Elected to Holiness
“Blessed is God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; blessing us with every spiritual heavenly blessing in Christ, just as he elected us in Him before the foundation of the cosmos to be holy and blameless before Him in love.”
It is worthwhile to dwell on this notion that God has elected his people for a purpose. And that purpose is that we be “holy and blameless before Him in love.” In Christian circles, the word “holiness” is one that is used heavily but often misunderstood. People usually think that a “holy” person is a person who is exceptionally godly and spiritual. And while that ought to be the case, such is not what the word actually means.
Holiness refers to be set apart for God’s use and for his purposes. For instance, the clothing that Aaron and his sons would wear in their official capacity was set apart as holy (Exodus 28:2). These garments were for Aaron’s work in the temple. They were not to be worn casually or in his daily routine as it were, but he was to use them for God’s work and for God’s purposes. The same thing can be said of the other items in the Tabernacle and around the altar. They were set apart for God’s use alone and not for common usage.
Yet, not only were the things of the Tabernacle and then the Temple set apart as holy, so too was Aaron (Exodus 28:36-38) and further, the people of God were also referred to as “Holy to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 7:6). And, if one would be tempted to suggest that this is only an Old Testament statement, the Apostle Peter cites the language from Leviticus 11:44 about the people of God being “holy as God is holy” and applies that to Christians (1 Peter 1:14-16). That means, as Christians, we have been set apart as holy to God — chosen by God and set apart for his purposes. The world may seek worldly pleasures but that does not belong to our being — we are called to pursue the blessedness of God (as Paul already mentioned) which is far greater than anything this earth can afford us.
How often Christians get their minds and priorities turned upside down. How often they forsake their calling to be holy and how often we slip into sinful ways and practices instead of pursuing the blessedness of God. And, how often the “godliness” that we often associate with holiness is seen as something for someone else to strive toward and not for us. Every word, every action, every thought that fills your life and your days is something that should be seen as being used for the glory of God.
This does not mean that every Christian is called to be a pastor, a missionary, or a street evangelist. What it does mean is that every Christian is called upon to point others toward Christ in their daily activities. This does mean that every Christian is called to live their lives deliberately that we may seek to please God in all we do, that we may seek opportunities to point others to faith and repentance in all we do, and that we are to seek to live and act in such a way that the name of Christ is not besmirched by our actions.
How remarkably sad it is when Christians compromise their holiness for worldly things. How remarkably sad it is that many Christians are willing to strive for excellence in worldly things yet compromise eternal things. As Americans, we often celebrate those Christians who are professional athletes in our midst. Yet, how many of them break the Sabbath because it happens to be “game day.” And no, there is no amount of argument that you can give that will convince me that watching or playing football on Sundays is “doxological” in nature. We are called to set apart the day as holy, not the hour. And holy is God’s use alone.
The Christian doctrine of holiness is not a convenient one nor is it an easy one in our day and age. Yet, it is meant to further set Christians apart to a different kind of lifestyle than is the world. Yes, the world may pursue earthly pleasures. Yes, the world might treat the Lord’s Day as the second day of the weekend — a chance to get things done, go shopping, and be busy with things of personal interest. True, it may be relaxing to go to eat on a Sunday, but you are breaking the Sabbath by employing others to provide for your leisure. These are things that Christians rarely ever contemplate.
God did not elect a people so that people could spend their time however they wanted and then enjoy eternity. May that never be said. God elected a people to be set apart for his use and to find our pleasure in His blessedness, not in worldly things. That does not make us ascetics, but it does mean that we distinguish between worldly and divine and that even when we might enjoy a worldly pleasure, like a good meal or good fellowship, we recognize it as a good gift from God. If you are a Christian, you have been called to holiness; pursue it without reservation, it is what you have been set apart to do.
Personal Holiness of Church Leaders
“And when Joshua sent the people off, the Sons of Israel each went to his own inheritance to possess the land. And the people served Yahweh all the days of Joshua and all of the days of the Elders who lived days beyond Joshua, who had seen all of the great works that Yahweh had done in Israel.”
One of the themes that often puzzles people about the Bible is how often the spirituality of the body’s leadership is reflected in the spirituality (or lack thereof) of the people. Why don’t we see a body of god-fearing people when you have a bad king? Why do the people honor God when there is a revival in the life of the king?
The 19th century Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, used to say, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” What he understood is that people normally follow the lead of their shepherd. And whether we see that in the Elders and Kings of Israel or the pastors and councils of churches, the pattern remains unchanged through history. Even in civil life in America, our healthiest times as a nation (when it came to spiritual matters) have always been when we have had godly leaders.
On a more local level, this trend should send a clear message to all of us who serve as ministers of the Gospel and in church leadership. How are we maintaining our souls? Are we being diligent to make our calling and election more sure (2 Peter 1:10)? It is too easy to get caught up in the busyness of the week and of the responsibilities to prepare church budgets and to set in place church guidelines; we need to be reminded to make this our greatest task — how will we care for our souls? For if we do not care for our own souls, how will we care for the souls of others?
