BE HOLY

Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. [Exodus 25:8 (NLT)]

And this is the basic law of the Temple: absolute holiness! The entire top of the mountain where the Temple is built is holy. Yes, this is the basic law of the Temple. [Ezekiel 43:12 (NLT)]

roadside chapelBefore the incarnation of Christ, God dwelt first in the tabernacle and then in the temple. The innermost room of the temple was called the “Most Holy Place” and it was in this inner room that God’s glory was said to dwell. This was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and where the high priest came with a sacrifice to atone for his and the nation’s sins every year. With the incarnation of Jesus, God no longer dwelt in the temple but in the flesh of His son and, for a brief time, God actually walked among His people. Yet, when Jesus lived as a man, only a few people at a time could be in His presence. With His death, there is no yearly atonement ritual because Jesus atoned for our sins once and for all. Moreover, because of His resurrection, ascension, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for countless people, everywhere, to be in His presence at the same time. Once we become believers, the Holy Spirit moves into our hearts and each one of us, as members of Christ’s church, become part of His body and the temple of God.

When Ezekiel spoke that the absolute rule of the temple was holiness, he was speaking of the temple building in Jerusalem, a place that had been defiled by idolatry and sin. While we no longer worship at a temple on a mount, the prophet’s words still hold true. The innermost room, the Most Holy Place, the dwelling of the Lord, still exists. That innermost room is now in our hearts and they must be kept holy. While we tend to think of holiness as moral purity, it is much more. It means to be dedicated or consecrated to God, to be set apart for Him, and not with just a small part of us. Holiness means that our entire being is His, our first love and loyalty are to Him, and that we are committed to God’s will and work.

In a sermon given in 1872, Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon told of an unbeliever who ridiculed a Christian’s faith. The skeptic asked the believer whether his God was a great God or a little God. The devout man replied that his God was, “so great that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, and yet He condescends to be so little, that He dwells in broken and contrite hearts.” Indeed, our great God has chosen to dwell in our hearts. Although there was idolatry and sin in Jerusalem’s temple, let there be none in our hearts, the temple of the Lord.

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. [2 Corinthians 6:16b-17 (NLT)]

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

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PERFECTION

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! [Deuteronomy 32:4 (NLT)]

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. [Matthew 5:48 (NLT)]

water lilyAlthough humanity started out as a perfect creation, we quickly lost that perfection in the Garden of Eden; Jesus was the only sinless perfect man. If He’s telling us to be perfectly sinless when He calls us to be perfect, we’re in trouble. I suppose we should be able to resist all sin (as did Jesus) but, in reality, no one else (not even the Apostle Paul) has managed to do that. Perfection is God’s alone and we flawed mortals will never be His equals. If Jesus means things like spotless kitchens, beds made with hospital corners, and clean mirrors when He says to be perfect, even without having guests, I’m still in serious trouble. Yet, Jesus’s answer to the rich young man that, to be perfect, he should sell his possessions and give to the poor tells us that possessions and how neatly they’re arranged have no importance to Him. So, what does it mean to be perfect?

Of course, Jesus wants us to be as flawless as humanly possible. Nevertheless, He isn’t expecting us to be completely faultless. By telling us to be perfect, He’s telling us to reflect the moral excellence of God, something God told people to do centuries earlier when He said, “Be holy because I am holy.” [Leviticus 19:2] Jesus is asking us to imitate God, just as children imitate their parents. The original Hebrew word used in this verse was tamim. Rather than perfect (meaning without fault, flaw or defect), it might better be translated as complete in all its parts, full grown or mature. Jesus is the standard by which we set our goal and He wants us become mature in our faith by growing more like Him.

The Pharisees tried to achieve perfection through exacting obedience to the law but, while they looked good on the outside, they were soiled inside (and Jesus took them to task for that). Our perfection will never be found their way. By telling us to be perfect, our words and actions are to match up with our faith. Jesus wants us to be resolute, wholehearted and completely committed to walking with Him and living His way. We’ll become perfect by living through the power of the Holy Spirit: by letting God’s glory shine through our imperfect and flawed lives into the world. Our call is not to have spotless mirrors but to mirror the spotless character of God.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. [Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)]

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. [1 John 4:17 (NLT)]

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PUT IN ORDER

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-23 (NLT)]

bird houseIn both Matthew 12 and Luke 11, Jesus tells a rather confusing parable about a demon. After leaving a person, it searches for rest; finding none, the demon returns to its former home. Discovering it empty, swept, and in order, the demon brings seven more demons to live there. A rather puzzling parable, I can’t help but think of the phrase, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” First postulated in 485 BC by Parminedes and restated around 350 BC by Aristotle, it states that empty space is unnatural and goes against the laws of physics; therefore, every empty space in nature needs to be filled. I know nothing of vacuum theory, physics, or thermodynamics but, from this parable, it appears that sin abhors an empty mind or, as my mother used to say, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground!” I don’t know if Jesus was familiar with the Greek philosophers but, having exorcised several demons, he certainly was familiar with them. Empty minds and hearts must be filled by something—if not by God and good, then sin and evil.

