The Nature of Holiness

May 29, 2016

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