Friday, May 20, 2016

Set Apart: What Does it Mean to Be Holy?

Around AD 65, Peter wrote to believers who were facing persecutions and challenges. He called the scattered, persecuted church to live in hope in 1 Peter 1:1-12. In verses 13-25, he emphasized living in holiness. Hope and holiness go together.


If we conducted a poll in the parking lot as people came to church asking, “What is holiness?” we would get at least a dozen answers. One decent response to the question is that holiness is spiritual purity.


“In a hospital, cleanliness is critical. In fact, the closer you get to the operating room, the more important it is. Doctors in an operating room are very concerned that the scalpel not only is not rusty but that it’s not even blemished with any foreign substance. The slightest impurity contaminates the procedure. Great effort is made to sterilize the equipment so that all contamination is removed and no infection sets in.”


“If human doctors go through great detail in an operating room to make sure that the environment is entirely free from contamination, then ought it shock us that God Himself demands holiness? Human doctors recognize you can’t do surgery with contaminated instruments; then it ought not to make us too upset that God doesn’t do the surgery on our lives that He wants to do with sterilizing our lives.”[1]


The root meaning of the word “holy” is “different.” A person who is holy is not necessarily “weird,” but different. A holy person has a quality that causes him or her to stand apart from the crowd. A holy person lives differently now than he did in the past. A person’s holiness may seem strange to those who are not believers in Jesus Christ, but should not be strange to other Christians.


Out of the gate, let me give you an example. A Christian sexual ethic is that intimacy outside of marriage is not honoring to Jesus Christ and not an option for a believer. This includes sex outside of marriage, sexting, viewing pornography, homosexual or heterosexual behavior, and lust of all kinds. These aren’t traditional values; these are biblical values. Cultures or politicians cannot claim these as their own original ideas; they belong to Jesus Christ.


Those who do not regard the Bible as authoritative in their lives believe that such restrictive views are scandalous. Many think that Christians are preoccupied with keeping people from pleasure and that the church should soften its views on sex. Some believe that these views keep people from coming to church.


For some who call themselves believers, they want to water down or reinterpret the plain teaching of the Bible to fit the culture. What does this do for the church and believers? It only undermines credibility. Anyone can pick up the Bible and read that God and much of culture do not see eye-to-eye on these issues. To pretend that they do is ridiculous.


We should take care that we do not cast stones. Believers and non-believers alike are tempted by those things that the Bible calls sin. We have to be careful not to look down our noses at anyone who struggles with temptation. However, we do no one any good by deviating from the teachings of the Bible and condoning what separates us from God.


The truth is that many of the denominations and churches that have turned away from holiness and the primary teaching of the Bible have not attracted large crowds. I haven’t noticed any Unitarian or mainline denominational churches that are overflowing. I am certainly not gloating about this. I just believe it proves my point:


People are not attracted to or transformed by a Christianity that ceases to be Christian.


People are too busy for an empty religion that exists for show. They would rather skip church and go to brunch than hear an anemic Christian message that does not call for holiness.


When Peter and Jesus had an important discussion in a little town called Caesarea Philippi, Peter stepped across the line and affirmed Jesus’ uniqueness in the universe. Jesus asked Peter, “Who do people say I am?” The disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (cf. Matthew 16:13-16).


Peter knew that Jesus’ identity demands an appropriate response from every living soul, especially those who claim to be “Christian.” What does it mean to be “set apart” and “holy”?


1. Holiness is rooted in a prepared mind.

Peter told the struggling Christians to prepare their minds for the trials they will face.


1 Peter 1:13-16 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”


Because of the reality of Jesus Christ’s return for us and the glory that will be revealed, we must live a prepared life; this begins with the way we think. The image Peter uses in the original Greek is of a robed man tucking his garment around his belt so that he can run freely. Our minds are prepared by thinking biblically, critically, and optimistically. Paul said it this way:


Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.


The reality of Jesus’ return to earth as Righteous Judge shapes our thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Peter said we must set our hope “fully on the grace that will be brought” at the return of Jesus Christ. Our hope must rest entirely on the grace of Jesus Christ—not on anything else. Our mindset is that we are recipients of God’s grace. Thinking about God’s grace inspires gratitude; gratitude inspires hope and optimism.


