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.
Today we oppose abortion, and while pro-choice people say it is not murder, that’s exactly what it was during Jesus’ time - literally! Romans regularly practised infanticide (killing full-term babies after they are born). Some did it because they couldn’t afford to keep the child. Some did it because it was an inconvenience. Whatever the reasons an archaeological discovery in Ashkelon, Israel shows that “nearly 100 infants all died at about the same full-term age. They were not buried, but instead were cast into a sewer that ran beneath a brothel. Researchers suspect that most such victims were suffocated to death.” These archaeological digs have uncovered the remains of full-term infants throughout what once was the Roman Empire.
This is the world Jesus came into. He knew exactly what was going on. Knowing what was happening to Roman babies, makes Luke 18:15-17 all the more poignant.
“Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”
Notice in vs. 15 that it says, “they also brought infants to Him.” We have always been led to believe that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me,” He was talking about young children, not babies. But in this particular verse the Greek word used for “infants” was brephos and literally means “baby, infant or newborn babe.” Now think about that for a minute in relation to the practises of the day. The disciples rebuked those parents who brought these little ones to Jesus and Jesus was indignant at the disciple’s behaviour. Why did the disciples rebuke them? Many of Jesus’ disciples called him “Teacher” or “Rabbi.” Those Jesus preached to were mainly Jewish. So why would the disciples rebuke Jewish parents for bringing their babies to Jesus for a blessing? I can think of only one reason. These were probably Roman parents who did not want to kill their babies (as was the norm) and they saw that Jesus provided a better way. It is no wonder that people flocked to Jesus!
As for Jesus calling them “little children” the word “children” in verse sixteen is translated from the Greek word paidion which is used to collectively describe babies, newborn infants and young children.
So how did Jesus, the disciples and new Christians in general, deal with the hostile culture in which they lived?
Quite simply, they practised holiness.
1 Peter 3:8-9 explains how we can live in ways that are countercultural:
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good. They must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
We can immediately see the characteristics of holy living and how they should affect a believer’s behaviour in a hostile world. Notice that the first part deals specifically with how Christians are to behave toward one another.
I love the last part of the verse above. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer. You want God to hear your prayers? Practice Holiness! Much of what is written in the verses above pertain to how Christians are to interact with each other and with the world at large. How we behave within the family of God will reflect how we behave in the world.
Finally, in 1 Peter 3:13-17 we see clearly how we are to respond to those who hate us and persecute us.
And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
We are not to be afraid of their threats nor be troubled. And the threats are all around us now. In Canada the worst threat to our freedoms came when our Prime Minister demanded all people who wanted to receive government grants for the student summer jobs program, agree that abortion was right. He couched it with the words, “protecting our freedoms” but he really meant to only be protecting the freedoms of those who agree with his ideology. He knew Christians would not agree and that is why he put it there and refused to reword or remove it. He wants to weed us out.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. Do not be afraid to share why your hope is in the Lord, but do it with humility and reverence for God. Do not get caught up in detestable and deceitful acts as some have done recently. For their conduct besmirches the name of God. Instead, let your behaviour be the same as the Lord’s because then your conscience will be clear and those who try to defame you or revile you will be ashamed because of your good conduct (1 Peter 3:16).
For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:17).
Ultimately, we must place our conduct, our speech, and our beliefs in line with the Lord’s. He is our best example on how to practise holiness.
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.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such, there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25, NKJV).
Ask yourself this question – who produces the fruit of the Spirit within you? You or God? You cannot create it within yourself. Why? Because the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit is the essence of God. It is who He is and central to His character. And those who are Christ’s receive it IF they have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. In other words, they have repented of their sins and no longer indulge in them. The fruit is only produced within us as we live in and also walk in the Spirit.
But like all fruit, it takes time to ripen in a new believer. The Holy Spirit is there teaching you as you walk in step with Him, but He knows your old life, with its desires and lusts, are still a temptation, so it is how you react to the temptation that determines how fast the fruit of the Spirit will ripen within you.
The best things about the fruit of the Holy Spirit is that each aspect of the Spirit builds on the other. For example, love produces joy, which brings peace, which brings patience (longsuffering), which in turn produces kindness towards others, goodness, faithfulness to God and others, gentleness (meekness or humility) and finally when you have entirely crucified the flesh and its desires – self-control.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-23, NKJV).
The works of the flesh are evident. If you are still practising these sins, you are grieving the Holy Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit will be non-existent within you. You must, as a believer of God BE HOLY! The practice of holiness means you must be willing to deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). For what does the cross represent? Jesus, through His body, nailed our sins to it. He carried them on His shoulders. He died for us to free us from them, and our cross is to ensure that we do not take those nails out and resurrect those sins, or Jesus’ death for you and I will have been in vain. They must stay on the cross! Because those “who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
1 Peter 2:24 reminds us: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed.”
Practising holiness doesn’t allow for self-centeredness. It is God-focused and believe it or not people-focused as well. For holiness can only be exercised in relationship to those around us. For when you put people into the mix, well – let’s be honest here – some of them will drive you crazy! We know this just by reading the news every day. The Left says the Right is wrong and vice versa. The rhetoric and hate coming out of both camps are enough for any Christian to say, “Please, Lord come back now!” But how are we to react to those we with whom we disagree? How are we supposed to act? Matthew 5:43-48 tells us:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Where are you now in your spiritual growth? The most important aspect of the Holy Spirit is love. Love is defined for us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and it gives us a measuring rod of sorts, to see how or if we are growing in the Spirit:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
As you go through the verses above examine your heart – are you patient and kind? Do you envy others? Do you brag about your accomplishments? Are you proud? Go through the whole verse asking questions at each example of love. If you are still struggling with some of these aspects of love, you are still in the early stages of growth. But don't worry. As I said – fruit takes a long time to ripen and so growth in the fruits of the Spirit will happen slowly as well. This is what Jesus meant when he said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
As you continue to grow in the Lord love will turn to joy, which will bring peace, and in turn patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Allow the Holy Spirit to produce in you the fruits of the Spirit. Don't rush your growth. Listen to Him and learn. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7). As you walk in step with the Spirit you will begin to notice a change and practising holiness will be second nature to you.
