Hear and Fear

14 “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.

15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” – Deuteronomy 19:14-21 ESV

Hear and fear. I love that phrase. It’s simple and succinct, yet speaks volumes. And its simplicity contains the entire essence of all that Moses is trying to tell the people of Israel. When reading books of the Bible that contain iterations of the Mosaic law, we tend to view them as nothing more than a compendium of rules and requirements placed upon the people of Israel by God.  Too often, we find these lists of laws to be tedious, woefully out-of-date, and of no value in our 21st-Century Christian context.

And that somewhat dismissive attitude causes us to miss the divine principle that undergirds each and every one of these imperatives given by God. These commands were never intended to be seen as rules just for the sake of having rules. As the apostle Paul wrote, “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT).

We have no cities of refuge, and we are not in violation of God’s law because of that fact. But we are expected to practice the divine principles that God infused into His command concerning cities of refuge. The designation of six special cities as places where those guilty of involuntary manslaughter could seek refuge was intended to ensure that justice took precedence over vengeance. In a nation where there was no police force, no established governmental structure, a limited judicial system, and a tendency toward the practice of vigilante-style justice, God provided the cities of refuge as a protective measure. And in doing so, He was promoting justice and the practice of mercy over unbridled and unwarranted retribution.

Every human being should care about those things because they are what God cares about. As the prophet Micah so aptly stated it, “He has told you, O man, what is good,
and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God” (Micah 6:8 NLT).

When reading the following phrase: “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark,” it can be easy to dismiss it as non-applicable to our current context. So, we dismiss it. But what was the principle contained within this divine prohibition? Was it just an arbitrary law restricting the moving of boundary markers, or was there something of greater import hidden within the law?

In the ancient world, land was at a premium and considered of great value. In a predominantly agrarian culture, land was one of the most valuable assets a man could own. It became a part of his identity. So, of someone clandestinely moved a marker that determined the boundary of a man’s land, it was an act of stealing. But not just his land – his value, worth, and identity. And when you consider that all of the land of Canaan had been divided up by God and apportioned to the various tribes, you begin to understand that there is an even more significant crime taking place here than that of land grabbing. It was a violation of God’s divine will.

In verses 15-21, Moses outlines the regulations concerning the use of witnesses in a civil dispute. This could apply to a case of someone accused of moving a boundary marker, or a Moses states, “any crime or for any wrong.”

The rule was simple. “Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15 ESV). One witness would not suffice, because that would result in a stalemate, with one man’s word pitted against another. Again, don’t miss what is behind all of this. It has less to do with the crime committed than the means by which an accusation is to be leveled. God is putting safeguards in place to prevent false accusations that could result in inequitable or unjust outcomes.

In verse 16, Moses refers to “a malicious witness.” The Hebrew word is chamac, and it most often gets translated as “violent.” This is an individual who has evil intent. He is a false witness or a liar whose underlying motivation is to do harm to another. And Moses provides very specific instructions concerning this type of situation.

“If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days.” – Deuteronomy 19:16-17 ESV

It’s noteworthy that Moses refers to the accuser as a malicious witness even before the case has been heard by the authorities. For this person to level an accusation without the requisite second witness would have been an indication that his intent was evil. He had no corroborating witness to support his claim. You see this law played out in the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. The religious leaders were desperate to find at least two witnesses who could level the same charge against Jesus that might warrant a call for His execution.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were trying to find false testimony against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find anything, though many false witnesses came forward. – Matthew 26:59-60 NLT

And Matthew goes on to record that the Sanhedrin was finally able to get two of these false witnesses who collaborated their story and gave the chief priests and religious leaders what they had been looking for.

Finally two came forward and declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” – Matthew 26:60 NLT

The witness of a single man was insufficient. And a man who could find no one else to collaborate his accusation was most likely a false witness. So, the accuser and the accused were to be brought before the authorities who were tasked to hear the facts of the case and make a judgment.

“The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” – Deuteronomy 19:18-19 ESV

Again, we have to consider the underlying principle behind all of these rules. Moses had provided the Israelites with God’s prescribed means for settling disputes among them, and He had told them undergirding principle behind it: Justice.

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 16:18-20 ESV

God wasn’t interested in judgment for judgment’s sake. He wanted righteous judgment. He demanded that justice be served. There was no place for false witnesses and maliciously motivated legal cases among His people. Moses had made it perfectly clear: “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow.”

Which brings us back to those three simple words: Hear and fear. All of these rules and regulations were intended to orchestrate and regulate the lives of the Israelites but, more than that, they were meant to instruct the people of Israel about the nature of their God. He was just, holy, and righteous in all His ways. He was set apart and distinct in nature. And He had called His chosen people to reflect the nature of His character by keeping His carefully crafted commands.

“Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” – Leviticus 20:7-8 ESV

God had set the Israelites apart as His own possession. And, in a sense, God had placed boundary markers around them, designed to restrict and regulate their behavior. Those commands or markers were God-ordained and not up for negotiation. But the people of Israel would find themselves constantly tempted to move God’s boundary markers, in a vain attempt to increase their own inheritance. When a man chooses to violate the commands of God, it is because He has determined that God is not just. He has concluded that God is holding out on him, denying him what is rightfully his. And his kind of behavior is unacceptable among God’s people. It reveals a heart that does not truly know and understand the unwavering, never-changing justness and righteousness of God.

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

 

 

 

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I Am – Part 2

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:13-14 ESV

58 “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:58 ESV

This is the second half of our discussion regarding Jesus and His self-identification as the great “I AM.” Over the last few posts, we have been dwelling on the central role that identity played in the life of our Savior. It began with a look at the words of Paul found in Philippians 2. In his letter to the small community of believers in Philippi, a congregation he had helped to start several years earlier, Paul emphasized their need for community and gave them the following challenge: “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And for Paul, the evidence or proof that they were living worthy of the gospel would be clear when he received the news that they were “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 ESV).

