purity

Filled with the Spirit

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. – 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 ESV

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. – Acts 1:8 NLT

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. – John 14:16-17 NT

We have been and we are sanctified. It is a past action that has present ramifications. And while we may find it difficult to see ourselves as fully righteous, that does not change the fact that we are. Our problem is that we have a limited perspective, and find it hard to see beyond the limits of the fallen world in which we live and the ever-present reality of our sin nature. We think bad thoughts. We do wrong things. We commit acts that we know are out of God’s will for us as His children. And when we do, we conclude that our righteousness has diminished and needs to be restored. So, we get to work in a vain attempt to refill our righteousness tank and restore our holiness before God.

But we need to have the same attitude Paul had. He saw his life as completely dependent upon the saving work of Jesus Christ, from start to finish.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

When Paul failed, and he did, he didn’t attempt to manufacture his own brand of righteousness, but instead, he relied on the righteousness provided for him by Jesus. He wouldn’t allow himself to fall back into the old habit of works-righteousness, where he would try to restore his broken relationship with God through self-effort.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

He went back to the reality of faith. The Christian life begins and ends with faith. It is completely dependent upon faith. And one of the most critical areas of the Christian’s life where faith is often in short supply is in when it comes to embracing our holiness before God. In light of the undeniable presence of sin our lives, how can we possibly know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are righteous? The answer is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. If we are in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit of God living within us.

A. W. Pink raises a logical and important point:

The coming of this divine and glorious Person to indwell one who is depraved and sinful is both a marvel and a mystery; a marvel that he should, a mystery that he would. How is it possible for him who is ineffably holy to dwell within those who are so unholy? – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

The very thought of the holy, perfectly sinless Spirit of God to take up residence within a fallen, sin-saturated human being seems impossible. But He does. The question is, how? For God’s Spirit to take up residence within the life of the believer indicates that the “house” has been cleansed and made pure enough for His presence. Paul rhetorically asked the believers in Corinth: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NLT). And earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul clarified that the corporate body of Christ is the temple of God Himself.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT

In verse 9 of chapter 3, Paul refers to the church as “God’s building.” In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul confirmed, “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16 NLT). He wrote the believers in Ephesus: “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22 NLT).

So, God sends His Spirit to dwell within the life of each individual believer and, by extension, the corporate body of Christ. And for that to happen, the “house” or “dwelling” must be cleansed and purified. All of this was foreshadowed with the tabernacle in the wilderness. When Moses and the people of Israel had made all the parts of the tabernacle according to God’s instructions, they erected it for the first time, then God commanded Moses:

 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy. You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar may become most holy. You shall also anoint the basin and its stand, and consecrate it. Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.” – Exodus 40:91-5 ESV

Just a few verses later, Moses records what happened once the tabernacle was erected, anointed, and purified.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. – Exodus 40:34-35 ESV

The tabernacle, built according to God’s instructions and purified according to His commands, was made a suitable dwelling place for His presence. In the same way, God purifies the believer, sprinkling Him clean with the blood of Christ, making him a worthy house for the presence of His Holy Spirit. The author of Hebrews compares the efforts of Moses to cleanse the people and the temple with that of Jesus cleansing the believer.

For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:19-22 ESV

Just as the tabernacle had to be purified before God’s glory could enter, Jesus purifies the believer with His blood, making his life a fitting dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. As the author of Hebrews states, our hearts have been sprinkled clean and our bodies have been washed. God has prepared us to be the home of His Holy Spirit. Which is why the author of Hebrews tells us:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22 ESV

Whether we feel like it or not, each believer is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, and His presence is proof positive that we are fully righteous and acceptable before God. He would not send His Spirit to live in an unacceptable and unsanctified house. And it is the indwelling presence of the Spirit that gives us the confidence and right to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Past, Present, and Future

1 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours… – 1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV

1 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 ESV

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. – Hebrews 12:22-23 ESV

The four passages above provide us with clarification concerning the doctrine of sanctification, but they have also resulted in much confusion and debate over the centuries. Taken out of context or rad apart from one another, they can leave a range of different conclusions regarding sanctification and man’s role in it.

