Sentinels of Intimacy, Holiness & the Fear of the Lord, Pt. 21

Last week I addressed how love characterizes holiness. The fear of God also characterizes it. This is one of the most misunderstood phrases by people both inside and outside the church. I have heard celebrities say, “Why would I serve a God that I have to fear?” To that question, I pose another, “Why would you want to serve a God you don’t fear?” Today I want to divide why some have such a problem, and tomorrow look precisely at what it is according to Scripture.

Just as with holiness, we have allowed others to convince us that fear is always negative – not so. In both the Old and New Testaments, the “fear of the Lord” does mean to terrify and set at flight; it also means to revere. So how does this apply practically to our lives?

I believe that the answer lies in our level of intimacy with God. When you stop to reflect, the one who is afraid to enter the presence of the universe’s Merciful Judge is the one who doesn’t know Him personally. Those who have scoffed and mocked Him their entire lives, but also those who have lived quiet lives believing that a relationship with Him is unnecessary. For those individuals, their fear manifests in terror and a desire to flee His presence.

However, for those who know Him intimately, we walk confidently before the throne because we understand it is a throne of grace. We have accepted His gift of salvation and walked in reverential fear of Him, knowing that the same God who bestows mercy and grace on us could just as easily annihilate us but chooses not to do so. Instead, in His love, He reaches down to redeem.

You see, the more intimate you are with a person, the less likely you are to risk whatever would put the relationship in jeopardy. I revere my covenant relationship with my husband, Walter, and because I do so, I would never want to do anything that would cause him pain or prompt him to turn away from me. The same is true in my relationship with the Lord. I love Him to such an extent that I do not desire to bring anything into His presence that would necessitate Him forsaking me.

Intimacy with God is blocked by sin. Sin is an indicator that we do not fear God in any way – neither good nor bad – in a particular aspect of our lives. Sin in the life of a believer says, “I don’t love You enough to remain holy,” but it also says, “I don’t fear Your judgment of sin enough to avoid it.” It’s not that God no longer loves us; it’s that God is holy and must bring all that does not align with His character and its created purpose into judgment. That’s the part we don’t like. We want the love of God without the judgment of God.

But notice, Jesus walked in fear of the Lord. Isaiah tells us He walked in the “Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Is. 11:2), yet from the cross, Christ cried out, “Why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). Why have you left Me behind in what You are doing? I am alone, abandoned, forsaken. While Christ hung on the cross, sacrificing His life, God’s love for Him was not diminished. Jesus stated in John 10:17 that, “My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life.” So, even though Jesus was loved by God, sin, our sin, to be exact, kept Him outside of it while He hung on the cross.[1] At the cross, Jesus experienced the total depravity of man and his separation from God’s love. Holiness and the fear of the Lord are protectors of our intimacy with God. They stand as sentinels to our hearts and minds so that we can walk in a healthy reverence for the Lord, avoiding the terror that causes us to flee.

Let’s Pray:

Father, I haven’t understood the implications and consequences of failing to fear You. I want to walk in holiness and the fear of You so that our intimacy is safeguarded from the schemes of the enemy. I love You so much; I never want to be involved with or admit into my life anything that would come between You and me. Give me, O God, an undivided heart that I may fear You, in Jesus’ Name, amen!

 

[1] Colin Smith, “7 Words from the Cross,” Unlocking the Bible, May 1st, 2011. Accessed May 25th, 2021. The Day God Turned His Face Away | Unlocking the Bible

Holiness & Love, Pt. 20

Yesterday I said that love characterizes holiness, not a love that facilitates sin but addresses and redeems it. Only God can do that, and He did in His Son, Jesus Christ. Let’s examine this more fully today. Recall that I mentioned in “Holiness & the Law,” that the law set holy parameters for the nation of Israel, teaching them to act holy, and that the Holy Spirit transforms our character and empowers us to be holy.

In Mark 12:28-34, a scribe asked Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.‘ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.‘ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength means to give Him His place in all time, space, and matter which He has given to you. It is only in the context of holiness that we can truly love God because we make the conscious decision not to violate His presence with that which He abhors – sin. Susanna Wesley had an insightful definition of sin. She taught her boys that “Whatever weakens your reasoning, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes away your relish for spiritual things, in short, if anything increases the authority of the flesh over the spirit, that to you becomes sin, however good it is in itself.”[1] Many things that we consider holy works are just good works that have become unholy and sinful because they take away the time, space, and matter that belong to God and others.

