Holiness Is Not An Option

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Holiness is not an option.

We love to preach grace, talk about grace, help new people understand grace. How astonishing that God declares us righteous in Christ and we need do nothing to earn it. What joy to know that our lavish God pours out grace upon grace on us, so much so that it will take the coming ages to reveal his kindness to us in Jesus.

But God’s grace should lead us to holiness. Imputed righteousness should lead to PRACTICAL righteousness. We should walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. We must PRACTICE our righteousness.

Jesus told his followers to practice righteousness.  But unlike the religious leaders of the day, they should practice righteousness in all of life – especially in private.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

The Pharisees practiced righteousness – in public. But not in private. They did it for show. They taught others to be holy but they weren’t in private. They practiced righteousness to gain the praise of men.

Jesus commands us to practice righteousness. Both in public and in private. To hunger and thirst for true righteousness. To be holy whether anyone is watching or not. To flee temptation when we’re all alone in an airport 15 states from home. To be pure and holy on Thursdays at 2 a.m. as well as Sunday mornings when we’re singing in church. To be pure in our thoughts as well as when sharing in Care Group.

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24)

Holiness is not an option! God is holy and he saved us to make us like himself. Impurity and every form of unholiness belongs to our former life. Now we are to put on our new self created after God’s likeness in righteousness and holiness. God has called us in holiness. He gives us his Holy Spirit to make us holy.

Holiness isn’t limited to sexual purity. We should hunger and thirst for righteousness – or acting rightly – in all our relationships. We want to do what is right with our our spouses and children. Do what is right with our neighbors. It isn’t righteousness to lie or steal or cheat on our taxes. It isn’t righteousness to grumble and complain. We want to PRACTICE RIGHTEOUSNESS. We don’t simply want to talk about it.

Hospitals encourage the practice of hygiene. They put signs and reminders all over the place – wash your hands – Don’t spread disease; wash your hands. They have containers of antibacterial gel all over the place. Boxes of latex gloves in patients’ rooms, specially marked trash cans. Every needle is individually wrapped and they don’t use a needle more than once. Before they draw blood they swab your arm with something to kill any germs in the area. Hospitals PRACTICE hygiene. Why? Because if they don’t there are consequences. People can get sick and die.

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Can you imagine a hospital that said they believed in hygiene but didn’t practice it? Oh yes we believe in sanitation. Do we wash our hands? Naahh. Do we reuse needles? What’s wrong with that? Here, stick this in your mouth so I can take your temperature. It’s only been used a few times; you’ll be ok. I don’t want to go to any hospital that merely talks about being clean; I want them to be passionate about hygene.

How much more should we have a passion for holiness.

We are to be holy and righteous in every area of our lives. Holy in our thoughts. In our speech. Cursing and dirty jokes and gossip and slander should be far from our lips. We should be holy with our eyes and turn away from all impurity. We must seek to be holy in our actions.

Ongoing hunger and thirst

Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are those who at one time hungered and thirsted for righteousness…” He said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” – Present tense. All the time. Every moment. Like the sons of Korah who wrote Psalm 42:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? Ps 42:1-2

To thirst for righteousness is to thirst for the living God. To thirst for relationship. For intimacy and communion with the Holy One.

So let’s not just talk about righteousness. Let’s hunger and thirst for it. Let’s not simply talk about holiness. Let’s practice it.

The Happiness Of Holiness

We don’t tend to link holiness with happiness.

We link holiness with austerity, seriousness and avoiding pleasure.  When many think of holiness, they think of medieval monks, prudish Puritans (though I’ve read that many weren’t) formality, frowning faces, stiff, starched white collars.

But God is holy, and he is the happiest being in the universe.  Robert Murray M’Cheyne had a good grasp of the happiness of holiness:

“To gain entire likeness to Christ, I ought to get a high esteem of the happiness of it.  I am persuaded that God’s happiness is inseparably linked in with his holiness.  Holiness and happiness are like light and heat.  God never tasted one of the pleasures of sin.

Christ has a body such as I have, yet he never tasted one of the pleasures of sin.  The redeemed, through all eternity, will never taste one of the pleasures of sin; yet their happiness is complete. . . Every sin is something away from my greatest enjoyment. . . .

The devil strives night and day to make me forget this or disbelieve it.  He says, Why should you not enjoy this pleasure as much as Solomon or David?  You may go to heaven also.  I am persuaded this is a lie – that my true happiness is to go and sin no more.”