It seems that the Bible treats sanctification using three different tenses: past, present, and future; and with each occurrence a different aspect of sanctification is being communicated. These three different ways of looking at sanctification provide us with a multi-multidimensional frame of reference that helps us better understand the rich nature of this often overlooked and underappreciated doctrine.

But these verses, and others like them, have also been used to propagate a wide range of conclusions regarding sanctification. For some, the fact that sanctification is communicated as having taken place in the past, suggests that it is a one-and-done doctrine. They treat it as they do justification, concluding that it was accomplished at the point of salvation and is, therefore, complete. They rightly state that each and every believer has been set apart or sanctified by God at the point of their salvation.  As the letter of Jude so clearly states, they have been called by God.

To those who are called…  – Jude 1 ESV

The word, “called” in the Greek is hagiazō, and refers to those who have been sanctified or consecrated to God for His use. And the author of Hebrews tells us that who God has called or sanctified “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV). That calling cannot be revoked. The believer’s state of sanctification cannot be lost. As A. W. Pink so aptly puts it:

…his sacrifice has purged his people from every stain of sin, separated them from the world, consecrated them unto God, setting them before him in all the excellency of his offering. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

As Paul told the believers in Thessalonica: “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13. ESV). So, there is a sense in which our sanctification is a past occurrence, having been accomplished through the Spirit when we placed our faith in Jesus Christ. At that point, we became God’s holy possession, set apart for His use and bearing the full righteousness of Christ. That’s why Peter describes us as “a chosen people,” and he calls us “royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.” And then he tells us the wonderful consequences of our sanctification: “As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT).

But if we have been sanctified by God and it is a completed process, why do we still struggle with sin? If we have been made holy by God, why does unholy behavior still make up such a large part of our daily experience? When the Scripture talks of the believer as having been sanctified once for all, it is not speaking of a complete eradication of sin from the life of the one sanctified.

…scriptural sanctification is neither the eradication of sin, the purification of the carnal nature, nor even the partial putting to sleep of the “flesh”; still less does it secure an exemption from the attacks and harassments of Satan. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

Even Jesus, praying in the garden on behalf of all those who would place their faith in Him, said to His heavenly Father, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15-17 ESV). 

Jesus prayed for a specific group of people. He refers to them as “the people whom you gave me out of the world,” and Jesus reminds His Father, “Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:5 ESV). They had been set apart by God as His possession, and God had given them to Jesus to save. And on the verge of accomplishing His divine mission of substitutionary atonement, Jesus tells His Father, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9 ESV).

And Jesus asked that His Father “keep them from the evil one” and “sanctify them in the truth.” Yes, they had been set apart by God, and Jesus was going to seal their designation as God’s possession with His death on the cross. But Jesus knew that all those whom God had given Him would still wrestle with the attacks of Satan and the ever-present reality of sin. The New Testament repeatedly points to the reality of indwelling sin. Our own experience as believers provides ample proof that sin is far from eradicated in our lives. Yes, we have been set apart by God for His use. We now belong to Him, and we have even been given a new nature by virtue of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, but we still have to do battle with sin each and every day. That is why the author of Hebrews tells us: “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 ESV).

It’s why Paul pleaded so strongly with the believers in Ephesus, telling them to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT). And He warned the believers in Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV).  Paul also demanded that the Corinthian believers cleanse themselves from anything that defiled the body or spirit so that they might bring their holiness to completion (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV).

So, while believers have been set apart by God for His use, we must live in keeping with our holy status. In other words, we have been dedicated by God and cleansed from our sin by the blood of His Son, so we must maintain the purity of our lives so that we might continue to bring Him glory through our lives. That is what Paul meant when he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy.

In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:20-21 NLT

We are to see ourselves as “expensive utensils” reserved for special occasions and for honorable use. That is the motivation behind our efforts to remain pure. We are not attempting to earn favor with God or gain access into His presence through good works. We are striving to live in keeping with His will for us.