In chapter two, Paul encouraged them to make this outcome their goal; for their own good, God’s glory, and so that his own joy regarding them might be complete.

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:2-4 ESV

But the key to any of this taking place would not be found in their ability to “do what Jesus did.” In other words, personal effort, self-determination, and sheer will power were not going to be enough. All Paul’s talk about by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and having one mind was not a call to behavior modification. Yes, he had called them to humbly consider others more important than themselves. He had challenged them not to be selfish or to try to impress others. But Paul knew that the secret to their success would be a change in their way of thinking, not just their behavior.

let this mind be in you that is also in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:5 YLT

For the fourth time in a span of ten verses, Paul uses the Greek word phroneō, which can be translated as “think” or “be of the same mind.” Another important meaning of the term is “to have an opinion of one’s self, think of one’s self” (Outline of Biblical Usage). Within the context of the passage, Paul has been emphasizing the need for the Philippian believers to live in unity while facing increasing opposition. And their ability to pull that off would be based on their willingness to share the mindset of Jesus. Paul wanted them to have a proper opinion of themselves, that begins with a healthy awareness of their true identity. And Paul pointed to Jesus as someone whose own sense of self-awareness allowed Him to suffer willingly, serve selflessly, humble Himself gladly, and obey His Father’s will completely – even to the point of death.

Jesus was the Son of God. Paul makes that point quite clear. He describes Him as “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:5-6 ESV). Paul opens up chapter two by using the Messianic title of Christ when referring to Jesus. Then in verse five, he calls Him “Christ Jesus.” But in verse 11, Paul switches to the designation, “Jesus Christ.” The word “Christ” is not a name, but a title, and is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for Messiah. “Jesus” was the human name given to the Son of God. So, Paul’s use of the title “Christ” before the name “Jesus” appears to support His emphasis on the incarnation – God becoming a man. Of first importance in this 11-verse section of Paul’s letter is the title or identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God sent to be the Savior of the world.

Jesus, though a man, was on an equal level with God because He was the Chosen One, the long-awaited Messiah, and the second person of the Trinity. And He was fully aware of who He was and what He had been sent to do. Paul stresses that Jesus willingly “emptied himself” or gave up His divine privileges and prerogatives to do the will of His Father, which included His death on the cross. He knew His identity, and He was clear on His job description. There was never a doubt in Jesus’ mind about His position and purpose. And that seems to be Paul’s point. Which is why he calls the Philippian believers to share that same mindset or outlook. But how?

It all ties back to the willingness of Jesus to humble Himself completely, serve others selflessly, and give His life sacrificially – even though He was the Son of God. Jesus suffered no diminishment in His value or worth by doing these things. His decision to become a slave did not make Him any less the Son of God. His choice to become human did not impact His holiness. While His earthly existence could be viewed as a form of demotion, Jesus never saw Himself as any less than who He was: The Son of God who enjoyed unbroken community and unity with His Heavenly Father.

While Jesus lived on this earth, His actions were never intended to make Him feel better about who He was. He did not do the things He did in an attempt to impress others or win their approval. He didn’t suffer from low self-esteem or struggle with self-worth. He had no doubts about His value and felt no pressure to maintain an air of superiority. So, loving, serving, giving, sacrificing, and even dying came easy for Him.

And they should for us as well, if we share His outlook regarding identity. And this is where the primary message in Paul’s letter comes home. Jesus knew who He was and was fully aware of His purpose in life. But are we? Do we have a strong awareness of our identity and a clear understanding of our God-given purpose in life? If not, we will find it difficult to live out our faith consistently and joyfully.

So, in the remaining time we have, I want to provide you with a list of clear and compelling identity markers found in the pages of Scripture. I doubt you will see anything new. But it is my prayer that, as you read through this list, you will begin to see yourself from a new perspective: The way God sees you. As we begin to grasp the significance of our true identity, we will be better able to recognize the lies of the enemy, who is constantly whispering in our ears, “If you are the son of God…”

He wants to convince us that we are not enough, that we don’t measure up, that our God doesn’t love us, our pain is a form of divine punishment, and that we deserve better and more. He is constantly tempting us to see ourselves as something other than who we are in Christ. He wants to hear us say,

“I am…important”

“I am…a success”

“I am…happy”

“I am…satisfied”

“I am…significant”

“I am…deserving”

But Paul would have us view ourselves quite differently, and he offers us the mindset of Jesus as the means by which we can live as Jesus did. We too can reject the temptations of the enemy to seek false identities and to pursue any other purpose for lives other than the one given to us by God.

When Jesus answered the charges of those who attempted to question His identity, He simply stated, “I am.” With those two simple words, Jesus conveyed His confident awareness of who He was and what He had come to do. Nothing could dissuade Jesus from knowing His true identity and from accomplishing His God-given mission. And the same can be true for us. So, the next time Satan whispers in your ear, “Do you know who you are?” you can confidently respond:

I am…forgiven (Ephesians 1:7)

I am…redeemed (Ephesians 1:7)

I am…God’s child (Ephesians 1:3-8)

I am…a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)

I am…a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)

I am…God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)

I am…a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I am…justified by Christ’s blood (Romans 5:9)

I am…the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)

I am…set free from sin (Romans 6:18)

I am…free from condemnation (Romans 8:1)

I am…adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:15)

I am…more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37)

I am…a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)

I am…of great value to God (Matthew 5:26)

I am…the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)

I am…an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)

I am…a saint (Ephesians 1:1)

I am…wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)

I am…complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10)

I am…part of a chosen race (1 Peter 2:9)

I am…washed clean (Isaiah 1:18)

I am…holy and without blame (Ephesians 1:4)

I am…reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18)