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.
Looking at the verse above we see some vital facts that are hard to ignore and present an unbroken chain:
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
“Glorify God in your body and in your spirit.” Our bodies the Lord designed for us are incredible. When you consider their intricacies, from our DNA to the colour of our eyes, we know a loving Creator designed us. We are most definitely, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Yet within our bodies we house something no microscope could ever capture – soul and spirit. Our soul is what makes us “us.” In Hebrew the word for soul is nephesh, and it simply means “life.” It is our personality, our quirks, flaws and everything that makes us unique. Our life experiences, how we were brought up, etc., will throughout our lives shape our souls – for good or bad. Closely linked to our souls are our spirits, and yet they are different. The soul and the spirit are connected, but separable (Hebrews 4:12). The soul is the essence of who we are.
The spirit, on the other hand, is what connects us to God and makes us aware that there is someone out there - a Creator. The word for spirit in Hebrew is ruach and means “wind or breath.” It is the element that makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God. When we acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour, it is then through the grace of God that we are forgiven and made clean. God then fills our spirits with His Holy Spirit. We experience an intimate union with God where our bodies become the temple for His Holy Spirit and because of this we, as priests of God, must consider our body, soul and spirit sacred ground.
But if we defile the Temple of God, 1 Corinthians 3:17 says God will destroy us. What exactly does that mean? We might accidentally break our leg, but that does not defile us. It is the things we partake in that involve sinning against God and ourselves that defile God’s, Holy Temple.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 gives us an idea of what constitutes defiling God’s Temple:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
Note, how all these things require you to sin against God, yourself (your body) and others. Most deal with sexual sin, but all deal with actions you have to make that cause you to deliberately sin against God. Let’s break down some of the words used in this verse, so you better understand the meaning behind them. I think you will be surprised at the real meanings behind some of these words.
As you can see, all of these sins harm not only your relationship with God, but they harm your spiritual health, as well as your physical body and your mental health. In effect, they create darkness in you, making it unsuitable for the Holy Spirit to take up residence. As the Lord God says, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
When Paul says, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him,” what is he implying by the word destroy? Two observations come to my mind when reading this. First, is the obvious outcome when someone chooses to practise sin, their relationship with God is severed or destroyed by their behaviour. The only way to restore that relationship is to confess your sin and repent of it forever. The other implication is that those who persist in defiling themselves, without repentance or remorse, will suffer the consequences of eternal damnation and will be “destroyed” in hell.
The Apostle John wrote a clear description of God’s character and what it means for those who worship and follow Him:
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7, NKJV).
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, light represents God and His holiness, while darkness represents sin and evil. We can see from the verse above that we cannot have fellowship with God and other believers if we are walking in darkness (still sinning). Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
As priests of God, practising holiness means we live to honour God and so as believers our lifestyle is “set apart” and different from the world. It has to be because we are priests of the Most High God. It is not about “us” and our needs, it is about God. When you walk with that knowledge ever present in your mind, you are less prone to hatred, depression, strife, impatience, selfishness, cruelty, dishonesty, pride and self-indulgence.
When we walk in the light we walk with the Lord, and we are in step with His Holy Spirit, ready to fulfill our roles as priests of God.
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?
When Jesus walked the earth, the rulers, or the main political party if you will, were the Romans. Rome, at that time, was the largest and most powerful city in the world. Jesus never went there. However, we do know that he obeyed Roman law because he said in Matthew 22:21, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
Rome and its relationship with the Jewish people was not an easy one. After they broke free from the horrific rule of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, they realized their rebellion against God had brought the bondage of the Greek Empire upon them. In their determination to never again stray from God’s laws and obedience to Him, they became zealous in their commitment to keeping His commandments. This resulted in the birth of fanatical groups which promoted “holiness.” One group was called the Pharisees (who were strict about observing the Law) and the other was called the Sadducees (who rejected the authoritative nature of God’s laws). Like most extremist groups they both started out with good intentions, but along the way, those intentions and beliefs got skewed so much that they drifted away from the original plan – to obey God and keep His commandments.
In addition, there was a hierarchy of rule. The Jewish people had the Sanhedrin, a Jewish court whose foundation was laid out by God. In the Torah, God commanded Moses to bring seventy of Israel’s elders who were known as leaders and officials among the people (Numbers 11:16). Also, in Deuteronomy 16:18, we read, “You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” If there were 120 men as heads of families in a city, then they had a local court called the Sanhedrin. The people would come to them with their disputes, which were settled according to the Laws of Moses (Torah).
The Great Sanhedrin was in Jerusalem (think of it as the Supreme Court). It was made up of seventy rabbis (teachers) and the high priest. This court convened every day (except for festivals and on the Sabbath) to deal with matters about religious and ritual law. While they had the right to self-govern, ultimately the Roman government required that everything and everyone be subject to Roman authority. So, if a case was heard in which the penalty was death (as in Jesus’ case), the Jews had no power to carry it out, so it fell to the local Roman Governor, which would have been Pontius Pilate, to decide the case. The hierarchy was like this – while the Sanhedrin governed the Jews, they still reported to the Governor who reported to the King (Herod), who reported to Rome (Emperor Caesar).