…this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 ESV

We are to pursue holiness because we have been deemed holy by God. As Paul told Timothy, we are to “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 NLT). Why? Because it is God’s will for us and the very reason Jesus gave His life for us. Paul would have us remember that Jesus died so that we might live in newness of life.

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives…We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. – Romans 6:4, 6 NLT

And the hope that motivates our pursuit of ongoing sanctification is the promise of our future glorification – when our sanctification will be complete and whole. The day is coming when we will become “the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:13 ESV) and “we will be like him”(1 John 3:2 NLT).

We have been sanctified by God. We are being sanctified by God. And the day is coming when we will be perfectly sanctified by God – not just positionally, but practically and permanently.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Knowledge of the Holy

10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean…– Leviticus 10:10 ESV

26 Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

When God commanded His people, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV), it was clear that He had certain expectations He was communicating. This divine imperative is found in a whole section of Scripture in which God reiterates His  requirements for what it meant to “be holy.” In verse 2 of chapter 19, God commanded Moses to tell the people, “You shall be holy,” and then He followed it up with a list of specific rules and regulations outlining acceptable and unacceptable behavior for His people.

Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father… – vs 3

…you shall keep my Sabbaths… – vs 3

Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal… – vs 4

When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. – vs 5

On that last one, God was very specific and indicated that the portion of the offering that was theirs to eat had to be consumed on the day the offering was made or no later than the day after. Failure to heed God’s command came with dire consequences.

If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from his people. – vs 7-8

Don’t miss what God says here. Deciding to keep the portion of the sacrifice graciously provided by God for His people and eat it just one day late resulted in the entire offering being made profane. Not only that, the one who offered it was to be cut off or separated from the rest of the congregation. The Hebrew word is karath, and it carries the idea of a body part being cut off. This was a severe punishment, resulting in the removal of the guilty party from the family of Israel. They were to be banished from the faith community. Why? Because they had profaned what was holy to the Lord.

The Hebrew word for “profaned” is chalal, and it refers to the polluting or desecrating of something that had once been sacred or set apart as holy. The offering became unacceptable to God because the one who offered it failed to follow God’s explicit instructions. And not only did the sacrifice become profaned and, therefore, unacceptable, so did the one who offered it. They were no longer fit for God’s presence. They were no longer welcome among God’s people. This is serious stuff.

And God was far from done. His list of requirements for holy living goes on for several more paragraphs, and notice how everyday practical they are.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge… – vs 9

you shall not strip your vineyard bare… – vs 9-10

You shall not steal… – vs 11

you shall not deal falsely… – vs 11

you shall not lie to one another… – vs 11

You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God… – vs 12

You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him… – vs 13

The people of Israel were not free to live however they wanted to live. Their daily activities and interactions with one another were regulated by God and not left up to their own opinions or devices. The rules regulating their behavior were far from subjective and never left up to the personal whims of the individual. God was demanding behavior that was in keeping with His will, not theirs. And if you look closely, so much of what God commanded them to do was in direct opposition to the natural inclinations of the human heart.

God required selfless behavior, reflecting a concern and care for others. He was demanding that His people treat one another justly and with dignity. They were to view one another as holy, set apart by God, and worthy of respect and honor. They had been sanctified or set apart by God as a unit. The entire nation of Israel was considered as God’s chosen people, His possession. And they were to practice holiness as a community, not just as individuals.

Which brings us to the two verses that opened today’s blog. In the Leviticus passage, God warned Aaron, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.”  As the God-appointed priest over the people of Israel, Aaron had a responsibility to teach the people what God considered holy and clean. In doing so, he was also to make clear distinctions as to what was common and unclean. These words are important for us to understand if we are to grasp the concept of sanctification.

