By Rev. Brian Wilkie
Pastor of St. Andrew's Christian Community
Welcome to Good News In The Morning, a program of words and music bringing a Christian message of hope and courage to those who are looking for an intelligent, meaningful and spirited approach to faith and to life. This program is sponsored by Good News Christian Ministries and this is Brian Wilkie speaking. Thank you to all our listeners. We are grateful for your encouragement and support. Remember that you can always visit our website, GoodNewsChristianMinistries.ca, for materials to encourage and support you in your Christian walk.
Lord said to them, “this is what the Lord commanded. Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, Save what is left and keep it until morning.”
As I read that Scripture today and as we delve into the question of the holiness of God you may wonder, “Where is the definition?” The Scripture doesn't give a definition; it just says that because today is holy this is what you are to do. As you look through Scriptures you find that so many references to holiness are exactly that. For instance in Exodus chapter 19, Moses said to the Lord, “the people can't come up Mount Sinai because you yourself warned us put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.” The Lord has declared the mountain holy and the people are not to approach it. In Exodus 20 you remember that great command again about the Sabbath, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” holiness is a theme of Scripture both describing whom God is, his attitude towards his creation and the attitude that his creatures should have towards him. We will continue in all this in a few moments but first let's listen to a hymn of praise as Steve Bell sings the familiar phrase from Scripture “Holy holy holy Lord God of power and might.” This is from his album Beyond A Shadow.
When we look into the holiness of God we only have Scripture to teach us what this is going to be about. We don't have in Scripture a place where it stopped to give the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of holiness, we only have the example of its use to describe the Lord and his requirements. The Lord is holy, but most often we encounter the command to be holy or to do a certain thing because it is holy; to treat something a particular way when it's holy.
There are many things in Scripture that are identified as holy to the Lord and what we see is that they are set apart for God's purposes that they are to be used only for God's purposes. They have a particular use, and often a particular manner of being used. All the regulations around the use of these holy items concerns or describes that the purpose that God has given for them is the only purpose that they are allowed to be used for. In fact there are sacrifices given to God that are so holy that they have to be utterly destroyed because only by their utter destruction can be kept from any other use. These were sacrifices that are not shared with the people (unlike so many of the other offerings given in the temple which were party for use of the priests partly for use the people who made the offering and partly offered to God) but these offerings are holy and dedicated to the Lord and they are dedicated with fire to be completely consumed by the fire.
Holiness is an attribute ascribed of the people of God are often told they are to be holy because the Lord is holy – and through what God requires of us on account of his holiness we get a picture of what constitutes his holiness. The people of Israel are given a long and complicated law, but underlying all that law is the understanding that they are a people holy to the Lord. We see that the law spells out various ritual requirements that are reminders of their dedication to God. There were people who through their taking on the vows of the Nazerite would represent to the whole community that they were dedicated to God. Each thing the people of Israel did, whether it was eating special food or special preparation for it, whether it was in their feasts or their sacrifices, in all the law that they were given there was an indication that their lives were dedicated to God.
We need that reminder. We often forget what the purpose of our life is. The people of Israel had many external reminders to keep them conscious of that. What do you use to remind yourself that you are holy unto the Lord? What are the things around your home the catch your eye remind you to whom we belong? What of the things you do during the day to stop and take stock of your of your walk with God. Do you have a routine of devotions in the morning, perhaps a Scripture at breakfast? Perhaps a time during the day when you stop and reflect. You tune your radio to a Christian program and listen to a sermon or a song. You go to church, perhaps not just on Sunday, but at different times during the week. Perhaps you pray by yourself or at other times you gather with other Christians to learn more about how to dedicate your life to God. What are the external things to remind you who you are and your call to be holy because the Lord is holy? We are not given the same kind of list that the people of Israel were given, but that doesn't remove from us the responsibility and the opportunity to find ways to remind ourselves of the call that God has placed on our lives and the commitment that we've made to him out of love for his Son.
Much of that ritual law served as a reminder of the holiness of Israel but in addition to the ritual law there was the moral law; the laws that really get a better picture of what holiness actually is. And the people of Israel were called to live justly and to love mercy; they were called to respect one another; they were called to a fellowship together that was about living ethically and living justly and living lovingly. The holiness of God was represented in the people of Israel by the way they dealt with the widow and the orphan; by the way they dealt with the stranger in their midst; by the way they were faithful in their marriages and the way parents honoured their children and children honoured their parents and cared for them even into their old age. The community of Israel was intended to have the holiness of God represented in the way they lived with one another and in the way they lived in the world.
When Jesus came he set for us a standard of holiness that really gets to the heart of who God is. When he expanded the commands of the of the Old Testament by saying, “you’ve seen that it is written, ‘thou shalt not kill’ but I say if you are angry at your brother and if you curse your brother then you are guilty of failing that command.” He said to people who had heard the command not to commit adultery, he said, “Don't even look in lust at another woman or you are committing adultery with her.” The holiness of God went to the heart of how we saw each other, how we treat each other and how we were motivated towards each other. Jesus called on his people, his disciples, to love one another and, moreover, to love even their enemies.
