Sunday, July 2, 2017

Be Holy!

We’re going to take another look into the Old Testament this morning. But this time, instead of working our way through a whole chapter we’re only going to look at a verse. Actually, if you want to be precise, it’s just a part of a verse. Here it is. God is speaking to Israel.

… be holy, for I am holy. Leviticus 11.44

This morning, we’re going to be talking about holiness.

Now, take a moment to consider what Yahweh was calling those people to be. He called them to be holy. But what does that mean? What is this holiness? There is only one kind of holiness: God’s holiness. So, this, in effect, is what Yahweh said to those people. ‘See My holiness? I want you to be like that.’ That’s quite a demand.

‘But it’s okay. We don’t have to worry about obeying this command. It’s in the Old Testament. So, we can ignore it, right?’ Well, not really. For one thing, if it’s in the Bible, it’s there for our sake. The whole Bible is inspired by God for our use. But beyond that, Peter was pretty sure it applied to the first century Gentile Christians that he was writing to. That’s why he wrote this.

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

There are lots of other places on this side of Malachi where authors of the New Testament called the saints to holiness. Let me give you just a few examples.

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Corinthians 7.1

For this is the will of God, your holiness   1 Thessalonians 4.3

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12.14

God wants His people to be holy - and that includes us.

So much for preliminaries. Let me tell you what I’m going to do with the rest of the sermon. I’m going to deal with two questions. What is holiness? And how do we get it?

So, what is holiness? Bear in mind that it’s God’s holiness that we are to be imitating. So, the question to ask is, ‘What is God’s holiness?’ How does this sound? It’s the moral purity of one’s character. That includes complete freedom from sin. That’s certainly God’s holiness. And it should also be ours. So, in our actions, our words, our thoughts, our attitudes, our perspectives, in every aspect of who and what we are, there is to be only purity, a purity that’s just like God’s.

Now, here’s what I’m pretty sure would be a fairly common response to what I’ve just said. ‘That’s impossible! Only Jesus was like that, and we certainly can’t be holy like He was. Come on, be a little realistic. We’re only human.’ Really? Well, here’s something to consider. On the Last Day, when God judges everyone, there will be those who He will cast into hell. Do you know why He will do that? It’s not because they didn’t believe in Jesus. Refusing to believe will make things worse, but that’s not the root issue. They will be eternally condemned because they weren’t holy. Instead of holiness, moral purity, their lives were corrupted by sin. And that’s why they will be condemned. There are those who think that being holy is impossible for us and thus, it is not to be something we need to be concerned about. They assume that a loving God won’t hold us to that standard. But He will. That’s the standard that He will use when He decides the question of life forever or death forever. God will judge based on His expectation of holiness.

Now, there is another issue that is a problem for some. They think that being holy means that you’ll be weird - you know, stodgy and stiff. Holy people are unapproachable, distant, cold. They have to be. They’re always watching out lest they become contaminated with some sin. But who wants to be like that? Well, is that description true? Think about Jesus. Was He stodgy and stiff? Was He unapproachable, distant and cold? Isn’t that rather a description of a Pharisee with his phony kind of holiness?

No, being holy is just another way of talking about being human, human as originally created, as in Adam and Eve. They were created as perfect humans, holy people. But since their fall into sin, Jesus has been the only fully human person, the only holy person. And that showed in things like His compassion when He encountered people in need, His anger when He saw evil, His grieving at other people’s sins, His loyalty to the Father when tempted by Satan. Being holy has nothing to do with being stodgy and everything to do with being truly human.

Okay. So much for our first question, ‘What is holiness?’ Now for the other question. How do you get this holiness? Well, this is a twopart answer since there are two ways of gaining holiness, and we need both.

Here’s the first part. Holiness is granted to us. This is about something that has been called ‘The Great Exchange’. That’s what happened between Jesus and us. All of our sin was placed on Him. And all of His holiness was placed on us. ‘The Great Exchange.’ This is the reason why the Father can fully accept us as His children. The theologians call this ‘imputed’ holiness. And this holiness becomes ours once the Spirit unites us to Jesus. We gain Jesus’ holiness.

Some misunderstand this. ‘So, this means that we don’t need to worry about that command about holiness, right? We’re acceptable to the Father because of Jesus’ holiness which is now also our holiness. So, working at holiness is not for us, right?’ No, wrong. This is where we need to look at the second part of our answer. This is where I get to talk about that other way of gaining holiness.

Remember those New Testament verses that I read earlier? They were all addressed to Christians, to people who had already been granted Jesus’ holiness. It was these Christians who Jesus, through His apostles, commanded to work at holiness. Let me re-read one of those verses.

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  Hebrews 12.14

That sounds pretty clear. We need to be working at - striving for - holiness. And it needs to be said that, according to this verse, those who refuse to do so will not see the Lord. They will instead suffer hell. Working at being holy is really important.

So, how does this work? What are we supposed to do? Here’s where we start. We need to want to be holy. Or to say it differently, this is going to require some serious motivation. Working at being holy won’t be easy. There will be obstacles. We’re going to need to want it badly if we are going to do what is necessary to overcome those obstacles.

Now, as soon as I say that, there will be those who will feel completely overwhelmed. ‘Life is already filled with too many things to do. And now I need to add more? I need to work at this holiness? Are you serious? I can’t do it!’

