Sunday, November 23, 2008

Running the Race to Win: The Pursuit of Biblical Holiness



Psalm 139:1-14, 23-24 “1 O LORD, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you understand my thought from afar. 3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. 5 You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night," 12 even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. 13 You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. 14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24 and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”

What is holiness? What does it look like in our life? Let me share 3 ways holiness affects our lives:

1) Awareness of our shortcomings and sins.

It is not just Christians who often lack a realistic awareness of their short comings, but we seem to do it so easily! We may base the estimation of our character and conduct upon comparisons with those with whom we associate (2 Corinthians 10:12). We almost develop a “Holier Than Thou” club with our friends – these friends who instead of holding a mirror to us to help us see ourselves for who we really are, hold a hand drawn caricature instead, of what they think we want to be.

It is only when God’s people are confronted with the glory and holiness of God will they realize the full moral dilemma of their lives (Isaiah 6:5; James 1:25; Hebrews 4:12-13).

Being human talks about how we struggle with eternity in our souls. Paul talks about being citizens of 2 worlds of how even though we have these flesh and blood bodies, we also have a heavenly citizenship. So there are tensions in us. The infinite struggles with the fintite.

There is an inner tension between knowledge and performance (motivation) (Romans 7:18-19 “18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”) There is a struggle not just of right and wrong, but the underlying motive that defines right and wrong. I am not talking about situational ethics, but about the purpose of our actions.

Saul the Pharisee kept the Law to gain acceptance with God. He had the motivation and energy to fulfill the Law as God demanded (Philippians 3:4-6)

Paul the Apostle understood the true purpose of the Law (to reveal his inability to keep it) and his own moral weakness/failures (Romans 7:24)

There is also an inner tension between the flesh and the Spirit (emotion) (Galatians 5:13-26 “13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.) Cf. deeds of the flesh verse 19-21 and Fruit of the Spirit verses 22-23 Have you ever acted out of emotion? Someone runs into you on the ski hill and you start yelling and pushing. Someone cuts you off on the highway and you not only beep your horn, but you tailgate him and allow your anger to finish your conversation. Someone working in your office gets a big bonus and that spirit of jealousy sets you on a path to talk down about them or ignore them. Someone comes in from the outside and starts crowding your territory so you start complaining and talking about them behind their back. You begin to try to get people on your side. Listen to the next few verses in Galatians 5 – “19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The more the Christian learns to practise the denial of the flesh and to experience the control of the Holy Spirit, the more he will enter into the resolution of this tension; but the more he understands the demands of the perfect Law, the more he will experience this tension.

This is the tension between commitment and realization. We have the ideal set up for us in the Scriptures, especially in the life of Jesus. The reality of us living it out, though, can be very frustrating. This leads to the second affect holiness has on our lives.

2) Release from our failures.

I Thessalonians 4:3 says that our sanctification is the “will of God”. In other words, it is not just an awareness of our shortcomings and sin, but the sense we are no longer doomed to be slaves to sin. Romans 6:6 says “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” That means that our goal, which is to become Christ-like, is attainable! That saying that the “devil made me do it” is just a cop out, because God has provided everything you need to live a holy life. God has set you free from sin. He has set you free from bondage. Can you imagine being sick for a long time and then healed. I read that report from Danny Gales a couple weeks ago where the man’s legs which hung loose and useless from his body gained strength and were healed. He could jump and leap, and 50 Muslims ran to the alter seeking God. He was released from that thing that held him in its grip, and holiness does that same thing in our hearts and souls. Are you needing release from all that life has thrown against you? Do you need freedom from sin and that thing inside you that you constantly fight against? Turn to Jesus, the One who said “if the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!”

3) Power for our life and focus

Holiness reveals to you the possibility of the fullness of the Holy Spirit – Ephesians 5:18 says to “be filled with the Spirit”. The verb tense gives the meaning of being constantly filled with the Holy Spirit”. This is understood as allow the Spirit to have control of your life. It is not some “ookie spookie” thing where you zone out or channel a spirit through you. It is about you saying, “God, I can’t do it without You. I need to hear you speak to me through the Bible, to hear that still quiet voice that encourages and leads and guides and directs.” You want to hear that voice? Do 2 things.

First, have a willingness to confess any sin of omission or commission. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we keep sin in our life. 1 John 1:9 says that if “we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Remember that verse from Psalm 139? Ask God to search and try your heart to reveal unconfessed sin in your life. End each day by praying that prayer. You will hear that small, gentle voice.

Secondly, you need a desire to realize the fullness of the Spirit. God pursues us. We need to also be pursuing Him. Do you think that all we have to do is to sit still and God will flood His blessings and accomplish His will in your life? No. You have to surrender your life, all your stuff to Him. You need to understand that you are a steward in this life, that all the things you have from your bank account to your spouse or job or even health, is God’s, and that He has given it to you as a trust. He has given you talents and strengths, be it two talents or five. What are you doing with them? DO you acknowledge they are His or do you hang on to them, hording them for yourself? God came to give you an abundant life, but it was a spiritual abundance. This stuff is just stuff, and it will all be gone one day; but your soul will last forever. The soul of your neighbour, of your brother or sister – how are you using the things God has given you to glorify Himself, to reveal Himself?

Jesus came to glorify the Father, to reveal the character of the Father to the world. We are called to become like Jesus, and in so doing reveal the Father to the world ourselves.

Taking it Home

So, what does sanctification look like day to day?

Know yourself as God knows you: read the Word everyday.

Have the same attitude as Jesus: Put others first, and pursue a life of love.

Keep in step with the Holy Spirit: pray without ceasing.

Emmanuel means God with us. We celebrate the incarnation at Christmas time especially, but every day is Christmas in our hearts. Jesus came as a baby so long ago that He might dwell in our hearts. He is there right now, if you have confessed your sins and invited Him in as your Leader, as your Lord. Take time today to talk with Him and walk with Him.

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