So the Jewish people were not only ruled by what I’ll call “big brother” aka Pharisees and Sadducees (their religious rulers), but they also had to deal with their new oppressors – Rome. Rome wanted their obedience, their worship and their money. The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted the same. They loved it when people saw their piety and often flaunted it (Luke 18:9-14). In fact, the rules for fasting increased under the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees added two fast days, Monday and Thursday of each week, as a case of public display and piety. These were days not commanded by God. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 6:16-18. The Pharisees made a point of appearing in the synagogues carelessly attired during these fast days. They wore mourning clothes and disfigured their faces to look sad in order to exhibit their superior “holiness” before the people. The phrase “disfigure their faces” (Gr. aphanizō) denotes covering their faces and is a figurative expression for mournful gestures and neglected appearance of those wanting to call attention to themselves. The critical thing about these two religious groups is how Jesus noted their hypocrisy. They did not practice what they preached, for their motives weren’t out of love for God, but out of a desire to gain praise from the people for their actions.
So, if we could look at these two groups of people - the Pharisees and Sadducees, in modern terms, we would see that one group, the Pharisees, sort of resemble Evangelical Christians today as they love to adhere to the authority of the Scriptures and often add things to the Scriptures that aren’t commanded. For example, many churches have rules about not dancing, not swimming with the opposite sex, not drinking wine, etc. So I place these types of Evangelical Christians as far right, and their choice of a political party would be the Progressive Conservatives in Canada or the Republicans in the States. And the other group, the Sadducees, who did not accept the Scriptures as the authoritative word of God, would be far left and seen as Liberals or Democrats.
How did Jesus see these two groups?
Jesus never called out the Roman government on their laws, their rampant idol worship, or their sexual immorality. He only called out the Jewish religious leaders of his day. In fact, he took an entire chapter of Matthew to tell us what he thought of the Pharisees and the scribes (recorders/interpreters of the law) in Matthew 23. At times the Pharisees and Sadducees would even team up to confront Jesus (Matthew 16:1-12), but Jesus made a point of calling out the Pharisees, which were the most dogmatic of the two groups.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:23-27, NKJV).”
Jesus came into the world to save sinners, but he didn’t call them out about their sin, he called out the religious for their hypocrisy. What it comes down to is this – you can’t claim one party is “Christian” because they align with your value system and one is anti-Christian because they don’t align with your value system. If Jesus called the religious rulers of his day “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” imagine what he would say of those currently representing us in government! No one is righteous. Not one. Romans 3:10-18 says it best:
There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside. They have together become unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb, with their tongues they have practiced deceit. The poison of asps is under their lips, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:10-18).
Unfortunately, today, some Christians (not all) have somehow managed to tarnish the name of Jesus with their politics by ignoring or condemning those whom the Lord came to set free – the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the blind and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19).
Who would those people be today?
There are two ways to look at Luke 4:18-19 – figuratively and literally – and so we should look at them both ways because then we can see what Jesus meant when he rebuked those in positions of power (the Sanhedrin) when he said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17). Jesus also made it clear he was not preaching to the Romans who believed in all forms of idol worship (the Jewish God was just another god to them), but he came for “the lost sheep of the house Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Why? Because their leaders – the Pharisees and Sadducees were leading them astray. And today the wolves among the sheep have led many Christians astray. Instead of leading people to Christ, they are driving them away with outlandish behaviour and false doctrine that is contrary to Jesus’ example.
Who are the poor today?
Who are the broken-hearted?
Who are the captives?
Who are the blind?
Who are the oppressed?
When Jesus walked the earth, his example of holiness was far removed from that of the Jewish ruling body. He offered tangible help. He loved the loveless. He communicated and associated with people who were considered “sinners” and often found these same people giving up their sinful lifestyles to follow Him. He was always at odds with the religious elite of his day because he offered love, healing and hope to all who came to Him. He favoured justice and mercy over the rule of law (Matthew 12:7, 9-13). He did it all without condemning those who sinned or condoning their sin.
Not so with some Christians today. There are many issues in the church that get Christians riled up. The two most common are abortion and gay rights. If you think abortion or homosexuality did not exist in Jesus’ day, you would be wrong. Romans often killed children after they had been born. The practice of infanticide was so wide-spread throughout the Roman Empire, it was considered normal. As for homosexuality, it was as widespread then as it is today. But Jesus did not come to earth to address the sins of the world in general; he came to address the sins of the Jewish people, who were called to be holy, to be God’s example to the world.
And now, because of Jesus, Christians stand before God as holy priests. We are also called to be God’s example to the world. If Christians think that standing outside an abortion clinic with protest signs and gruesome pictures of dead babies, somehow glorifies God then they are wrong. If they think that protesting at a gay pride parade with signs condemning all homosexuals to hell is glorifying to God, they are wrong. Jesus taught us what holiness looked like by showing us how to interact with the world. He didn’t condemn or condone. He reached out in love which resulted in many being saved.
Why does God require holiness from you? To show the world the light and love of God Himself. Jesus came that we might have life, our job is to share that life with those still walking in sin, and we are to do it without condemnation.
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.
As I knelt in worship, I would evaluate the previous week, and confess any sins the Lord brought to mind as I prepared my heart for the following service. I stayed this way until the first strands of the pipe organ announced the beginning hymn. I was ready to praise my Lord in song, my heart prepared for the rest of the service.
Six years later I married into the Baptist church and encountered something entirely different on a Sunday morning – noise – and lots of it. I soon discovered a vast difference between Anglican’s and Baptists. While Anglicans spent the time before the service in prayer and contemplation focusing on God, Baptist’s concentrated more on fellowship, focusing on each other. In vain, I tried to pray before the service but soon found it impossible with people talking and laughing all about me. It took me many years to get used to this form of (what I considered) disrespect for God.
Fast forward to today, and it is rare to find a church without a worship band, who sing some lovely songs, but make more noise at times than my ears can bear. Quietness, silence, meditation and contemplation are not things you will easily find in an Evangelical church today. But is that a bad thing? Does holiness mean you have to be quiet when you approach God? Hardly.
