HOLY – WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH ME?

As a child, I remember singing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” with great gusto in my home church with my mother and father standing by my side. 

Then, as I got older in my faith walk with the Lord, I sang the hymn with less gusto and more meaning as I pondered each of the words while singing them.

Some places just evoke a feeling of sacredness, of being a special place where we feel close to God.     Consider the Canterbury Cathedral, where worship services to God have been conducted for over 1400 years!

Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

Or, consider Bryce Canyon where we see the majesty and jaw-dropping creativity of our Sovereign God.  The beauty and sheer magnitude of the canyon evokes a feeling of gratitude to God for the beauty of His creation.

Bryce Canyon 1
Bryce Canyon with its “hoodoos” – spires standing up over the base of the canyon!

Or, consider Yellowstone National Park with its geysers and pools of water that exceed the boiling point, spewing steam and sulfur continually from their fissures.

Yellowstone 083
Yellowstone National Park. The pavement in the parking lot gave way under the pressure of the geyser beneath.  

These things tell us that God is different than we are … that He is far greater than our finite minds can comprehend. 

We say God is holy, that we have the Holy Bible, that Jesus foretold of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we know that are to be holy but: “What is ‘holy’?” 

The Hebrew word for “holy” as found in Strong’s concordance is Strong’s Number H6944 which matches the Hebrew  קֹדֶשׁ  English transliteration “godesh”.  This word occurs 519 times in 382 verses in the Hebrew concordance of the NASB

The word signifies apartness, sacredness, separateness and it is used in relation to God, places and things.  There is a “set-apartness” for that which is holy.  In reading Leviticus we see how the tabernacle and all its furnishings and utensils were “consecrated to God”, another way of saying they were set apart for God’s use, specifically for use in their worship of Him.  The clothing that the priests wore was consecrated for when they were performing their priestly duties.  They were set apart for use in the worship and service of God, taken out of the ordinary and set apart for God.

We remember that when Moses was in the wilderness and saw the burning bush, he walked over to it and, when he approached the bush, God spoke and told him to remove his sandals because the ground where he was standing was holy ground.  Before the bush started burning the ground around it was just regular ground, like all the rest of the wilderness.  But God’s presence, His use of the bush to get Moses’ attention, set the bush and surrounding ground apart from the rest: it became holy. His sandals that were covered in the dust of the ordinary had to be removed because they were contaminating the ground that had become holy.

God directed Moses to tell the people that they were to be holy because He, their God, is holy.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

Leviticus 19:1-2

God elaborates upon His relationship with His people in the next chapter:

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

Leviticus 20:26

God set apart His people for His own purposes, that they should be His and that they should follow no other god.  He separated them from all the peoples on the earth and they are His.  They are a holy people – not because of their own abilities or value. 

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 7:6-8

God’s people are His because He has chosen them and He is faithful to fulfill all the promises that He made to the patriarchs of old. 

In the New Testament, Peter tells the Christians that they are God’s children and that they are to be “holy” in their conduct!

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:14-16

We know, of course, that we cannot be holy on our own – we need the Holy Spirit to bring us the holiness that we need so we can show God’s holiness to the world.  We are sinful creatures and cannot be “holy” in our own right.   Because God is holy, we are to be holy as His children.  Holiness is to be a family trait!

So, what does this have to do with me, or with you?  We need to remember that, as Christians, we have dual citizenship – we are citizens of the place on earth where God has put us for His purposes, and we are citizens of God’s kingdom. As much as we are involved with the workings of our homes, cities, governments, schools, etc., these take second place when we think about our ultimate, eternal citizenship. 

God’s world is a beautiful, magnificent creation that reflects His glory daily.  But Scripture tells us that this world will pass away, but God’s Kingdom will never pass away.

Jesus said that our focus should not be on this world, but rather on heaven.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Matthew 6:19-20

Be holy because God is holy.  Think of the words of the hymn as  you listen to it being sung on the album Hymns for All Saints: Adoration, Praise and Comfort, by Columbia Publishing House.