I am…one with Christ (John 17:21-23)

That’s quite a list, and it doesn’t even begin to cover the many promises found in Scripture regarding our identity in Christ. We are blessed beyond belief, and yet, the enemy still manages to distract our minds from these great truths and cause us to seek our identity and purpose elsewhere. Unwilling to focus on who we are in Christ, we begin to look for other forms of identity in a vain attempt to feel better about who we are. But the identities the world offers us are inaccurate at best and unholy at worst. They bring out the worst in us. They are based on pride and self-exaltation. They tend to focus on what we do, who we know, or what we possess, rather than who God made us to be. Possessions, positions, prominence, power, pleasure and the perceptions of others become the measuring rods by which we assess our value and determine our purpose. But Paul would encourage us to…let this mind be in you that is also in Christ Jesus. Think of who you are by viewing yourself through the lens of your God-given identity. And when you do, you will be able to say, because I am, I can.

Our security regarding our identity is what allows us to serve selflessly, love sacrificially, obey willingly, give graciously, live in community, and avoid the pitfalls of selfish ambition, pride, and conceit. Because I am…I can.

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 atttempt 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

 

The Illusiveness of Holiness

With today’s post, we will be taking a detour from our normal approach of unpacking entire books of the Bible, verse-by-verse. Instead, this will be a topical study on a singular topic that will explore various passages of Scripture from both the Old and New Testaments.

The topic I have chosen to explore is sanctification. While the word may be unfamiliar to you, the topic won’t be, especially if you are a follower of Christ. All of us, regardless of whatever Christian denomination or church we grew up in or currently align ourselves with, will have a perspective on this critical topic. At its most basic, sanctification has to do with the spiritual growth or ongoing maturity of the believer. But as we will see, there is far more to this word than we might imagine. And we will be unpacking its rich and significant meaning in the weeks ahead.

Virtually all Christian denominations that hold an orthodox view of Scripture share a common understanding that the believer’s status as a child of God was made possible by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. God sent His Son to serve as the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind, offering His life in place of ours, so that He might atone for or pay the penalty levied by a holy God against rebellious humanity. The Scriptures make it clear that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In other words, there is a “wage” or payment due for mankind’s rejection of God, and it is death. And no one gets to escape that outcome, because, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT).

But Jesus made it possible for sinful men and women to be restored to a right relationship with God by providing Himself as their substitute or stand-in. He took the punishment we deserved and, in exchange, we received His righteousness.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption… – 1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV

Sinful men and women can be restored to a right relationship with God by placing their faith in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. By accepting God’s gracious gift of His Son as the payment for their sin debt, sinners can become saints, children of God, and joint heirs with Christ. They receive forgiveness for their sins – past, present, and future. They also receive a new standing before God. The apostle Paul told the believers in Colossae that is was God “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14 ESV).

The most remarkable aspect of this redemptive work of God on man’s behalf is that it is permanent in nature. It can’t be lost. God doesn’t change His mind. We can’t screw it up. In fact, the apostle Paul reminds us:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

God stands behind the work of His Son. He guarantees it. Christ’s atoning work is efficacious or effective, never failing to accomplish its redemptive work. At the point of salvation, sinful men and women become permanent citizens of the Kingdom of God. And from that point forward, God no longer sees them as sinners, but as saints. Which simply means that they have been set apart for His use. They belong to Him. They are His children.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12 ESV

And yet, while enjoying their privileged position as children of God and citizens of His eternal Kingdom, Christians must remain on this earth and do battle against an assortment of enemies who stand opposed to them. These include the world, their own indwelling sin nature, and the devil himself. Jesus Himself warned us that the world would hate us.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. – John 15:18-19 ESV

He also told us we would face difficulties in this life.

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 ESV

Which brings us to our topic of sanctification. As we live in this world as followers of Christ, we enjoy a right standing before God. He deems us as righteous because we have received the righteousness of Christ. And yet, we are also commanded to pursue righteousness.

…pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. – 2 Timothy 2:22 ESV

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6:11 ESV

Not only that, Paul tells us that we are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12 ESV). Yet, Peter seems to tell us we have to pursue holiness.

…as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV

Even Paul appears to contradict himself when he states, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1 ESV). The truth is, the New Testament is filled with countless passages that seem to teach that, while we enjoy a right standing before God, we are not to stand pat. We are not to coast or rest on our laurels. Paul told the believers in Ephesus “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV). He told the Thessalonian believers “to live in a way that is pleasing to God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 BSB).

Peter encourages us to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). Paul tells us that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 2:15 ESV). Peter encourages us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). The author of Hebrews would have us “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV). And Paul provides us with a word regarding our salvation and our sanctification.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. – Romans 6:22 ESV

As we will see, there is a sense in which we have been sanctified and are being sanctified. There is the positional aspect of our sanctification and the progressive dimension, which we will be exploring over the next few weeks. But the real issue we want to examine is the delicate and somewhat confusing nature of our role in the process. Can we make ourselves more holy? Do we have the capacity to make ourselves any more acceptable to God than we already are? Is sanctification our job or God’s? Is it a goal to be pursued or a reality to be embraced?

As Peter has pointed out, God has high standards for His children: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16 ESV). Yet Paul tells us, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV), and Isaiah adds fuel to the fire when he writes: “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

So, what are we to do? And what is the purpose behind our pursuit of righteousness if we have already been declared righteous by God? These are the questions we hope to explore and answer as we make our way through this difficult, yet vital topic. The Bible’s many admonitions concerning spiritual growth are indisputable. But that doesn’t make them understandable. And many of us as Christians struggle with what it means to grow up in our salvation. Spiritual maturity seems unachievable. Christlikeness appears impossible. And any efforts we have put towards growing in godliness seem to fall short.