Nevertheless, there seems to be more to this parable. Having just healed a demon-possessed man, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees and scribes, people he frequently criticized for being more concerned with appearing righteous than actually being righteous. When reading that the house had been put in order, we probably think of it as neat and organized (like a file cabinet). The original Greek, however, used the word kosmeo which means to adorn, beautify or make attractive by having the right arrangement and the King James translation, which uses “garnished” instead of “put in order,” is probably closer to the original meaning. Kosmeo is the root word of cosmetics. While make-up may conceal, enhance, and even deceive, it does not change the underlying reality. The house may have looked good but the demons weren’t tricked and moved right back in. Sin isn’t deceived by appearances and will always return to hollow hearts and empty lives. Although God will take away our sins and banish our demons, it’s not enough to sweep out the old and redecorate; we must fill our lives with the new!

While they may look fine from the street, empty homes don’t do well; eventually they succumb to vermin like ants, box elder bugs, flies, termites, dust, spiders, mold, leaks, and dry rot. Empty lives are no different; they soon will be filled with demons like selfishness, anger, greed, addiction, pride, lust, pessimism, scorn, envy, prejudice and hate. But, if those same lives are filled with the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that come from the Holy Spirit, there will be no room for demons.

The first and the great work of a Christian is about his heart. Do not be content with seeming to do good in “outward acts” while your heart is bad, and you are a stranger to the greater internal heart duties. See that your chief study be about your heart—that there God’s image may be planted; that there His interests be advanced; that there the world and flesh are subdued; that there the love of every sin is cast out; that there the love of holiness grows. [Jonathan Edwards]

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. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. [1 Peter 1:18-19 (NLT)]

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THE NEXT STEP

Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. … This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5: 14b-15,17 (NLT)]

Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. [Westminster Shorter Catechism]

waterfallIn writing about the Sinner’s Prayer yesterday, I wondered if, by saying it, a new believer gets the false impression that his responsibility ends with a prayer when, in fact, it has just begun! Justification takes only a moment but sanctification takes a lifetime. Addressing the guilt of our sins, justification is when, by the grace of God, we are made righteous through God’s grace and our faith. It’s as if we’re guilty criminals, standing in God’s courtroom, and God pardons us. Telling us our debt to society has been paid, He sets us free. While it’s easy to walk out of the courthouse, it’s not so easy to alter the behavior that led to our life of crime. Like any felon, we need to change our ways, which is where sanctification comes in. Rather than the reformation of a criminal, it is the transformation of a sinner.

Powered by our faith and the Holy Spirit, sanctification transforms our sinful character so we grow more and more like Christ. Focusing on the destructive power of sin in our lives, it gradually shapes our hearts, minds, and desires to those of God. Sanctification is the work part of our salvation and requires diligence in study, prayer, fellowship, witness and service. It’s coming to know Jesus, loving and obeying God, and letting both His word and the Holy Spirit convict us when we sin. It’s allowing God to work in and through us, not as a way to earn His blessings and favor, but because we delight in His will.

While holiness is the goal of sanctification, I don’t think any mortal can live a life completely free from sin in this world. Nevertheless, even though we can’t attain sinless perfection, like the Apostle Paul, we will continue to struggle against sin and temptation as long as we’re on this side of the grass. We persevere and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, continue to grow more and more like Christ every day.

The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are coworkers with God. We have the promise of God’s assistance in our labor, but His divine help does not annul our responsibility to work. [R.C. Sproul]

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. [Philippians 2:12b-13 (NLT)]

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)]

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COME IN AT THE GATE

Such people claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good. [Titus 1:16 (NLT)]

enter by the gateI’ve been reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I vaguely remember reading some of this 1678 allegory in senior English class but that time it was in the original Middle English (the language of the King James Bible) and difficult to read. Although I thought myself a Christian, I was unfamiliar with most of the biblical references and concepts. In reality, all I wanted to do was to get through it (along with Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, and Ulysses). With less pressure, more biblical knowledge, and an annotated modern version, I’m actually enjoying the tale of Christian: a man who leaves his home in the City of Destruction in search of the Celestial City.

Even without footnotes, I recognized the gate when Christian arrived there and understood Goodwill’s welcoming words: “In spite of everything people have done before they come here, we make no objections against anyone. No one will ever be driven away.” After warning him about other paths that are wide and crooked, Christian is told he can distinguish the right path because it is straight and narrow.

