The nature of Holiness
If there is one concept in the bible that seems to be foreign to us in 2016, almost to the point of incomprehensible is the concept of sacrifice.
Not the concept of making sacrifices for something or someone, we all do that on a fairly regular basis. As parents we make sacrifices for our children, we give up things that we could have for ourselves in order to provide them for our kids. Whether that be in the form of material sacrifice, what you give up so they can have . . . whatever, or in the form of giving up our time for our children. You might make sacrifices for your career, or for your education there are those here today who are pursuing a degree or upgrading and in order to do that they are making sacrifices, both financially and personally.
We all make sacrifices, a priority for Angela and I is our annual winter vacation south and so we sacrifice things like birthday gifts and Christmas gifts so we can make that trip each year.
So we all know what it is to make sacrifices after all we make them on a daily basis in our lives. The concept that seems foreign to us is the concept of offering something to a deity as a sacrifice. From movies and novels, we’ve heard of human sacrifices, virgins being thrown into volcanoes or people being buried alive to appease their gods, but that was then and this is now.
In the Old Testament we read about animals and birds being sacrificed in the temple as a form of worship, and we can’t even get our head around it, it seems so wrong. And part of that is we are looking at it from a 2016 perspective and of course it’s wrong today, but 3000 years ago . . . maybe not so much.
But it’s because we can’t understand the concept of sacrifices being made to God in such an extreme way that we have a hard time with the concept of offering ourselves as a sacrifice. In our world a sacrifice is something that we voluntarily give but more importantly today a sacrifice is something we can take back, if we decide that we don’t want to keep making that sacrifice anymore.
But in the biblical sense the incense was burnt, the animal was killed, the blood was shed and the sacrifice was made and it was done and it was irretrievable there were no give mes or do-overs or take backs or mulligans.
But that’s exactly what Paul was calling the early Christ followers to become when he wrote Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. And just in case they didn’t get what he was saying he adds: Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.
Through the month of May we’ve been looking at Holiness. It all began we we looked into Peter’s first letter where he wrote to be Holy because God is Holy. That was the call to Holiness, and we discovered there that Holiness was the complete acceptance and obedience to the will of God in our lives. In week two week peeked into Isaiah 35 and what it meant to walk the Highway of Holiness, the way of Holiness. And last week we took some time in Romans 6 where Paul tells us that we need to crucify our sinful natures, the price of Holiness.
And today we are going to spend some time looking at the “Nature of Holiness”.
And so the first thing we need to look at is: The What What was it that Paul was asking these folks to do? Well the short answer was to become a sacrifice.
But what does that mean or more importantly because the letter wasn’t written to us originally what did it mean to the people it was being written to 2000 years ago? When this letter was read aloud to the Christians in the city of Rome, what came to their minds when they heard this phrase? Historically we are told that there were a plethora of Roman gods and each one required specific sacrifices. Add to that the fact that each year Roman Citizens had to make a sacrifice to Caesar and declare their loyalty by stating Caesar is lord and I’m sure those reading this letter knew exactly what Paul was trying to convey.
And so it is interesting that Paul doesn’t tell those who worshipped in Rome what to do, he doesn’t command them to make themselves living sacrifices instead he writes “I plead with you”, interesting. But Paul knew that unless it was done willing it wasn’t a sacrifice, that when you are forced to give a gift it’s not really a gift.
It was Ghandi who said “The mice which helplessly find themselves between the cats teeth acquire no merit from their enforced sacrifice.”
You know what I’m talking about, there have been times in your life that for whatever reason you were compelled to give a gift. It wasn’t that you wanted to it was that you had to, for whatever reason you didn’t have a choice. It may have been a reality or it may simply have been a perception that you had but you were giving the gift out of a sense of obligation.
And what was Paul pleading with these folks to do? Well he said Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.
Give your bodies! That is worthy of note because Grecian thought and philosophy had permeated this area for over four hundreds of years since Alexander the Great had claimed it as part of his empire. And for the Greeks in general and the Gnostics in particular the body was evil and only the spirit was good. At its very best the body was seen as a corrupt vessel that held our spirits.
