Jesus Christ was “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). This great God Family member became a sacrificial lamb—and He was absolutely perfect.
This was one of the most monumental achievements in the history of the universe: a Being in the flesh—living a perfect life. Jesus demonstrated perfect law-keeping, perfect submission to His Father’s will, perfect selflessness with every person He encountered. That singular triumph will stand unsurpassed for eternity.
We need to meditate deeply on it. And why He did it. And how He did it. Then we need to draw lessons from that triumph to apply in our own lives. After all, we are to follow His sinless example (1 Peter 2:21-25). The Apostle Paul says to consider Him as we strive against sin—to think on how He resisted sin unto blood and successfully withstood every temptation (Hebrews 12:1-4).
Paul reveals the astonishing truth that Jesus “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The devil was attacking Him with all the evil firepower he could muster. Christ was tempted in all points, just as we are—but never gave in.
Remember what would have happened had He succumbed even once. Just one sin—one slip, one moment of weakness—and He’d have died forever. “That would have left only one God and no Savior—no family, no future for mankind!” Gerald Flurry writes in The God Family Vision.
Every moment, Jesus was on the knife’s edge, one sin away from eternal death. Imagine performing such a high-risk, high-wire act—without a safety net.
Gold or Death
Consider the following analogy about a specific human accomplishment: Imagine an Olympic gold-medal-level athletic achievement, where, if you don’t get that gold medal, you are going to die.
That is an apt description of what Christ accomplished—except that an Olympic gold-medal athletic achievement happens in a few hours, a few minutes, or even a few seconds. That athlete only has to be perfect for that short period. That is after years of training, during which he or she fails countless times on the path to mastery. Christ had to be perfect even throughout the training. Not just for a few moments of competition, but for every second of every day of every year, year after year after year—for 33½ years. It was an incomparably greater achievement than any Olympic endeavor.
Nevertheless, there is something we can learn from what that statement is describing: an Olympic-level achievement where failing to get the gold means death.
It was made by Tommy Caldwell, one of the world’s most highly accomplished rock climbers. His is a dangerous sport. People are injured, even killed, by falling rocks, careless errors or failures in safety gear. But Tommy was describing a particular form of climbing that escalates the sport’s risk exponentially: climbing “free solo.”
El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is the most formidable slab of granite on the planet. Many people have climbed it, but only one man has ever tried it without any ropes.
Alex Honnold decided to climb all 3,200 feet of El Capitan free solo—no safety gear, only a bag of chalk and his rock-climbing shoes. One wrong move, one slip, means death. Free soloing is so dangerous, virtually everyone who has devoted a big part of his life to it is now dead.
I am not endorsing this sport at all: God would never want us tempting death like that (e.g. Matthew 4:6-7). But aspects of it can help us better appreciate the magnificence of Jesus Christ’s achievement. Christ’s entire life was like a “free solo.” One slip would have meant death.
In our spiritual ventures, in a sense, you and I climb with a safety rope. If we slip, we have something to catch us: Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. His death paid for others’ sins, so we can repent, call on that sacrifice, and live.
Jesus Christ had no safety rope. Yes, His Father was there, but His Father couldn’t prevent Him from sinning. “The Scriptures say He did not sin—yet they teach plainly that at all times it was entirely possible for Him to sin,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote. “No scripture says that He could not sin” (Just What Do You Mean … Born Again?).
Just before Passover in 1991, only five years after Mr. Armstrong died, the church he founded (the Worldwide Church of God) began teaching it was impossible for Christ to sin. They said His success in the flesh was guaranteed. But if it were impossible for Christ to sin, then why say He was tempted in all points as we all are, “yet without sin”? If it were impossible for Christ to sin, why did He fast 40 days to prepare for His titanic battle in the wilderness with Satan? If it were impossible for Christ to sin, then why did He sweat blood while crying out to God for help the night before His crucifixion? (Luke 22:44).
If it were impossible for Christ to sin, then why did Paul write that “in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death [eternal death], and was heard in that he feared”? (Hebrews 5:7). Without those prayers, Christ would not have been saved! He understood the limits of the flesh, so He prayed daily, at times with strong crying and tears, because He knew only God could save Him from death. He faced the stark possibility of failure. He clung to His Father for the strength to survive.
This invaluable scripture helps us understand how Christ accomplished what He did. It reveals the acute spiritual focus required to be sinless.