The experience of approaching God both corporately and alone should be done with reverence, respect and awe because God is holy. But, King David danced before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14), and the Bible speaks about raising our hands towards heaven (Nehemiah 8:6; Psalm 28:2). Indeed, we are even called to make a joyful noise before the Lord (Psalm 91:5, 98:6). So praising God with our whole body is something incorporated into our worship since Old Testament times. But is praising God and worshipping Him “holiness?”
The first mention in the Bible of the word “holy” was by God Himself, and it was to Moses in Exodus 3:1-6. Note how Moses reacts:
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”
So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover, He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.
“Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
The word holy is “qodesh” in Hebrew and means “sacred, hallow, set apart.” The ground itself was set apart or holy because God was near. Moses was afraid to look upon God, and so he hid his face. In other words, he knelt or prostrated himself before the Lord. Moses immediately recognized how unworthy he was to stand before God, let alone approach Him. There was a separateness between man and God because the light and the dark is never more evident when we are standing before a Holy God.
The holiness and majesty of God bring an immediate sense of unworthiness to anyone in God’s presence. We know how sinful, weak and insignificant we are in the face of His grandeur. It is to us, lowly sin-stained sinners, that God offers a way to climb up out of the pit, to join with Him and be united with His holiness by the gift of His Holy Spirit, through Jesus’ death on a cross. Light indeed came into the world so that we would not have to live in darkness (John 8:12). Now there is no separation, and we can boldly come before the throne of God (Hebrews 4:16).
But the Creator of heaven and earth commands us to be holy like Him (Leviticus 11:45, 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15-16) but how do we, as priests of God, realistically practise this holiness? How do we become a light for those around us without becoming self-righteous?
We remember that light separates the darkness and we were once part of that darkness.
The “holiness” of God is the light of Christ. That light now lives within you through God’s Holy Spirit if you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour. Do you understand the implications here? God inhabits you. You are now like the burning bush! Holy in God’s eyes because of His Spirit. Do people who meet you see that?
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you” (1 Corinthians 3:16)?
How seriously are you taking your role as a priest of God?
Sadly, according to the “2014 State of Dating in America” report published by Christian Mingle and JDate, 61 percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage. Fifty-six percent said that it’s appropriate to move in with someone after dating for a time between six months and two years. And 34 percent responded that while it would be nice to marry someone of the same faith, it’s not required (ChristianPost).
“If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17).
Maybe you are a new Christian reading this, and you are convicted by God’s Holy Spirit that your current lifestyle is more darkness than light. This is your wake-up call. Maybe you are a long time believer, but you’ve never given much thought into being “the light of God” here on earth. And so when people meet you, they don’t see anything different in you. You’ve hidden the light of God and grieved the Holy Spirit with your choices. There is still time to repent and allow the Holy Spirit to renew righteousness within you. God is ever willing to bring lost sheep back into His fold.
Our standard of behaviour in this world means we do not bring the world and all its ugliness into our lives. This is excruciatingly hard to do, as we live in turbulent times. Politics (or rather politicians) dominate the 24-hour news cycle not only with their antics but with the antics of their supporters (on both sides). Keeping our opinions on some things to ourselves is hard. So we must look to Jesus as our example of holiness, we must strive to be the light until he returns. Yes, the whole world has fallen into immorality. And it is horrible, and yes it grieves the soul when we see lewdness in the streets, during Gay Pride Month. But this is now our world. Up is down, good is evil and black is white. And Christian morality is considered intolerant and hateful. We are living in the last days, and so it is all the more critical that we remember who inhabits us. We must live each moment mindful of our union with the God of the universe. Our behaviour is a reflection on Him. We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), and so we must live our lives accordingly. The Holy Spirit of God Himself lives within you. You practise holiness by remembering that.
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:12-17, NKJV).
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.
There is a lot more to this story, but all the people of Israel had to agree to was obedience to God and keeping His covenant. He promised if they did keep His covenant they would be “a special treasure” to Him “above all people” and they would be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Keep in mind at this point the people didn’t know what they agreed to for they had not yet received the Ten Commandments or any of the Laws God would give them. Nevertheless, they promised God to obey, and three days later He came down to meet them, and He gave them the Ten Commandments through Moses (Exodus 20:1-17). But the people were terrified at the sound of God’s voice and said to Moses: “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). So Moses spoke to God alone, and He gave them the rest of His ordinances and Moses took them back to the people, and they once again agreed to obey God and sealed it in blood, which also sanctified it and the people, who agreed to this covenant with God (Exodus 24:1-8).
And forty days and forty nights later they disobeyed and broke their part of the covenant. And while they were punished severely for it, God forgave them but never broke His covenant with them. Eventually, He created a new covenant in Jesus Christ. It is this new covenant we will look at today. What is our role in it?
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4, NASB).
Never forget that Paul taught from the Old Testament. His Scriptures did not include the New Testament, as they were still being written. So when he talks about “whatever was written in earlier times” he is talking about the Old Testament. We can see from the verse above that they were written for our instruction and to give us hope. That said, we must never think that the Old Testament is not needed anymore or doesn’t apply to us. While the law does not bind us, it still shows us the difference between the profane and the holy.
“. . . you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5, 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 (1 Peter 2:9, NKJV).
Previously, I talked about Adab and Abihu, priests of Israel who profaned the name of the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-5). In fact, by the time Jesus came, the temple priests had so twisted and abused the laws created to glorify God that Jesus saw right through them and called them hypocrites. And so when he died for us, a new covenant was established with his blood. This covenant stripped away the laws and offered the grace of forgiveness and eternal life to all who believed. But it also began a new priesthood. This priesthood consisted of all who accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour (Jew and Gentile alike). According to the verses above, we are to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.” A very pointed remark in light of how the Temple priests behaved during Peter and Jesus’ time. But what does that mean for us today? What are “spiritual sacrifices?”