And because they drew such a clear line of delineation they could separate their physical behaviour and activity from the spiritual side of things. This is the body and this is the spirit and they really don’t concern each other because ultimately the body will be gone so how can it effect what will live on.
But for the Christian the body is a part of the total package, after all if God created our bodies how could it be evil? Remember back in Psalm 139:13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it. These fragile shells were given to us by God himself crafted by him with love and care.
Not only that but if God himself, creator of the universe could take on a human body how could it be evil? And then we are told in 1 Corinthians 6:19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?
2 Corinthians 7:1 Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.
The people that Paul was writing to had already committed their spirits to God, they had done the spiritual thing but they were still struggling with the physical side of the relationship. But God doesn’t just want a part of you and a part of your life he wants all of you and all of your life. The inside and the outside. The temporal as well as the eternal.
And so Paul is telling those early believers: I beg of you, do not use that which God has gifted you with for evil, instead present it to God as a whole, and make your entire self a sacrifice. A living sacrifice, but we all know the problem with living sacrifices right? Yeah, they keep crawling off the altar.
And Paul continues: Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. So here we have The Why I mean it’s all well and good that we be asked to do something but deep down inside we are really like kids in our relationship with God. And what do kids ask when we ask them to do something? Why? How come? And the Romans must have been the questioning type because throughout the letter we find Paul answering questions even before they are asked. So let’s look a that verse again Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God (and before they can ask why he tells them) because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. (and again he jumps into to answer the why) This is truly the way to worship him.
So the question has two answers. The first one is an expanded “because”. Really as parents isn’t that our favourite response when we are asked “Why?” “Because” or if we are feeling particularly wordy and feel that our children deserve more of an explanation we sometimes expand it and say: “because I said so.”
So Paul tells them: Think about it, after all God has done for you, including but not limited to the death of his Son as a sacrifice for you, isn’t this the least you can do for him? Paul could have been a travel agent, specializing in guilt trips. But guilt trip or not it is reality. Without God where would we be? Without even getting into grace and our salvation, look around at all God has done for you as an individual, your home, your family, your health and a great country to live in. And before you start with the yeah buts you know that whatever your circumstances you could have it worse.
But it’s not just a matter of obligation because Paul continues and tells his readers Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Our commitment to anyone or anything is ultimately not measured by what we say but by what we do. We can talk the game but unless we are actually in the game what difference will it really make? Because it’s not what you say and it’s not what you say you’ll do it’s what you do that counts. The New King James Version says it this way Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Which is your reasonable service, I love that because he is saying “It’s the least you can do.”
What is worship? What is your reasonable service? Jesus tells us very simply that it is obedience. John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.
So we have the “what” Give yourself wholly to God. And we have the “why” Because. Let’s keep reading: Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
So here we have The How If you have been with us through this series you know that I am going to tell you that it is a choice you have to make. It seems to be a recurring theme, but not a theme that is real popular in 2016. And that is the fact that we are all responsible for the choices that we make and that our lives are a result of the choices we made. Today we want to be able to abdicate our responsibility for where we are in life and who we are in life. Well not entirely we like to take responsibility for being successful, for being good parents and doing well in school.
But the other stuff, the part where we blow it and the part where we hurt those we love and don’t measure up, those aren’t our fault. It is the fault of our parents who did a rotten job parenting us, or of the school system that did a rotten job educating us, or of our friends who led us astray or society, or the the economic downturn or global warming. You get the picture.
But the reality is this: we are the product of choices we make. You chose whether you’d apply yourself in school when you were a kid, you chose what you’d do after high school, what you would do for a living and who you would marry. And you will choose how passionately you will serve God.
And the great thing about that is that once you acknowledge that you are responsible for the decisions you made yesterday, whether they were good bad or indifferent than you realize that you are responsible for the decisions you will make today and do you know what that means?
It means that you are in control, that you will determine your future and your destiny.