Father, I know that I cannot be holy other than by Your grace and mercy through the power granted to me by the Holy Spirit.  Enable me to grow in holiness so that others may see You reflected in my life.

“YOU SURE LOOK LIKE YOUR FATHER!”

Many years ago, before my biological children were born, we were foster parents for several children who were placed, for a variety of reasons, in a nearby children’s home. 

As an “adventure” one weekend, we took our foster children to a Civil War battlefield, complete with canons and stacks of cannonballs.  It also had a museum and much for the children to interact with as they learned about what happened at the Chickamauga Battlefield so many years earlier. 

When we went to the cashier to pay for our souvenirs, the Park Ranger standing there looked at our family and said to our son, “Boy, you sure look like your Father!” and to our daughter he said “And, you really look like your Mom!”  We smiled at him and paid for our goodies, and then left. 

In the car, we chuckled about the Ranger’s well-meaning comments.  They were especially humorous since both children were in foster care and of no blood relation to us.  Furthermore, they were not brother and sister but were from two separate families. 

Ultimately, I did have two children, a son and daughter, and when they were in preschool, my husband left us and divorce ensued.

Then the Lord brought Bill into our lives and, 31 years later, we are still married and the “children” (now in their 40s) are very much in love with him.   

When Bill had taken our son to the store for some clothing, the cashier looked at the two of them and said “Boy, your sure look like your Father!”   Without correcting the clerk, without discussing step-relationships, and without missing a beat, our son said “Yes, I do.”

Father and son marathon cropped
Father and son running in a marathon.

We were thinking about these comments recently and I wondered if I looked like my Father.  Do you?

We have just concluded consideration of just a few of the attributes of God, the Father, and I thought we should bring those discussion down to earth.  Do we look like our Heavenly Father?

I know that we cannot be like God, we are merely creatures who are sinful and who live in a fallen world.  But some of the attributes that are of God can be found in us if we let Him live in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. 

For example, Eternality is totally outside of our experience, we are time-bound, temporal, finite.   But Mercy is something that we can extend to those who wrong us in some way.

Omnipotence, Omniscience and Omnipresence are attributes that no one would ever credit me with having, that’s for sure.  They reside within God and are not communicable to either you or me. 

Holiness is surely one of the attributes that sets God apart from the sinful creation ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.   But, Scripture says that we are to be holy. 

“For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.””

Leviticus 11:45

“but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.””

1 Peter 1:15-16

I cannot be holy on my own nor can I become holy through any effort or action that I take.  I am sinful and will be sinful all my life.  But through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, in the eyes of God, I can be holy.

Justice is another attribute of God that is tied to His Holiness.  God is repeatedly called Just in Scripture and we are told that His actions are always just. 

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

Deuteronomy 10:17-18

While Justice is an attribute of God’s intrinsic nature, it is also something that we are commanded to be.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Micah 6:8

Love, the attribute of God’s nature which Jonathan Edwards called “the sum of all Christianity”.  God loved us even when we were sinners and unable to approach Him even in prayer. Through the Holy Spirit, we were made part of God’s family because of His love.

In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of an olive tree into which branches have been grafted, the tree, rooted in Jesus Christ, is referencing the Jews while the branches that were grafted onto the tree reference the Gentiles. 

Adoption is another image presented in Scripture with respect to God’s love.  The Amplified Holy Bible renders Ephesians 1:4-6 as follows:

Just as [in His love] He chose us in Christ [actually selected us for Himself] [as His own] before the foundation of the world, so that we would be holy [that is, consecrated, set apart for Him, purpose-driven] and blameless in His sight.  In love He predestined and lovingly planned for us to be adopted to Himself as [His own] children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the kind intention and good pleasure of His will to the praise of His glorious grace and favor, which He so freely bestowed on us in the Beloved [His Son, Jesus Christ].