We get a hint in this about the holiness of God, and in Scripture there are two very dramatic and definitive descriptions of God. God says, “I am the Lord and I am holy” and God is described by John in his letter, “God is love.” The holiness of God and the love of God are held together in Scripture and that's a place where we have a great deal of struggle as Christians, in trying to understand where love and holiness meet. How do the two relate to one another? How does one get balanced against the other?
We’re going to take a look at that in a few moments but before we do I would like to have us listen to another song about God's holiness, in a very familiar ancient hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy. This is taken from the collection called A Celebration Of Hymns and sung by Jubilate in the Men's Church Choir.
The holiness of God and the love of God – which comes first? It's kind of a chicken and egg question. I can very much recommend to you with a small book by PT Forsyth called “God the Holy Father”, (Independent Press, 1957. In the broadcast I erroneously called this “The Holiness of God”) and in that volume he describes the holiness of God is being the first and foremost feature of who God is. He makes a very strong case for putting holiness above all the other attributes of God because in God's holiness all his other attributes exist and come together. I respect PT Forsyth on this – and I remember being handed that book by Dr. Allen Churchill years and years ago (Allen being the founding preacher of this show) but as I consider the holiness and the love of God I cannot help but see that Scripture holds the two of them together. Reading the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching about the holiness of God and embedded in that teaching is the love that God has for us and the love that we ought to have for God and one another. God's love is a holy love and God's holiness is a loving holiness: the two are in fact one thing, they are description of God in his in his fullness and his glory. God's love is holy because he will not cease to love he will not bend from his love. He will not compromise his love. His love is intense, pure and unchanging. His holy love is a love that doesn't settle at second-best for the ones that he loves. He insists on bringing us to our perfection in his love.
The way that he tells us to treat one another, which we would often describe as the rules of holiness, are also the rules of love. God, knowing our inward nature, knows what we need. God, knowing the very foundation of our being, knows precisely how we need to live in order to be healthy, in order to be filled with his goodness, in order to experience the joy and the peace that he wants for all his people. He knows what it is to sin, he knows what is when we hurt one another he knows what it is when our actions cause harm to another one that he loves. We can't always see what our actions are going to do. We can't anticipate what the consequence of every careless word is going to be, but God knows full well that we can live in such a way as to truly love one another.
If God were to bend from his holiness he would be turning from his love. He would be allowing his creation to be hurt, to be damaged and even for people to be destroyed because of the way other people are behaving and the consequences of that behavior.
God in his love will never cease to be holy. These days you see some people getting confused about that. You hear people saying, “If love God is love, he won't mind, or he won't take offense if I do this or do that. If he loves me he won't be bothered.” Yet it is precisely because God loves us that he must be just. It is precisely because God cares for us that he must call us to a better life. Jesus, in that sermon on the mount (which is so often read as a refreshing release from the strictures of ‘don't do this and don't do that:’ it is a release from the ‘don'ts,’ yet it is a very much a call into living holy lives) – in the midst of that sermon on the mount – he says to his disciples (whom he is teaching), he says, “you must be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect.” what a difficult call – and yet what a glorious, holy and loving called he gives to us. He calls us to live a life that is filled with the goodness of God. Not just seasoned with God's goodness but full of God's goodness. This is the holiness to which he calls us.
Only God can make us holy. God has given his Holy Spirit to lead us in that way. He has given his Son as the atoning sacrifice on the cross to cleanse us from all unrighteousness in order that we might be holy and spotless before him. He has given us his word to guide us and lead us. He has given us all things. We really are to commit ourselves to being holy. To those who believe that love is the highest value to which any human being could aspire, I encourage you to aspire to the holy love of God and nothing less. To those who want purity and righteousness and goodness in their lives - aspire to the holiness that is filled with God's love, rather than some cold hygienic sort of holiness. Choose the holiness that is rooted in God's revelation and God's gift of love to all his creation.
Are you prepared to be holy and to live a holy life? I, myself, sometimes shrink back from the greatness of that call, but we ought to commit ourselves in prayer to God and to let him do the work that he has so desired to do in us. Allow him to make us holy.
Would you join me in prayer?
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory! Glory be to you, O Lord most high!
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Be sure to worship in a church where the gospel is soundly proclaimed and lived out with compassion, integrity and resolve.
Now to conclude our program here is a song Holy Is Your Name sung by Bebo Norman and Caedmon’s Call from the WOW Worship 2003 album.
I do pray the Lord will hold your heart and you will know Jesus personally and profoundly. Let the Holy Spirit reside deep within your heart, and may the heavenly Father surround you with his constant and abiding and accompanying love.
- Rev. Brian Wilkie