You Asked for It 2006 - Part 2
A Holy People
by Denn Guptill
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 13, 2006

 

Denn Guptill is the pastor of Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia. He planted that church in 1995, and I (Greg) joined his staff there for five years before moving to Charlottetown to begin Sunrise. Denn has had articles published in numerous magazines, and he has provided sermon and PowerPoint resources to pastors in over 30 countries. We were fortunate to have him join us at Sunrise this week to share this second message in our "You Asked for It" series on the topic of Holiness...

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You ever feel like you’ve just received an impossible mission? A goal that is just too great, a target that’s just too far away. I would suspect that when the people of Israel heard the prophet Isaiah make the proclamation that Lynn read this morning that is how they felt. It’s one thing to be called a chosen people, or a special people, even a redeemed people, but what is this “Holy People” thing that Isaiah is speaking of? Listen again to the prophet’s words “Tell the people of Israel, ‘Look, your Saviour is coming. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.’ They will be called the Holy People and the People Redeemed by the Lord.” A Holy People, the People Redeemed by the Lord. That’s pretty heavy isn’t it?

And for all you who think, “Well yeah but that was the Israelites.” Listen to what Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:15-16, "But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God—who chose you to be his children—is holy. For he himself has said, 'You must be holy because I am holy.'” That’s quite a statement isn’t it, you must be holy in everything you do. Why? Because you are a Holy People, the People Redeemed by the Lord. And it’s gets even heavier because the word that Peter uses here for holy is a Greek word. Now I was probably the dumbest person in the world but when I first became a believer, I thought the Bible had been written in English. Duhh. But it had actually been written in Greek, at least the New Testament, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. And the Greek word that Peter used here is Hagios and it means, “Sacred, (physically pure, morally blameless and religiously and ceremonially consecrated.) What do you think? Pretty accurate description of you? No?

In 2006 too many Christians think that holiness is just for certain people, and they would certainly never think of themselves as a Holy People. Instead they figure that holiness is for the Super Saints or else it comes with age. When I was in Bible College I had a theology professor by the name of Bruce Bridgeo, a saint of a man confirmed by the fact that his mother-in-law lived with them. Now Rev. Bridgeo’s mother-in-law’s name was Grammy Hayward and she was a thousand years old. Well I was nineteen and she looked a thousand years old. And anyone who says there’s no such thing as Christian perfection had never met Grammy Hayward. And we think “When I’m a thousand years old then I’ll be holy too.” But the word of God does not say that old people shall be called a Holy People and It doesn’t say Super Saints will be called a Holy People, instead It says that those who have been redeemed will be called a Holy People. And if’n you’re a Christian then you have been redeemed and you can figure out the rest of it for yourself.

God could have personalized it by saying, Denn you must be holy because I am holy, or Derek you must be holy because I am holy, or Harvey you must be holy because I am holy. You, each of you who make up Sunrise Wesleyan Church are to be holy people.

Do you remember what Peter said “But now you must be holy in everything you do,” Not some of what you do, not part of what you do, not most of what you do, not what you do on Sunday mornings between 10:30 and 11:30. The Bible the word of God says “be holy in everything you do.” In what you do with your family, what you do with your business, what you do for recreation and what you do in your spiritual life.

Now in 2006 we try not to read it that way, most preachers won’t preach it that way and most of us wouldn’t have written it that way. Most of us would have been a lot more comfortable if Peter had of written; be mediocre in everything you do or be average in everything you do or try to do your best in everything you do. And if Isaiah had of written and they shall be an ordinary people. But it wasn’t written that way because that isn’t what God wanted us to do or be.

The book of Isaiah is the 23rd book of the Bible and the author is identified as Isaiah the son of Amoz. The book was written around 700 B.C. and the purpose for writing the book? Well, Isaiah focuses on repentance and salvation for the entire nation of Israel and their resulting holiness.

And that call for Holiness extends to his people today and if God had of meant that holiness was a nice touch but only if you wanted to go that route then he wouldn’t have included Hebrews 12:14 Try to live in peace with everyone, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Now that’s kind of in your face isn’t it? For those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Now I know that you are sitting there thinking “Well he doesn’t mean that.” Ok, so what does he mean?

Here’s the question for today, if God has called us to be a Holy People and it would appear that he has, and if those who are not holy will see the Lord and they won’t then what is this holiness thing and how in the world can we possibly be holy?

You’ve probably heard the story of the man who got the big chunk of marble and said he was going to carve an elephant. His friend asked how he would go about it and he replied, “By chipping away the bits that don’t look like an elephant.” So let’s start by figuring out what Holy isn’t before we try to figure out what holy is.