Nearly 100 percent of the time Alex Honnold is climbing, he uses safety equipment. Only occasionally does he seek what he says is the heightened experience of free soloing.
“When you’re climbing without a rope,” Honnold said, “it’s obviously much higher consequence, much, much higher level of focus. You know, it’s a whole different experience.” “I think that the free-soloing mentality is pretty close to warrior culture, where you give something 100 percent focus because your life depends on it,” he said. That focus is exactly what Hebrews 5:7 describes.
Four hundred eighty feet above the ground on El Capitan is Freeblast Slab, a sleek sheet of granite. It offers almost nothing to hold onto or stand on. “If you have a rope, this section of the climb is not a big deal at all,” another climber commented. “But free solo, it’s incredibly dangerous.” Imagine gripping such a rock with only fingertips and toeholds preserving you from death. That takes deep focus.
Meditate on the difference between the rock climber’s mindset when he has a safety rope versus when he doesn’t. Again, we operate with a “safety rope”: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We need that—we would die without it! But we mustn’t grow careless or complacent. Are you ever casual about sin, knowing you can repent afterward?
We must fight such complacency. Paul asked, Shall we sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! (Romans 6:1-2). Remember: that “safety rope” is Christ being murdered in our stead! God forbid we should take that sacrifice lightly and sin! Jude 4 warns against “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness”—sinfulness. Galatians 5:13 says, “[Y]e have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh ….” We must strive to live as though our very lives depended on our not slipping into sin. That is the example Christ set.
Matthew 26 poignantly portrays how difficult this was for Christ. The night before His crucifixion, He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,” and asked three disciples for extra support. Under the pressure of the moment, they kept falling asleep. But Christ prayed fervently, repeatedly, for extra spiritual help, and worked to maintain perfect focus on carrying out His Father’s will.
God was careful to record this example for us to show the acute effort it takes not to slip—to remain unblemished and sinless—to achieve perfection.
“Look at how Christ fought against sin and the temptation to do evil! Do you and I fight like that?” Mr. Flurry writes. “We need to pray and appeal to the Father for the strength and the power to resist sin …. We must strive to be sinless! If we don’t try to avoid sin the way Christ did, then it is clear we don’t understand this as we should” (How to Be an Overcomer). Always remember: The wages of sin is death. If not ours, then Christ’s.
Christ lived sinlessly by aiming all His effort at submitting to the Father’s will. That is where we need to direct all our effort and willpower: at submitting to God so He can work in us and empower us to conquer sin.
Gut-wrenching to Witness
Filmmakers produced a documentary of Alex Honnold free soloing El Capitan, and they were nervous wrecks. They had multiple cameras trained on him, and were haunted by the possibility of capturing footage of him falling to his death. On parts of the climb, they had to turn away from the camera. Alex’s girlfriend tried to convince him not to do it. They knew the dangers, and it was emotionally very taxing.
Imagine the emotions the Father experienced, watching His Son moment by moment—providing all the spiritual help He could; witnessing Him conquer time after time—yet always knowing that any moment could end their eternal plans. The stakes were incomprehensibly high: The whole Family plan hinged on Christ’s success. The Father watched, knowing the difference between success and failure, between triumph and tragedy, was the difference between having a Family of trillions of God beings beautifying the universe—and being the solitary God Being for eternity.
What Honnold did is incredibly dangerous—but believe it or not, he does not have a death wish. In fact, his method of undertaking this impossible task can teach us a lot about how Christ succeeded.
To free solo El Capitan, Alex painstakingly prepared—first, through years of experience as a climber, then specifically, comprehensively, for over a year. He climbed the route with safety gear over and over, dozens of times. He choreographed the climb meticulously, plotting every handhold and foothold of all 3,200 feet. One section of the route had some loose rocks. Alex and a friend climbed to it, loaded the rocks into their backpacks, and descended, eliminating any possibility that one of those rocks would hinder him on the day of his free solo.