Even though Jesus’ death ended the need for blood sacrifices, Christians are still expected to present sacrifices before God. I’m not talking about tithing. The sacrifices we are to present to God all tie in with practising holiness and how we live before Him and the world.
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. 2And 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 (Romans 12:1-2).
In the Old Covenant, only the High Priest of the Temple had the privilege of coming before God, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement, when he entered the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:6-7). With the New Covenant, every believer in Christ has the incredible privilege of coming into the presence of God all the time. But with that privilege comes responsibility. While Jesus sacrificed himself for us so that we would forever be forgiven and eternally allowed into the presence of God, our act of spiritual worship in response is to present ourselves holy before God as living sacrifices. But what does that look like in a practical sense?
Like the verse above says, we are not to be conformed to this world. A good definition of what the “world” means is 1 John 2:15-16:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.
The lusts of the flesh involve everything from obsessive sexual desires to food, drink and drugs. “Giving in” to our desires because they make us temporarily feel good, is not an acceptable sacrifice to God. The lust of the eyes would be materialism – things you see and you “have to have.” And the pride of life? That would be any ambition or pursuit that puffs us up, putting us on the throne of life instead of God. Jesus himself was the best example of turning from the temptations of the world. He was God, and at any moment he could have taken up his power and used it against his enemies or to satisfy his thirst, or to get off the cross. But he didn’t. He was quite literally a living sacrifice.
As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord (Ephesians 5:6-10).
Acceptable sacrifices given to God are how we practice holiness. When we think in a sacrificial way, we become the light of Christ to those still trapped in darkness. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 gives us an excellent example of holiness in action. Holiness is exhibiting to others the love of Jesus Christ. Our spiritual sacrifices mean we are patient when we are standing in line at the grocery store, or in slow moving traffic. When dealing with others, we exhibit kindness. We rejoice with those whom God blesses; we don’t get jealous over their abundance or good fortune. On the other hand, we don’t brag about the great things God is doing in our lives either. You may think you are glorifying God when you share with your friends how “God blessed you” with this or that, but to some of them, who have not been blessed in the same way, it just feels like you’re bragging. Be sensitive to those around you. Listen to them and respond to the Spirit’s leading.
This week, try to consciously think as you go about your day how to present to God your “Spiritual act of worship”- your sacrifice - to Him. Put into practice 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Memorize it so that you can bring it to mind as you practise holiness.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
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.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. – Genesis 1:3-5, NKJV
God saw that the light was good! Then He did something remarkable. He divided the light from the darkness. This act of separating the light from the darkness has been happening ever since the beginning of creation. We need to remember this as we go forward in this series because living holy lives for a Christian requires we separate ourselves from the darkness. But what is the “darkness”? How do we define it? We start by looking at how God established the light. How did He go about showing people how to live in the light? He began with a chosen nation He called Israel.
It was to these people that God gave The Ten Commandments and other laws that would teach them what it meant to be holy. They, in turn, were to be an example to the world of what holiness was supposed to resemble. This was after Adam & Eve sinned. It would be many, many years before God “laid down the law” so to speak – literally. He had to give His people laws or boundaries to follow so they could learn what holiness meant, how holy God was, and how wrong it is to approach a holy God in a sinful state.
These laws covered everything from the actions of the priests, to what the people could eat and wear, to sexual sins. Up until God gave these laws to Moses, everyone was pretty much doing their own thing. They did what they thought was right in their own eyes. And when we do that, we slowly start to step away from living holy lives for God, to doing what “feels” right to us and before we know it, we are living in the darkness once again.
So God established Laws for His people to follow. To set them on the right path – one that honours Him. Once these laws were established, a priesthood was created responsible for making sure the people they led followed the rules (Deuteronomy 33:10). These priests were considered holy before God (Leviticus 21:6) because they were responsible for setting an example for the people on how God expected them to live. Unfortunately, even the priests fell into sin, and when that happened, the nation of Israel modelled their behaviour. Ezekiel 22:26 says the priests profaned the Lord. Meaning they treated Him as common and did not honour or respect Him.
In Leviticus 10:1-5, the priests of God who were sons of Aaron (Moses brother) profaned the Lord by offering Him “strange fire.” It is thought that this strange fire was similar to what the pagan Canaanites offered to their false gods. For their disobedience and betrayal, God consumed them with fire. As priests of God, they were supposed to be an example to the people, but their actions (incorporating idol worship with the worship of God) could have lead the people of Israel into further sin. To prevent this, God destroyed them.
So how does this apply to us today? 1 Peter 2:5-9 confirms that believers in Christ have the same responsibility as the priests of God did in the Temple. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “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.”
As representatives of God in the world our behaviour, what we do, what we say, should always be to glorify God, to treat Him as Holy. God established Laws for the Israelites to separate them from the evil nations around them and to define sin (Ezra 10:11; Romans 5:13; 7:7). But as I said last time, rules will not make you holy. The Laws God gave resulted in the people becoming slaves to those Laws, but it also demonstrated that no one could purify themselves enough to stand before God. We needed a Saviour!
1 Peter 1:15-16 says, “…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’”
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says we “are the light of the world” and so that “light” or holiness must be evident to those who walk in the darkness.
Last week I challenged you to ask one question before you spoke or acted on anything – will God be glorified? So how did you do? How do you think the church as a whole is doing in this area? As priests of God are we profaning His name or glorifying it?
