Holiness;

There has been a resurgence of pastors preaching the real gospel. Not the gospel of health and wealth, that Jesus somehow died on a cross 2,000 years ago so that you can live in “victorious living” which amounts to you basically having a Bentley for each day of the week and never being sick again. Most of the world now understands that this is nothing but a lie perpetuated by schemers and charlatans. Joel Osteen and the like.

No, the real gospel – that Jesus is God in the flesh, that the God who we sinned against, has taken the initiative to reconcile us to Him, literally bringing peace on earth between God and man. Jesus was born into a poor family, lived a normal life outside from the fact that he never sinned. Never lied, stole, cheated – he was just like us and wholly different from us at the same time. Ultimately, he was murdered by the people that he came to save because he didn’t fit the model that they wanted. They were looking for a conquering ruler to crush the Romans and Jesus was there to crush their real enemy – idolatry and self-salvation. His substitutionary death on the cross paid the price for their sins so that they would be forgiven before God and the only requirement was that they believe in him – in his diety, purpose, power, and that his death in their place was sufficient to pay the price for their sins. 3 days later, as he predicted, he emerged from the tomb – wholly resurrected. His resurrection is the seal on his promise and power that he is the messiah sent from God the Father to atone for the sin in the garden.

Churches and pastors have done a much better job overall in proclaiming that message to the people. I would like to say that the death knell has been rung for people who proclaim that salvation through Christ is available to those who work for it, but I know that people who try to make a dollar at the expense of people who are hurting will always be present. For those people I am glad that God doesn’t bypass the sins of those people and that he says that they are deceivers and the “anti-Christ” (2 John 1:6-8) who betray God’s people for a profit (Titus 1:10-11) and that it would be better in the end for them if they were tied to a heavy stone and tossed into the deepest part of the ocean than to receive the wrath of God that will come upon them (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). God will punish them more than we ever could imagine.

But, if there is any area that needs to be improved, I think, it’s that there needs to be some emphasis on a life change. Not that we do it but that our salvation is not a simple decision but a commitment to allow Jesus to invade every facet of your life and to radically alter not only your worldview but your entire life – throwing out your idols, maybe even stripping you of your personal dreams and aspirations so that you can be used for His purpose, not your own. A radical surrender, if you will. Too many people in this world are being sold a “purpose” for their lives and a “plan” from God that includes church membership and a promise not to be a jerk to people but the are missing out on the best that God has for them because they are too tied to their own idols of self fulfillment and are missing on the greater purpose that God would like them to achieve through His actions on their behalf. That, however, is uncomfortable. It means caring for the poor, and meeting the needs of others. It means that the money you’ve been saving up for a boat may better be spent helping a young couple in your church who just lost their only car to buy a new one with no expectation of that money coming back to you. It means that you may need to open your home to people from church when a pipe breaks and they need a place to stay or adjust your schedule to spend time with people who need help learning from you and your past experiences to focus their lives more closely to that of Christ.

Remember when Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26)” and “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” and the respondents asked “when did we come to you and help you” and he responded “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matthew 20:31-46)”? In the first part he is saying that we must be so focused on Him and His purposes that it is as if we hate our own families and our own life (desires, dreams, etc) in comparison, and in the last section he is talking about our love for others in that our love for those “his brothers” (meaning the adopted brothers and sisters who are one with Him in His salvation – literally, those in the Church). Jesus Himself commands us to put our own lives on hold and, in some cases, to even abandon our own plans and dreams to serve the greater needs of his Church.

So, as I said, I think that the Church as a whole and especially new converts, would be good to see this as a model. Not something for them to emulate right off the bat but to know that it’s something that God will bring about in their lives through the process of surrendering ourselves to Him and His will in our lives.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
~ Psalm 19:14

God not only cares about what we do and say, but our thoughts as well. Think about the 10 Commandments. Everyone knows the big ones – Don’t kill, Don’t commit adultery, Honor your mother and father, Don’t lie. But that last one is different – it’s not about DOING but THINKING! Remember, coveting is not an action, but an attitude of ungratefulness and a desire for what God has given to someone else. Not a godly desire for a better witness, but an un-godly desire for things and relationships. This is a transgression of the first commandment as you are placing something other that God as the central object of your desire, but my main point here is that this is not an outward action, but a meditation of the heart. I’ve heard over and over that God won’t condemn people for the sins they commit in their mind because “no one is hurt” by it, but this shows us that God is not only aware of it but that He judges it as well.

