Pursuing Holiness: Part 4
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up.” Isaiah 6:1
Drawing deeply from the well of wisdom of Dr. Steve Seamands, we’ve been talking about holiness of heart and life and using Isaiah 6 as our launching pad to explore what it means to be holy as God is holy. In week one we saw that we need to recognize the gods (idols) that occupy the thrones of our hearts, topple them, and allow God to occupy the throne of our hearts.
Holiness is the outshining of all that is God’s character and nature. Each week we’ve been looking at some of those characteristics that make up the holiness of God; because when we know his character and nature, then we can begin to take on those characteristics and reflect God’s image in, to, and for the world.
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. We looked at places where God has already shown us he will be present: prayer, reading his Word, Holy Communion, Fasting, and Holy Conferencing (or small group fellowships). We also discovered that we can see the manifest presence of God in the ordinary affairs of life (“Lord, help me be aware of your presence”) and even in the faces of those in need. Basically, the question each of us should answer if we want to experience holiness of heart and life is this: are we positioning ourselves to be in the presence of God so that God’s glorious radiance can be made present to us?
Today we’re going to focus on a third aspect of God’s holiness: His Power. “In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up.” And in verse 5 Isaiah says this, “my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Kings and queens don’t have the kind of power today that they had in Isaiah’s day. Queen Elizabeth is considered royal, but not sovereign.
In Isaiah’s day, the king WAS the government. The king had all authority and might. The term used in the bible is Lord Almighty or Lord of Hosts. It describes God’s absolute sovereignty and power. One Old Testament scholar, commenting on this term, says it is an affirmation that God is “the holy God, the Lord over all the powers and forces which form and control this world.”
Here’s the thing. We can read OT stories of God’s absolute sovereign power like: when he parted the Red Sea, or was seen in a pillar of fire and smoke, or when he slayed 70 men in the village of Bethshemesh because they lacked reverence for the Ark of the Covenant and looked into it; and we can say, YES!!! God is all-powerful!!! You go God!!!
But when it comes to God having absolute power and sovereignty over OUR lives, OUR affairs, OUR futures, we say, “We’ll call you if we need you, God.” We don’t WANT God interfering with our agenda unless we’re in a bind and have no where else to turn. When things are going well for us—financially, emotionally, relationally—we forget to give credit where credit is due. But when things suddenly go badly, we ask, “Why would God allow this?” “Where was God?” Oh, how we treat God like a hired hand rather than a Holy, Omnipotent, Righteous King and Lord of Hosts!!!
So, if we are to experience the holiness of heart and life that God is calling us to have, we need to acknowledge the power of God that we see in the Bible is the same absolute power and authority in 2017! God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Scripture reveals that God’s power becomes operative in his people through the presence of God’s Spirit in their lives. In the OT, the Spirit was not given to all the people of God but only given to select individuals—usually prophets, priests, and kings—for special tasks. The Spirit of God rested on Saul until he was disobedient to God’s Word; then it rested on King David. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, Samson, Zechariah and others to enable them to work powerfully for God.
But the prophet Joel promises that a time would come when God would pour out his Spirit on all people: “28It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”
Before the ascension of Jesus to heaven, he confirms what Joel prophesied hundreds of years earlier when he says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Does your life reflect a person who has yielded his/her life to the absolute power and authority of the Lord of Hosts? If we hold that God’s holiness is evidenced by his sovereign power, and if we are created to reflect his glorious image, then it stands that as the people of God we will be a people power. [Not sovereign power, mind you, since that can only be reserved for the King of kings.] But we are called to be a people of power.
What does that look like? Does it mean we exercise power and authority over other people? Hmmm…is that what Scripture teaches us?
Here’s what God’s Word says in Matthew 20: 25But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
So if it doesn’t look like getting our own way and exercising power over others, what does the power of God look like in the people of God? Let’s consider a few manifestations of God’s power in and through the early Christian community and how that should apply to us today.
1.The power to witness boldly for Christ. Before Pentecost, the disciples hid behind closed doors. After Pentecost, we see them speaking boldly and unafraid on behalf of Jesus. Peter is a great example. After his first bold speech following the indwelling of the Spirit’s power, about 3,000 people were added to the family of God!