Let me respond to that first by asking this question. Do you want to see the Lord when this life is over? Do you want to spend eternity with Him? If you do, you’ll need to do what that verse commands,

Strive … for holiness …

But here’s the second thing I want to say. It doesn’t have to be this overwhelming thing. There may be some changes that you’ll need to make. But still, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Making some changes does not mean that you have to give this hours and hours each day. Let me remind you what I’ve said before about where to start. Give Jesus five minutes a day. That’s where you start. Five minutes. Now, it needs to be a serious five minutes, a motivated five minutes. But don’t think in terms of gobs of time. And I can talk about five minutes because I am sure that, in time, you will want to spend ten minutes. Not that you’ll have to. You will want to. And it will grow from there.

Now, once you commit yourself to those five minutes, here’s one thing that you do with them. You work toward the goal of listening. Jesus still speaks by the Spirit. And He does that as you mull over His Word. It might be something that stood out in a Scripture Reading during Sunday worship. It might be something that you just read in your Bible. It might be something from that week’s sermon. It might be a promise, a warning, a command, a new idea. But whatever it is, think about it, pray briefly that you would hear what Jesus has to say, and then be ready to listen. He may speak to you in that moment, but maybe not. Maybe it will be later. But Jesus still speaks by the Spirit. He wants to speak to you. And as I said before, the voice you will hear in your head will be your own, but as you get used to this you’ll be able to tell when the source of something that you’re thinking about isn’t you. Five minutes. Mull things over, pray, and then be ready to listen.

Now, if someone does this regularly, a motivated five minutes of thinking and praying and listening, will that be good enough? Will that produce holiness? No. ‘Well, what if I stretch it out to ten minutes? Fifteen? Do I need an hour? And what if I’m really serious about this, really motivated to read and think about the Bible? Won’t that do the trick? Won’t that make me holy?’ No, it won’t. There’s a huge difference between getting to know the Bible really well and becoming holy. You can do the first all on your own. But not the second.

Christian growth, becoming holy, is mysterious. It’s not as if we do A, B, C and - presto! - we make it happen. We don’t control this. And good thing, too. If it were up to us, we’d blow it completely. Growth in holiness is something that Spirit produces. It’s just that He uses things like a very motivated five minutes. He uses our reading and thinking about the Gospel to produce holiness in us. But in all of this, it’s something that He makes happen.

Here’s one way He does this. You notice something about the Gospel. Maybe it’s a promise or command or whatever. And you consider it. Then, the Spirit prompts a question, and you find yourself saying, ‘Do I believe this part of the Gospel?’ Sometimes the answer is an honest, ‘Yes, I really do.’ And that becomes a moment of great encouragement. There has been some change, some growth. The Spirit has already done some work in you, and He wanted you to see that so that you could be encouraged by it. And that encouragement spurs on a greater motivation to spend those five minutes.

But sometimes the answer to that question is an honest, ‘No, I don’t believe this part of the Gospel’. Ah, so what needs to happen next? (You know the answer to this.) Repentance and faith. Admit your sin, the specific sin. ‘I don’t believe You, Father, when You say…’ Then, come again to Jesus asking for forgiveness and for change. And the change you ask for is all about turning away from that sin of unbelief and replacing it with holiness, believing what God has said which shows as living out what He has said. And when the Spirit sees you do this, when you respond to Him with repentance and faith, He blesses you not just with forgiveness but also with change. You grow a little more in your holiness.

But what if your answer is, ‘No, I don’t believe this part of the Gospel, and I don’t want to believe it. I don’t want to change.’ That is very dangerous. That’s telling the Spirit that you don’t want to be holy, you don’t want to obey His command,

be holy for I am holy.

And remember that other verse.

Strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

A person’s claims to have been converted twenty years ago, followed by faithful church attendance and a slew of good works won’t erase those verses. Refusal to repent of some sin the Spirit has pointed out, and then to work at holiness is very foolish and incredibly dangerous. We’re talking about the eternal fate of your soul.

Last thought. It’s possible to hear what I’ve said in the wrong way. And there have so many down through the centuries who have done exactly that. When you do that, working at holiness becomes this weight that you need to bear. It’s this huge burden. And the whole process is covered in fear. As a result, the joy of being a Christian is gone. Don’t fall into that trap.

The way that you can avoid all of that is by seeing the command to be holy as an expression of God’s grace. You do need to tell yourself, ‘I must become holy. I need to work at this’. You really do. But at the same time, you also need to tell yourself, ‘I can become holy as the Spirit blesses my efforts’. Remember, Jesus has come to free us from our sin. That’s what this is about. Freedom from sin.

Think about the sin that trips you up so often. Think about the times that you have insulted the Father who has loved you so. Think about how unfaithful you have been to your most faithful friend, Jesus. Think about the times that your sin has made a mess of your life. Wouldn’t you like to be rid of all of that? Wouldn’t you like to be freed from it all? Jesus has provided the way. He has given us His Holy Spirit whose mission is to make us holy. To be sure, we have work we need to do in this. And maybe that means changing things so that you can be committed to those five minutes. But as you do that sort of thing, as you do what you can to strive for holiness, the Spirit does His work. He makes you holy. And those troubling sins fall away. Life becomes so much better. And it’s all crowned with a deep sense of joy.

This is what Jesus has come to do. He wants us to become whole people, truly human people, just like Adam and Eve on day one. He wants us to become holy. And as we submit to His Word and entrust ourselves to His grace, that’s exactly what we will become.

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