Besides that, Alex ascended El Capitan through visualization countless times more. He memorized every inch of the route so comprehensively that he could make the climb in his own mind. Here he is talking through a small portion of his route while sitting in his van, writing in a notebook: “Lie back in the corner, key left-hand pinch thing, right hand backstep on a little edge, left foot face against the wall—stand up. Left hand on huge ear jug thing, switch the feet, match the big jug, left foot jams into the crack, see right hand downpulling on the top part of the jug, left hand goes into this flared slot thing which you can either fistjam or handjam, either way it’s like a flare jam in the slot—sag down onto it. Right hand crosses under to undercling side pull. Right foot sinks low to a flat edge, left foot steps through to an edge, right foot backsteps really high so you can sag your weight onto the corner without having to swing, left foot out to the big horn, right hand through to a little finger pocket. Go left foot out to an edge around the corner—you can actually push all the way into the corner—then you can grab this downpulling right hand flat, make a small crimp. Left hand to the other undercling, switch your feet on the rail and then just reach through to the jugs. Then you’re done.” Such is the phenomenal detail in preparation required to accomplish something so challenging.
God is a planner and a visionary on a scale dwarfing even the most accomplished athlete, performer or engineer. Before Christ came to Earth, God and the Word prepared. They mapped out to the detail every inch of the dangerous climb Christ would make.
Revelation 13:8 calls Christ “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”: They had thought it through even before creating mankind. They knew from the moment Eve ate the forbidden fruit that the plan would proceed. They watched as history unfolded: Cain killing Abel; men multiplying and spreading evil so vile that God regretted even creating man! (Genesis 6:6). The wages of all that sin needed to be paid, and He was the one to have to pay it.
God called Abraham and blessed him with Isaac—a forerunner of the Father and Jesus—then tested Abraham by having him sacrifice his son of promise. God and the Word witnessed all the emotions Abraham and Isaac went through, knowing it was a vivid prophecy of the violent culmination of Christ’s dangerous mission.
God instituted Passover for ancient Israel, and watched as hundreds of thousands of unblemished lambs, one for each household, were slaughtered and consumed (Exodus 12). Many details pointed to Christ’s sacrifice: the protection afforded by the lamb’s blood; the flesh roasted with fire, a type of the fiery trial that consumed Christ; the lamb being wholly devoured, nothing left, just as Christ would offer Himself completely. It was all a prophecy. The Word watched this bloody scene unfold—not just once but year after year—knowing it presaged His own murder.
God inspired King David to write Psalm 22, a prophecy of Christ’s crucifixion prayer. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” (verse 1). The Word knew that His loving Master and eternal companion would have to forsake Him on the stake. He had a lucid vision of how events would unfold: the insults and scorn, the ravaging of His physical frame, the piercing of His hands and feet, the cold-blooded parting of His garments (verses 7-18). He braced Himself, and trained and equipped Himself to endure it all, without sin. He visualized it, perhaps dozens, hundreds, thousands of times, and imagined Himself remaining utterly faithful. All that meticulous preparation was vital for Him to be able to execute the plan to perfection.
God inspired the Prophet Isaiah to prophesy of Jesus being marred beyond human semblance, despised, rejected, wounded, bruised, oppressed, afflicted (Isaiah 52:14-53:12). Notice: It is all in the past tense; in Christ’s mind it was done. We read this after the prophecy was fulfilled, but God inspired it before He went through it.
Remove All Doubt
People ask Alex, “Aren’t you afraid as you’re up there? Knowing that one slip means death? Isn’t your heart beating—palms sweating? Don’t you have an adrenaline rush?”
“No,” he responds. “If I have an adrenaline rush, there’s something very wrong.” He can’t afford doubt or fear. He must be entirely calm and in control. He requires absolute mastery of his thoughts, emotions and bodily responses. “Doubt is the precursor to fear,” he said. Regarding El Capitan, he said: “I had to visualize and rehearse enough to remove all doubt.”
When Christ walked Earth, He was not troubled by doubt and fear, worried every moment that He might inadvertently commit a sin. Yes, He was pushed near the breaking point in His final intense moments at Gethsemane. But the accounts of His life show a man with mastery over His thoughts and emotions.
Christ’s comprehensive preparation before surrendering His divinity continued every day of His life. He drew close to His Father daily. He prayed without ceasing. Before facing Satan, He fasted 40 days, honing His focus, studying intensively, visualizing that battle for the ages. He left nothing to chance.
To master doubt and fear in our trials, we too need to be very close to our Father. Gird yourself with the whole armor of God every day (Ephesians 6:10-20). Learn how to wield the sword of the Spirit by training with that weapon in your daily study. Drill to become a mighty spiritual warrior!