But it is my hope that as we dig into God’s Word together, we will be able to better understand the true nature of sanctification and our role in it. And that we might be able to say with the apostle Paul:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14 ESV

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

 

Live Like It.

17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.  – 1 Peter 1:17-21 ESV

Peter has appealed to his readers to see themselves as holy, because God has chosen them for salvation. They are His children and heirs of His Kingdom, so they should act and behave accordingly. In making his appeal to holy behavior, Peter is referencing an Old Testament passage found in the book of Leviticus.

44 For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. So do not defile yourselves with any of these small animals that scurry along the ground. 45 For I, the Lord, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy. – Leviticus 11:44-34 NLT

This had been a recurring theme in Leviticus.

“Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. – Leviticus 19:2 NLT

So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep all my decrees by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord who makes you holy. – Leviticus 20:7-8 NLT

God’s gracious favor on them should produce godly behavior in them. So, Peter warns them that, if they are able to call on God as their Father, it is because He has chosen them to be His own. And that same loving Father will examine their behavior, impartially and without any signs of favoritism, “according to each one’s deeds” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). There is a common misconception among believers that, because we are God’s children, we are free from judgment. We look at verses like Roman 8:1 and make some false assumptions.

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1 NLT

But notice that it says, “there is no condemnation”, not “there is no judgment.” As believers in Jesus Christ, and sons of daughters of God, we no longer face the condemnation associated with our former sins. We face no death penalty because of our rebellions against God. But that does not mean we are free to live as we want and to sin with abandon because we are forgiven. The apostle Paul kicked that misconception to the curb in a powerful, no-holds-barred way:

1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? – Romans 6:1-2 NLT

We may be free from condemnation, but we are not free to live as we wish. So, when Peter says that God is impartial, it is a reminder that He does not treat us any differently when it comes to judgment of our behavior. He is impartial. Now, it is true that, as believers, our sins have been paid for, in full, by Jesus Christ. We stand before God as righteous because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. God sees us as holy because His Son paid our sin debt with His own life. John will speak of this in the first of his three letters.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. – 1 John 2:2-3 ESV

God has been satisfied. Our debt has been paid. But that does not mean we are no longer required to live in accordance with the laws and commands of God. Look at what John says. The proof of our position as God’s children is our obedience to His commands. John drives that point home in a powerful way.

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:4-6 NLT

Back to Peter’s letter. He warns his readers to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). Remember, he has already told them that they are exiles, living here on earth as they wait for their future inheritance. In the very next chapter, Peter will refer to his readers as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). He will warn them “to abstain from the passions of the flesh.” He will tell them to “get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech” (1 Peter 2:1 NLT). Peter will remind them that, while others in their community may reject Christ as Savior, they have not.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. 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 2:10 NLT

They are chosen. They are set apart. They have been deemed by God to be His holy nation, His possession and kingdom of priests. And it should show up in their behavior. Their salvation was not just a designation, a stamp of godly authenticity, but it was to be a way of life. Back in verse 15 of chapter 1, Peter told them that because God is holy, they were to be holy in all their conduct.

15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:15 NLT

And Peter reminds them that God paid a high price so that they might be set free from their former lives of sin.

18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

Jesus spilled His blood so that they might be purified from their sins and set free from future enslavement to sin. He died so that they might live new lives, no longer captive to their former lusts. That’s why Peter had warned them:

Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

They knew better now. But Peter wanted to drive that knowledge deep into their hearts, so he refuses to take his foot off the gas. He keeps pressing home his point, in an attempt to get them to understand the gravity and greatness of what God has done. He tells them that this remarkable salvation was not a new idea or something God came up with at the last minute.

20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:20 NLT

God had not been caught off guard by the fall of man. He had known it would happen, even before He had created mankind. The incarnation of Jesus, His coming to earth as a man, was not a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part, attempting to remedy man’s ongoing sinful state. The Ten Commandments were not a last-ditch effort on the part of God, to provide sinful men with some rules to follow, hoping they could get their spiritual act together and obey Him. God gave the Law in order to reveal to sinful men just how sinful they really were. The Law provided a black-and-white, no-questions-asked, not-to-be-argued-with description of the kind of life God required. And no one could live up to His holy standards. That is, until His Son came to earth and lived a sinless life, fully obedient to every command God had ever given. And His sinlessness made Him the perfect, sinless sacrifice and the only acceptable means of atoning for the sins of mankind. Remember what John said in his letter?

He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. – 1 John 2:2 NLT

That was God’s plan, from before the foundations of the world. Christ was revealed to mankind in order that men might be made right with God. And Peter reminds his readers “Through Christ you have come to trust in God” (1 Peter 1:21 NLT). It was their faith in Jesus that had made their relationship with God possible. Had God not sent His Son, they would still be living in their sins, with no hope of ever reconciling themselves to God. But, Peter points out, “you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory” (1 Peter 1:21 NLT). And that faith and hope should show up in a desire to live differently. It should reveal itself in godly behavior, in lives of holiness and set-apartness, and in a desire to obey God out of gratitude and love for God.

For Peter, the bottom line was that, if God had been powerful enough to raise Jesus back to life after three days in the tomb, could He not also raise us up to new life, right here, right now? Could He not give us the capacity to act and think differently, even while we live as sojourners and strangers in this land? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” He could. He has. And we should.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Therefore…

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 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 1:13-16 ESV

Based on all that God has done for them, Peter now gives his readers some specific actions they are to take in response. God has elected them. He has caused them “to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV). He has prepared for them “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT), that is being kept in heaven for them. On top of that, while they live on this earth, God is protecting them by His power, preserving them until the day of salvation, the final glorification of their bodies. Yes, in the meantime, they are having to endure various trials and troubles that come with life. They are experiencing the persecutions and difficulties that accompany living as a follower of Christ in a fallen world. But even those seemingly negative circumstances have positive consequences, because they test the genuineness of their faith, revealing the increasingly purified nature of that faith. The trials don’t destroy them, they perfect and strengthen them.

