Friday, March 02, 2007

Holiness...More than a Halo!

Like me you have probably seen pictures of angels or Bible characters or saints, all with a glowing halo over their head. Sometimes we get the idea that one day we will be like that...with our own little halo. But the Bible has so much to say about holiness and nothing to say about halos.
God is holy. We know that. But when He tells us in the Bible that we are to be holy just like Him, we struggle with it. Holiness does not seem to be easily achieved for some. We tell ourselves, “When I get to heaven, then I will be holy!” Then we do what we want, and find ourselves falling into temptations of all kinds and giving in to some of the very things we promised ourselves we would never do.
Today the church seems to struggle more and more with living up to Biblical standards. Pastors often refuse to preach the hard line message of a holy lifestyle lest they offend those dabbling in sin and never get to minister to them at all. Evangelical churches have come to soft-soap the gospel message, tolerating sin in the pew that previous generations would have thrown a fit over. Holiness churches were known for their high standards of living and behavior and dress. They started out with a desire to live as God would have them live….then they degenerated into rule making critical dogmatic Pharisees that turned off the next generation. They decided to make everyone else holy and their determination placed the focus in a wrong way. Let’s look at some basics of holiness.
1. Holiness comes from God
God is a holy God. He told the children of Israel in Leviticus 11: 44-45 For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves….... 45 For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. It was God’s desire that we live up to His standard. That holiness begins when we choose to consecrate ourselves to God and His ways. We have to know what God’s standards are before we can live up to them. In the Old Testament, the entire book of Leviticus was dedicated to teaching the people how to live a holy life. Unfortunately, most of the activities that were supposed to produce holiness were outward acts rather than inward choices. God wants us to learn both. We are to behave outwardly in a holy behavior because of our influence on others. But we are so to be holy within so that our relationship to God will not be hindered. Holiness does not come from what we do, but from who God is in us. So living a holy life is more than just putting on a pious pose, more than wearing Christian T-shirts and more than going to church every Sunday. Holiness is choosing to live in a way that pleases God 24/7.
2. You must desire holiness
Being holy is not something you can do by yourself. It takes choosing God over the ‘normal’ choices the world offers. It means a dedication, a consecration, a separation that is intentional and birthed from the love you have for God. To desire holiness in your life means that you want God in control of everything! It is putting your hand in His and trusting He will lead your every step in a path that will bring you to Him. Jesus talked with His disciples as they walked the dusty roads of Israel, and he told them all about holiness. A rich young man came to Jesus and asked him how to have eternal life. He equated the gaining of eternal life to holiness, and had practiced all the keeping of the commandments of the law. But Jesus recognized the root of his problem. He told him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21) For him, perfection demanded that he learn to love his neighbor as much as he loved himself and God. He was not ready to give it up and follow Jesus. That was too much for him and he went away sad. Then Jesus clearly told his audience... “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”( Matthew 22:37-39) Perfection comes when we live spiritually balanced lives, loving God and loving those around us. When we love God, we do not want to do what displeases Him. We will not want to choose to sin and grieve his heart. We will watch and discipline our mouths. We will be cautious about the places we go and the things we do. We will take the time to ask Him first if it pleases Him. It means matching our lifestyle with the Word of God. This means Christians should not be living in fornication or adultery. They should not be greedy with what God provides, but tithe and give generously to those in need. It means we would not want our name and ministry lifted up, but His name alone! It means we should not be in the habit of lying, cursing, stealing, cheating, or coveting. These are not God’s ways. It must be the deepest desire of your heart to live your life in a way that would be pleasing to God.
3. Holiness is not in appearances
Often the world around tends to look at the outward appearances. We want to fit in, yet be holy. Christian holiness is not achieved just by wearing religious garb. You could dress like a monk or a nun and still be a sinner. You could wear modest attire and still have sin in your heart. Others may judge your spiritual condition by what they see on the outside, but God looks on the heart. That does not mean that Christians can look just like the rest of the world wearing scanty attire. It means we have to consult the One in charge of our life, for how we dress should be pleasing to Him and measure up to Bible standards of moderation in all things. If our appearance causes someone to stumble into sin and lust, would it be pleasing to God?
4. Holiness is a reflection of a relationship

When Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden, they had a relationship of intimacy. There was absolute holiness. But the moment that they sinned, everything changed. No longer did Adam walk with God in the garden in the cool of the day. Sin drove a wedge between them. To restore that intimate relationship, Jesus had to come and die for the sin of all mankind. When He died, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom, revealing the place of intimacy to the public eye once again.
When we tell folks that God loves them just the way they are, we are not telling them the whole truth. God does love them….that’s true. But he does not love the sin in their lives. Restoring that relationship comes at a cost. It may cost you some friendships. You may have to change your lifestyle, like the rich young man Jesus talked to. You may have to give up some things you love. You may be persecuted because of your devotion. Things of value come at a high price. Jesus knew that better than anyone. His holy perfection came to live in the sinful world, to take all the sin of mankind upon Himself, to die a death of a criminal, just to make a way for mankind to restore that first intimacy. It cost him everything to be obedient to His Father. He not only set the example for us to follow but He also is willing to help us. He gives us guidelines to follow. Our holiness is an act of worship. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2 NIV) Pleasing God and walking daily in His perfect will must be our daily goal.
When we choose deliberately to sin, we tell ourselves., “But God knows my weaknesses!” We forget that disobedience is not a weakness, it is a sin. When we make Christ the Lord of our lives, we have no more license to sin. We have a responsibility to the One in charge of our lives. Ephesians 5:1 & 3 tells us we are to “Be imitators of God ….there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.” If we think we can be careless in our devotion, we forget what the bible says… “Strive to live in peace with everybody and pursue that consecration and holiness without which no one will [ever] see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14 Amplified) Without holiness, we cannot ever see God.
Holiness is more than a halo, more than legalism—it is living in loving obedience. A love relationship has responsibilities. Christians must be responsible for their choices and actions. God will help you to overcome temptations. He will help you choose wisely. He will help you guard the word of your mouth. But He can only help you if you let Him, if you invite Him to be part of the decision making process. You may be asking yourself just now, “How can anyone even begin to measure up to the perfection, justice, almightiness, righteousness, majesty, splendor, beauty, and excellence of the glorious God?” In yourself, it is impossible, but….’with God all things are possible.’ (Matthew 9:26) The key is staying close to Him…with God! Together you and God are a team effort. You walk in daily obedience with Him, and He will help you overcome and prepare a place for you in heaven. Holiness is not an impossible goal. Jesus was tempted in every way that man can be tempted yet He did not sin.
Perhaps you find yourself today living in sin. You have given in to the pull of the world around you, and you have yielded to temptations. You hate what you have done, yet feel helpless. Slaves to sin are helpless. They need a Redeemer to set them free. Christ is your Redeemer. He has provided a way for you to walk in holiness. It begins with a repentant heart. Genuine repentance means you are so sorry for your sin that you refuse to walk that way again. It is turning around and deliberately going the other way. It is deliberately choosing to obey God.
Why strive for holiness? Because God commands it. “Be Holy for I am holy!” Let’s lay aside all the excuses for sloppy Christianity and lazy devotion and let us choose to live our lives as imitators of Christ, the Holy Son of God.

by J. Johnson