Satan’s greatest lie is that holiness is boring, like black and white TV shows from the 50’s, but sin is 3-d full color high octane joy.  Though sin has pleasure for a season, it can’t produce any lasting or deep joy.  The Bible says, “In your presence is fullness of joy.”  God’s presence is pure holiness.  And that’s where the fullness of joy is.

We need to remember this when we’re tempted to give in to the momentary pleasures of sin.  We need to say to ourselves, If I do this I’m robbing myself of joy and pleasure in Christ.  Holiness is my happiness.

Surrender? Never!

I don’t do well with losing. Actually, I hate it. There’s something about it that just galls me. But what I hate even worse, is surrender. I hate just giving up. I hate the thought of being so overwhelmed and so overpowered by someone, that you just stop trying. That’s why I love it when an underdog football team keeps fighting and comes back to beat a powerhouse football team. They never surrender, never give up, just keep fighting for the chance to win. When little known Appalachian State recently beat perennial powerhouse Michigan by blocking a last second field goal, that was glorious. Click here to see the video.

This hatred of surrender can cause some problems for me though. I don’t always like surrendering to God. I don’t want to give things up, don’t want to let Him take full control. I want to do things my way, in my time, and according to my plan. And I think the prophet Isaiah may have felt the same way. That is, until he saw the blazing, overwhelming, glorious majesty of God. Listen to what he wrote in Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah’s Commission from the LORD And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

Isaiah saw the glory of God and was utterly overwhelmed by his guilt. He knew, without any doubt, that he was completely and totally guilty, a wicked man standing before a holy God. Isaiah had no excuses for himself, no justification for his sin, and in light of this, he knew that he was doomed. But then God did the incredible. Instead of destroying Isaiah, as He should have, He purified him and atoned for his sin. Instead a crushing Isaiah, God forgave Isaiah and took away His guilt. And then God asked a question. He said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response was immediate and passionate. “Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah had seen God’s blazing holiness and His tender love, and the only appropriate response was total surrender.

We too have seen God’s blazing holiness and tender love. We were wicked, God-hating, hell bound sinners. We reveled in our sin, delighted in it, wallowed in it. We should have been annihilated by God. And yet He tenderly came to us, spoke gently to us, washed us clean with the blood of His son, and called us His children. Has there ever been such love?

The only appropriate response to such blazing holiness and tender love is wholehearted surrender. I must give my life unreservedly to this King of Love and Glory. Every area of my life – marriage, children, work, friends, hobbies, my future, my past – they all belong to Him. Is there any area of life that you have not surrendered to the King? Are you seeking to live in such a way that everything you do brings glory to God? Do your hobbies glorify God? Does your marriage glorify God? Does your work ethic glorify God? In light of all that God has done for us, let us resolve to completely surrender to Him.

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The Kiss Of Fire

My first kiss was a special one. When I kissed my wife on my wedding day, it was the first time I had ever kissed her. I didn’t really know much about kissing a girl, seeing as how I had never done it before, and it was the smoothest looking kiss, but it was worth the wait. We have a picture on our mantle of our first kiss, and I treasure that picture.

The prophet Isaiah received a kiss as well, but of a far different nature. He was kissed on the lips by a white-hot coal. The kiss he received was not a romantic kiss, it was a purifying, cleansing kiss. But it was a still a kiss of love, an evidence of the overwhelming love of God. Listen to Isaiah 6:1-8:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

The moment Isaiah saw God, he was overwhelmed by his depravity. Just a glimpse of God’s radiant glory made Isaiah deeply aware of his wickedness. Isaiah had no doubts that he was a guilty sinner, particularly in the area of speech. He was a man of unclean lips, a man with a filthy mouth. Isaiah was keenly aware of the wicked and vile words that had come from his mouth, and which were ultimately an overflow of his heart. Guilt, sorrow, and fear overwhelmed him.

But in His astonishing mercy, God does not allow Isaiah to wallow in His guilt. Rather than obliterating Isaiah as He should have, he forgives and purifies Isaiah. He sends a seraphim, armed with a burning ember, to touch Isaiah on the lips. God purifies Isaiah instead of killing him, purifies him with a kiss of fire.