Some Christians have locked themselves away in their church community “too holy” to associate with sinners. Forgetting that the church is already full of them (redeemed but still sinners). They are not following the example of our Lord who regularly associated with those who were still trapped in darkness. Jesus offered friendship to the sinner. He ate with them, talked with them, met them on their level and no doubt laughed with them. He healed them of not just physical diseases but emotional and spiritual as well. He didn’t berate them for their lifestyles. He didn’t call them hateful names. He accepted them for who they were, welcoming them with love, and because He was the Light of God, He didn’t have to point out to them what their sins were. They already knew. How? Because God’s light reveals to everyone their darkness – those areas where they are still trapped in sin.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some Christians have made the mistake of condoning specific sins to appease those living in the darkness. This is not the way of Jesus either. Jesus’ never tolerated sin but left it up to the individual on what they would do with their lives. More often than not, most people, when confronted with the love and light of Christ, know they are not worthy to stand in His presence, and so they repent and turn from the darkness to begin life anew.
As believers in Christ, it falls to us to be God’s light in a dark world. But for many Christians, believing in Jesus and knowing “about” him is not the same as “knowing” him. And sometimes it takes a lifetime of learning to figure that out.
Galatians 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” We understand this to mean that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within us. Yes, we can learn more about Jesus through the Holy Scriptures. But, to know Him we have to listen to the Holy Spirit that resides in us. We can have “Christ-like” behaviour, but practising holiness is not about behaving like Jesus, it is allowing the Holy Spirit free reign to live in us and work through us. This is super hard to do because much of what we experience in this life is fear-based – fear of illness, fear we’ll lose our jobs, fear a loved one will die, fear we’ll fail a test, fear of rejection, fear of pain, fear for our children, and a general fear of the unknown. We unknowingly give ourselves over to fear every day without even thinking about it in one form or another. And what does the Bible say? “Perfect love casts out fear.”
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
The second step in practising holiness is to allow the Holy Spirit to reign in your life. Recognize that if you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, then He has done what He said He would do – He sent His Holy Spirit to live within you. Now let Him show you what being united with Him is like. Don’t become a slave to the law and your fears again! You can never be good enough on your own. Let the Holy Spirit inhabit you in all areas of your life. He will convict people of their sin. Not you. He will speak the words that need to be heard through you. He will be the one bringing love and light to the lost. You will be the vessel that He uses to do it. All glory goes to God so that your heart and head do not get puffed up with pride.
Take stock of yourself this week and check what fears still enslave you in this world. Confess them to God and trust the Holy Spirit to work through you. And remember, we are not of this world. Eternity doesn’t start after death, it has already begun. Live with that thought in mind. You are a child of God and not of this world. This week, remember who resides within you and listen to Him. Everything else will fall naturally into place as you walk in step with the Spirit.
I have claimed the title “Christian” for over 40 years and yet not a day goes by when I don’t learn something new from the Bible or feel God correcting me where I am wrong about something. When I had my first child, I was still what many would consider very “young” in my faith. A baby myself, but trying to do the right things to honour God. I came to Christ when I was 18. Six years later I was married to a Christian man, who was and still is an excellent provider, husband and father. Unfortunately, for my kids, I was a baby Christian.
My poor children suffered through years of what I now call “my crazy fanatical Christian days.” I talked about God – a lot. Everything was a lesson about God. Bible studies were mandatory. I became super paranoid about what might be considered “evil.” Alcohol was forbidden. Why? Because my church and especially the Christians I hung around with, said it was bad. Video games and movies that had violence, sexual situations or any perception of evil in them were banned. Santa Claus was outed as a fake. Why? Because the church made me believe all these things were inherently evil. My poor kids grew up hating God because of all these restrictions. I presented God to them in a horrible way. I should have submitted to my husband’s leadership.
My husband who is an introvert and as laid back and easy going as they get, would on occasion, try to correct me or show me where I was wrong. But, quite frankly, I was a fool and didn't listen to him. Why? Because I was an arrogant baby Christian, who thought she knew it all. And yet, he showed more Christ-likeness to those around him than I ever did. He didn’t separate himself from the world and join in on only “church-related” activities, but instead showed the world through his good character, friendly nature and ethical work standards what it was like to meet Jesus. While I tried to push everyone into accepting Christ, he did the opposite and approached people as Jesus did – he talked to them on their terms, listened, and showed them, Christ-like love. It took a while, but I finally saw the incredible value of his example. Unfortunately, it took me longer to lay down my previous convictions.
If only I had not been so head-strong when I was a new wife, mother and Christian!
Today, the things I used to care about so ardently, I no longer believe. I have grown wiser in my old age. But, sadly, where the church, in general, is concerned, I still see some foolish, headstrong, baby Christians. Some of whom have known Jesus longer than I have! And my heart weeps because I see people becoming paranoid about the world in general.
Every Muslim they meet is a potential terrorist. Every refugee is a terrorist for that matter. And so guns are purchased “just in case.” Why? Violence is not Jesus’ way. For it is written, “…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52).” Gays are made to feel unwelcome instead of welcomed into the church with the rest of us sinners. There is a feeling in the church that has an unwholesome “us vs. them” mentality. It seems Christians are willing to elect politicians whose morals are questionable - at best - in the cause of supporting a "Christian values party." The phrase I often hear from Christians when electing immoral politicians is, “Let bygones be bygones!” Seriously? And Christians wonder why the church is no longer respected?
I say these things because I was there. I used to think that way, with an “us vs. them” mentality. Wanting to protect what is sacred and keep immorality out of my house. Be in the world and not of it, type of thing. But this toxic mess has made the church and Christians, in general, a joke. And through the years I can see it hasn’t become better, it has become worse! Which is why it is so important to learn about practising holiness.