Only in the context of loving God in holiness can we genuinely love others. If our motives haven’t been purified, then people will constantly second-guess them. It is because our love is unholy that the world looks at the church and claims it is hypocritical. Notice Jesus’ life. He offended many, but He was never accused of being unholy or hypocritical. When the masses encountered Christ, they knew His love, and it was holy. Holy love willingly lays down its life for another. This love radiated from the early church to such an intense degree that they still clung to Christ even when persecuted and martyred. The church today is in dire need of a baptism of holiness.

Today’s culture defines love not as doing what is in the best interest of another. Instead, it attempts to convince us that not only should we accept people as they are, but condone what they do, sinful or not. That’s NOT love; it is enablement. If it were love, Christ would have stayed in heaven and let me die in my sins. I’m thankful for a God who was not content to leave me as I was, in my sin, but chose to die and rise again so that I could be redeemed.

The world has also convinced us that if we live holy lives, we must therefore be judgmental. We’ve all heard the phrase “holier-than-thou.” But that’s the point. A Christian is supposed to be holier than the world, and in being so, invite the world into its holiness through the redemption of Jesus Christ. Not in a self-righteous way, mind you. Self-righteousness has never resulted in people coming to Christ. Just the opposite. However, when we live authentic lives in holiness, people stand up and take notice. Nobody in the early church had to advertise their piety; it was apparent to all they came in contact with. So our holiness should be evident to all.

It’s time to separate the holy from the profane, Church. That is why I am teaching on holiness. Ezekiel was told that the priests were to teach God’s people “the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ez. 44:23). As a co-pastor with my husband, this is me, called by God, doing the best I can to teach you this. We cannot afford to confuse the two or write-off holiness as an Old Covenant mandate with the excuse that we’re under grace. No! We must not only learn the difference but consciously exercise holiness, consecrating and setting ourselves apart daily. Paul admonished the Philippians, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). You see, holiness, while characterized by love, is also characterized by the fear of the Lord.

Let’s Pray:

Father, I know I can’t love You and others properly outside of a consecrated life. Lord, please teach me the difference between holiness and self-righteousness. Let humility be characteristic of my life, accompanied by a purified love for You and others. I don’t want to settle for anything less than a complete transformation that draws the world to You. Please help me, Holy Spirit. I ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

[1] What is Sin? – Susanna Wesley | Deeper Christian Quotes

Holiness Done Right, Pt. 19

Yesterday we focused on separation done wrong, which can have far-reaching consequences, and discovered that the plumbline for our separation is the Word of God. When we separate our time, space, and matter correctly, it always brings blessing. Let’s explore how this is worked out in the lives of one Old Testament family, as seen in the book of Ruth.

Hard times had come upon the nation of Israel, and in response, a man named Elimelech separates himself from the other people of God. Now Elimelech’s name means “My God is king,” yet when famine hit, Elimelech left his home and family to dwell in the land of Moab, an enemy of his people and God. It is important to note that while his name declared God as king, Elimelech’s life did not, because even before he left for Moab, he named his sons Mahlon, meaning “sick,” and Chilion, meaning “pining, or wasting away.” [1] Rather than walk in the assurance of God’s identity, Elimelech’s life reflected one in which he was directed by circumstance, relating his entire life and future hopes to the famine. This is not holy living. Remember, holiness is based first and foremost on God’s character at work in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We all know the story. Even though Mahlon and Chilion marry Moabite women, both they and their father die there. And here’s a principle to learn, when you divide improperly, you not only put your own life at risk but the lives of future generations, as well. We can’t afford to get it wrong. It’s at this point that Naomi, Elimelech’s wife, decides to return home to Israel. She heard a rumor that God was providing His people with bread. Another principle is that had they stayed where they were, it may have been difficult, but they would have been sharing and dividing, having communion with brethren. Instead, she’s left alone and bidding her two daughters-in-law farewell, but one refuses. One makes a correct separation – Ruth. Listen to what Ruth tells Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17:

“Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.”

What a holy statement! Ruth is consciously deciding to separate herself from everything Moab offers from her family to its gods and choosing Naomi and Naomi’s God. She creates time, space, and matter for the Lord and another.

Upon arriving in Bethlehem during the barley harvest, Ruth encounters a man named Boaz, who, in contrast to Elimelech, though related, walks in holiness, according to all of God’s commands. How do we know this? He follows God’s command to create a place for the needy by helping provide for their needs, as outlined in Leviticus 23:22. Before Ruth ever arrived on the scene, Boaz’s holiness made room for Ruth to enter his life. Then, by subsequently marrying her, he makes room for Elimelech’s line to be restored through the birth of Obed. This is holiness done right.

Boaz is a type and shadow of Christ. Christ’s holiness made room for us before we ever arrived on the scene. Romans 5:8-10 states, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

Love is good; holy love is better. Holy love is sacrificial, and holiness is always characterized by love.