So, with all that in mind, Peter starts the next section of this letter with the word, “therefore” – a term on transition. It is the Greek word, dio, which means “consequently” or “with all that in mind.” Everything Peter has said thus far was meant by why of preparation and to provide a foundation on which his readers were to build their lives. All that God has done for them was meant to be a point of comfort and confidence. That’s why Peter says, “prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control” (1 Peter 1:13 NLT). I love the way the King James Version translates this verse: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind.” The words Peter used would have been very familiar to his audience and carried a strong visual image to which they would have easily related. To “gird up the loins” was something they would have done every day of their lives, a normal part of their daily activities, especially anything that required work or quick action. The long outer garments they wore, while comfortable and perfect for the intense heat common to that part of the world, could prove cumbersome when hard labor or quick movements were required. So, they would “gird up their loins” by pulling the lower part between their legs and tucking it into their girdle or belt. This would free their legs and provide them with more mobility and less restriction, making work easier to accomplish. In essence, Peter is telling them to roll up the sleeves of their mind. They were to get ready for action – mentally. They were to be sober-minded. The Greek word Peter uses is nēphō, which conveys the idea of not only remaining free from drunkenness, but maintaining a control over your mental capacities at all times. Paul provides a great explanation of this in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

15 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit… – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT

The obvious antonym to soberness is drunkenness. It is a lack of self-control and an altered state of consciousness that is negatively impacted by an outside influence. When one is drunk, they are out of control. They lack discernment and clear decision-making capabilities. Their reasoning capacities are clouded. Their ability to think clearly is diminished. So, Peter calls for an attitude of sober-mindedness, and he tells them exactly how to do it: “Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world” (1 Peter 1:13 NLT). In other words, they were to keep their minds focused on the incredible reality of their future glorification. Staying sober-minded in this life requires keeping our minds focused on the life to come. This has everything to do with identity. Peter wants them to know that they are citizens of a different kingdom. This world is not their home. Their lives on this planet are not intended to be the end-all, but the means to an end. They are to see themselves as on a journey to somewhere greater and better. That is why they are to “gird up the loins of their mind.” In this life, they have work to do. This is a time for sober-minded effort and focused attention on the job to be done. Remember what Peter has already said: God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). He has an inheritance prepared and preserved for us. This world is NOT our inheritance. This life is not the end of the road, it is a pathway to the life to come. So, we are not to get distracted by the cares of this life or detoured by the troubles that come with life. Peter tells us we “must live as God’s obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14 NLT). Our allegiance is to Him, not to this world. He is the one we should want to please, because He is the one who has chosen us and prepared an incredible future for us. And, as far as Peter sees it, the worst thing a child of God could do would be to “slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires” (1 Peter 1:14 NLT). And yet, that is a daily temptation for each and every one of us. When we take our eyes off the prize, we lose our focus. It becomes all about us again. Which is why Paul said, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT). In essence, Paul is saying that he girds up the loins of his mind so that he can run the face of life unhindered and freed up to get to the finish line unhampered by the cares of this life.

And Peter gives us a powerful admonition that can either leave us feeling debilitated or exhilarated.

15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT

These verses have long intimated believers. They sound so impossible. How in the world am I to be holy like God is holy? What was Peter thinking? The answer is really quite simple. He was letting his readers know that, having been chosen by God, they were to live lives that reflected their new relationship with God. They were His children, so they should act like it. They had been “set apart” by God, which is what holiness means, so they lives should reflect a change in behavior. In fact, the word Peter uses is anastrophē, which means “manner of life.” Their set-apartness by God was to be all-encompassing. It was not just spiritual, but physical as well. It was to influence their entire life – from their actions to their attitudes. They belonged to God, so they were to act like it. But the key was keeping their focus on the reality of that calling. It has a future-orientation. It is our life-to-come that should influence our life in the here-and-now. As Paul said, he kept his mind focused on the finish line, not the particular part of the race course on which he currently found himself. Mile ten of a marathon is NOT the finish line. Being in first place at the halfway point of a race does not make you a winner. Standing at the halfway point of a race, admiring how far you have come, will only keep you from getting where it is you need to go. That’s why Paul said, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize.”

We are on our way to somewhere else. We are passing through this place, with our eyes focused on our true destination. That is why, in the very next chapter of this letter, Peter will remind his readers of this very fact, using very stark terms to explain their new status in this world.

I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. – 1 Peter 2:11 NLT

The danger we all face is the tendency to become comfortable in this world. When we find ourselves wanting to make this world our home, we stop running the race set before us. We start taking in the sights along the way, and forget that the finish line is the goal. We start making success in this life our destination. We end up making comfort our goal. We turn the various “mile markers” of life into the finish life of our life, convincing ourselves of having “arrived” and contenting ourselves with all that we have accomplished. But there is no prize for getting halfway to the goal. There are no true blessings that come with only partially running the race.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 NLT

 

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Be Perfect!

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48 ESV

In all that Jesus has said up to this point, this one line jumps out like no other. And He makes it at the tail end of His discussion regarding love. Jesus has let them know that the kind of love God expects from those are blessed and approved by Him is a non-discriminatory love. It isn’t a love that has to be earned or deserved in some way. There is no expectation of love in return. In other words, it’s not reciprocal in nature. Human love says, “I’ll love you, as long as you love me back.” But that’s a self-centered kind of love. Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that” (Matthew 4:47-48 NLT).

Our model for love is to be God, not man. Which is what led Jesus to say, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:49 NLT). And if we’re honest, the very first thought that goes through our minds when we hear that statement is, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Is Jesus serious? Is He really asking us to be perfect, like God is perfect? Is He calling His listeners to do the impossible? YES!