“Well”, some will say, “that’s the God of the OLD Testament! Jesus would never condemn me for my thought life!”. Oh really? I’m skipping the theological issues of thinking that the Trinity is at odds with itself, and let’s just look at that statement. Jesus spoke on the subject of personal, mental holiness quite a bit. Two of His statements in the beatitudes make this point clear:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. ~ Matthew 5:27-28

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:43-45

One of the most terrifying and comforting things in the Bible is a statement from God through Jeremiah where God declares that despite the fact that people thought they were getting away with doing whatever they wanted, that He would stand as a witness against them:

“…they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the LORD.”
~ Jeremiah 29:23

Who can hide from God’s sight? No one! God knows the thoughts of all mankind (Psalm 139:9,23; Isaiah 66:18; Matthew 9:4; 12:25; Luke 11:17) and knowing that he judges our thought life as well, shouldn’t we turn to Him to help us control them? It’s for that reason that I pray the quote from Psalm 19:14 nightly – because it is God who controls all things, and it is He who, through the power of His Holy Spirit, leads me to action in the daily struggle with my sins, that I ask that He keep my mind clear and that He make me a strong witness for Himself in this world. Therefore I pray that God keep my words (the revealed intention of my heart) and that which I meditate on, acceptable before Him, and I pray that you would do the same.

God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life. Sometimes that plan includes my wife going through horrible seizures, confusion, lack of mobility, and struggles with changes in medication. Sometimes that plan includes a lack of available finances so that we have to trust that God will help us to meet our needs despite everything that shows us that we should search out help elsewhere. Sometimes that plan means that we lose family and friends to cancer, or people we know turn on us for no reason at all. Sometimes it means that people we trust implicitly turn out to be pathological liars who only sought their own pleasure by contorting our lives around their deception. Sometimes it means that our best laid plans, no matter how well thought out or deeply conceived, will be shut down and abandoned.

God is the author of everything in our lives. We not only acknowledge this fact but we seek to live it out. At times that means that we lose friends and alienate ourselves from family members. It prompts uncomfortable conversations when opinions are raised against the solid Word of God and we are under pressure from family to relent to the opinion of those who we know to love us, or stand firm for the God who died to save us. Ultimately, trusting in Christ without living out what you say you believe only degrades the image of Christians and, by association, Jesus Himself, to the onlooking world.

My heart is bent toward legalism in everything I do. I want rules and regulations, not a God who says, “you’re forgiven” and leaves it at that. I search the scriptures for something that will give me a guiding principle, some sort of path to perfection, but it’s not there. That means that I struggle with the concept of understanding who I am as a Christian man on a daily basis. I want to serve this God who saved me but at some point my heart always brings the cart of my works, which were meant to be in gratitude for what He has done on my behalf, before the horse of His salvation and I end up trying to wrestle control of my life from God.

What does that mean for me now? I will, to the best of my ability, trust in God to direct my life and what I do by His own wisdom and plan for what He wants me to do. I acknowledge that I will fail on the way but I know that He is the one who is ultimately in control and I hope that I will remember to release control of the reigns when I find myself trying to grab them again and live my life for God according to my plan and not His. I will seek to stop making pronouncements for grand plans and ideas that I think will lead me to some next great plateau. I do plan to finish reading Calvin’s Institutes but that will come when God leads me back into it. I will finish reading all the books I’ve set before myself, but not to put them under my belt or to become a more respectable Christian, and instead so that I will be more able to appreciate the glory of God in as many facets of His character and nature as I can perceive and understand. In the end, I will trust in God to lead me and to control my life. Why? Because I know that He loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

~ 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV)

“YOU CAN’T JUDGE ME!”, proclaims the angry atheist. Utilizing a book they hate, written by a God they swear doesn’t exist, they promptly quote Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” The above passage agrees that we are not to be the judges of outsiders to our faith – the heathens and demon worshippers – because God will be the one to be the judge over them. He will weigh their lives in His perfect balance, where even the slightest sin, whether committed physically or even in their minds, will tip the balance and cast them into hell forever. Now, I could argue that it’s wise to take such a person through the law, creating an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to reveal their own sin to them, then invite them to learn about the reconciliation available through Christ, but today I’m investigating another aspect of judging.