Let’s Pray:

Father, Your love is overwhelming! I want to choose rightly. I want to love like You, with holy love. Not with a love that accommodates sin, but a love that seeks to see sin eradicated and people reconciled to You. Holy Spirit, please teach me to love with holy and pure love, making room for others before they ever arrive on the scene so that they can be restored to relationship with You and others. Thank You, Lord, that You are guiding me into truth. Thank You for teaching me to love. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

 

[1] James Strong, Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), s.v. “Ruth 1:2.” Accessed May 17, 2021, blueletterbible.org.

Holiness Done Wrong, Pt. 18

Yesterday we discussed how holiness is a prerequisite to seeing God, and without it, we don’t even want God to look upon us. It was a tough lesson. However, if we are going to separate from the world, how do we do it? There is a right way and a wrong way.

Separation, when done incorrectly, can produce devastating results, which include a lack of peace. What happened when Jeroboam became King of Israel because Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, refused to honor the God-given time, space, and matter of God’s people? The Kingdom was divided, and war ensued between the two kingdoms throughout their reigns. In addition, Jeroboam, out of fear of losing his power (which God had given to him), separated a different place of worship, which God had not commanded him. He led the entire nation of Israel into idolatry (2 Chron. 12:15, 13:8). What happened when King David refused to honor Uriah’s space as Bathsheba’s husband? He divided her for his own, which led to Uriah’s murder and Bathsheba and David’s son’s death (2 Sam. 11:23-27, 12:1-18). What happened when Adam and Eve failed to honor the boundaries God has set for them in the garden? They were exiled from Eden, the ground was cursed, and sin entered the world (Gen. 3).

What about some examples from the New Testament? Consider Ananias and Sapphira who attempted to divide their profit apart from the Holy Spirit in Acts 5. Or Herod in Acts 12, who failed to honor God’s space and give Him glory, and so died by worms. What about the rich young ruler who would not be divided from his wealth and cheated himself of a relationship with the Living God in Matthew 19:16-22. We could go on with individual examples of failing to honor the time, space, and matter we should be giving to God and honoring in others. Nothing good ever comes of being unable to separate rightly. So how is this achieved?

Hebrews 4:12-13 states, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

The Word is our plumbline. The Word is the basis by which we make every division. That’s why Paul encourages Timothy to be a student of the Word, able to divide it rightly (2 Tim. 2:15). The Word can separate our psyche from that which produces life in us. What we think and feel may not necessarily bring forth the pneuma breath of God in us. The Word divides joints from marrow: what will support the whole body and what supports its structure. You can break a bone and set it, but death can ensue if you lose what is supporting the bone. The Word differentiates between these within our soul and spirit. It discerns between what we think and what’s in our hearts. Sometimes our thoughts don’t align with our hearts. Our minds are the primary place the enemy attack us because he wants our thoughts to invade our heart. The Word can separate the two. That’s why the Word of God is our primary go-to source on all matters about a holy life. If people perceive the Word to be flawed or relative, it becomes impossible to live holy lives because we don’t have objective truth by which to judge ourselves.

I can’t answer for you, but my goal is to see God’s face and awaken in His likeness (Ps. 17:15). That’s my life verse. However, this is nothing but a pipe-dream if I do not purify and consecrate myself, living a holy life unto Him.

Let’s Pray:

Holy and Gracious God, I desire to behold You. Lord, I know there is a separation that must occur that only You can do by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Yet, I also realize that there is a separation that You expect me to initiate and work towards in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. Teach me, O God, to rightly divide Your Word so that I do not cause injury to my relationship with You or others. I want every division I make to be holy. Thank You, Lord, for Your infinite patience and kindness to me. Your love is amazing! Amen.

 

[1] James Strong, Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), s.v. “see.” Accessed May 17, 2021, blueletterbible.org.

Holiness & Seeing God, Pt. 17

Yesterday we left off in Hebrews 12:14. To remind you, it states, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” We are told that we are to acquire and seek after earnestly two things in particular: peace and holiness. While 1 Peter tells us that there is no harmony with the world, we cannot stop seeking peace with all individuals. James 3:18 tells us that the “fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” If we are going to sow the Gospel into people’s lives and see them reconciled to the Lord, we have to do so in peace, not provoking or antagonizing. However, that does not mean that we abandon our pursuit of holiness. After all, we want to see God.