What Jesus is demanding is righteousness. God’s brand of righteousness. Mankind is adept at producing flesh-based righteousness. That is what Jesus has been addressing during this opening section of His message. He knew that those in His audience tended to measure their righteousness based on external adherence to some set of rules or standards. Here’s how they approached righteousness:

“As long as I don’t commit adultery, I’m doing okay with God.”

“If I don’t kill anyone, I am keeping God’s law and keeping Him happy with me.”

“If I happen to divorce my wife, I’ll still be okay with God, as long as I do it in the prescribed manner, according to His law.”

“I thank God for oaths, that allow me to break my word, but in a way that God will accept, even if my friends don’t.”

“God even approves of me when I do harm to others, as long as I’m doing it to get even.”

“And I can keep God loving me as long as I love my neighbor and hate my enemies.”

But all of those thoughts are based on a human understanding of righteousness, a merit-based concept that connects righteousness to behavior. But Jesus is presenting a radically different view that teaches that God’s ultimate expectation of men is nothing short of sinless perfection. In fact, the Greek word Jesus uses that is translated “perfect”, is teleios and it means whole or complete. It was used to refer to consummate human integrity and virtue. Jesus wasn’t calling for a better, slightly improved version of human righteousness. He was calling for sinless perfection. And there wasn’t a single person in His audience that day who could pull it off, including His four disciples. We are all totally incapable of doing what Jesus is saying, without His help.

What Jesus is demanding is simply a reiteration of what His Father had demanded of the Israelites centuries earlier.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” – Leviticus 19:1-2 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is the word qadowsh. It means “pure, clean; free from defilement of crimes, idolatry, and other unclean and profane things” (“H6918 – qadowsh – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It was also used to speak of someone or something’s status as having been “set apart” by God for His use.

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. – Leviticus 20:26 ESV

It was a call to separation and distinctiveness. The people of Israel were to be holy, set apart by God for His use. But their holiness was not to be simply a positional reality. It was to have practical ramifications. God had expectations regarding their behavior, but also regarding the condition of their hearts. They were expected to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV). And they were expected to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV).

The apostle Peter would echo the words of Jesus in his first letter.

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

Be holy – in all your conduct. Be perfect – just as your heavenly Father is perfect. Those are some staggering concepts to get your mind around. They come across as so far-fetched and impossible, that we end up treating them as some form of hyperbole or over-exaggeration on Jesus’ part. Surely, He can’t be expecting us to be holy like God is holy, or perfect in the same way God is perfect. But Jesus is simply revealing the standard of God. God doesn’t grade on a curve. He doesn’t dumb down the test because of the spiritual acumen of the students in His classroom. One of the issues Jesus is exposing in His message is that the Jews were guilty of lowering God’s holy and righteous standards so that they could somehow measure up. That’s why Jesus said, “if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:19 NLT). And He topped that off with the bombshell: “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NLT).

God has always expected and demanded perfection. He has always required that His people be holy, just as He is holy. There is no lower standard. God doesn’t take a look at mankind, recognize their inability to live up to His expectations, then lower the bar so more people can qualify. Later on, in this very same message, Jesus will reveal “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 NLT). God’s way is not the easy way. The kind of righteousness He demands and expects is not easy to achieve. It’s impossible. The life of holiness He requires of those who would be His children is measured by His own holiness. It is a holiness and righteousness that is far superior to anything the Pharisees or teachers of religious law could ever hope to produce.

Holiness and godly perfection are high standards indeed. And they are impossible to produce in the flesh. You can’t manufacture what God is demanding. You can’t be like God without the help of God. The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth and reminded them:

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:

“I will live in them
    and walk among them.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
    and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
    and I will welcome you.
And I will be your Father,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
    says the Lord Almighty.” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 NLT

Then he follows this up with the logical conclusion or application.

Because we have these promises, dear friends, 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

You see, there is an expectation of separation. We are to love differently and distinctively from those around us. Part of how our holiness should manifest itself is in the alternative way of living that we model. As God’s children, we have a capacity to live differently than all those around us. We have the ability to live truly righteous lives because we have received the righteousness of Christ. We have the Spirit of God living within us and empowering us to live like Christ. We have a high standard to live up to: Jesus Christ Himself. He is the model of righteousness we are to emulate. Not scribes, Pharisees, rabbis, pastors, teachers, evangelists, parents, or friends. That is, unless they are modeling their lives after Christ. Paul put it this way: “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT).

So, when Jesus said to the crowd seated on the hillside that day, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, He wasn’t presenting anything new.  He was simply reminding them that God’s standard had not changed. He had not lowered the bar. Human alterations and addendums to God’s laws might make them easier to live up to, but they couldn’t produce the kind of righteousness God was expecting. That’s why, as Paul reminds us, God did for us what the law could never have done.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

Holiness and perfection are not impossible, unless we try to produce them on our own. God never intended the law to be lived up to. It presented God’s divine criteria for holiness. It made painfully clear what God demanded in the way of behavior from mankind. But in the end, it was intended to reveal our sin and our need for outside help, what Martin Luther referred to as “alien righteousness” – an righteousness outside of ourselves.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 NLT

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

You Shall Be Holy.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 ESV

As we wait for the revelation of Jesus Christ and the redemption of our bodies, we have a responsibility, a duty. We have been born again to a living hope through faith in Jesus Christ. We have received the Holy Spirit of God as a permanent resident in our lives. He acts as a kind of down-payment or “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV). Paul also says that God has “put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22 ESV). We have been justified, deemed righteous by God, because of the atoning blood of Jesus. We stand before Him, free fr0m any condemnation, and as His adopted children, heirs to the incredible inheritance He has in store for us.