Judgment is not condemnation, but is instead evaluation of a situation, act, or series of events, and making a decision based on what was observed. We, as Christians, are called to judge those within the Christian faith and, with God as our witness and judge, we are to fairly evaluate and act accordingly. How we evaluate and act is outlined for us in Matthew 18:15-17, where, after a period of evaluation and prayer, we are encouraged to seek reconciliation with that person. If they persist, we are to bring another Christian to help and witness the situation. If that continues, you then bring the pastor. If the person continues in that sin, then they are to be put out of the congregation. It is by this method that we are to recognize and deal with sin in the church.

Is expulsion from the church necessary? Think about the term “Christian”: what does it mean? Acts 11:26 records that the term “Christian” was first used in Antioch to describe those who were followers of “the way”. “The Way” was the first name of the gospel – that God has come to earth to suffer and die in the place of sinners to grant them salvation. Literally meaning “follower of Christ”, to call yourself a Christian is to mean that you not only agree with Him, but that you are bound to Jesus and trust in Him alone for your salvation. Jesus promises that to those who love Him and trust in Him for their salvation He will indwell them with His Holy Spirit and that we will be forever changed (Jn 14:26, Eph 1:13). We are one with Him as He is one with us. The world, who hates Jesus, knows this and is constantly watching us to see us act in a manner that’s outside of our professed allegiance. In so doing, they comfort themselves by stating that those who follow Jesus are just as they are and, as a symbol of Christ on the earth, Jesus is just as they are. Therefore, when we live in constant sin, but claim to be a Christian, we are blaspheming the name of Christ.

What, then, is a sin worthy of expulsion from the church? As mentioned above, these are not occasional slips. We are still human and, though forgiven and now free to abstain from sin, we are prone to fulfill our desire to sin. The walk of a Christian is not one of perfection (where we are totally free from sin) but a walk of sanctification where we are transformed year by year into a person who sins less and trusts in God more. You will have seasons of sin where God allows you to become aware of certain sins and He will then lead you to repentance and transformation where we no longer desire those sins. All sin, however, is wicked and evil. While we may not think that it impacts anyone else, it changes our desires from being focused on God and directs them downward to ourselves. Sin is, at its core, self worship. There are some sins that damage a whole community and can drag down a church. Paul, in addressing the Corinthian church, is urging them to remove from their fellowship a habitual offender because of the issues that the sin has produced in their church (pride for keeping a sexually immoral man in the church – sound familiar?) and because it is sullying the name of Christ. He then produces a list of other sins that warrant disfellowship if they are persistent and not met with repentance: idolatry, greed, reviling (which means to be verbally abusive – people who use their words as a weapon against others verbally or in print), drunkards, and swindlers. He then implores them not to even EAT with those people, so long as they are living in rebellion, as it shows the world (and the sinner) that we acknowledge their sin and though we do not approve, we see our continued fellowship as more important than our adherence to the holiness of God.

Doesn’t expulsion from fellowship show that we hate them? Not at all. It reveals to them the depth of their sin against the God and our commitment to God’s holiness. We also are following God’s example as found in Romans 1:18-32, where God allows people to pursue their sin. If they are true Christians, they will reach the end of their sin in one way or another, and God will transform their hearts and bring them back. When He does so, we are to, as 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 states (in reference to the same person expelled from the church) that we are to welcome them back. They are brothers and sisters in Christ who now seek to worship God – if we refuse to bring them in, we are guilty of speaking in the place of God in rejecting them by, through our actions, telling them that they are no longer welcome. There are some cases where this may be wise – sexual assault or adultery within a church body, for example. Stealing from the church may be another case. Ultimately, there should be wisdom and prayer in deciding these scenarios, but once someone is repentant and bearing fruit in keeping with repentance then who are we to stand as God over them and refuse them access to the body of believers? Were you not just as worthy of damnation when God saved you?

Who are we to judge? Christians, or at least anyone who calls themselves a Christian, but we are to do so with the intention of preserving the holiness of God within our community of believers, and to seek restoration of our sinning brethren. No mere man is perfect, but Jesus who is the God-man is perfect and He was willing to sacrifice His glory, power, and ultimately His life for our sake and the sake of the justice of God, that we may be reconciled to Him. We, in keeping with Christ’s example, should be willing to do forego fellowship and replace it with prayer for restoration for those in our own church.