Interestingly, the word see in the context of Hebrews 12:14 has a dual meaning. Without holiness, no one will be able to behold God, and that no one will allow themselves to be seen or to appear before God.[1] Not only can an unholy man look upon God, but unholy man will not let a holy God look upon them. Recall that God told Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Ex. 33:20). It is in holiness that we can gaze upon the face of our Deliverer, which means sin, in all of its forms, must be eradicated from our lives. God would not have commanded it without providing us a way of accomplishing it. He has given us His Holy Spirit.

God wants us to behold Him. Rev. 22:4 promises that His people will see His face. We already discussed how God hid Moses in a rock and covered him with His hand as He passed by (Ex. 33:22-23). God said of Moses in Numbers 12:8, “I speak with him face to face, even plainly and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the LORD.” In Hebrew, God says He speaks with Moses “mouth to mouth,” with Moses only seeing His form, not His face.[1] We also know that Moses spoke face-to-face with Christ in the transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17:3. So, God desires for us to know Him face to face. He longs to speak with us plainly. God said that He only appeared to His prophets in dreams and visions, but Moses He appeared to personally. While I long for the fulfillment of Joel 2:28, where God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh with the accompanying dreams and visions, I want more. I want to behold God.

So having understood that God wants to show us His face, we need to realize that humankind doesn’t want a holy God to gaze upon our sinfulness. We all know family members and friends who are running from God. Why? Because God’s holiness exposes. Hell is a horrible place prepared for Satan and demons, but how much more would heaven be for people who refuse to repent and are constantly seared by the presence of a Holy God (Matt. 25:41). I Thessalonians 1:8b-9 tells us that those who fail to obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ are punished by everlasting separation from God’s presence and His glorious power. God doesn’t send a man to hell; we send ourselves there because we reject Him, not allowing His gracious face to gaze upon and heal them.

This is why spiritual sight is so critical today. Satan has blinded minds and hearts to Christ. It is impossible to walk in the holiness necessary to see God without seeing the Gospel’s truth. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Paul states, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”

A.W. Tozer said, “We need a baptism of clear seeing. We desperately need seers who can see through the mist – Christian leaders with prophetic vision. Unless they come soon it will be too late for this generation. And if they do come we will no doubt crucify a few of them in the name of our worldly orthodoxy.” [2] Clear sight is related to holiness. Only in the holy is my motive, thought, word, action, and vision purified. Will we allow the Holy Spirit to baptize us with sight, and for those who do allow it, will we crucify them in our desire to live amongst the world or embrace them as people worthy of following. If we want to see God, we must be people who pursue holiness, no matter the cost.

Let’s Pray:

God, I want to behold You in all of Your glory. I want You to speak clearly to me. Forgive me for putting my lifestyle above the beauty of Your presence in my life. Holy Spirit, please baptize me with clarity of sight that I may see what You are doing. Open my eyes to the importance of holiness in every area of my life so I can see You and be an accurate representation of You to those around me by allowing my separation to You bring wholeness to the lives of others, I pray. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

 

[1] James Strong, Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), s.v. “Num. 12:8.” Accessed May 17, 2021, blueletterbible.org.

[2] AW Tozer, “The Root of the Righteous,” Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL, 2015.

Holiness & the New Covenant, Pt. 16

Holiness requires division. At its core is separation. Many may argue that this was under the Old Covenant, but recall, Peter reiterates the command to holiness in 1 Peter 1:16, so that argument isn’t valid. Next to the resurrection of Christ, how to live holy lives is preached the most. Let’s take a look. 2 Cor. 6:12-18 states:

“You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open. Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord does Christ have with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said, I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, Come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.”

I recognize that this verse is often used regarding the choice of a marriage partner; however, it is so much more than that, so I want us to take some time to unpack what Paul is telling the Corinthian church. First, Paul openly tells them that the reason that they are in distress, put in a narrow place, and feel cramped has nothing to do with the preaching of the Gospel by the apostles, but everything to do with their inward affections; the war between the godly and ungodly at the seat of their emotions. So, this is not referring only to marriage.

Now, there are a few different types of yokes, but the head yoke prevalent throughout western Asia and eastern Europe must be custom-fit to the horns of the oxen yoked together, and it is only made to fit one set of oxen. You can’t use the same yoke with another ox for whom it wasn’t made initially. Interestingly, yokes are designed for the team’s comfort, not one individual, which increases productivity.[1] Paul is telling us as Christians not to yoke ourselves up with people who aren’t of the household of faith. Why? Paul delineates a series of divisions that he supposes has already been made in the believer’s life.