We have been loved by God, through Christ Jesus, and have been adopted into His family.  What does that mean for us here on earth, surrounded by so many who do not know Him?  We are to love each other and are to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ so that men can see Him when looking at us.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

John 15:8-9

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:12

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

John 15:16-17

So, the question hangs in the air – do you look like your Heavenly Father?

          At church on Sunday morning?

          At the supermarket on Tuesday?

          At the work meeting where your project is being criticized?

          When someone cuts you off on the highway?

          When you can’t think because the neighbors’ dogs are barking?

Do you look like your Heavenly Father?  Do I?

 

Father, we so easily call You Father even though we had nothing to do with Your adoption of us.  Your grace in giving us eternal life came at the incredible cost of Your Beloved Son’s atoning death.  Your mercy was extended to us even while we were still wallowing in our sin. Oh, Father.  Your love and compassion is too wonderful for us to comprehend.  All we can do is thank You and pray that we would be transformed through Your Spirit into the image of Your Beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  May we look more and more like Jesus and, thus, more and more like You each day.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – HOLINESS

When you think of holiness, or of being holy, what image do you conjure up in your mind?  Someone who is a “goodie-two-shoes” or a person who speaks and acts as if he is “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good”?  Or do you not have any idea of what holiness is, so you don’t have any image to ponder?

I realize that holiness is not something that we think about on a daily, moment-by-moment basis but, if we want to know God, we should consider it because holiness is fundamental to God’s character. 

Holiness is synonymous with God’s total purity and separation from the rest of creation.  Consider Adam and Eve’s reaction after they ate the forbidden fruit and God came to visit with them in the Garden of Eden.

“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

Genesis 3:8

Up until this time, Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s presence with them, but when He came to them that day, they hid.  They instinctively knew that God was holy and they were not, they had disobeyed, they had sinned and God could not look upon sin.  They hid among the trees.

Consider when God called to Moses from the burning bush, after Moses walked closer to see it, God said:

“”Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 3:5-6

Moses surely was not afraid of a burning bush … it was a distance away from him and the flock, no threat.  He went over to investigate because it appeared that the bush was not being consumed by the fire. 

Why was the place Moses approached “holy” ground?  It was not because the sand was any different than the sand that was all around Moses in the wilderness.  It was not because the bush was different than all the others in the area.  It was because God was there, so Moses was in the presence of the Holy God.     

It was at that point that God spoke to him, and notice Moses’ response — he hid his face, he was afraid!  Why?  Because then Moses knew that he had encountered the holy God

“Holy” is the English translation of the Hebrew word “qodesh”, and it means “apartness”, “sacredness”, and “separateness.”  This set-apartness is evident in the Old Testament in texts such as Leviticus 20:7.

Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.”

Here God is telling the people to consecrate themselves, in other words to sanctify, to dedicate, to separate themselves for a special purpose or use. 

In the Book of Acts we read:

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.””

Acts 13:2

Setting apart for a specific task from God is one way we acknowledge that God is holy and that even people who are doing His work should be separated from that which is worldly or ungodly.

God’s holiness can be understood as moral purity, although it is much more than that.  His holiness, His purity, is eternal and incorruptible, there is no time or likelihood that God will, at some point, no longer be holy or pure.  This total purity, total separation from anything that is sinful, explains why God gave detailed commands in the Old Testament about the way mankind could approach God. 

USED Canterbury cathedral view of the altar area
Looking toward the altar in Canterbury Cathedral,
Canterbury, England, if man can build such a glorious place, imagine what Isaiah saw!

One of my favorite passages in scripture is Isaiah 6. The prophet Isaiah had a vision of God and he described it as follows:

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.””

