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.
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