  1. Fellowship between Righteousness and Lawlessness; as in sharing, participation, and partnership
  2. Communion between Light and Darkness; community, as in the proof of affiliation with or having something in common with
  3. Accord has Christ with Belial; there can be no peace treaties or harmony of movement
  4. Part has the Believer with the Unbeliever; as in a portion of the body as differentiated from the whole
  5. Agreements have God’s temple with Idols; as in joint decision making and assenting to

The words fellowship, communion, accord, part, and agreement are all words used regarding how we spend our time, the space we allow others, and matter, not only what we possess physically, but the matter of our minds, as well.[2] Paul uses every Greek word to show us that we are called out and separate in every instance. There is no common ground for joint decision-making or peace treaties with the world. There is no room to separate a portion of yourself from the whole to the world or entering a partnership with it. The term double-minded that James uses about answered pray in James 1:6-8 means to be double-spirited, divided in your interests, and is proof of instability. This is stunning!

Returning to I Peter, observe what God had to say to those who will divide properly, separating themselves from the interests of the world.

  1. He will dwell in them; to live in and influence for good, often used in regards to God, the Holy Spirit, and the Word
  2. He will walk with them; He will walk among our activities and be preoccupied with us
  3. He will be their God, and they, His people; He is their deity, their judge, their Counselor, inclusive of entire Trinity; He is available in all of His characteristics to all of them, indicative of the larger body of believers that spans every ethnic group
  4. He will receive them; He will treat them with favor and kindness

He will be their Father; He will be the originator of all that they are; their nourisher, protector, and upholder of those who will separate themselves [3]Five ways we are to separate ourselves from the world, and five ways God will reward us. When you compare the two lists, the benefits far outweigh any supposed sacrifice on our part to be holy. Yet, the church today often preaches the benefits without the holy lifestyle. The author of Hebrews makes it clear in 12:14-15 that,

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.”

Without holiness, we can’t even look upon God. We sing many songs about seeing the face of the Lord, but that is impossible without holiness. We’ll explore this tomorrow.

Let’s Pray:

Holy Spirit, I want to walk in holiness. I desire that You dwell in and walk with me. I want You to be my God, receive me, and be my Father. I admit that I haven’t met the qualifications for this, but I know that You are a merciful God, full of grace and truth. Please help me separate myself in every way necessary to be a conduit of Your glory to those around me. I want all those around me to see You. I want to be holy because You are holy. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

 

[1] Callene Rapp, “Do-It-Yourself Oxen Yoke,” Grit Magazine, Feb. 10, 2015, Accessed May 17, 2021. Do-It-Yourself Oxen Yoke – Grit | Rural American Know-How

[2] W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr, “Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words,” (Published 1940), s.v. “fellowship, communion, accord, part, agreement.” Accessed May 17, 2021, blueletterbible.org.

[3] James Strong, Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), s.v. “dwell, walk, God, receive, Father.” Accessed May 17, 2021, blueletterbible.org.

Holiness & the Law, Pt. 15

Yesterday I addressed the essence of holiness. We saw how Moses was transformed from a lawbreaker into a lawgiver after encountering God. God’s holiness brought about a recognition of sinfulness that resulted in repentance, and finally, a transformation of character. Change is the only acceptable proof of a contrite heart; otherwise, it’s just lip service.

God first issued His command regarding holiness in Leviticus 11:44-45, which states:

“For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Holiness begins with God, and yet God tells us to consecrate ourselves. Admittedly, this is impossible in and of ourselves, but Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to empower our lives. While the command to be holy wasn’t issued until Leviticus, God began preparing their hearts toward it from the moment they left Egypt. We find that when Pharaoh pursued them, and they were between an army and the sea, what did God do? He divided the waters. His division created a place for His people to walk into freedom on dry ground, no less (Ex. 14:21). And learning to divide correctly is something He wanted for His people. At Sinai, they were given the law to define what holy parameters looked like, and if we search, we can discover that they all have to do with a separation of time, space, and matter to God and others.

Many of us who grew up in the church memorized the Ten Commandments, but did we understand the significance of the first thing He said before detailing them out? Verse one states, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The very first thing that God makes clear is that He has delivered from bondage. He is not trying to bring us back into it by a long set of rules and regulations. We’re free, and He’s the One who not only desired it but facilitated it. So this is not about subjugating a people under a heavenly thumb; this was about creating a holy people, separated from the world and to Him through their willingness to consecrate themselves.

This is seen clearly in the first four of the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20:1-11, all of which have to do with separating our time, space, and matter for the Lord.