When I was growing up I remember one of my Dad’s favourite poems was Invictus by Ernest Henley and in the last verse Henley writes “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
I don’t want to get into all the theological implications of that statement but I do know that too often we abdicate responsibility for our life and our decisions to others.
And so here is the decision that Paul tells us that we have to make:
Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
By now you should know 2 Corinthians 5:17 by heart, but just in case you don’t here it is: 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
Paul is telling us that “the how” is radical, it’s not just a minor course adjustment this is a dramatic change in direction, he is telling us that we can’t just change our behaviour a little bit instead this is major change, a whole new beginning a whole new direction.
The New King James says it this way Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, Do you see the difference, conformed is passive, it’s something that happens to you, while transformed is something you do, a choice you make.
You can be squeezed into conformity or you can choice to be transformed.
I think the church is where it is today because of a couple of choices that have been made over the past fifty years. And I think those choices have caused problems.
The first, I think, is that for a while the church has been trying to make the world conform to us. We have tried to impose Christian values and Christian morals on an unchristian world. We have been more concerned with the world’s behaviour than the world’s salvation. You cannot legislate morality. Does not work. 2000 years the Church existed in a society that was a hedonistic immoral cesspool. And the church didn’t see their mission to correct that. The mission of the church wasn’t to change society it was to change people.
And you are thinking, but pastor Jesus called us to be the salt of the earth. Indeed he did, but remember the salt seasons the soup. But we were called to be the salt, not the soup. The teaching of Jesus and the New Testament were meant for believers and for the church, not for society. And so you never hear Paul or Peter or Jesus for that matter decrying the evils of crucifixion, or even of the sexual behaviour of their society, other than to say that wasn’t acceptable behaviour for those who followed Christ.
The second mistake we made, is that we have allowed the world to force us into their mold, and instead of the church influencing the morals of the world we have allowed the world to influence the church. From sexual behaviour to how we view marriage and the sanctity of life from natural conception to natural death we now take our cues from society instead of scripture.
But everybody believes or the supreme court says has become the mantra of way too many Christians and churches. We are afraid to be out of step with the world or worse to be labeled “Intolerant”.
We need to heed the warning of Jesus who reminded his followers, Luke 6:26 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets.
I fear that instead of being the salt that flavours the soup that soon you won’t be able to taste the difference between the salt and the soup. And that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. When Jesus was praying for those who would follow him, this is what he said John 17:16-17 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.
Because when the church allows itself to be shaped by the world this is the end result . (video of honest pastor)
Never have Paul’s words seemed more relevant than in 2016, Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. If there doesn’t seem to be any difference between what the world watches and what you watch, what the world believes and what you believe, how the world behaves and how you behave, then there probably isn’t a difference.
But if you have allowed yourself to be transformed into a new person what is the result? What is this ultimately called? This, being transformed by the renewing of your mind? This embracing the things of God instead of the things of the world?
It is called holiness and it is exactly that, embracing the things of God instead of embracing the things of the world. I’m surprised, no I’m not surprised but I am dismayed by the trash that Christians watch, read and listen to. When I first became a Christ follower my dad gave me some profound advice. He said, “A lot of people will try to tell you what you can and can’t do as a Christian, but just ask yourself “Would I do this with Jesus.”
And maybe you would invite Jesus over to watch Game of Thrones, but probably not.
And it happens when you allow God to shape you, and that happens when you spend time listening to him, that means reading your bible, talking to him, that means prayer, and spending time with his kids. That means going to church.
The author of the book of Hebrews writes Hebrews 12:14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
John Wesley defined holiness this way “Holiness is having the mind that was in Christ and walking as Christ walked.” And only happens when we’ve been transformed when we become different.
Which of course leads us to the last part of verse two Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
The Result It was Mother Theresa who said “Holiness is the complete acceptance of the will of God.”
Bottom line is this; you need to sell out to God. It keeps coming back to that, Holiness means that you’ve given everything to God, your ambition, work, hobbies, house, car, family, pride and everything you are and everything you will be.
Have you done that? Have you chosen? Chosen to be transformed into a new person changing the way you think? Today is the day