 

What Is Holiness?

1. Holiness is Not Generic

Holiness is not the same for me as it is for you. That simply means that if I’m totally obedient to God and you do everything that I do you might not be totally obedient to God.

Too often we know what God expects of us and we presume that if God want us to do those things then he wants everyone else to do those things as well. What we fail to recognize is that God created us as individuals. Each one of us is distinct in the way that God created us and we are unique in how God deals with us, we are not generic or no name, as a matter of fact earlier in the book of Isaiah we read Isaiah 43:1 But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. God calls us by name, he doesn’t just say “Hey you!” and he doesn’t try to make us fit into somebody else’s mold.

God’s will for our lives is not one size fits all. You don’t just take holiness off the rack and it fits. Instead holiness is tailored by God to exactly fit you. Now if I was having a suit tailor made I wouldn’t send Mike in to the tailor to be measured for me. No, I would go myself and if the tailor was a real pro he would probably have me back for several different fittings. He might pad the right shoulder of my suit so it was as high as the left, he might lower my collar and shorten the sleeves but when he was done it would fit me perfectly.

I love the story of the man who was buying a suit off the rack and told the salesman the sleeves are too long, so the salesman says “Just hold your arms like this.” “Ok” said the customer “but the collar bunch up”, “No problem” says the salesman “just hunch over like this.” “that’s fine” replies the customer “but he pants are too long as well” “Simple, just walk like this” says the salesman. The man buys the suit and walks out of the store on his tip toes with his arms curled up in front of him and his shoulders all hunched up. Two women see him and the first one says “Look at that poor man.” “Yes” said the second lady “but his suit fits nice.” And that’s what we look like when we try to fit into someone else’s holiness.

 

2. Holiness is Not Static

One of the basic tenants of our Christian life is that God expects us to continue to grow, and as we grow he expects more of us. And so the actions that permitted us to live a holy life a week after we became a Christ follower may not meet the criteria a year later.

I’m sure that we’ve all seen people who have grown out of their pant length. I don’t want to talk about people who have grown out of their pant width, but you know what I’m talking about, they have three inches of sock showing between the cuffs of their pants and their shoes. Now I don’t know what they are called now but when I was in school we called them floods and made comments like “Hey they laughed at Noah too.”

There is no doubt that those pants fit that person at one time, but no longer, because as they grew their pants didn’t grow with them. John was one of Jesus’ best friends and he wrote these words in 1 John 1:7 (NIV) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. There was a verb an action word in there did you catch it? Right, it was “walk”. John didn’t say “if we stand in the light” or “sit in the light.” Instead he said “If we walk in the light.”

Now think about it, Jesus said in John 9:5 I am the light of the world. So here we are, walking in the light and Jesus is the light. Now if we are walking and we are staying in the light what must the light be doing as well? Right, it must be moving as well. Stay with me folks. The light is moving and we are moving with the light. We are living in the light that Jesus gives us. But what happens if we stop moving but the light keeps moving? The light goes on without us. Holiness is not a past tense, it is present and future, it’s not something we’ve done it’s something we are doing. It’s not something we did yesterday, it’s what we are doing today and what we will do tomorrow. Loretta Lynn said “You've got to continue to grow or else you're just like last night's cornbread -- stale and dry.”

 

3. Holiness is not Simply a list of Rules

To a lot of Christians, holiness means that thou shalt do this and thou shalt do that, but thou had better not do that over there. And so we decree that if you are holy then you do this whole list of things and at the same time you don’t do this whole list of things. In his book “Loving God” Chuck Colson warns us of several problems with this type of rule keeping mentality.
 

a) It limits the scope of true Biblical Holiness. If we can narrow holiness down to a set of rules or guidelines then any area of our life those rules don’t touch are outside the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Holiness must effect every area of our lives and not just those covered by the rule book.
 

b) Even though the rules may be Biblically based we end up obeying rules instead of God. And anytime we begin to serve anything, no matter how good and no matter how noble that thing might be then it is idolatry. Now we might as well set up our list of rules and regulations on an altar and say Ok, this is it, this is how you become holy, just follow these and you will find true holiness. At that point we will have become so engrossed in following the letter of the law that we completely forget the spirit of the law.
 

c) Emphasis on rule keeping deludes us into believing we can be holy through our own efforts. Listen up, there can never be holiness without the work of the Holy Spirit just as there can’t be salvation without the work of Jesus. Whenever we preach or practice a holiness of rules then we preach and practice a holiness of works. A theology that says you are saved by grace but sanctified through your own efforts and that isn’t a theology it is a heresy.
 