Just a few verses prior to this one, we have the record of God destroying Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, who had offered strange or unacceptable fire before the Lord. Acting as priests before God, they had done something God had not authorized or commanded them to do.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. – Leviticus 10:1 ESV

And so, God cut them off – literally. He put them to death. And then He instructed Moses to give the following message to their father, Aaron:

“This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” – Leviticus 10:3 ESV

Their behavior had not sanctified the Lord. Their actions had not glorified Him. So, God punished them for their unsolicited and unacceptable behavior. And then He had Moses gather the remaining priests together and provided them with additional words of warning and instructions concerning their behavior in their role as priests. And this concluded with His words: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.”

They were to recognize and respect the differences between the qodesh and the chol, the tame' and the tahowr. The Hebrew word qodesh is derived from the word for “sanctified”: qadesh. They were to know the difference between set-apartness and profaneness. The Hebrew word chol refers to anything unholy or unsanctified. It is common, having not been set apart for God’s use and His glory. As priests, Aaron and his sons had been set apart by God, and they were no longer free to live common lives, doing things according to their own wills or wishes. As God’s chosen possession, the people of Israel were no longer free to live common lives, conducting themselves like all the other nations around them. They had been set apart and were now considered holy by God. And He expected them to live that way. But to do so, they needed to know the difference between the holy and the common. They also needed to know the difference between the pure and the impure.

The Hebrew word tame'  refers to that which is unclean or defiled. And in this context, it means anything that had not been set apart and sanctified by God. This included not only the people of Israel, but their behavior as well, and all the rules that were intended to regulate that behavior. The Hebrew word tahowr is intended to reflect the opposite of defilement. It has to do with purity and cleanness. And God’s commands were to be considered pure, clean, and holy, and treated that way. That is why the apostle Paul wrote, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 ESV).

Every rule and regulation that came from the lips of God was to be considered holy and pure, and worthy of obedience. To disregard God’s commands was to treat them as unclean, an act that profaned and desecrated them. That’s why God wanted Moses to clearly articulate the difference between the holy and the unholy, the clean and the unclean. There was to be no confusion on the part of His people. They needed to know the difference so that they might live set-apart lives, in keeping with God’s commands. And that’s why God commanded Aaron and his fellow priests “to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses” (Leviticus 10:11 ESV).

An essential part of sanctification is the knowledge of what God expects of His people. It is impossible to live a holy life if you have no idea what that life is to look like. God does have expectations of His people. As Christians, we are to live lives that are in keeping with God’s holy requirements, just as Jesus did. We do not do so to win favor with Him or to earn our way into heaven. We do so because He has set us apart for His glory. Our lives are to reflect our status as His children. But we must be able to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean. And to do that, we must know God’s Word and be willing to receive instruction from His Holy Spirit. God did not save us and sanctify us so that we can continue to live our old lives according to our own selfish desires. We are no longer common. We have been set apart by God for His use and for His glory. We are holy, and our daily behavior should reflect that reality. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Be Holy!

44 For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. – Leviticus 11:44-45 ESV

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

Sanctification is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied doctrines in the Bible. Few would doubt its existence or the need for the Christian to embrace it as a central theme of Scripture, but there is a great deal of confusion regarding just exactly what sanctification is and what role the believer plays in it.

When reading the two passages above, it can be easy to assume that God’s command to be holy is left up to the individual to pull off. And it is a lofty, unrealistic command because God uses Himself as the standard: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV). For the Israelites, their relationship with God as His chosen people required that they live up to His exacting standards. And God did not leave those standards up to their imaginations. He provided them with His law, a written code of conduct that outlined exactly what holiness looked like in everyday life.

That code of law was behaviorly-based, containing a series of “you shall” and “you shall not” commands.  There were things they were required to do and other things they were to refrain from doing. But God expected obedience.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:36-37 ESV

The law of God was not like a menu at your favorite restaurant. You didn’t get to pick and choose which law you wanted to keep. God clearly said, “you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them.” But it was these statutes and rules that set the people of Israel apart from the rest of mankind. It was God’s divine code of conduct that provided them an unambiguous understanding of what holiness was to look like in real life. And it proved to be foreboding and virtually impossible for the people of Israel to keep. 