So in the meantime, we are to live like what we are. We have been set apart by God, consecrated for His use. We are “vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called” (Romans 9:23-24 ESV). Paul tells us, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 ESV). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV). This was the same point Peter was trying to make. While his readers were waiting for their future glorification, they were having to endure suffering and persecution because of their faith. So Peter felt compelled to remind them of who they were and how there were to live. In other words, he was calling them to live lives of holiness – as those who had been set apart by God and for God.

Peter calls upon an Old Testament passage to remind his readers of their responsibility. It is found in the book of Leviticus. It reads, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV). The Hebrew word translated “consecrate” is the word qadash and it means “to set apart as sacred, consecrate, dedicate” (“Hebrew Lexicon :: H6942 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). They were to live as who they were – those who belonged to God. He had redeemed and rescued them out of slavery. He was leading them to a land of abundance and blessing. They were His people and He was their God. But they were to live their lives in a distinctively different manner than all the nations surrounding them. The passage in Leviticus goes on to say, “You shall not defile yourselves…” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV). Moses used the Hebrew word, tame’ which means “to defile oneself, be defiled” (“Hebrew Lexicon :: H2930 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). They were to remain qadash (set apart) by not tame’ (defiling) themselves.

So when Peter uses this passage, he is reminding his readers that they are already holy or set apart by God. But their choice of actions can result in their own defilement. That is why Peter wrote, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15 ESV). So Peter told them to prepare their minds for action. Dr. Thomas Constable gives some helpful insight into just what Peter was trying to say. “He said in effect, Now that you have focused your thinking positively you need to roll up your sleeves mentally, pull yourselves together, and adopt some attitudes that will affect your activities” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes of 1 Peter, 2008 Edition). In other words, their holy standing was to show up in their every conduct. This was going to require that they be “sober-minded” or calm and collected. They would need to be thoughtful and circumspect in their decision-making. They would need to be careful and discerning in their conduct. Peter calls them to live as “obedient children” refusing to go back to living like they used to live. Peter told them, “Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then” (1 Peter 1:14 NLT).

Holy living takes effort. It doesn’t come naturally for us as human beings. Because of the fall, we have been polluted by sin and, even as Christian, we still retain our sin nature. Paul tells us, “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). His point is that, if we attempt to live holy lives in our own strength, in our flesh, we will fail. But if we rely upon the Holy Spirit within us, we can live in such a way that our lives reflect the true nature of who we are: children of God. But Peter provides us with one more thing we must do: “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13 ESV). Our current spiritual health is totally reliant on our future hope. If we do not constantly remind ourselves of what God has prepared for us in the future, we will have difficulty understanding or enduring the difficulties that come in this life. Holy living requires that we see ourselves as holy people, set apart by God for His use. We belong to Him. We are His children and our actions and attitudes in this life should reflect our belief that He has promised us a rich inheritance in the next life.

 

Keep It Holy.

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. – Matthew 6:9 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

When we pray, we are to do so with an awareness of just who it is we are communicating with. We are having a conversation with God, the creator of the universe. He is the transcendent, all-seeing, all-knowing God, who is holy and righteous, and the just judge of all men. The psalmist described Him in terms that signify His otherness. “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psalm 113:4-6 ESV). After watching God’s miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt, Moses had this to say: “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11 ESV). Our God stands alone in His glory, power, holiness, and nature. Paul describes Him as the one “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). We must never forget that our God is, first and foremost, someone who is uniquely worthy of our honor, glory, and praise. He is not to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. But here is the amazing thing. Because of Jesus Christ, we now have access to His presence and can call Him our Father. John would have us remember, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). Jesus, because of His death on the cross, has made God knowable and approachable to all who have placed their faith in Him for their salvation. He is our Father and we are His children, so we can “enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:4 ESV). That is the incredible reality of prayer.
But in giving us His model prayer, Jesus would have us remember that, as God’s children, we have a responsibility to protect our Father’s name. Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Hallowed be your name.” At first glance, this would seem like a silly request for anyone to pray to God. After all, God is holy all the time. Everything about God is holy, including His name. The word hallowed is not one that is common to our modern vocabulary. In the Greek it is hagiazō and it has to do with holiness or separateness. Jesus seems to be saying that we are to desire the holiness of God’s name. But how do we, as His children, keep God’s name holy or set apart? By the way we live our lives. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet. When we express to God our desire that His name be holy and set apart, we are really asking that His character be lived out in our own behavior. We are expressing our recognition of the fact that we are His children and His image bearers. We have His Spirit within us. We act as His ambassadors or representatives on this earth and must never forget that we carry His name with us wherever we go and bring honor or dishonor to that name by what we do and say. Our great desire should be for His name to be glorified on this earth. Again, the psalmist encourages us to “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 29:2 ESV). What greater way to honor and worship the Lord than to live our lives in holiness, set apart for His use and determined to make His name famous, not infamous.

There is another aspect of this request for God’s name to be hallowed. We should desire to see God work in miraculous and supernatural ways on our behalf. All throughout the book of Exodus there is a phrase that appears over and over again – “By this you shall know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 7:17 ESV). God repeatedly told Moses and the people of Israel that He was about to do something that would unequivocally prove His glory and sovereignty. By His mighty acts, the people of Israel would know that He alone was God. The plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of manna and quail in the wilderness, the pillar of fire and smoke – all of these things were proofs of God’s power and presence. So when we pray that God’s name be hallowed, we are asking that He reveal Himself in might and majesty in our lives and in our circumstances. We are asking for our Father to glorify His name by acting on our behalf. When God acts, people notice. When God intervenes, it gets peoples’ interest.

So there is a two-fold aspect to this request. We should desire to see God’s glory on display and His name honored by His ongoing action in this world. But we should also desire to see that our lives bring glory and honor to His name by the way we conduct ourselves as His children. We bear His name. We bear His image. We have His Spirit within us. May we live in such a way that His glory is revealed through us, and may we long to see His power and glory revealed all around us.