  1. Have no other gods before Him. While that may seem like a no-brainer, we tend to ignore it altogether. Whether it is work, family, state, or church, it’s easy to do. The command, however, is clear: “No other,” besides God. God brought us out, and He alone is worthy of our worship.
  2. We’re not to carve out niches for other gods, either. Now, if God is first, why would He care if there are others? But holiness demands that we consecrate the time, space, and matter we’re given, and it is not to be consumed in worshipping the worthless. God not only wants to be invited back into our time, space, and matter, He wants to redeem what is left, as well.
  3. Don’t take His Name in vain. In other words, don’t connect His Name and renown with anything false or empty. While we know it, seldom do we act on it. It’s not just using His Name irreverently. It also means to use His Name in spreading falsehood and that which is not of Him. He will not hold anyone guiltless who participates in this. When it is not according to Scripture, saying something is approved by God is taking His Name in vain. It is associating His holiness with what is not valid or holy. It includes all manner of thought or action.
  4. Remembering to rest on the Sabbath is another command by which we have failed to live. I am old enough to remember when grocery stores were closed on Sunday, and schools planned not one function. Now we spend worship time glancing at our watches, hoping to hurry out of service for everything we’ve planned on a day the Lord asked us to remember as holy. It is a day when we are to cease from business and occupation to rest our minds, settle down, and remain quiet. When was your last Sabbath rest?

And these are just the first four. If we reflect on the following six commands, we will discover that they are about honoring the time, space, and matter of those around us, whether their relationships, reputations, possessions, or bodies.

God gave the Ten Commandments to define holy parameters for the nation of Israel and teach them how to rightly divide everything in their lives that would vie for their attention. While they present actionable steps, they address character – people’s willingness to make room for God, first and foremost, and then secondly, others. Though the basis for all of our interactions with God and man, the law could only teach us to act holy. God desires that we be holy, and Christ would ensure we could do so by sending us the Holy Spirit.

Let’s Pray:

Father, I have failed to invite You back into my life in so many ways. I’ve proclaimed You as Lord, yet seldom have I honored You by giving back the time, space, and matter that You so graciously bestow upon Me, not to mention the way I haven’t always honored those around me. Today, I want to rectify that. Holy Spirit, please teach me to honor You and others the in spirit and truth; word and action. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

 

The Essence of Holiness, Pt. 14

Holiness is a discipline of character that is only facilitated through the power of the Holy Spirit. It has everything to do with our choices, and holy decisions are cultivated first in a holy mind. Holiness is the result of radical transformation of character! If you have been in the church for over a year and cannot see how your character has changed, something is wrong. The Lord said, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Is God increasing; are you decreasing? John the Baptist understood that as much as he baptized with water to repentance, having to do with works, Jesus was coming to baptize in the Holy Spirit with fire that would radically transform our natures and empower us to become holy (Matt. 3:11).

Unfortunately, while repentance is preached, we still see countless church members stuck in a cycle of sin who grow increasingly frustrated at their inability to break free. We understand repentance. What is sorely lacking and desperately needed in the church today is a baptism in the Holy Ghost that is not relegated to speaking in tongues alone but an infusion of life-transforming power that purges us of all that is of the flesh and empowers us to walk in freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. Please understand me. Speaking in tongues edifies and is a gift to the church. I practice it daily. The Holy Spirit, though, is not some “force” that enables us to speak in another language, and His job is done, but a person who desires us to be totally changed.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit releases so much more than we could ever dream imaginable. When we decide to release what is in our hearts to embrace what is in the heart of God and choose daily to walk according to the Spirit, He does more than we can ask or think. When Moses encountered the Living God’s holiness, it transformed him. Formerly a murderer on the run, he becomes God’s chosen vehicle to see Israel delivered and established as a nation. The lawbreaker becomes the great lawgiver, which would never have happened without an inward transformation of character.

Just a quick note, though. I spoke about God separating a place for us. He is constantly doing this and did so in Moses’ life. We addressed how holiness exposes, and it did so in Moses’ life. In His encounter with God at the burning bush, Moses had several questions:

  • Who am I to deliver your people?
  • Who are You? What is Your name?
  • What if they don’t believe?
  • What if I can’t communicate properly?

God answered all of these questions, removing every possible excuse Moses could give for not obeying (Ex. 3-4). Holiness removes every excuse. Perhaps that’s why we tend to avoid preaching on the topic of holiness. People like to hide behind their excuses. I would submit that these are the same four questions humankind is asking today, and God is still answering.

  • Who am I? I will be with You. Ex. 3:12
  • Who is God? I AM THAT I AM. Ex. 3:14
  • What about the world? I will do signs through you. Ex. 4:1-9
  • What if I don’t do it right; what if I fail? I will be with you. Ex. 4:10-12

Notice, every answer God provides is not contingent on who Moses is but on who God is. The only thing necessary is that Moses obey. I go because God is able. This, more than anything, broke the heart of God and angered Him, when after all of their discourse, Moses told him to find another mouthpiece. God accommodated Moses’ lack of faith in providing him with Aaron, but think of how God must have felt. The Creator, the King of the Universe, declares He will be with you, and then in response, you say, “No, I need human help.” The audacity of such a declaration! How insulting to the Lord!

