In 2002 Rick Warren published one of the most successful Christian books of all time. The Purpose Driven Life had sold over 30 Million copies by 2007. While I do not challenge the impact that this best seller has had on the average Christian’s understanding of the five purposes for human life on Earth (worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, mission/evangelism) or its attempt to establish a “blueprint for Christian living in the 21st Century”, I have come to recognize that I don’t want to be an average Christian and that there is a “more excellent way”, that enhances the tenants of The Purpose Driven Life and is not exclusive of them.
When Moses returned from the top of Mount Sinai with and found the people worshiping the Golden Calf, it seemed as though it might all be over for God’s people. Moses had been through Hell and back for this people because he knew of God’s great purpose for them and now they had turned their back upon the Lord. He didn’t even have to talk to God to know that the sin they had committed was great and had the potential to be the end of the line for them. When he returns to the mountain top, it is not God that brings up their sin, but rather it is Moses (Exodus 32:31). He then proceeds to intercede for the people and goes so far as to ask God to blot his own name out of the Book of Life if He will not forgive the people. The Lord response that He will blot out those who have sinned against Him and tells Moses it is time to move out to the Land God has shown them.
It was against this backdrop that Moses rallied the people to take the next step toward their destiny and the Promise land. When God tells Moses to take the people on in Exodus 33:3, He also tells him, “. . . I will not go up in your midst . . .” The response that Moses gives the Lord indicates to us just how significant it is to understand and experience being in the presence of the Lord. Moses says to the Lord,
Ex 33:15-16 NKJV Then he said to Him, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth."
Consider for a moment the implications of this statement. The people of God had been called out and set apart for hundreds of years. The promise that they would possess a land flowing with milk and honey had been given to the Patriarch Abraham generations before. Going forth from Mt. Sinai was their destiny, it was their PURPOSE and that had become part of the problem. It was not that their purpose was bad, but rather than it had gained too much prominence in their lives.
Their lives had become PURPOSE driven, to the exclusion of PRESENCE driven. With these values out of balance, they had forgotten that their destiny was not about where they were going, nor about what they were doing, but rather it was about to Whom they belonged and their relationship to Him. The PURPOSE for your life can only take you to the full potential of your destiny if it is being influenced by the guiding principle of abiding in His PRESENCE.
Drawing Near or Worshiping from Afar
In the garden, before the fall, Adam and Eve had enjoyed the daily opportunity to walk in the presence of the Lord. After the fall, this daily opportunity was lost and man’s relationship with God was broken. By the time the Children of Israel reach Mt. Sinai with Moses, an understanding of spending time in God’s presence is almost completely foreign to their way of thinking. In fact, when confronted with the fiery presence of God as He descended on the mountain top, the whole idea of being in His presence was new to them:
Ex 19:16-20 NKJV Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. 19 And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. 20 Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
Moses had gone to the mountain top, while the people stayed in the valley and yet even at such a distance, they were unable to handle the tangible presence of the Lord. Instead they became so afraid that they chose to worship God from afar, rather than learn to draw nearer to where He was.
Ex 20:18-21 NKJV Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die."
20 And Moses said to the people, "Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin." 21 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.
The Law of the Sacrifice
As the law began to be delivered to the people and the sacrificial system became a part of their way of life, God was continuing to reach out and attempt to draw man back into His presence. Throughout the first five books of the Bible and particularly where the sacrifices are described in the book of Exodus and Leviticus, the people are told to present an offering before the Lord. The priests remained the chosen vessels to present these offerings and not the people themselves, but the key is that that the animals for sacrifice were to be killed by the one brining it “before” the Lord. For example,
Lev 1:2-6 NKJV 2 "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock — of the herd and of the flock.
3 'If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. 4 Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. 5 He shall kill the bull before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
Notice that the person for whom the sacrifice is made is to “offer it . . . before the Lord” and “kill the bull before the Lord”. The Hebrew word translated “before” here is paniym (paw-neem’) and it is the exact same word that is translated as “presence” in Exodus 33:15. In other words, the people were to offer their sacrifice in the presence of the Lord and to kill it in the presence of the Lord. While the people may have chosen to worship from afar in Exodus 20, God never stopped reaching out to draw them into His presence. Even though it was the priests who would literally sprinkle the blood upon the altar – the location associated with the presence of the Lord – the people were required to come into His presence in order for the sacrifice to be initiated on their behalf.
While it was the sacrifice itself that foreshadowed the work that Christ would do on the cross, it was the process by which it was completed that would reflect the relationship that we are called to have with him. In the sacrifice we see the shedding of blood for the atonement of sin and it paints a vivid picture of the death of Jesus as he took upon Himself the sins of the world. However, the presentation of the sacrifice also paints a vivid picture that is all too often overlooked.