Friends, we have also received this kiss of fire. We are wicked people with unclean lips. Take one minute and think back on the past week. How many foul things have come out of your mouth? Or how many foul things have you wanted to say that you kept in your heart? We are a wicked people who deserve the fiery wrath of God. And yet we have received mercy upon mercy and grace upon grace. God has repaid our curses with kindness, our wickedness with mercy. He nailed His son to the cross that atonement might be made for our sins, and in doing so, He made a way for us to be purified. He has given us the kiss of fire.

Lord, how can we not love such a merciful God? No one has been kinder than you, no one has given us more mercy. Fill our hearts with love for you today. Give us deep affection for you, the One who has atoned for our sin.

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A Freaked Out Prophet

I’ve invented a game, and it’s called “Blame Your Sin”. Here’s how the game works. Whenever you sin, think of someone else to blame your sin on. The goal of the game is to keep your “guilt meter” low, and the only way to do this is by blaming your sin on other people. I’ve become very good at this game in recent years. I was recently in a pastoral meeting, discussing an element of the Sunday meeting with the other pastors, Joe and my dad. I had one opinion, they had another. In my wicked pride, I was convinced that my way was the right way and that they were just being old fashioned. Turns out I was just being proud.

In His kindness God began to convict me of my sinful pride. And it was then that I began to play “Blame Your Sin”. In my mind I began to justify my sin, blaming it on both Joe and my dad. I needed a sharp slap in the face to snap me out of it. I needed to see God as Isaiah saw God. Hear the words of Isaiah 6:1-5:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Isaiah caught one glimpse of the holiness of God and all blaming stopped. The moment he saw God, he became aware of his overwhelming, soul-defiling, filthy guilt. He made no attempt to blame his sin on someone else, no attempt to justify his sin, no attempt to make himself look less guilty. Isaiah knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was guilty, guilty, guilty, and he was certain that he was doomed. Isaiah’s sense of guilt was so overpowering that he uttered a prophetic curse over himself, a curse normally used to declare the coming wrath of God on guilty sinners. Isaiah doesn’t blame others, he curses himself.

When was the last time you saw your sin in light of God’s blazing holiness? Are you tempted to justify your sin or to blame it on others? A true glimpse of the glory of God will silence our blaming tongues and cause us to curse our wretched souls. We will say with Paul, ” Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24) And a true understanding of the gospel will cause us to fly to our Savior, the only one who can deliver us from the curse we deserve. We will rejoice with Paul, who said, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Let us fly to the Savior today, placing all our hope in the One who took our blame.

Close Encounters Of The Divine Kind

When was the last time you were violently afraid of something? When was the last time you were stricken with such panic that you literally trembled with fear? Or let me ask another question. Have you ever quivered with fear as you sat down to read your Bible? What about when you pray? Have you ever gotten queasy in the stomach before praying? If you’re like me, this probably doesn’t happen too often. In fact, I often come to God with a cavalier, almost flippant attitude. I allow myself to be easily distracted from scripture and I pray weak, insipid prayers. It’s safe to say that there’s not a lot of reverence going on.

That’s why Isaiah 6:1-7 is so gripping to me. Isaiah describes an experience that is totally foreign to most Christians, including myself. Listen to his words:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Use your sanctified imagination to picture what is happening in this passage. Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on a throne, and the train of His robe fills the temple. What was it like to see the living, blazing, consuming, God sitting on a throne? Isaiah’s heart must have melted with fear at the first glance. He was looking upon the King of Kings, the World Maker, the Sustainer of all things. Then Isaiah sees the seraphim flying about the throne, passionately declaring the holiness of God. What a glorious and frightening sound that must have been. The seraphim sang God’s praises so loudly that the temple itself shook, and Isaiah probably felt compelled to join their proclamation and shut his mouth at the same time.

Isaiah’s reaction was one of utter terror. He knew that he was looking upon the King of the universe, and he knew that those who saw God were sure to die. He was overwhelmed by the glory of God, overcome by God’s sheer majesty. He was overwhelmed by his encounter with the divine. And this my friends, is the God that we serve. This is the God to whom we pray each morning, and the God to whom we sing on Sundays, and the God whose word we read so flippantly. We serve a God who is not tame by any means. He’s a great, glorious, terrifying God. And yet because of the cross, He’s also our Father. There is a way for wicked sinners like us to know the King of Glory. Let us draw near to Him today with a holy mixture of reverence and love. Through the blood of Jesus, let us worship our holy God with fear and trembling.

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