So this is where we will start. Today, put away your preconceived ideas about what you think Christianity or being a “Christian” looks like. Forget everything you have been taught about how a Christian is supposed to behave. For example, one pastor I had as a baby Christian made it very clear to me what kinds of behaviour he disapproved of, and he made me believe that if he disapproved of them, so did God. Dancing was forbidden, in fact, it was so frowned upon that if the word "dance" was in a hymn we were not allowed to sing it. He had many other rules besides dancing, the list went on and on. Why was this particular pastor so set in his ways about these rules? He read one verse in the Bible that commanded him to “abstain from the appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) and took it to a whole new level. Unfortunately, his interpretation of this verse made us slaves to the perception of others. I was always wondering what someone else was thinking about me instead of how God saw me. It is true we are called to not be a stumbling block to others (1 Corinthians 8:9) but to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). But holiness is not a list of rules. Holiness can only be found when we allow the Lord free reign in our lives. Then through Him, it is lived out in our lifestyles and our behaviour. But this is very hard to do if you feel you are constantly at war with the world.
In the Old Testament the primary word in Hebrew for holy or holiness is qodesh and it means something that is set apart, separate or sacred. Fundamentally, holiness is separating or cutting yourself off from something that is unclean and consecrating your life to what is pure. Take for example the sons of Aaron – Nadab and Abihu, in Leviticus 10:1-7 we learn that they offered “profane fire” before the Lord, which God had not commanded them to do. The result was that God killed both men. Why? Leviticus 10:3 gives us the answer: “This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ”
Nadab and Abihu tried to worship God their way, not His way and thereby profaned His name. There is more to this story I will touch on later, but for now observe the final part of this verse – “Before all the people I must be glorified.” Our behaviour, how we act in public or in private must be with one thought uppermost in our minds – God must be glorified. The first step toward holiness then and your first challenge for the week is this – before you speak, before you act, before you react to a situation ask yourself one question – “Will God be glorified?” It won't be easy. I know, I've been trying to do this for a while but when you have a Type A personality like mine you tend to blurt things out first before thinking. I'm hoping to change that.
How will your behaviour change with this one question in your mind throughout the week? How will your language or thought process change? When we consciously put God first in all our thoughts and ways, wonderful things begin to happen. And the result? God is glorified!
If you haven’t noticed how Christians have been viewed by the world lately, then you have probably been living under a rock. In less than 30 years, we (and by that I mean the entire church body – those who follow Jesus as Saviour from all denominations) have gone from a force of good in the world to something that is mocked and shunned. One has to wonder, why? What happened? When did it become acceptable in society to mock God?
The changes were subtle, and they started in the education system with the banning of prayer and Bibles in schools. From there the movement to strike God (and particularly Jesus’ name) from any government-funded programs and institutions grew. It blossomed to banning the Ten Commandments in public places, saying Merry Christmas in stores and making sure that no public school Christmas pageant mentioned the baby Jesus (a name deemed offensive). In less than 30 years Jesus has gone from being a loving Saviour of the world to the figurehead of a church that is considered hateful, intolerant, homophobic, Islamophobic, “deplorable” right-wing nut-jobs.
And it’s all our fault!
We have forgotten how to live as Christ called us to live. We have taken “being in the world, but not of it” to a whole new level of craziness. And it has to stop. To be clear, not all Christians fall into this category of “crazy” there are those who are still quietly working to display the goodness of Jesus Christ and seeking to draw others to Him. They are doing it with dignity, good works and love for their fellow man. They have learned what it means to practice holiness, and for the next little while, I am going to take a look at what that means for Christians today. How are we supposed to live in a world that openly mocks God? Are we supposed to protest against those who oppose us? Are we supposed to take up arms and be ready to defend ourselves? Should we be openly attacking homosexuals for their way of life by standing at gay pride parades with signs condemning them? Should we be standing outside abortion clinics with pictures of dead babies, while scared women are seeking help? Should we involve ourselves in politics at all? What does the Bible say about how we are to live and act in a world where sexual immorality is the norm and purity is not? I will look at all these issues and more in the weeks ahead. If you wish to be notified of my posts on this future study on Holiness, fill out the form below, and I will add you to my mailing list.
If you are tired of how the church is perceived by the world today and want to know how you can change that perception, then please join me for a study on Practising Holiness.
Did Jesus say you have to ask Him into your heart to be saved? Do I have to say the “sinner’s prayer”? Do I have to ask Jesus to take control of my life and accept Him as my Saviour? What does that even mean? What does it mean to “commit” myself to the Lord? What are the steps involved to “being saved”? The church says you must first believe that Jesus is Lord. Then you must confess your sins and repent of them. Finally, you must ask Jesus into your heart or life to receive His Holy Spirit. But what did Jesus say?
Jesus said you must first believe in Him (John 3:16). He also said you must repent of your sins (Luke 13:5). The word for repent is metanoeō in Greek, and it means “to change one’s mind or thinking.” But Jesus also said we must repent and believe the gospel as well (Mark 1:15). The word for gospel in Greek is euaggelion, and it means “good news”. What is the good news? That Jesus Christ came into the world to save us (John 3:17). Save us from what? From damnation, which occurs because we have all sinned against God (Romans 3:23). Damnation without God’s grace extended towards us would be eternal separation from God.
So far, Jesus lists faith in Him that He came to save us and repentance. But what did He say about confession?
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32, NKJV).
“Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8, NKJV).
No mention of confessing our sins to anyone or confessing our sins to God either. Jesus’ confession seems to be more along the lines of acknowledging before God and man that He is Lord and that we believe He came to save us. What did the apostles preach?
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10, NKJV).
“Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, NKJV).
It would seem the apostles also taught the same thing as Jesus. So does that mean we don’t have to confess our sins to be saved? Well, one thing we must remember about Jesus and the Apostles is that they were very Jewish. They did not forget nor neglect the importance of confession because confession of sins, is a very Jewish thing. It wasn’t mentioned because it was likely something they had all been practicing since childhood, as part of their obedience to the Law.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel: ‘When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the Lord, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess the sin which he has committed. He shall make restitution for his trespass in full, plus one-fifth of it, and give it to the one he has wronged” (Numbers 5:5-7, NKJV).