And this is part of the reason we get uncomfortable with the idea of sanctification. When we read Peter’s words, where he restates God’s command to “be holy,” we find ourselves wondering how in the world we’re supposed to pull off the impossible. And Peter even ups the ante by adding the requirement that our holiness show up in all of our conduct. In other words, the Christian’s call to holiness is holistic and all-encompassing, impacting every area of life.

And Peter was not alone in calling believers to a life of complete holiness. Paul picked up the same theme and repeated it often.

…let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.  – 2 Corinthians 7:1 NLT

God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. – 1 Thessalonians 4:7 NLT

Even the apostle John got in on the act, adding his own twist to God’s call to holiness.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 NLT

Work toward complete holiness. Live holy lives. Keep yourself pure. Be holy in all your conduct. Sounds impossible doesn’t it? And because it sounds impossible, many Christians have deemed this commands as implausible. These calls to sinless perfection must be some form of overstated rhetoric or religious hyperbole, intended to improve Christian conduct by setting a high bar.  But the problem with that view is it results in one of two outcomes. First, there are those who take the words of Peter, Paul, and John literally and attempt to keep themselves pure and strive for complete holiness; only to find that their efforts fail. Then they become disillusioned and defeated, eventually throwing in the towel altogether. Secondly, there are those who hear these admonitions to holiness and immediately write them off as nothing more than religious rhetoric, meant to be taken figuratively, not literally.

This second group tends to made up of those who already view themselves as holy in God’s eyes. They find comfort and a form of exemption in a verse like Ephesians 2:9: “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” They point to passages like Galatians 5:4 and emphasize that we live under grace, not law.

For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. – Galatians 5:4 NLT

But there is an important distinction made by Paul in this passage. He is not implying that God’s law has been made null and void. He is not suggesting that the law has been done away with. He is simply stating that the law is not to be our means of earning a right standing with God. In other words, keeping of the law is not how men are justified in God’s eyes. The truth is, there never was a time when keeping the law could make anyone right with God. And that’s because man’s sin nature kept him from keeping God’s holy law perfectly.

Back in the book of Galatians, Paul was attempting to get his audience to understand the proper role of God’s law. And he answers the question “Why, then, was the law given?” by stating, “It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). And Paul gave a similar clarification on the role of the law to the believers in Rome.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. – Romans 5:20 NLT

The law was intended to show men the degree of their sinfulness. It revealed God’s holy standard and exposed their inability to live up to it – in their own strength. Paul adds the following explanation regarding the law: “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT).

So, does that make the law evil? If all the law could do was expose man’s sinfulness, why should we be expected to follow it today? Once again, Paul provides insight into these questions.

But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good. – Romans 7:12 NLT

Paul even told his disciple, Timothy, “We know that the law is good when used correctly” (1 Timothy 1:8 NLT). And Jesus Himself said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose” (Matthew 5:17 NLT). Jesus became a man in order that He might live in perfect obedience to the law of God. In doing so, He did what no other man had ever been able to do. He showed what it looks like to “be holy.” He lived in complete submission to the revealed will of God as outlined in the law. Which is what made Him the sinless sacrifice, the unblemished Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

But what about us? How are we supposed to pull of the same seemingly impossible feat? Unlike Jesus, we still have a sin nature to deal with. We are constantly susceptible to the temptations of the enemy and “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16 NIV). There is hardly a day that goes by where we don’t find ourselves succumbing to the “sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1 ESV).

This is where we must grasp the reality that there is something radically different between us and the Old Testament Israelites. As Christ-followers we have been given a special empowerment that makes holy living not only possible, but normal and natural. Because of our faith in Christ, we have been given the indwelling presence of His Spirit, who provides us with a capacity to live holy lives – not in our strength, but His. And our Spirit-empowered efforts to pursue holiness are not intended to win us favor with God, but to bring Him glory as we allow His power to make us more and more like His Son.