HT: Mars Hill Church

This gem comes today from one of my favorite blogs, Of First Importance:

The person who knows that he is a beloved son does not do good to earn his father’s acceptance. He does good because he knows it pleases his father.
— Neil H. Williams
“The Theology of Sonship”
(Jenkintown, Pa.: World Harvest Mission, 15), 15

It makes an excellent point that I would like my Catholic friends to consider. If we are truly sons of God, adopted by the sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God, on the cross, why do we then have to work to acheive His acceptance? If He has chosen to save us, revealed by our repentance of our sinful lives and faith in the propitiation of the Christ on the cross, then why do we need to do any “good works”? If anything, I believe that “good works” are merely our natural response to the gift of salvation. By doing any “meritorious work” we are simply worshipping God through our actions and revealing to the world our changed hearts.

The reason that I quote meritorious and good works is that scripture tells us that we are, by nature wicked and wholly corrupt individuals (Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). If our hearts, that being our souls, are wholly wicked it would then mean that which we desire to do, regardless of the perceived intention, is a wicked act. As Jesus said, “No good tree can bear bad fruit and no bad tree can bear good fruit (Matthew 7:15-20)”. While the Christian walk is just that, a progression toward sanctification, and it is clear that no man is able to walk in perfect unity with the will of God, the journey will present itself in an upward direction. Out of the pit of despondance that comes from a life trapped in sin, though pleasing to those who are immune to its effects by a seared conscience, toward a life free from sin and temptation. Everyone who has been born is trapped in this pit until they are saved by the act of a sovereign God on their lives. He does the work necessary to get your attention, to reveal to you the disastrous end of your sin-drenched lives, and upon the application of His path to salvation presented in the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, He fills you with the Holy Spirit so that your sin-driven wicked heart can be nullified and you may respond in repentance and faith. Since it is God alone who does this, it is He alone who is responsible for keeping you in your faith. We cannot lose our salvation that was purchased for us and applied to us. It is no longer something we possess but somethin that we are. We are the elect, adopted sons of God. Not equal to Jesus in power or position but in promise.

Now for those who are in continual rebellion against God, though they may call themselves “Christian”, they are simply not. John says, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6)”. This is not for the Christian who is struggling with a specific area of sin in their lives. Men, for instance, struggle with the sin of lust through the use of pornography. Jesus, expanding on the ten commandments in the beatitudes, explains:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

~ Matthew 5:27-28

He makes it very clear that even looking with lust (this includes pornography) condemns us of our sins and in James 2:10, the brother of Jesus reminds us that even if we only break one of God’s commandments, we are as guilty as someone who has sinned against all of them. But, for the Christian man who understands this issue and who is guilty over it and walking with God in prayer daily to be rid of that sin, He is not the one who is addressed in the 1 John 3:6 statement. It is the man or woman who longs for their sin despite the calls from God in scripture to separate themselves from it. The people who both have long rejected their “Christian” title and have embraced their sinful lusts and for those who maintain a veneer of “Christian” appearance, yet secretly love to gossip and ridicule others behind their backs. For the homosexual who longs for religious experiences and feigns a “Christian testimony”, and for the boasters who seek to proclaim their own good deeds before others in order to fill themselves with their pride. These are the goats among the sheep who live lives of hypocrisy and drag down the name of Christ and His Church by their actions and words.

The true Christian does not focus on these things – not for long anyway. God works on them individually, transforming their lives and separating them from their besetting sins, whatever they may be. They are wholly forgiven, eternaly secure sinners who are seeking the final transformation that comes upon either death or Jesus’ return, when they will be stripped of their old bodies and their old hearts and be clothed instead in glorious new bodies who have neither the desire nor the capacity to sin against God. That, for the Christian, is the end of our hope. That is the desire of every man, woman, and child who is wholly sold out to God. We are the beloved sons and daughters of the creator of the universe; purchased by our God through a bloody and horrible transaction that was also beautiful and awesome in its design and purpose. We understand that we bring nothing to the transaction, but are merely benefactors of a plan put into place long before time began, and as a result, we now use our transformed lives to bring the light of this glorious news to the world for all to see. Our “good works” are neither meritorious nor pure, but are acts of worship toward the God who has done so much for us.

