Pursuing Holiness: Part 5
For a month now, we’ve been talking about holiness of heart and life. Gleaning from the writings of Dr. Steve Seamands and using Isaiah 6 as our launching pad, we want to know about God’s holiness and ours, and how to apply this knowledge to our own lives. As an introduction, we saw that we, like Isaiah, need to recognize and discard the gods (idols) that occupy the thrones of our hearts SO THAT only God to occupy it.
Holiness is the outshining of all that is God’s character and nature. We could spend months and years exploring those characteristics, but we’re only looking at five that we see in Isaiah 6. God said, “Be holy, as I am holy.” So we are seeking to those attributes of God’s holiness in order to develop those characteristics and reflect God’s image in, to, and for the world.
First, we looked at God’s UNRIVALED MAJESTY. He is holy other; transcendent, superior to all that is NOT God. To be holy other, we have to be IN the world, but not OF the world. We are to look at God’s Word—NOT the culture—to discover what He says about relationships, love, justice, money, human sexuality and marriage, forgiveness, mercy, and the like.
Then there’s God’s GLORIOUS RADIANCE. The Glory of God is the Presence of God. While God is present everywhere, it is in OUR AWARENESS that God’s presence is made “MANIFEST.” In short, we must learn to be present to God. Are we positioning ourselves to be in the presence of God so that God’s glorious radiance can be made present to us?
Last week we considered the holy aspect of God’s AWESOME POWER. We can all agree that God is all-powerful…omnipotent…but we struggle to give God the power over our lives. When we do, then we can demonstrate God’s power on earth? How? By being bold witnesses for Christ, but allowing God to use us in outward signs that point to the goodness, justice, mercy, and love of God. And by being willing to suffer for the cause of Christ. This means we follow Christ no matter how it moves us out of our comfort zone.
Today let’s consider a fourth aspect of God’s holiness that we are called to reflect as
God’s people : his ABSOLUTE PURITY. READ ISAIAH 6:5 (NIV)
In looking at Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple, we read that he saw God’s exaltation, his glory, and his awesome power. But up to this point, we haven’t heard a response from the prophet. In the presence of greatness, he is utterly speechless.
But now it dawns on Isaiah just what is going on. Think about it. All King Uzziah did was enter the Temple to burn some incense and look at what happened to HIM! Leprosy. Imagine what’s going to happen to Isaiah now that he has actually SEEN a vision of God himself! It was widely known that to look upon God was a death sentence.
So, when Isaiah finally does say something, notice what he DOESN’T say: “Woe is me, I am so small. Look at how big God is an how little I am.” It’s not the vastness between God’s transcendence and his ordinary stature that has him bothered.
Instead, the great vastness between God’s character and his character has him deeply disturbed. God’s moral perfection—his ABSOLUTE PURITY—when compared with his own, overwhelms him. “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips…”
Not only is God separate from creation in power, glory, and superiority, but God is separate from ALL sin, evil, and impurity! As John the beloved put it, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) The prophet, Habakkuk, notes that the Holy One, whose “eyes are too pure to behold evil, cannot look on wrongdoing” (Hab. 1:12-13).
To purify is to make clean. For instance, if an Israelite touched a dead body, they were considered “unclean” until they had gone through the ritual cleansing process. But it was far more than outward cleanliness that God cares about. There is a connection between a person’s lips and what lies deep in our hearts. Proverbs speaks of this a lot; for instance: “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.” And Jesus says in Matthew 15:18 ESV à But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.
Isaiah saw not only himself as unclean, but the nation of Israel as unclean. He uses the term, “unclean lips” to describe the Israel’s spiritual condition. God wants to change that. Because God is holy, He is calling for God’s people to be holy (pure, undefiled).
The prophets often insisted on more from God’s people than ceremonial purity. God is more concerned about moral purity. Moral purity is more than participating in religious activities like attending church, throwing money in an offering plate, singing praise songs, or even getting baptized.
There are two aspects of moral purity for us to consider today. The first is social justice and equity in our relationships. Repeatedly throughout Scripture, we read that the people of God are to reflect His character of justice and mercy. The two primary offenses of Israel causing their exile from the land was idolatry and social injustice. When Israel, and we, tolerate people being treated unjustly or witness individuals being physically, financially, or politically oppressed, God is not please and we are not living lives of moral purity.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, defines pure religion this way : “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27 NLT)
“Widows and orphans” is a common description of those who are unable to help themselves. The handicapped, the elderly with no family to look after them, the children being abused by a live-in boyfriend, the homeless teenager who showed up last week seeking shelter in the prayer room. These might be a few examples of “widows and orphans” today.
Living in the heart of political conservatism where opinions lean heavily against government handouts and illegal immigration, a pastor runs the risk of either being misunderstood when brining up such subjects. In New Testament days, the Roman government had no public welfare system, and citizens were exempt from paying tax to Caesar. That means territories claimed by Rome were obligated to pay tribute to be a part of the Roman Empire.
Because of oppression and socio-economic class systems, there were great disparities between the “haves” and the “have nots.” The privileged made public policy for everyone, including themselves. Sound familiar? Our own American Constitution is based on equality. Our pledge reads, “with liberty (freedom) and justice for all.”
Yet we know that not everyone gets treated justly or equally. We know that racial profiling does happen. We know that sexism does still exist in the workplace. We know that some people get overlooked for a job because of their race, age, sex, or religion. Does this line up with God’s Word? No. Any business, political system, or family unit where someone is treated in an inferior way, Christ-followers are called to say or do something.
