with perfect, unwavering self-control.
At any given moment, he may have merely appeared exemplary. Over all the moments, though, he seems mythical. Who could bear what we bear, living in a harrowing world like ours, with awful spiritual forces of darkness against us — and never sin?
The Sinless Lamb & Priest
It’s nearly impossible to conceive of a man who never sinned — and yet Jesus didn’t. He couldn’t. To die for the sins of the world, to intercede for those who had insulted and rebelled against God, to be the Messiah — the Son of David, the Suffering Servant, the Great High Priest, the eternal King, the Lamb of God — he could never sin. And he really did not sin.
If we wondered about the cracks and crevices of Jesus’s life, all the little moments that aren’t recorded in the Bible — when his mom was impatient, when his dad wasn’t paying attention, when his friends didn’t follow through, when a camel cut him off on the road — we know just how well he handled them all. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” And then a couple of chapters later: “It was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).
Being sinless, however, did not preserve him from the awful wages of sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Having never sinned, “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4). Through the cross he took our sin, so that his righteousness might be credited to us.
The apostle Peter writes, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” Look as long as you like, you will never find a blemish or spot. And so we cry, now and forever, “Holy, holy, holy!”
You Also Be Holy
The gospel says more than substitution, though. Yes, Jesus lived the holy life we could not, and through faith, his holiness is counted as ours before God (2 Corinthians 5:21). But he lived and died for more than our pardon. He lived and died so that we might actually be holy. In the same passage (“You were ransomed . . .”), Peter writes,
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14–16)
If we thought the holiness of Jesus was impossible for us — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — we were right. Unless Jesus lives in us. But if he lives in us, by his Spirit, we’re not a slave to sin anymore. We’re walking in the deepest, sweetest freedom a fallen human has ever experienced: the freedom to be holy, even now in this life.
Only the holiness of Christ can pay our debt and justify us on judgment day, but if he has saved us, he will also work holiness in us, so go and sin no more.