Isaiah 6:1-8

Forgive me for quoting so much from the passage but I want you to get the full impact of Isaiah’s vision.  Just a look at the description of the LORD.  Listen to the angels, the host of heaven, calling “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” 

What is Isaiah’s reaction in this vision?  Essentially the same as Moses’ reaction to God’s presence.  Isaiah said “WOE IS ME!”  “I AM LOST!”  “I AM … UNCLEAN!”  In his vision, Isaiah was afraid because he instantly recognized that God is holy, and he was not.

Centuries after Isaiah wrote of his vision, John was on the island of Patmos and wrote the Book of Revelation, citing the same words as Isaiah heard.

“At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. … And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!””

Revelation 4:2,8

God’s holiness is one of the primary reasons why the advent of Christ is so amazing.  Because of Jesus’ coming to this earth and dying on the cross, men, who were once unable to come before God, now can kneel before the throne of God and worship Him forever and ever. 

Because of the cross and His resurrection, because of our faith in Him as Lord and Savior, we no longer must hide our face or be afraid of God.  We now can join the heavenly chorus and shout “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!”  We can face God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and, rather than hiding our face, we can come to the throne of God and call Him “Abba, Father.” Praise His Holy Name!

Listen now to the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” s on the album  “Hymns for all the Saints: Adoration, Praise, Comfort” from Concordia Publishing House.

Father, I pray that I would never lose sight of the wonder and glory of Your holiness.  I praise Your name that Jesus Christ died so that His righteousness would cloth my sinfulness, so that I could join with the heavenly chorus and praise Your Holy Name.

HOW CAN I BE HOLY?

We often watch DVD classes from The Great Courses to learn and experience lands and peoples that we would likely not see in person.  In the class “Great Tours: Greece and Turkey, from Athens to Istanbul”, Professor John R. Hale talked about, and had pictures of, Byzantine architecture found at Meteroa.  (By the way, I would highly recommend these courses for anyone who wants an armchair education.  They are excellent and well researched and presented and the topics are myriad.   thegreatcourses.com.  But I digress!) 

Meteora was a cluster of monasteries built in Greece in the 14th century.  The name “Meteroa” means “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”.  One look and you realize that these were aptly named.   

meteora-monastery-15
Monastery in Meteora, Greece

Originally there were 24 monasteries in this group, but now there are only four that house religious communities and they are important sites for the Eastern Orthodox church.  The monasteries were built on natural sandstone rock pillars that were virtually inaccessible so that they functioned as a place of sanctuary from the violent controversies on the land below. 

The pinnacles rise over 400 meters above the Peneas valley.   They are incredible examples of architecture that transformed rugged rock spires into places of calm serenity and retreat.  Access was deliberately difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets on ropes that would be used to haul up both goods and people. This required quite a leap of faith, both in the people doing the hauling and in the ropes transporting visitors and goods up the sides of these pinnacles. 

[Some of the information and the picture above was obtained from  http://www.amusingplanet.com/2012/09/5-most-inaccessible-monasteries-in-world.html a website that includes more information than that which is presented here.]

Do you have to be ensconced in a monastery on top of a pinnacle in order to be holy?   And, what is holiness anyway?

According to Strong’s Thesaurus/Lexicon, the Hebrew word translated as “holy” or “holiness” means “apartness, holiness, sacredness, separateness … set-apartness.” 

We are told that we are to be holy.   He wants us to be set apart for Him, rather than being one with the world and its culture.

For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Leviticus 11:45

Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Exodus 3:5.  Moses had stepped aside to see the burning bush and God instructed him to take off his sandals because God’s presence rendered the very ground “holy”. 

God is not our “Buddy in the Sky”.   Notice that even though God and Moses had a very close relationship, there was a great difference between them.  He is holy and this holiness is one of the attributes of God, it is intrinsic in His being and it cannot be violated.  Because He is holy, we cannot come before Him — our sin has dirtied us up from the inside out and God cannot countenance any disobedience to His law, i.e., sin. 

The difference between us and God is monumental.  God omniscient and omnipotent.  In contrast, we are temporal and totally dependent on God for life itself.  God is holy, and we are not.