We can also benefit from specific preparation. In your personal battles, prepare like Christ did. You must have a system to tackle sins, as Mr. Flurry writes in How to Be an Overcomer. Where are you weak? What circumstances draw out your carnality, vanity, laziness, lust, selfishness and anger? “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12). Don’t be caught off guard. Anticipate when you tend to be weak, and prepare yourself. Avoid those circumstances. Clearly picture how you will flee that trap, conquer that problem and crush it! Play it over and over in your mind. Visualize and rehearse enough to remove all doubt.
“In your spiritual warfare, how much do you leave to chance?” Mr. Flurry writes. “If you think, I won’t worry about that—hopefully it will work out OK, you may be setting yourself up for failure” (ibid). Anyone who blithely assumes he will succeed if he just jumps on the wall and starts climbing is in for some shocks.
Many scriptures advise us to expect trials (1 Peter 4:12-13; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4). Christ also forewarns of persecution (Matthew 23:34; John 15:20; 16:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:12). We don’t know exactly what is coming, but God repeatedly tells us to get ready. Watch and pray, He says, so these hardships don’t surprise you! Be preparing! (e.g. Luke 21:29-36). Christ warned, Don’t be the seed that springs up but has no roots, and then, when tribulation or persecution comes, is offended (Matthew 13:20-21). Build strong roots now.
Have a clear picture in your mind of what you will do in that trial, or when that persecution comes. Study the examples in Hebrews 11 of saints who were tortured, mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, even cut in half—yet were victorious like Christ. God recorded that history to strengthen and prepare us. Picture yourself following in their footsteps, faithful, courageous, bold.
Five years before his El Capitan climb, Alex Honnold free soloed another impressive rock face at Yosemite: Half Dome. At one point during that ascent, he lacked confidence about a particular move. It froze him for several minutes. His mind swam with doubts. He knew that a slip would kill him. At last he decided, I can’t back out now—I just have to go for it. He made the move, and his foot held.
After the climb, he felt he had cheated death. “I’d succeeded in the solo, and it was celebrated as a big first in climbing. But I was unsatisfied,” he said. “I was disappointed in my performance because I knew that I’d gotten away with something. I didn’t want to be a lucky climber. I wanted to be a great climber.”
When we attain the Kingdom of God—the greatest summit possible—how many of those kinds of moments will we recall with regret? We cannot scrape by with luck. We don’t want to reach the Kingdom with regrets. God wants to see mastery in those to whom He is offering this incomparable reward!
Alex determined to never put himself in that position again. He never wanted to doubt whether a maneuver would work, or risk his life to chance. So he stopped free soloing for a full year to prioritize preparations that would enable him to climb with full-blooded confidence.
That decision enabled Alex to scale El Capitan, years later, in exactly the manner he wanted.
He was able to make the 3,200-foot ascent with such assurance and poise—it took him less than four hours.
The New York Times wrote that “Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan should be celebrated as one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind ever.” The New Yorker wrote, “Another passage can be written in the annals of human achievement.”
Alex said, “It was the climb that I wanted—and it felt like mastery.”
Jesus Christ achieved mastery—total mastery in the flesh. In Gethsemane, He was tested to His very limit—it was the closest He came to actually breaking—but it drove Him deeper into His Father’s arms.
What a magnificent sacrifice Jesus was, not just for a handful of hours at the end, but moment by moment throughout His life! A flesh-and-blood human being, continually subjecting Himself to the Father, continually exalting the Father’s will, continually expressing the love of God both to the Father and to fellow man. Defying death for 33½ years and remaining completely unblemished. As a result, He never incurred the death penalty on Himself—so His death was able to pay for your sin and mine, and those of every person who has ever lived.
God tells us, Be you holy, for I am holy. Become you perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect (Leviticus 11:44-45; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
God is offering for us to share Christ’s throne for eternity. He has every right to expect mastery from us. He wants us to follow in Christ’s steps. “We can conquer anything when we focus on that blood and on Christ’s example of how to avoid sin and prevail in righteousness” (ibid).
The Lamb of God is mentioned in the book of Revelation more than anywhere else in the Bible. The Bible ends with that picture: Its last book contains 25 references to Christ being “the Lamb.” Revelation 5:6, 13:8 and 7:14 all speak about the Lamb being slain.
But Revelation 19 talks about you, too: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” (verses 7-9). How blessed we are to be called to the marriage supper of the Lamb—to be the eternal wife of the unblemished Lamb of God!
We must be striving today to become unblemished, sinless, clothed in righteousness, just as our Husband is. He showed us how to do that even in the flesh. With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
Do all you can to allow God to attain that triumph of sinlessness in you!