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).
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