Why is it that I do the things that I do? Fear of God. In one way or another, everything we do is related to our fear of God. From the most pious legalist who reads their Bible 87 times a day and stands in fiery indignation over anyone who can’t hold to their standards of holiness, to the atheist who responds to their conscience and occasionally helps people outside of their own natural character, and everyone in-between. All of this, is from the fear of God.

So, what is the fear of God? The Bible sure has a lot of references to it. While the exact phrase “fear of God” is used only eight times in the ESV, references to fearing God appear over 100 times throughout the Bible. Adam, in the Garden while hiding himself and trying to cover his sin, said “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3:10). In Genesis 8:15, Sarah, after initially laughing when she heard God tell her husband that she, at nearly a hundred years old, would bear a son, lied to God because “she was afraid“. I think one of the greatest portions of text on this subject comes from Isaiah chapter 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!“ ~ Isaiah 6:1-5

What an awesome and horrifying image! To stand before the throne of the King of Glory, the God of all creation, and to see His power and majesty? How can you not cry out with Isaiah in that same place and ask God to forgive all of your sins? The same can be said for people who God has chosen in the past as heralds of His message to the people. Each of these people have heard directly from God on a specific subject and they were called to go and tell everyone about it. Those experiences produced in them a fear of God that led them, through the rest of their lives, to follow Him as they had been called.

So, what about those of us who haven’t seen God’s throne room directly or heard from Him audibly? How are we to fear Him, or even to know to fear Him? God has revealed Himself to us in two different ways. First, He has placed into our hearts His law (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10, 10:16), as well as “eternity” (Ecc 3:11) which R.C. Sproul explains in his Reformation Study Bible as: “The heart knows that history is not meaningless, but is frustrated in its efforts to discern the pattern of events”. Second, God has also revealed Himself to us in nature:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. ~ (Romans 1:18-20)

So, if all of us know about God, and He has revealed Himself to us, how should we respond? Jesus, who said that He was the Son of God and then proved it when God the Father raised Him up from the dead (Acts 13:30; Romans 1:4), has told us clearly:

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! ~ (Luke 12:4-5)

So, how does that translate into our lives? The atheist or agnostic, who outwardly rejects the “notion” of God as one rejects butter for their baked potato still acts morally in relation to the law of God that He has placed into their hearts along with the understanding that God really does exist and that there will be a day in which they will have to account for their deeds. They, much like a religious “seeker”, who attends church for the experience and to stamp their “religion” card as they live their lives in their own sight, do so because they too have eternity in their hearts and know that there must be something more than we can see in this life in store for them. Everyone, in one way or another, finds ways in which they can appease their guilt which God has provided as a gracious gift for us. Everyone has a fear of God in them in one way or another. Most people seek to fill this fear with a religious experience – something that they can do “for God” to appease Him. God has made Himself very clear through the Bible – you are wholly destitute before God (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23), and there is nothing we can offer Him (Psalm 51:16), but He has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him (John 3:16-18). Most people, however, reject that offer in favor of a god of their own making – one that will enable them to keep their pet sins while religiously judging the pet sins of others. That’s the case with Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, etc.

How should a saved Christian respond to this fear? As everyone should – with reverence toward the King of all eternity, with fear and trembling before the God who will judge all in the last day, with awe-filled wonder at the might He displays and the works of His hands. When I feel a desire to sin: a lustful thought that I allow to linger little long, decisions made based on my desires instead of prayerful consideration, thoughtless words laid out before others, what we take in through our eyes on television or our ears through our music, or even how we respond to those we love the most – our spouses or our children… In those times, where is the fear of God before my eyes? Every act, every word, and every thought is already weighed in my mind before it comes out and each response is a choice. All of these are seen in relationship to how much I desire to have my thoughts expressed, or my desires fulfilled. The struggle is a battle between my own pride and how much I fear God. Who, at that moment, is more important to me? That is the battle that ultimately decides what I will and will not do. I am confident that even in the atheist, the agnostic, the religious “seeker” (Mormon, Muslim, Catholic, Evangelical Christian, Hindu, etc), and the converted and transformed Christian – in everyone the battle is the same.

It is my prayer that my daily walk would open up with a direct and firm understanding of the God of the Bible – who stands strong and unmoving, yet cares enough to shape my life into the likeness of His Son, and that everything that I think, do, and say would be a reflection of that God who is working in my life and what He has done for me. May all of you focus a little more on your fear of God today, and may you think a little harder on why you are choosing to act in the way that you are.

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