Don’t you find it interesting that Peter put emphasis on “preparing the mind” and “being sober-minded.” I believe that Christians have always had trouble thinking clearly. In Peter’s day, believers could get off track; the disciples were often slow to understand Jesus’ teachings. In our own time, Christians have trouble knowing how to bring the faith of the church pew to their living room or desk at work. Being a faithful follower of Christ does not involve checking our minds at the church door.


Why aren’t believers engaged in saving marriages, caring for orphans, stewarding the environment, stopping human trafficking, promoting racial justice, and alleviating poverty? For most in the church, people are overcommitted and too busy working or carting kids around to activities. It takes a lot of thought and collaboration for the church to address systemic problems. Most people simply don’t want to take the time to prepare their minds to engage on the deeper levels of addressing human problems and sin.


For many of us, sin in our lives obstructs our view of God’s mission. Let me illustrate my point:


“Many of the old stadiums are being torn down, and new ones are being built in their place. The older ones were okay, but they had architectural features that were not functional. One of the problems is that certain seating had obstructed views of the playing area. The fans were somewhat disconnected from the game. A beam or a post would block full participation.”


“Often, if you were seated in one of these seats behind a column, a fan would ask another person what happened. They would have to get secondhand information because they could not see for themselves. They could hear the action. They see the fans responding around them, but the column kept them from experiencing the game.”


“Many in the church today are here with an obstructed view because of sin. We hear the noise. We see people engaging in their spiritual activities. However, we are getting it all secondhand. We are sitting in a seat with an obstructed view. Sin will keep you from full participation. Sin will keep you from experiencing the reality of God working in your life.”[2]


Sin will block your mind and heart from seeing God at work around you. Sin can even hinder our prayers.


Psalm 66:18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened.


2.  Holiness recognizes a Higher Authority.

1 Peter 1:17-19 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.


Peter mentioned that we are to conduct ourselves with fear during our time of exile in this broken world. The reverent fear of God is the right attitude for Christians who will one day stand before God. We express this reverence before God when we “call on him as Father” through prayer. Prayer is an awesome responsibility that we should not take lightly.  We come before God, repentant of our sin, seeking him.


In the Crain house, we have a basic philosophy about snakes: The only good snake is a dead snake or snake that is one-hundred miles away from our house. I took Jackson on a hike last year. We were walking through the woods and in the corner of his eye, Jackson saw a snake slither beside him and then run away. I have never seen Jackson jump so high in his life as he did when he saw that lethal predator. It was at the moment that I knew Jackson shared our family philosophy about snakes.


There is no such thing as a good sin. If we could only run from sin the way Jackson ran from that snake! Regarding sexual immorality, Paul wrote:


1 Corinthians 6:18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.


Peter wrote that we are to “call on the Father, who judges . . . our deeds.” We communicate with reverence in prayer with our Father, who will judge our actions. Standing before God, the Perfect Judge is a serious thought! Our sins nailed Jesus to the cross, and we will have to stand before him! Paul mentioned this reality:


2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.


The reality of standing before God reminds us of how blessed we are that our sins were judged on the cross when Jesus died for us. Jesus Christ bought our salvation. He did not purchase our salvation with gold or silver or anything else this world considers valuable. Money cannot buy salvation. Good deeds cannot obtain salvation. Our salvation cost Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, his life on the cross.


Most of us talk about sin in terms of consequences to be avoided. However, we should think and speak of sin and judgment with more seriousness. We need to talk to one another as believers with a prophetic voice, knowing that God doesn’t take our sins lightly. Our sin is the reason that God sent his only Son, Jesus, to this world to restore us to a proper relationship with him.


Since our sins were judged on the cross, what will God, the Righteous Judge, be judging? He will judge our works! God will search our motives and examine our hearts. We will give an account for what we have done for Him. God blesses us with many gifts and opportunities in life; but, he holds us accountable for these blessings.


Luke 12:48 Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.


Jesus’ death on the cross was a divine appointment, not an accident.


It is great to know that God has a plan for us. This plan included the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus shed his precious blood to purchase us out of the slavery of sin and set us free forever.