I’m privileged to have known 3 of the 28 white United Methodist pastors who signed a statement condemning segregation and racism in the Deep South in 1963: Maxi Dunnam, the late Willard Leggett III, and Keith Tonkel, who just died last week. These men were in a minorty standing up for what was biblically right when most their church members embraced segregation.
Another example of social holiness is eradicating human trafficking. My good friend, AC Curtis, director of Express Missions International, has rescued hundreds of young women from the sex trafficking and trade, offering them safehaven to pick up the pieces of their lives. When we support EMI, we are practicing social holiness.
Whenever we pray for the unborn and offer an alternative to abortion to pregnant mothers at Planned Parenthood, that’s social holiness. Whenever we offer clean water and housing to people in Central America, that’s social holiness. Whenever we listen to the cares and concerns of the under resourced in Marshall County through Hearts and Hands, offering those with food needs another day of bread, that’s social holiness.
In addition to social, ethical purity—being concerned about the people God is concerned about—there is second call to moral purity. It carries a more personal burden on each of us to behave in ways that are consistent with God’s standard for our lives. I’ll just call it personal purity. Listen to how the Psalmist asks and answers this question of personal purity: “O Lord, who may abide your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, who speak truthfully, who control their tongue and refrain from gossip, who shun evil and fear God, who keep their promises, and who do not take advantage of the innocent.”
Personal purity has outward expressions, but it’s based inward inclinations of the heart. Jesus says , “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matt. 5:8) In His day, the Pharisees were meticulous keepers of outward purity rituals, but they neglected the purity of the heart. Early Christian communities were under strong influence to continue in pagan practices, such as sexual immorality. But the writers of New Testament letters strongly urged the church to cut it out, “for God did not call us to impurity but to holiness,” Paul tells the church of Thessalonica. (1 Thess. 4:7)
Thinking back on what James said about pure religion, he reminds us it also includes refusing to allow the world around us to corrupt us. This reinforces this entire call for holiness—to be IN the world but not OF the world…a call to reject conformity to the patterns of this world, and instead allow God to transform us by the renewing of our minds with His Word…SO THAT we may know and apply what His will is for us.
Personal moral purity takes on many qualities. We could talk about being generous vs. being greedy. We could read God’s Word about the moral virtue of speaking the truth in love vs. telling lies or spreading gossip. We could easily dive into God’s instruction on forgiveness as a moral virtue.
But given the cultural and political climate on the subject, let’s spend just a moment on the importance of sexual purity. Our world is inundated with sexually explicit TV programming and advertisements. It’s virtually unavoidable. Sadly, premarital, post-marital and extra-marital sexual exploits are not only socially acceptable, they are normative! It’s rare to hear of a 25, 30, or 60-year marriage that has remained unstained by some form of infidelity.
But, no matter where you read in Scripture, sexual purity is a non-negotiable for the people of God. In the early Christian church, the practice of sexual purity was in stark contrast to the Greco-Roman culture around them. Because opinions and practices among the pagans were so diverse, Christianity’s claim for uncompromising and absolute sexual purity was practically a foreign concept.
There was a time in America when Christian standards of sexual morality had a profound influence on public opinion and behavior, but not anymore. After the sexual revolution of the 1960s, America has become progressively liberal in its tolerance and practice of all kinds of sexually deviant behaviors. Co-habitation is fully expected. Homosexual practices are much more common, accepted, and even tolerated within many of our Christian denominations, including our own!
Does it matter how God defines immorality? Or does it only matter if WE aren’t practicing certain immoral behaviors so we can point fingers at others? “Live and let live.” Let’s be clear: we can’t expect the unbelieving world to practice moral purity. But for those who claim Jesus Christ and His ethos for living as our own, we cannot be hypocrites. We cannot say one thing and act another way.
If sexual morality is part of ABSOLUTE PURITY—and it is—then we must not only acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with God’s Word, but so too is most divorce in most situations, co-habitation, pornography of any kind, lustful eyes toward another woman or man, flirting with someone other than your spouse, and the like.
Do I sound like a prude? Out of touch? Maybe. Is the Bible out of touch? Is it no longer true and relevant today? Neither is this message. Some in this room are dealing with sexual addiction and you have found ways to justify it because the culture condones the very things you struggle with.
The resurrected Jesus himself had a strong message against sexual impurity. Listen to His word in Revelation 2:20 to the church at Thyatira : “But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication.” He has the same thing against our churches today!
I believe it is time for the people of Byhalia church to clearly and uncompromisingly affirm biblical standards of sexual purity in whatever forms they take. It’s time to stop tolerating the challenge of those standards by certain denominational leadership that has kept us from putting to rest once and for all this unnecessary debate over human sexuality. And if our leadership is unable or unwilling to do so (as it has for nearly 50 years), then maybe it’s time to separate ourselves from the apostasy. Friends, it’s not so much what we SAY that counts…it’s what we DO that determines our character.
Maybe we’ve tolerated sexual impurity (in all its various forms) because we’ve lost confidence in the power of the Gospel to cleanse us and to keep us pure. Maybe it’s because we haven’t seen that power demonstrated in our midst. We must believe that the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us, and God can make us ABSOLUTELY PURE in spirit if we yield our lives to Him. We don’t have to live spiritually mediocre lives. We can live holy lives!
I realize this is a tough message this morning. It’s not meant to be a message of doom and gloom but of hope. God’s call on our lives for purity—socially and morally—is a call to reflect the nature and character of our loving heavenly Father SO THAT our light may shine and others who are thirsty may come and drink from the River of living water and experience what we have in Christ Jesus. That’s it. Christ without compromise. Without separateness, without glorious radiance, without Spirit-filled power, without uncompromising purity, we are not really being the ambassadors for Christ we are called to be.