Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved,
In our last lesson, we learned that we are to “count it all joy” when we fall into temptation because temptation produces patience, endurance or perseverance in us. And in the next few verses, the actual word “temptation” is used openly, rather than the word previously used, which was “trials.” Now, the full context of this chapter comes into view. There is no doubt, James is talking about the temptation to sin.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (NKJV).
We are finally at the end of this series on Practising Holiness in an Immoral World. For those who have been following along, I hope you have seen throughout this study that the way to holiness only comes when we genuinely work to live each day giving glory to God. Our lives as Christians must not be self-centered but God-centered. This means that living in an anti-Christian culture, as we currently do, can be hard for us “mere humans” to not react when confronted with outright hate. Yet, this is the example Jesus gave us when he went to the cross and this is what is also expected of us.
Before Jesus came on the scene the only “morality” in the world came from what God laid down in the Torah. It was Jewish parents who fought against the immorality of the Roman rulers who surrounded them. They struggled to keep their children from worshipping the hundreds of idols Rome embraced. They struggled to keep their children from sexual immorality. In fact, many of the same issues during Jesus’ time are still going on today.
In Leviticus 11:45 God told the Israelites to “be Holy, for I am Holy.” In Ephesians 5:8 we are told to “walk as children of Light.” And 1 Peter 1:15 says “be holy in all your conduct.” We are reminded time and time again, of what our walk with the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, should resemble. Yet, many Christians seem to struggle with the concept of how to “be holy.” They strive to be good, to do what they “imagine” amounts to holiness. For example, good works – tithing, feeding and clothing the poor, serving on church committees, helping the sick, visiting them in hospital, etc. While all of these things are good they do not make us holy. This form of holiness requires action on our part. Outwardly these things make us “seem” righteous and holy to others. Yet, after performing all these works, many Christians still feel empty. They don’t “feel holy” especially when they often experience anger, impatience and improper thoughts. Perhaps the problem is that they have focused their attention on their good works and on what they could do for God, instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to fulfill His good works in them.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, NKJV).
God transfers His holiness to us via His Holy Spirit. We are now the Temple of God, and as the verse above states, the Spirit of God dwells in us. So, today I want to look closer at the responsibility this brings for all Christians who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Holiness is not something God requires only from Christians. He asked it of the Jewish people first, and as we previously discussed, He put laws in place to enable His people to stand out and be separate from the pagan world around them. The laws themselves would not make them holy, but they would help the people see what God saw as sin in order to keep themselves from it. After a time, the rulers of the law (those priests who enforced it) added their own rules and interpretations of holiness, and by doing so, became slaves to those laws. But Jesus saw their hearts and called them hypocrites. So let’s look at how Jesus showed “holiness” while he walked among us. Let’s also compare his actions to those of Christians and the church in general today.
We’ll start with the culture of the day and go from there. In particular, let’s look at the political situation of the day. Why? Because so much of what goes on in this world seems to revolve around politics and Christians have somehow got it in their minds there is only one Political Party of which God approves. In the States, it is the Republican Party, and in Canada, it is the Progressive Conservative Party. Did Jesus involve himself in politics? Would he do so today?
Last week we talked about spiritual sacrifices and what that means when practising holiness. But, how can we practise holiness if we have not yet fully grasped what that entails?
Over 40 years ago holiness (or what I perceived as holiness) was something I experienced on a regular basis when I stepped into my church every Sunday morning. At that time I attended an Anglican church. This was before they listened to the clamour of the world and gave in to its demands, rather than obeying the Word of God. Back then, you could hear a pin drop on a Sunday morning as the sanctuary filled with worshippers. When I came into the church, I would see the cross ahead of me, and before I entered the pew, I would bow my head, not in worship of a piece of wood, but in remembrance of who had hung on that cross. Jesus was given my respect, worship and praise as soon as I entered the sanctuary.
When God chose Israel to be His people, He called them to be a “holy nation.” They were to be sanctified and set apart from all the other nations around them. Exodus 19:3-8 gives a clear picture of what God expected of His people and what the people agreed to.
And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.
Holiness is a biblical concept and mentioned in the Bible over six hundred times. It is one of the central themes of Leviticus and other books of the Bible. 1 Peter 1:16 says, “Be holy because I am holy.” But what does that look like for Christians today? How do we live lives that are holy? Is that even possible? To grasp the concept of holiness we need to go back to the very beginning of Genesis.