So we see two different types of confession at play here. One is to confess (acknowledge) publically that Jesus is Lord and that we believe He died for our sins and rose again on the third day. The other is to confess (acknowledge) our sins. The Apostle James (Jesus’ step-brother) also believed that we needed to confess our sins out loud to each other.
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16, NKJV).
The Apostle John agreed:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9, NKJV).
Confession that Jesus is Lord (acknowledging Him before others) is central to our salvation. Confessing our sins to God and one another is essential to our spiritual health.
But why do we have to confess our sins to God when He knows them already? What’s the point? Perhaps there is something to the phrase “confession is good for the soul.” For when we acknowledge our sins out loud, either in prayer to God or to someone we have wronged, it creates in us feelings of remorse. Sure, you can silently tell God you are sorry for this or that, but what feeling does that kind of confession stir up in you? Regret? Slight guilt with a promise to never do it again (until you do)? Silent confession does not bring about real repentance. But saying it out loud forces you to examine your motives and acknowledge with true repentance how wrong your actions were. Did you sin against God? Then acknowledge those sins out loud to Him. He is faithful and just and will forgive you your sins (1 John 1:9). Did you sin against someone else? Don’t write them an email or call them on the phone asking for forgiveness. Meet them in person, so you can look them in the eyes and acknowledge your sins to them. But don’t expect to get off scot-free. As Numbers 5:5-7 tells us, you must make restitution for your sins. Why? Isn’t that the reason Jesus died for us? So we wouldn’t have to pay the price for our sins? Nice try. But you can’t expect Jesus to take the hit for you every time you deliberately hurt someone. That’s tantamount to throwing His sacrifice for you, back in His face. We don’t make restitution just because the Bible commands us, but because restitution brings about true repentance to ensure we will never sin in that way again. Those to whom you have sinned against will see your remorse and forgive you and if they don’t, God will because He is faithful and just (1 John 1:9).
Couldn’t I just confess to my priest? Again, nice try. You didn’t sin against your priest. You sinned against God and someone else. And for the record, when we sin against another we are sinning against God too because we are violating God’s moral law and hurting someone He created. And we know when we are wrong. Without question, if you are a child of God and you sin, you know it! So confession to the person you hurt, as well as to God, is essential for your spiritual growth. Saying ten “Hail Mary’s” is not true repentance. It’s just an easy out. You will still be dealing with regret and remorse until you right your wrong.
Jesus teaches faith in Him and repentance. But what did He say about asking Him into our hearts? What did He say about repeating the standard “sinner’s prayer” or “accepting Him as Lord and Saviour of our lives?” Truthfully? He said absolutely nothing! In fact, you may be surprised to learn that these concepts aren’t even in the Bible.
Biblically, only two things are required for you to be saved – repentance and belief in the good news that Jesus died to save you. That’s it. Repentance, as I have already stated, is changing your mind about Christ (who He is and what He did). Up to that point, you have been living in opposition to Him, but with repentance comes faith. In fact, Jesus preached that very thing – repentance and faith (Mark 1:15).
Do you want assurance of your salvation? Salvation is obtained through belief in two facts God promised about Jesus:
Believe those two things, and you will be saved.
That’s how I become a “Christian”? No. That is how you are saved from damnation. Becoming a Christian is what you do after you are saved. You see one extraordinary thing will happen to you once you make your confession of faith (acknowledge that Jesus is Lord). You will be sealed with the Holy Spirit, who will lead you and help you to grow in your relationship with Christ and your knowledge of God. Will you change? Your personality will not change. Why would it? God created you to be unique. What will change is your awareness of Him, your understanding of the Scriptures and your awareness of sin in your life. This is the Holy Spirit teaching you how to live like Jesus and for God.
For example, how will you live now in light of the gift you have been given? Will you continue to use God’s name as a swear word? Will you abuse your body with drugs or alcohol or food? Will you continue to be sexually promiscuous? Honouring God with your body will be just one way the Holy Spirit will affect you because you are not your own when you commit yourself to Christ. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 1:13) and your life will change because your outlook will change. You will not want to dishonour God. You will want to obey Him and please Him. That’s what will change.
“Becoming a Christian” or “being a good Christian” does not involve politics. It does not involve singling out certain sectors of society and browbeating them into the ground about their sin either. Jesus ate with and associated with sinners of all kinds, all while gently showing them the way to eternal life. The only time Jesus concerned Himself with sin, in particular, was the sin of hypocrisy and it centred on those who considered themselves “righteous” or the religiously inclined. In His day, it was the leaders of the Jewish ruling authority – the Sanhedrin. He became so angry with them for allowing merchants to sell their products in the Temple that He fashioned a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. Today, I’m of the belief His anger would be directed at those same types of people within His church.
We spend so much time yelling about the darkness in the world that we have failed miserably at being the light we were called to be to that world.
Do you want to be a “good Christian”? Stop attacking the gay community. Stop attacking institutions and people outside the church. Stop labeling all Muslims and refugees as terrorists! Stop protesting outside abortion clinics. You think those women don't already feel confused and horrified by what they are about to do? Outside the church be a light. Feed the poor, help the homeless, care for the sick, the refugee, the widow, the orphan and those in prison. Be Jesus to them! Our mission isn’t with the world at large and the darkness that encompasses it. Our mission, our mandate is to offer hope to a dark world one soul at a time. Yes, the darkness is horrible. Governments everywhere are leading their countries further and further away from God. So things are getting darker. And they are getting darker because no one is listening to the church anymore. And why aren't they listening? Because Jesus’ church stopped being that beacon of hope to the world the moment they started attacking it! Now the world ignores the One they so desperately need. Instead, we have become the “moral authority” that everyone hates. The church is making the world hate Jesus!
So, you want to be a good Christian?
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