Isaiah’s vision of God is descriptive of this difference:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Up to this point, the vision of Isaiah is very similar to the vision that the Apostle John had as recounted in Revelation 4:2-8.  Isaiah, however, gives us his response to what he saw:

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.   And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah 6:1-7.

Isaiah’s response to seeing God on His throne in heaven was an immediate recognition that he was lost, sinful, and unworthy to stand before the King, the LORD of Hosts.  In fact, God did not speak to him or acknowledge his presence until after the angel had touched his lips with the coal from the altar saying that he had received atonement for his sin.  After this, God spoke.

He is a holy God and we must not forget that fact.  We have absolutely no standing before God in and of ourselves because of our sinful disobedience to His commands.

The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness.  He is just and we are unjust.  This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God.  The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge.  We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us.  We are at war with Him unless and until we are justified.  Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 147

Becoming holy has nothing to do with your physical location.  Rather, it has everything to do with your relationship with Jesus Christ, the One who died so that you could be justified, and then be “comfortable in the presence of a holy God”.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 

The faith that saves is faith in Jesus Christ, the One who died as an atoning sacrifice, taking your sin on Himself, so that if you believe in Him, you will be clothed in His righteousness.  In that way, God sees Christ in you and adopts us as His children. 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6.

The answer to “How can I be holy?” is “You can’t!”, at least not on your own.  None of us has anything that we can give to the holy God … we are sinful creatures with no redeeming merit no matter how good we seem to other people.  Yet we are called to be holy, and we can be so in and through Jesus Christ.

“Be holy as I am holy.”   We don’t need to be on top of a pillar to be holy.  Our holiness is not dependent on anything that we can do or anywhere that we must go.   Praise be to God the Father and to His Son for giving us a way to stand before God and call Him Father.  We can be holy – if we are washed in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus. 

Listen to the choir sing “Clothed in Righteousness” from the album Glory to the Holy One, lyrics written by R. C. Sproul:

Here are the lyrics for your review while you listen:

Fallen race in Eden fair Exposed and full of shame Fled we naked from Thy sight Far from Thy holy Name

Refrain

Clothe us in Your righteousness Hide filthy rags of sin Dress us in Your perfect garb Both outside and within

Sent from the garden in the east Outside of Eden’s gate Banished there from Thy pure light Were Adam and his mate

Scarlet souls are now like snow By Thy atoning grace Crimson hearts become like wool For Adam’s fallen race

Refrain

No work of ours is good enough For evil to atone Your merit, Lord, is all we have It saves, and it alone

Refrain

Father, I pray that these words would be encouragement to believers and that they would be used by the Holy Spirit to convict the nonbeliever of the need for repentance and faith in the Savior.  Thank you Father for making a way for us to come before you in faith.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, INTRODUCTION, Series Post No. 1

This is the first post in a series of thoughts about the fruit of the Spirit found in The Bible at Galatians 5:22-23.   I plan to post this series each Friday, if the Lord grants it, and we will take time to think about what the Scripture says, and how it applies to my daily life.

 

I have used a number of references in preparation for this study, but throughout this study we will be specifically referencing Dr. R. C. Sproul’s teaching series Keeping in Step with the Spirit, CD Teaching Series; and Developing Christian Character, CD Teaching Series, both of which are available from Ligonier Ministries at http://www.ligonier.org. I will also make frequent reference to Jonathan Edwards’ sermons collected in the excellent book Charity and Its Fruits, available through The Banner of Truth Trust at https://banneroftruth.org/us/. Another reference that I have referred to in this study is the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This is an incredible reference for understanding our Christian theology, not just the fruit of the Spirit. I would encourage you to obtain a copy of the Shorter Catechism together with proof texts at http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ShorterCatechismwithScriptureProofs.pdf.

 

WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE SAY?

 The first question we need to ask is “Why study the fruit of the Spirit?”

 

We know that the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Catechism Answer Number 1.