Deuteronomy 13-14, John 16

Help For Holiness.

Deuteronomy 13-14, John 16

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the people who are on the face of the earth. ­– Deuteronomy 14:2 ESV

Over and over again, God reminded the people of Israel that they were to be holy, because they belonged to Him. They were His possession and, as a result, they were to live lives that reflected their unique position as His chosen people. He had given them rules and regulations for conducting their lives that included dietary laws and a sacrificial unlike any other. They were to worship only God and were not allowed to have any other gods as substitutes or options. God took idolatry quite seriously, demanding that any prophet who encouraged the people to worship other gods was to be executed. Any friend or family member who tried to tempt a loved one to worship a false god was to be stoned to death. It didn’t matter if it was a wife, mother, father, brother, son or daughter. Any city that ended up worshiping a false god was to be destroyed and all its inhabitants put to death. Nothing was to be taken as spoil and the city was to remain a ruins forever. Holiness was a non-optional requirement for the people of God. They had been set apart by God for His glory and so they were to live lives that reflected their unique standing as His possession.

This demand to live holy lives was passed on to the New Testament believers. Peter wrote, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-15 ESV). God still expects His children to live holy, set-apart lives. But we have a distinct advantage over the people of Israel. We have been given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who makes our pursuit of holiness possible.

What does this passage reveal about God?

What we see in the Old Testament is a vivid glimpse of God’s holiness in full display. By the time He had called the people of Israel and led them to the border of the Promised Land, idolatry was in full swing in the world. False gods were everywhere. Mankind had developed the capacity to make gods out of just about anything and everything. They worshiped gods they made with their own hands. They worshiped the trees, the planets, the water, and other parts of creation. They made gods who handled everything from fertility and fruitfulness to war. Nations borrowed the gods of other nations. They saw nothing wrong with having multiple gods and would add new gods to their retinue of deities in a heartbeat. But the God of the Israelites would not tolerate the worship of any other gods. He claimed to be the one and only God. He let them know that they, as His possession, were to have no other gods before them. They were to remain devoted solely to Him and worship Him alone. God was intolerant and inflexible on this matter. His people were to remain faithful to Him. He knew they were surrounded by nations who worshiped all kinds of gods. He realized that they would be constantly tempted to turn to those other gods and give their devotion and allegiance to them. That is why God was so adamant that the people of Israel destroy the nations who lived in the land and tear down their altars and the places of worship dedicated to these false gods. The people of Israel belonged to God. He had chosen them. He had redeemed them from slavery. He had made a covenant with them. And He had kept His part of the covenant. Now He was expecting them to keep theirs.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Faithfulness is not a natural character trait among men, and spiritual faithfulness is a virtual impossibility. When it comes to the worship of God, the human race has proven it has a difficult time remaining faithful and true. Ever since the fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by listening to the lies of the enemy, man has made a habit out of making gods of his own creation. We have a long track record of remaking God in our own image, or simply making a whole new god altogether. And with our new gods we have ended up making our own set of rules and standards by which to live. The various gods available today tend to offer conflicting views regarding life and how one can enjoy the afterlife. Each offers their version of the truth. But Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He claimed to be the only means by which man could be made right with God. False gods offer false hope when it comes to mankind’s condition. Sacrifice to a false god can never provide true forgiveness or redemption. Belief in a false god, not matter how sincere, can never deliver anyone from the penalty that sin deserves. Even the Israelites, while they worshiped the one true God, could not keep His laws perfectly and completely. They were incapable of living the holy lives He demanded. They couldn’t keep His laws or live up to His standards. They struggled with disobedience and unfaithfulness. The law constantly reminded them of their sins and the sacrificial system provided little more than a temporary pardon, delaying the inevitable consequences for their sin because they couldn’t stop sinning.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

But God fully understood man’s condition and had a divine solution already in place. He had planned all along to send His Son to die in man’s place as a payment for the penalty for man’s sin. Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh and lived as one of us, so that He might live in complete obedience to the law of God. He did what no other man had ever done: obey God’s law to perfection, which made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. He was the sinless sacrifice that God required. And because of His death in our place, God is able to offer us forgiveness from sin and salvation from death – and all we have to do is trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior. When we do, God offers us forgiveness from sin and promises us eternal life. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). But even with the promise of eternal life, God still demands that His children live holy lives. He still expects us to live set-apart lives, in keeping with His divine standards and reflective of our unique position as His holy possession. But the good news is that He has given us a “Helper” – the Holy Spirit – to assist us in living the life to which God has called us. Jesus told His disciples, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:7-11 ESV). After His death and resurrection, Jesus ascended back to heaven, and this triggered the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The story of Pentecost found in the second chapter of Acts, tells of His initial coming. The Holy Spirit was a game changer. He turned cowering, fearful disciples into bold, fearless spokesmen for the Kingdom of God. He turned timid, uneducated men and women into passionate evangelists for the Good News of Jesus Christ. He made possible powerful preaching and unbelievable miracles. He empowered, guided and comforted those who had, just a few hours earlier, been fearful and hopeless. Jesus ended up leaving His disciples behind, but He did not leave them alone. He gave them His Holy Spirit, and today, as Christ followers, we have that same Holy Spirit available to us and resident within us. As a result, we have all that we need to live the lives God has called us to live. We can be holy. We can live distinctively and differently from the world around us. Peter tells us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” ( 2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Father, thank You for making holiness possible. You have given me Your Spirit to assist me in the process. And never let me forget that it is a process. It is a transformational process that takes time and requires my willing participation. I must desire to live differently and then allow Your Spirit to lead me and empower me to make it possible. I have the ability to live according to Your divine standards and live up to Your righteous requirements, just as Your Son did, because Your Spirit lives within me. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org