And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

And it is essential that we understand that our sanctification, our growth in Christlikeness, is based on faith and fueled by God’s grace. It is not about human effort. Yes, the pursuit of holiness requires effort on our part. It is not some kind of passive, let-go-and-let-God kind of experience. Paul tells us we are to “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear” (Philippians 2:12 NLT). But he also reminds us, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

We can be holy as God is holy. We can live pure lives, just as Jesus did. Why? Because we have been united with Him in His death and in His resurrection. We have been given the Spirit of God to empower and perfect us. As Peter so aptly puts it: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). So be holy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Ready, Willing and Faithful.

2 Timothy 2:15-26

If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21 NLT

As stated earlier, a big part of Paul's letter to Timothy focused on the topic of faithfulness – God's faithfulness to man and man's faithfulness to God. Here Paul reminded Timothy to be a "good worker" – someone who could be depended upon to do the right thing and to do it well. Rather than seek the approval of men, Timothy was to work diligently and faithfully, so that one day he might stand before God and receive His approval, having no cause for shame or regret. That meant that Timothy had to live his life from an eternal perspective, recognizing that his future reward was far more significant than any earthly praise or promotion he might receive.

Paul put a high priority on Timothy's ability to accurately handle the teaching of the truth of God's Word. Like a dedicated and diligent worker, he must take painstaking precautions in teaching and defending the truth. He could not afford to give it his own spin or place on it his own perspective. The Word of God was not to be subjective and open to interpretation. God had an intended meaning and purpose behind it, and a faithful worker would take the time to understand what God was saying and teach accordingly. This was essential for Timothy to know because he found himself surrounded by false teachers who were twisting the truth of God and, unwittingly, leading people into ungodliness. Paul mentioned two of these people by name, and clearly articulated their crime: They had been teaching that the resurrection of the dead had already taken place. They had misunderstood the truth regarding the future reality of the bodily resurrection of the dead and spiritualized it to mean that believers were already resurrected with Christ and that all of the blessings that come with salvation were to be experienced in this life. Rather than focus of a future of the resurrection and the reality of heaven, they were teaching that you could have "Your Best Life Now." It would seem that this was the first incarnation of the prosperity gospel. These two men, through a misunderstanding of the truth of God, were wrongly encouraging believers to see the Gospel as nothing more than a quick fix to all of life's problems. This kind of talk was worthless and foolish, leading only to godless behavior. But a faithful worker would remain faithful to God's truth, teaching only what He intended, regardless of what others might want to hear.

Paul quotes from two Old Testament passages in order to assure Timothy that God knows His own. He recognizes His own children and one of the distinguishing characteristics of a child of God is godly, not godless, behavior. If we belong to Him, our lives should reflect that reality. Paul used the metaphor of household vessels to further convey the idea that within the church there are faithful and unfaithful Christians. Paul stated that in a wealthy home there could be found vessels of all kinds, some made of gold and silver, and some made of wood and clay. The more expensive vessels were reserved for special occasions, while the more common vessels were for everyday use. But in either case, purity and cleanliness were prerequisites for usefulness. A dirty gold pitcher was of no more use than a contaminated clay pot. The key to usefulness was cleanliness. "If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work" (2 Timothy 2:21 NLT). The specialness of the utensil was not based on the material from which it was made, but on its purity. Those within the church who saw themselves as gold vessels because of their position as teachers, but who falsely proclaimed the word of truth, were actually defiled and unusable by God.

Purity meant everything, so Paul warned Timothy, "Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts" (2 Timothy 2:22 NLT). Timothy was to pursue a life of righteousness, faithfulness, love and peace, and surround himself with those who shared the same desire. Paul was not telling Timothy to avoid the false teachers like a plague or read them the riot act, but to "gently instruct those who oppose the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25 NLT). As Timothy pursued a life of godliness and remained faithful to the truth of God, he would be equipped to handle all those, both inside and outside of the church, who stood in the way of the Gospel and its message. Timothy's faithfulness would equip him to deal with the unfaithful and the faithless in a loving and Christlike way.