 

The Catechism also teaches that God created man, male and female, “after His own image in knowledge, righteousness and holiness” with dominion over the creatures. Catechism Answer Number 10.

 

However, because of Adam’s fall, sin entered the world and all mankind lost the “knowledge, righteousness and holiness” that had been given to us at creation. Catechism Answer Number 18.

 

Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:22 says it this way:

 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

 

No longer do we have the righteousness and holiness that we had when mankind was first created. But all is not lost. The Catechism again comes to our aid by explaining that sanctification is the work of God’s free grace by which we are renewed in the image of God and are enabled more and more to die to sin and live to righteousness.

 

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:12-14

 

Paul continues to consider the Christian transformation in Colossians 3:10 where he says that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” and Ephesians 4:24 says that our new self was “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

 

So, how important is righteousness?     God calls each of his children to righteousness. Remember the first catechism answer – our primary purpose is to glorify God … we do that through the practice of righteousness.

 

At this point, some are asking “what in the world does all this righteousness talk have to do with the fruit of the Spirit?”   Listen to the words of Jesus.

 

Jesus prioritized the disciples’ concerns in Matthew 6:33: they were not to worry about what they would eat or wear — they were to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and all the other needful things would be added to them.  Jesus explicitly stated that our goal is righteousness.

 

In his book The Holiness of God, Dr. R. C. Sproul says “the goal of all spiritual exercise must be the goal of righteousness.[i]

 

So, how do we know if we are growing in righteousness? Dr. R. C. Sproul continues to provide this answer:

The fruit of righteousness is that fruit that is exercised in us by the Holy Spirit. If we want to be holy, if we have a real hunger for righteousness, then we must focus our attention on the fruit of the Holy Spirit. [ii]

* * *

[The virtues listed in Galatians 5:22-23] are the marks of a person who is growing in holiness. These are the virtues we are to cultivate. … In this list of the fruit of the Spirit, the apostle gives us a recipe for our sanctification. … The fruit of the Spirit – that is where our focus must be. [iii]

 

HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO MY DAILY LIFE?

 

Martin Luther explained righteousness in practical terms by saying that “Every Christian is called to be Christ to his neighbor.” We understand this to mean that we should live our lives to conform to God’s will so that when people see us, they see the reflected holiness of Christ in our lives – people will see us reflecting Jesus’ love to others and, in so doing, they can see Him living through us.

 

We all sin every day, or more likely every moment of every day. But for the believer in Jesus Christ, that sin is covered by His righteousness and we are made children of God through His work on the cross. Therefore, we can follow our chief end, which is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, by growing in righteousness. This is done by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our minds and hearts so the fruit of the Spirit becomes recognizable in our life.

 

Our search for righteousness leads us directly to the Holy Spirit and the fruit that He promises to provide and grow in our hearts.

 

So, for now, I would challenge you to read Galatians Chapter 5 and focus on the comparison between the acts of the natural man and the acts of the believer in Christ Jesus who has the Holy Spirit working in her heart, specifically verses 19-23.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.

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[i] The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul, published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., © 1998 R. C. Sproul, page 166.

[ii] Ibid., page 167.

[iii] Ibid, pages 169-70.

BRIDGES

A bridge is a structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley or road, for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle.  [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge accessed September 19, 2015]

There are a multitude of examples of bridges that we can find or have occasion to cross.

Henley Street Bridge in Knoxville
Henley Street Bridge in Knoxville

 

In Knoxville we have the Henley Street Bridge, which is well over 100 years old, and is the site of fireworks during holiday celebrations.

The interstate takes its course over this incredible bridge as we traveled across the Mighty Mississippi River.