d) And finally our pious attempts at holiness can become ego-gratifying, leading us into an illusion where our holiness is judged in a spiritual beauty contest. You know what I mean “Look at me, see how holy I am.” “I don’t smoke, cuss, cheat, drink or fool around. I read a hundred pages of the bible a day, give forty percent of my income to the church, pray five times a day and attend church six times a week. Sunday School, Morning Worship, Evening Worship, midweek service and then twice a week I just come and hang around the foyer to round things out.” But such self centred spirituality leads to self-righteousness which in turn is just the opposite of holiness.
 

So the question remains: if those things aren’t holiness, then what is holiness? I’m glad you asked.

 

4. Holiness is Wholeness

The whole of Christ in the whole of your life. Holiness vanishes when you talk about it, but becomes gloriously conspicuous when you live it. John Wesley said “Holiness is having the mind that was in Christ and walking as Christ walked.” Chuck Colson states that “Holiness is the opposite of sin.” But what is sin? The Westminster confession defines sin as “Any want of conformity to or transgression of the law of God.” Holiness then by Colson’s definition would be “Holiness is conformity to the character of God and obedience to the will of God.” But probably the simplest yet most profound definition of Holiness came from Mother Theresa who said “Holiness is the complete acceptance of the will of God.”

But regardless of how you define holiness please, please, please don’t ever think that holiness is simply an option is our Christian walk. Holiness is the pivotal point on which the whole of Christianity turns. People, listen up, holiness is the central convenant and command of the scripture and God will not tolerate our indifference to his central command! The Bible, the Word of God records over six hundred instances where either the word holy or holiness is used. That in itself should be indicative of the importance that God puts on Holiness. Ephesians 1:4 Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.

Every person who responds to the claims of the gospel responds as well to the claims of holiness. All too often when we think of someone who is holy we think of St. Francis Assi or John Wesley or Billy Graham or Mother Theresa. We figures that most of us live our Christian life down here and then there are the “Holy Christians” who live their lives way up here. But if we believe the Bible, then we have to believe that holiness is what God desires and requires for all of us. And if God desires and requires it then God will give us the where with all to achieve it. Right?

Because when you get right down to it, right down to brass tacks, right down to where the rubber meets the road, right down to basics holiness can be defined in one word “Obedience.” God wants his children to be obedient. However our inclination is to push the envelope as far as possible and hey if we blow it we can always ask for forgiveness, right?

There’s a story in the Old Testament that is a lot like that. It has to do with King Saul and how he was commanded to go into battle with the enemies of God and when he was done he was to destroy all of their livestock and belongings. But no, instead he only destroyed the weak and cripple and kept the very best. He obviously hadn’t caught on to the fact that you can’t hide disobedience from God. Samuel the prophet was sent to ask Saul why he was disobedient and the King realized that he had fumbled the ball and he tried for a quick recovery. 1 Samuel 15:21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep and cattle and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal. That’s sounds alright, I brought the very best to offer as a sacrifice. But listen to what Samuel says in the very next verse. 1 Samuel 15:22 But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams.

In New Testament terms we’d say “to obey is better then asking forgiveness.” In his book “Pursuit of Holiness” Jerry Bridges writes “It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness, too often we say we are defeated by this or that sin. No we are not defeated we are simply disobedient. It might be well if we stopped using the terms victory and defeat to describe our progress in holiness. Rather we should use the terms obedience and disobedience.”

And so our Christian life comes a full circle, it begins with obedience, depends on obedience and results in obedience. Loving God, really loving God, not just “Mamby pamby, wishy washy, yes I love Jesus” type love but really serious honest to goodness love, means obeying God, no matter what the cost, no matter what you have to give up.

That’s why Jesus told his disciples in John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.” Of course the reverse is also true, if you don’t obey his commandments then you don’t love him.

But how do you get to that point that you place obedience to God over personal gain, or personal comfort or personal desire? Well Paul gave the believers in Rome some practical advice concerning that very subject. Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? If you were to read the same text in “The Message” Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase it says “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you; Take your everyday ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the bestthing you can do for Him.”

Bottom line is this, you need to sell out to God. You take everything you have, ambition, work, hobbies, house, car, family, pride and everything your are and you pile it up before God and when you get everything on the pile you find a ladder and you climb on top of the pile and you say “Ok Lord, I’m yours.”

 

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2006 SunriseOnline.ca