However, we do this every time we choose fear over faith, disobedience over immediate action. Yet every time, God makes room for us while we are still in our sin! Jesus did the same. Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s holiness makes a place for us before we ever realize we need it. He makes the way clear before us so that we can follow. “Be holy, for I am holy,” has been made possible by Christ and achievable with the Holy Spirit, whose goal is not just to get weak Christians over the hump of sin but to transform us into a triumphant and holy bride for Christ.

Let’s Pray:

Father, I know that in my own life, I have asked these questions over and over, and every time You have graciously answered me, providing room for me. Father, I don’t ever want to ask these questions again. I desire to step forward boldly, knowing that it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with You. I want to trust You implicitly to accomplish Your will in and through me. Thank You, Jesus, for Your cross that made reconciliation possible, even while I was in my sin. Thank You, Holy Spirit, that You lead and guide me into all truth – the truth of who I am with and without You, the truth of God, and the truth of Your call upon my life. May Your holiness burn up every excuse I make for myself so that nothing hinders the work You desire to do in me. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Remove Your Sandals & Your Feet from Evil, Pt. 13

Proverbs 4:27 ends with, “Do not turn to the right or the left; Remove your foot from evil.” Notice that you are the one to take action. God doesn’t remove your foot from evil; you do. It wasn’t God who gave sin entrance into the world; it was humankind. We are the ones who daily compromise in varying aspects of our lives. We already discussed where our focus should be, so what does it mean to turn? Turning in this verse has the connotation of stretching out, pervert, and bend. How often has the church, instead of walking in holiness, stretched the truth of the gospel to accommodate what breaks the heart of God? How often have we bowed to society’s dictates instead of God’s? Is society more merciful than God? Absolutely not! So why then do we bow?

Here is a self-evident truth: a foot must stand on something to fulfill its designed purpose. On what, then, are you standing? That which is evil or that which is holy? I submit to you that the opposite of evil is not good. As we’ve discovered, even when we do good, if it is not grounded in proper motives and a pure heart, it can be wrong. No, the opposite of evil is holiness.

In Exodus 3, verses 3-6, Moses turns aside to see a burning bush. Even though the bush is on fire, it is not consumed. The word turn here is a little bit different. While it can mean to depart from your path, it can also mean to turn in unto. This is what Moses was doing. The sight itself was so spectacular he turned into it, not away from it. We have a misconception that holiness causes people to turn away. It’s the opposite. It is such an anomaly that people take notice of it. History is clear regarding the early church. It’s not that they went around beating people over the head with Torah scrolls that attracted the world’s attention. It was their holy lifestyle. What? No idol worship? A God you can’t see? You must be atheists and, therefore, must be punished!

Moses turns to see this irregularity taking place in nature, and when he turns into it, God calls him by name, and Moses answers! You see, when we turn into holiness, God not only reaches out, but we respond. However, when Moses turns, God makes a point of telling him not to draw close but rather to remove his sandals. Why? Because he was standing on holy ground! God had separated this portion of land as a place from which He would call Moses out of his current life to act as a deliverer of God’s people.

Now, I know that people say that removing the sandals was a sign of reverence and submission. I agree with that. However, I also think that in having Moses remove his sandals, God was telling Moses that He didn’t want anything of man’s contrivance between him and His holiness. Much like the prophet Isaiah who experienced the holiness of God and had to be touched with coals from heaven’s altar to fulfill his prophetic destiny as God’s mouthpiece, so Moses’ feet had to touch the holiness of God so that his feet could be purified to lead God’s people out of bondage (Is. 6:5-6). Like Isaiah, whose response was that he was undone, Moses’ response was to hide his face from God, recognizing his sinfulness. Fear of God came upon them both, and that is the response we should have when we come in contact with the holiness of God. A holy life is one lived in a healthy fear of God.

In the holy place, God reveals Himself to Moses and Isaiah, and it is in this sacred place that they are purified. If we want to know God, it must be from a place of holiness. I think it’s interesting to note that when Moses first encounters God, it is at God’s initiative, and Moses hides his face in fear. Later, after Moses relationship with God has grown, Moses initiates contact with God, and in response to Moses’ request to see God’s glory, God not only makes a place for it to happen in the cleft of the rock, but God covers Moses with His hand, protecting Moses from the death that would surely result if a man looked upon the face of God (Ex. 33:18-23).