Bridge across the Mississippi River outside of Louisiana
Bridge across the Mississippi River outside of Louisiana

The bridge at Multnomah Waterfalls along the Columbia River Highway, Oregon enables people to get up close to the waterfalls without killing themselves on the slippery rocks or without being pummeled by the pressure of the water falling over the edge over 500 feet overhead. [See: http://www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4051%5D

Multnomah Waterfall, Columbia River Highway, Oregon
Multnomah Waterfalls, Columbia River Highway, Oregon

Then we have a footbridge across the creek in the Great Smoky Mountains.   Not every bridge is a sterling example of engineering marvels.   Here, the bridge accomplishes its important purpose with dignity and a simplicity that is beautiful in its own right.

Wooden bridge across creek in the Smokey Mountains
Wooden bridge across creek in the Smoky Mountains

The bridge over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg is iconic as well as fundamentally important, being one of the links between the East and the West of our country.

Bridge over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg
Bridge over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg

While different in materials, design, location and terrain surrounding each bridge, the fundamental purpose is the same – to provide safe passage from one side to the other.  There is a chasm from which passage is either extremely difficult or impossible and the bridge enables us to move unhindered across that chasm, if we will but avail ourselves of its presence.

In 1956 I had occasion to visit the Royal Gorge in Colorado.  It was an event for which I have vivid recollection because of the impact it had on me – the depth of the gorge was mind boggling and its presence in the middle of, what seemed to me to be, nowhere made a lasting impression.  I could not fathom how anyone could cross this incredible tear in the fabric of the ground!

The Royal Gorge, Colorado, picture taken in 1956
The Royal Gorge, Colorado, picture taken in 1956

But someone did — many years before.   There was a bridge over the Royal Gorge to make travel across the gorge both possible and safe.  I admit to being panicked when my father drove across the bridge, but we were safe.

Bridge over the Royal Gorge, Colorado
Bridge over the Royal Gorge, Colorado

All of us are subject to a chasm that renders the Royal Gorge insignificant … the chasm between righteousness and sin. Romans 3:23 says, simply and concisely, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

We may think that we have done such good things that God will surely let us enter His Heaven, but if we have not repented of our sin and confessed Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we may be like the Pharisees in Luke 16 where Jesus said:

“You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  Luke 16:15

Indeed, Jesus said: “No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18.

In short, we need to bridge the gap between us and our unrighteousness (also known as sin) and the Holy God, Who cannot look upon sin.  Isaiah learned this as a result of the vision he had in the year that King Uzziah died.  Isaiah 6:1-8. Isaiah saw the Lord on His throne, high and lifted up.  And the seraphim that stood by the throne called and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Isaiah’s response was not to say something like “Hey there – here I am and you should be glad that I have come, after all, I am your prophet and have a lot of clout on earth!  Look at all the times I did what you wanted and what I have accomplished for you!”

Quite the contrary – Isaiah said:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

After this, the seraphim took a coal from the altar and touched his lips saying:

“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Only after this did God speak and Isaiah responded.  God cannot look upon sin!

Isaiah’s response when he was confronted with the holiness of God was “Woe is me!” Isaiah became aware that sin is not fixed simply by “washing up and looking good” – it is a fundamental condition that we are powerless to cure.  It took action by God to cleanse Isaiah so he could minister as God wanted.

Like Isaiah, we can do nothing to fix our own condition. But, One has come and has bridged the gap for us – He became the way we can come before the Holy God and call Him “Abba, Father!”

In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul writes:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, bring born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The sinless One became sin for us so that we, who have no righteousness in our own selves, could be covered in His righteousness.  His sacrifice made our acceptance before the Holy God possible – we stand in His righteousness claiming Jesus as our Savior and, miracle of miracles, God the Father accepts us as His children.  Not because of anything good we have done – all because of the acts of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Father, I thank you and praise Your Holy Name for sending Jesus Christ as the sacrificial lamb Who secured salvation for those who call upon His Name, repent of their sin, and confess Him as Lord and Savior of their lives.  Thank you for providing a way for us to breach the chasm that sin created, and I praise Your Name for adoption into the family of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In Whose Name I pray, Amen.