While on the path, Christian encounters two men who have climbed over the wall. Named Hypocrisy and Formality, they think they’ve found a short-cut to the Way. Hypocrisy, of course, is someone who puts on a mask and pretends to be what he is not. He acts the Christian in public but is an entirely different person in private. He may bring food to the needy on Sunday but beat his wife on Monday. Formality is the man whose religion is based on ritual and rests on outer form. Although he faithfully attends church, fasts, kneels, tithes, takes communion, and wears a cross, He’s only going through the motions. Neither man has a spirit of godliness or a relationship with Christ. With no true faith or repentance, they have built their lives on pride and pomp, appearances and rituals. Coming from the land of Boasting (Vain-Glory in the original), their religion is empty. Thinking that God is as impressed by external appearances as are they, the proud men are going to Mount Zion for praise: not to praise God but rather to be praised!

Satisfied with the appearance of godliness and unwilling to pay the cost of repentance, the two have taken the easy way by climbing over the wall. When Christian tells them that entering that way means the Lord of the Way will consider them thieves, they tell him to mind his own business; no one likes being confronted about their superficial professions of faith. When the men come to the hill called Difficulty, the narrow path leads straight up the hill. Seeing how steep it is, Formality and Hypocrisy choose the easy paths that seem to go around the hill while Christian climbs it. Having chosen the paths of Danger and Destruction, unlike Christian, those two will not reach the Celestial City.

This part of Bunyan’s tale hit home because we just finished a sermon series about the “cultural” Christian or what Craig Groeschel calls the “Christian atheist.” Like Hypocrisy and Formality, the cultural Christian believes in God but doesn’t know Him, lives as if He doesn’t exist, won’t recognize his deceptive and shallow faith, and follows laws and ordinances without following the Way. Bunyan’s is a cautionary tale as are Jesus’s words about the gate and narrow path. There are no shortcuts to salvation and the narrow road is not one of ease; nevertheless, the journey is worth it!

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)]

I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! … Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. [John 10:1,9-10 (NLT)]

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OUTSIDE THE BOX

Lowdermilk Park - Naples FLI appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. [1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)]

Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. [Matthew 16:18 (NLT)]

Since she is new to town, I invited Alice to our church. “What denomination?” she asked. When I told her we were non-denominational she thought I meant we were a church of whatever the individual wanted to believe and asked, “Do you mean Unitarian?” I assured her we’re Bible-based Christians but, unable to wrap her mind around the concept, she rattled off a set of questions. No hierarchy, bishops or diocese? No formal liturgy? No membership requirements or official canons or procedures? Who tells you what to believe? To whom are you accountable?

In Letters to the Church, Francis Chan asks the reader to imagine someone on a desert island, having no experience with Christianity, with only the Bible as reference. Asking first how this person might picture church and worship, he then asks the reader how his church and worship stack up to those first century expectations. Here in Florida, we attend two different churches and one fits Alice’s expectations: denominational, organizational hierarchy, church campus, sanctuary, chapel, liturgy, hymnals, pews, pulpit, choirs, choir director, organ, meeting rooms, video screens, stained glass, sound system, and several services. While Alice would identify it as a traditional church, that marooned person and the Apostle Paul probably wouldn’t recognize it.

Because I love the liturgy and hymns, we do attend that church Saturday nights. The church to which I invited Alice, however, is the church I think of as home. Less than a year old, while the early church met in homes, we meet in a city park and, since we’re in Florida, we can meet there all year long. Although non-denominational, we do have a core set of Bible-based beliefs and, to maintain doctrinal, financial, and leadership accountability, we belong to several Christian organizations. We have no formal liturgy, prayer books, hymnals, sound system, or choir (although the birds usually sing throughout the service). Rather than stained glass, we have palm trees, sea grapes, blue sky, and the Gulf of Mexico decorating our sanctuary. When we meet for Bible study, we rent a room in a community center. By today’s standards, our “outside the box” church is anything but traditional but I think the Apostle Paul would easily recognize it.

Last week, our similarity with the 1st century church came to mind when we met together at the community center for an early Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone brought a dish to share and, along with more than enough food, there was laughter, joy, and plenty of fellowship. I think Paul would have recognized Christ’s church as the sixty of us ate dinner, prayed and, in true early church tradition, partook of communion as a family.

Whether we are part of a traditional or unconventional church, let us remember that Christ’s church is not about a building but rather a group of believers. A church structure without a family of believers is not a church whereas a family of believers without a building is one! Christ’s church, regardless of where or how it worships, exists wherever two or three are gathered together!

For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them. [Matthew 18:20 (NLT)]

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