3. Holiness acknowledges a divine plan.

“Providence is the hand of God in the glove of history. It is the work of God whereby He integrates and blends events in the universe to fulfill His original design for which it was created. It is God sitting behind the steering wheel of time. Providence refers to God’s governance of all events so as to direct them toward an end. It is God taking what you and I would call luck, chance, mistakes, happenstance, and stitching them into achieving His plan.” [3]


In God’s providence and plan, he purposed to send Jesus to the cross for our sins.


1 Peter 1:20-21 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.


Before God created the universe, God chose Jesus as the complete revelation of God to all people and the Messiah who would be revealed at the right time.


Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.


Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse a person from sin and provide eternal salvation. Many religions believe that religious acts or ceremonies cleanse us. These rites and rituals do not cleanse a person of sin; they only remind us of the futility of religion without Jesus Christ. Only the grace of Jesus Christ can save. 


The salvation that Jesus brings to us is more than a future in Heaven; he provides each believer with the opportunity to live obediently in the here and now. Obedience is demonstrated when we love our Christian family with a pure heart. When we live in obedience, we are giving evidence of a heart that is being transformed by Jesus Christ.


James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.


I find it humbling that God, before the foundation of the world, loved me enough to plan to send Jesus to redeem me from my sin. Just think! In 100 years, no one will remember my name—even the people carrying my genes within themselves. But, thousands of years ago—even millions—God thought about me. He wanted to make me an heir in his Kingdom! In the next trillion years, I will be able to look back to the cross and empty tomb, knowing that it was there that my destiny was transformed.


4. Holiness yields a transformed life.

1 Peter 1:22-25 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.


The world is made of things that will not last. However, the truth revealed by God in his Word and Jesus Christ will endure without destruction. Not only will the Word of God last, but it also has life-giving properties. When at work in a person’s life, the Word of God brings new birth and transformation.


Jeremy Howard wrote in his book After Easter: “All of us are born spiritually dead. Infants don’t understand right from wrong, but the fallen-ness is in them from the start, an automatic inheritance coming down through the generations. Give it a short while and it proves itself, for without exception we make sinful choices as we grow in our moral comprehension. Some hypothesize that we become sinful because we make sinful choices, as if we mark up our pure souls with each wrong act, but the Bible puts it the other way around: we sin because we have a sin nature.”[4]


The sin nature is real! David confessed:


Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.


Howard continued: “Sometimes we think we can outweigh our sin if we pile up more good things than bad. We strive to tip the scales and win God’s approval. This is what almost all religions inspire people to do. The problem is that sin is so abhorrent to God, so counter to his divine nature, that even one sin deserves eternal punishment. Shall the finite creature strike against the infinite Creator and incur no penalty? The standard required by God is perfection, not a majority of good actions. If you stop at every stop sign except one, you still deserve the punishment for running the one. Sin is the same but with infinitely worse consequences.”[5]


Do you think your sins as high treason against God, or do you feel they are simple mistakes and that God will overlook them in the end? If you believe that God does not take sin seriously, then why would he send his Son, Jesus Christ, to the cross? The Bible is clear that that our sins separate us from God and that only faith in Jesus Christ can save us. Only his grace can transform our lives.


The Bible is full of strange things like talking snakes, a seven-headed dragon, parting seas, and blind men who see. To me, the strangest thing in the Bible is the truth that the sexually immoral, murderers, gossips, and thieves can experience a change in their eternal address and receive new life in an instant. People who have been hiding under the veneer of religion can find reality and authenticity. Faith in a Nazarene carpenter-king can take out a heart of stone and replace it with a heart that beats with life.


Just think about it! The next Billy Graham may be strung out on drugs right now. The next Mother Theresa may be leaving an abortion clinic. Life change is the visible power of the good news of Jesus Christ!


We, a changed people, must take the Gospel of Jesus Christ who changes lives to a world in desperate need of change.

[1]Tony Evans, Tony Evans Book. . . (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2008), 150.
[2]Evans, 286.
[3]Evans, 240.
[4]Jeremy Royal Howard, After Easter (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2015), 12-13.