There is the cycle. God creates a space for us in which He initiates contact with us even in our sinful state. We respond to that call and invite the holy God into the space He created. This continues on an even grander scale, where God increasingly reveals Himself to us. Only now, God doesn’t prevent us from experiencing His holiness. When Christ died, the veil between the Holy of Holies and us was rent in two (Matt. 27:51). Jesus has made way for us and in the closing statements of Jude, Jude states,

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24-25).

This is the God we serve – One who is so desirous of an interpersonal relationship that He willingly creates space for us in our sin, covers us with His hand to prevent our destruction, but then provides a way for us to stand boldly and without fault in His presence. This is our Holy God!

However, to see this made manifest in our lives, we must remove our foot from evil and anything that keeps us from experiencing His holiness. What is under your feet? Upon what are you standing? As the old hymn of the church magnificently proclaims, I too want to shout from the rooftops, “On Christ the solid rock I stand!”

Let’s Pray:

Father, I don’t want to stand on evil; I only want to stand on You in holiness. Holy Spirit, please help me remove my foot from anything that prevents me from accessing Your holiness and glory. Like Moses and Isaiah, I am undone in Your presence, Lord Jesus. Like Jude, I want You to take great joy in presenting me faultless before God. Please help me remain firmly planted on You, My Rock, daily removing anything that holds me back from seeing You as You are. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

A Holy Path, Pt. 12

Next to healing, divine guidance is one of the most requested prayer requests I have received. We all want it. Nobody purposefully goes through life hoping to misstep, but a sacred path characterizes a holy life. Continuing in Proverbs 4, verses 26-27 state, “Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or to the left; remove your foot from evil.” The word ponder here means to weigh and make level and even so that your way becomes fixed – not just your actions, but your way, the entire journey and how you travel life.

Consider another verse, Psalms 24:3-5. “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Interestingly, the term lifted up his soul to an idol means carrying and sustaining lying vanities, emptiness, and worthlessness. This parallels what we have been studying in Proverbs 4.

Notice, too, that there is a particular order to see holiness manifested in our lives, and it has to do with ourselves, not others. First and foremost, it begins with our motives, moves to our heart, then our tongues, speaking truth, eyes, and finally our paths. That’s because our way is determined by all that has come before it. That’s why people abandon their breakthroughs. We get close, but then we sabotage the work of God by agreeing with the work of the enemy, and then our path becomes skewed, and our tongues won’t speak the truth without first our motives and heart being rightly aligned with the motives and nature of God.

We live in a world where we receive things instantly, from fast food to overnight delivery, and then we often try to apply that to our spiritual lives, as well. When God doesn’t provide an answer as quickly as we think He should, we stop going to Him, figuring we can do things faster ourselves. But we all know that fast food isn’t healthy for us, and we could get into a discussion of the economic repercussions on small business owners by always shopping those who can accommodate our desires immediately (we won’t though😊 No, God’s creation bears witness to the time, space, and matter He so graciously provided for us.

The garden takes time to grow. We don’t see the roots forming beneath the soil, but they are. Eventually, green stalks sprout, but it is months before we see fruit, let alone can enjoy it, and in between, it all is hard work. I’ve come to believe that often when we don’t know the direction we should take, it is because we have gotten something out of order, whether our motives and heart haven’t been dealt with or we’re listening to the lies of or being distracted by the enemy. When these things have been purified, in my experience, the direction becomes crystal clear.

God has never been a God of chaos and fear. His desire for us has always been love and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). If it seems like I am speaking in absolutes, I am. This is the character and nature of God, and it should reflect ours, as well. Fear has no place in our lives and certainly not regarding the future God has for it. We’re told in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” There it is again, our motives and heart.

Interestingly the world acknowledge here means to know Him, not to say, “I recognize You have a design here for me, God;” it’s not just a verbal assent that He is present. It is to discern Him and perceive His workings. When we know God intimately in His holiness, He directs and makes smooth our path before us. When our eyes are focused where they need to be, it makes it all the easier to follow Him. When we avoid the distractions of the enemy, our path is made plain before us.

There is one last thing we are told in Proverbs 4:27. We are commanded to remove our feet from evil. We will explore this tomorrow because holiness does not abide in its presence, and we shouldn’t give it place, either.

Let’s Pray:

Father, I recognize that I have often asked for direction without first dealing with my motives, heart, truth, and distractions. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that You desire to lead me in the way everlasting, and so I ask as David did that You search me and know all my anxieties (Ps. 139:23-24). I want to walk in Your ways. I want to walk a holy path that refuses the attempts of the enemy to detour me. Holy Spirit, I know this isn’t possible without Your intervention. Please help me to weigh each step according to Your holy will and make room for You to make every path straight before me as I follow You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.