The New Covenant Priesthood
The finished work of Christ has done away with the need for the sacrificial system and the blood of lambs. As the Lamb of God, Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, and yet the New Testament continues to discuss the idea of a sacrifice that we are required to bring unto the Lord. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes concerning the value of presenting a living sacrifice to God:
Rom 12:1-2 NKJV I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
If the images of the Old Testament sacrifice are truly a type and shadow of New Testament principles, then we can learn from them truths that will help us understand how to better “present” this living sacrifice to God. Remember it was the priest who sprinkled the blood on the altar, but it was the one who brought the sacrifice that was to initially offer it “before” or “in the presence of” the Lord. This means that in order to fulfill your obligation to offer yourself as an acceptable, holy sacrifice you must once again learn to enter into the presence of the Lord. If the sacrificial system was the heart of the Old Covenant, and it was, then it seems reasonable that understanding the presence of God is essential to our Christian life under the New Covenant.
While simply being the one offering the sacrifice requires you to enter into the presence of the Lord, it was the priest who came closest to Him. Under the laws of the Old Covenant, the only priestly tribe was that of Levi and not even all of his lineage would enter the Holy of Holies or even sprinkle the blood upon the altar. With the coming of the New Covenant, greater and more perfect tabernacle has been established with Christ as the High Priest (Hebrews 9:11) and with the establishment of this new order we have all been made priests:
1 Peter 2:9-10 NKJV But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
John, the Revelator, affirms this priesthood in the opening words of the book of Revelation when he declares that the one “. . . who loved us and washed us from our sin . . . has made us kings and priests to His God and Father . . .” (Revelation 1:5-6). As a believer you have been made a priest of the Most High God and as such you are expected to enter into his presence to present your sacrifice – your life.
Spirit, Soul and Body
In order to enter into the presence of the Lord, the priests of the Old Covenant had to be sanctified, lest they die. In the same way, you are unclean and incapable of coming into the presence of God without accepting the work that Christ has done on your behalf. It is He alone who has restored your ability to walk in the presence of the Lord. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the God of peace sanctifies us completely, “spirit, soul and body”, so that you no longer have to feel the need to hide among the trees, as Adam did, but you can come boldly into His presence. (Hebrews 4:16).
Your body has become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Paul writes much about the role of your spirit in 1 Corinthians. It is your spirit man that relates to the Spirit of God, for it is the Spirit of God that searches out the deep things of God and teaches them to the spirit of man, since the natural man could not receive them. (1 Corinthians 2:10-14) With this understanding, it is the spirit man that acts as priest and presents the offering, spirit to spirit, at the altar of sacrifice.
If your body is the temple and your spirit is the priest, then what role does your soul play in coming “before” the Lord as a living sacrifice? The answer is simple enough. Your soul must bring the sacrifice and offer it before the Lord. Remembering Leviticus 1, the individual was to bring the offering, while it was the priest who sprinkled the blood upon the altar. If you desire to once again walk in the presence of the Lord, then your soul must become willing to offer up something of value. The sacrifice of the Old Covenant cost the one who made it something. It consisted of the best of what man had to offer – the best of the flock, the best of the field or the best of his labor – or what meant the most. Your soul must offer what means the most to you as a living sacrifice. What you think, what you want, and how you feel must all be brought before the Lord and laid down, so that your priestly spirit may take its life blood and sprinkle it upon the altar as an acceptable sacrifice.
When you begin to understand what it truly takes to once again come into the presence of the Lord, then the words penned by the author of Hebrews will take on new meaning:
Hebrews 4:16 NKJV Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The boldness to come before the throne of God is not an arrogant confidence, but rather the result of compliance with the sacrificial system of the New Covenant. Once you have allowed your spirit man to present the soul’s sacrifice in the temple of your body, then you can begin to have the humility necessary to boldly enter the presence of the Lord.
The Hebrew word translated boldy in Hebrews 4:16 is parrhesia (par-rhay-see’-ah) and according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it means to speak without reservation, to be free from fear and conspicuously present. In other words, boldly coming into the presence of the Lord means dealing with out nakedness and coming out from hiding among the trees. It means that you must become capable of no longer holding back in fear of what God might choose to deal with and making yourself conspicuously open to His mercy and grace in your times of need.
If your life is to become PRESENCE driven, so that your purpose may be fulfilled, then you must begin to drawn near to God and stop worshipping from afar. You must step out of your old nature and take on the priestly nature in order to offer yourself as a living sacrifice and boldly enter in.
 Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.