After Peter and John are released from jail and return to the believers, they prayed to speak the Word of God boldly and to heal and perform signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. The place shook as they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
Many more examples are seen in Acts. The last verse of the book says this of the apostle Paul, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
2.The power of Signs and Wonders. We know that Jesus’ authority and his teaching were “attested” by God through miracles, signs, and wonders that God did through Him. We could spend all day talking about just those miracles and what happened because of those signs and wonders.
But those same signs and wonders were evident in the life of the early Christians. Acts 2:43 says, “Awe came upon everyone” because of many signs and wonders. Peter and John healed a crippled beggar. Stephen “did great wonders and signs among the people,” as did Phillip, Paul, and Barnabas.
For what purpose? Acts 14:3 answers that question: But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders.
Miracles, signs, and wonders confirmed the power and truth of the gospel. People needed to be convinced that Christians were people of the one true living God and that what they were saying about Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world was true. Is it any different today?
Doesn’t the world still need to be convinced that God is good, loving, gracious, and worthy of being worshipped. When God does something amazing in our lives, it’s meant to point people to God.
The power of suffering for Christ. In the early church, we see many occasions when followers of The Way were flogged, imprisoned, and even killed for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Stephen was stoned to death. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul describes all the ways he had suffered for Christ. Listen (Read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28).
Why suffer? Because through suffering the demonstrated a power that is utterly foreign and seemingly foolish to the powers of this world. As Paul put it, “We are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor. 4:11)
That was then, this is now. What must we do if we want to experience the power of God’s holiness? Does it mean we should be bold witnesses, able to perform signs and wonders to point others to God, and willing to suffer for Christ’s sake? Well, yes. At this point, some of you are ready to jump ship. It just feels too costly. Maybe, depending on what you value.
The first thing we must do to be filled with the Holy Spirit’s power is to turn from our misconception and obsession with power as the world defines it. We could talk about this misconception of power in personal, relational ways. But I want to just say a word about misconceptions in the church. If we are filled with self-serving power—always wanting our way, always holding on to our religious relics, programs, or traditions at the expense of advancing the Gospel—then we will NOT experience true self-less, sacrificial power as Christ intends it.
Listen. I’m not suggesting we abandon all that is past for the sake of the future. Many of the traditions of the church are helpful for evangelism, discipleship and worship. But many are there for the sake of man, not God. I’m seeing this in the discussions among leaders of The United Methodist Church, who are so fearful of losing what they repeatedly call “the connection” at the expense, in my observation, the truth of God’s Word. We must prayerfully decide what those differences are and boldly choose to follow the Spirit of God rather than the spirit of man.
The second thing we need to do is to OPEN OURSELVES UP to the power and presence of the HOLY SPIRIT. In describing the power of God’s Spirit in the life of a born-again believer in Romans 8:11, the apostle Paul says this, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” In the words of the popular Newsboys song, “My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive; He’s living on the inside, Roaring like a lion.”
After dispelling our false notion of godly power, are we willing to wait on the Lord until we have been clothed with power from on high, just as the early Christians did in Acts. Are we seeking earnestly to be filled and used by God’s Spirit? Hear this: I’m not talking about religious fanaticism. Those that emphasize signs and wonders for the sake of the religious experience and not for the glory of God have caused great pain and division in the church for generations.
That’s why many in the church have gone the opposite direction: trust in what we can see, what we can rationalize, what we can accomplish by our own might. I call that humanism! The result is a weak, impotent church will little fruit. People are not coming to Christ’s saving love and forgiveness because they haven’t seen it boldly lived out in our own lives.
And how will the world around us see and believe in the power of forgiveness, the power of new life, the power of selfless love? When they see it manifested in our lives as we shed our own preconceptions about power and embrace the power of God’s Spirit. It will be evident through: (a) our bold witness for Christ; (b) the signs and wonders of redemption, revelation, and healing in our midst; and (c) our willingness to joyfully suffer for the cause of Christ…our willingness to yield to the Spirit and not have our own way…our willingness to sacrifice our comforts for the sake of those in need of the basics.
Transition to Holy Communion
Jesus said, “for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and become a ransom for many.” This is true power of God…this is the power offered to us to be evidenced through us.
We are Christ’s and Christ is ours. There’s no greater act we can make on a regular basis than to affirm this covenant through Holy Communion. It is a channel through which we can see the manifest presence of God…to experience His holiness so that we may reflect his glorious radiance to the world.