Father, if there was ever a time when faithfulness to the truth of Your Word was needed, it is now. There is so much falsehood and subjective information being taught as truth. Even within the church, there are those who misunderstand and misapply Your Word so that it ends up leading Your people astray. The Gospel has been altered to such a degree that it no longer looks like the same message that Paul preached. Call Your people back to the truth of Your Word. May we learn to be faithful to Your truth and not some version of our own. May we be pure vessels, ready for You to use to pour out Your message of hope, love and mercy to the world around us. Amen.

Living Proof.

2 Corinthians 6

In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. – 2 Corinthians 6:4 NLT

Salvation is to be a holistic experience. It should impact every area of an individual's life. And while primarily spiritual in nature, it manifests itself in the physical realm by transforming our behavior and equipping us to live radically different lives regardless of the circumstances we may encounter. It is in the physical world that our spiritual transformation becomes visible and practical. Paul could confidently claim that his salvation and his commission as a minister of God influenced every area of his life. It was because of his relationship with Jesus Christ that he could patiently endure troubles, hardships and calamities of every kind. He had endured beatings, angry mobs, imprisonment, exhaustion from hard work, sleepless nights, and gone without food for long periods of time; and yet, he continued to live a life marked by purity, understanding, patience, kindness, and love. In other words, his life revealed the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, regardless of what was happening to him or around him. It is how we handle our circumstances that gives evidence of our salvation. Our behavior, actions, and attitudes are the best proof of our inner transformation, Paul was able to say with a straight face, "We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us" (2 Corinthians 6:8 NLT). Paul's faithfulness to God was not contingent on everything going his way or life turning out the way he expected it to. Paul had endured a great deal of pain and suffering since he had come to know Christ. His path had been anything but easy. His faithfulness to God's call had not resulted in fame and fortune, but had brought him rejection, ridicule, heartache, physical pain, and poverty. And yet, he had joy, spiritual riches, and a sense of contentment with his lot in life.

God is in the life-changing business. He didn't just send His Son to save us, but to redeem and renew us. God is not changing the world in which we live, but He is transforming lives of His children who live in the world. He is making us His ambassadors and representatives. He is making us salt and light. He is making us living proof of His Spirit's presence and the resurrection power of the cross. There is a day coming when God will restore and renew His entire creation. But for right now, it is only the lives of men and women that He is reconciling. We are the beneficiaries of His love, grace, and mercy. We alone can know what it means to be made right with God and restored to a right relationship with Him. He is changing us so that we might be His change agents in this world. Paul was able to say, "We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry" (2 Corinthians 6:3 NLT). He was confident in his assertion that his life was not a disconnect from or a discredit to his claim to have been changed by Christ. His actions under fire gave proof of his salvation. His ability to endure trials, troubles and hardships was evidence of the Spirit's presence in his life.

There was a certain separation between the way Paul lived and the way the world around him lived. He lived his life differently and distinctively from the rest of the world. He had been set apart by God and lived accordingly. And yet, the Corinthians tended to want to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted salvation, but they preferred to keep their ties to the world and the pleasures this world offers. So Paul called them out. He challenged them to recognize their distinctiveness as Christ-followers and to live accordingly. He called them to live lives that gave evidence of their distinctiveness. Yes, it would be difficult. It would be risky. It would probably result in pain, rejection, and a certain degree of suffering. But God would be there in the midst of it all. Their lives would become proof of God's transforming and sustaining power. They would become lights in the midst of the darkness. For Paul, compromise was never an option. Complacency was never a consideration. He was sold out and totally committed to the cause of Christ and it could be seen in every area of his life. His salvation had been total and complete. He was a new man – inside and out. And he lived like it. So should we.

Father, I want my inner transformation to show up in my outer man. I want my life to be living proof of Your presence in my life. You have not changed the world or my circumstances, but You are changing me and my capacity to live differently in the midst of it all. Continue to change me from the inside out. Let my new heart result in a new man. May others see Christ in me regardless of what is happening to me or around me. Amen.