And thus, history echoes the lesson we are learning in these verses. And, if we do not want that history repeated in our churches or in our communities, we need to encourage those who shepherd us to feed their souls as well as our own. That takes time, but in the scope of eternity, it is a worthwhile investment.
“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”
The word aJgno/ß (hagnos) belongs to a word group that derives from the root word, a¢gioß (hagios), a word that we typically translate as “holy.” These refer to things that have been set apart for divine use and preserved from blemish or being defiled by worldly things. God is the example of holiness par excellence, but he also calls his people holy (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:19; Ephesians 1:4) because he has set us apart for his own purposes and he calls us to strive toward holiness in lifestyle (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
Like the vessels used in the temple worship, everything they did was dedicated to needs of the Temple and could be used in no other context, we are described in the same way. Thus, all we do, we do in the name of Christ for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17) and all that is not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23). If we live, we are to live to Christ; if we die, we die to the glory of Christ — everything for the believer revolves around Christ (Philippians 1:21).
Does that mean that Christians are only able to pursue sacred professions? Yes! But every profession that is given by God to man is a sacred profession when done to the glory of Christ. So, whether you are a farmer, a lawyer, a mechanic, a carpenter, a secretary, a banker, an engineer, a pilot, a soldier, or a minister…or any other moral profession…you are called and gifted by God for that task so that you may do that task to His glory.
So we are holy because of God calling us to his Son, Jesus. Yet, as we are fallen and yet imperfect, we must strive towards a life that reflects our holy calling. This, Paul says, we should set our minds upon that we might live it out. The question we must all be asking ourselves is what patterns of behavior, what habits, what practices, and what things in our lives take away from the holiness to which God has called us? It is my suggestion that the deeper and more honestly you look, the more you will find. Such is indeed my own experience.
What is your God?
“whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly and the glory that accompanies their shame — they are setting their minds on worldly things.”
I can’t help but anticipate the contrast with Paul’s language in 4:8 as to what Paul would have believers think upon — that which is true and honorable and righteous and pure… The unbeliever — those who reject the cross of Christ in word and action — they set their minds on the things of this world: wealth and sensuality and vengeance and fame. These two notions could not be further apart…but nor could the two ends…heaven or hell. How often, even as believers, we are tempted to set our minds on things that do not belong to us.
The wording of this verse is a little awkward, which causes a degree of variation in some of our translations. Paul is stringing together some ideas, as he describes those who will not follow the imitation of Christ through his own example, and he is doing so in a quick staccato, much like a preacher might do in a sermon. Even so, as he describes those who reject the cross, they are headed for destruction. He goes on to say that their god is the belly and the glory that accompanies their shame. In other words, in these things they revel.
I expect we have all known those who not only pursue sin, but flaunt that sin. Many in the pro-homosexual movement and in the pro-marijuana movement seem to be doing just that in our American culture today. Yet, we see it all over. People brag because they “get one over” on a business or on another person, people break civil laws and then tell eagerly listening ears of their exploits, and people perform all sorts of immoral behaviors and revel in the shamefulness of their actions. These are those whom Paul is speaking of most directly here, but do not stop there, what Paul is saying is that this kind of thing is the end to which their rejection of the Cross takes them. It is a reminder to us that the notion of a “moral atheist” is little more than a folk-tale. They might start that way, but as one pursues their atheism with integrity and mind set on worldly things, they will speed further and further from that which is good and righteous and pure.
Worldly things pass away, but the Law of God is forever. While the former may be tempting to us, for they can be seductive, the latter will bring lasting peace and joy. Which is more valuable?
From Negev to Gerar: Genesis 20:1
“And Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negeb and he dwelled between Qadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.”
After the fall of Sodom and the surrounding cities, Abraham returns back to the west and the land of his sojourning. The Negeb (sometimes written as “Negev”) is the region to the southern side of what would become Israel. Qadesh and Shur are both on the western coast with Gerar just a little inland (not too far from Beersheba). All of these regions are part of the broader Canaanite territory and they are part of the territory that God had promised to Abraham. This is Philistine territory as well, yet again, all of this region is part of the inheritance of Abraham. In addition to this area being part of what would become national Israel, some of the area is also the territory through which Israel would travel on their wilderness wanderings. Again, God preserving his people in a place where they are surrounded by pagans.
While we may not wander leading a caravan of livestock, in a similar way, we are also wanderers in a land not our own. The culture around us typically claims to believe in God, but by the way most folks live, little of that testimony has merit. Crime, pornography, false teachings being presented as Christianity, and oppression fill our land, yet God provides for us as we walk in the midst of unbelief. In light of this, though, we are given a message to share with those we meet—one of hope, one of life, one of salvation. Because God provides for us and protects us, we have nothing to fear and nothing to hinder us from a bold testimony of faith. How often we fall short.
An interesting side note can be found in the names of the territory that Abraham is traveling between. Qadesh is derived from the Hebrew word for “holiness”—something that has been set apart for divine use. Shur is derived from the word that describes a wall around a well— something that protects the well from being destroyed. Gerar is derived from the word meaning, “to sweep away.” Indeed, these are things that are promised to Abraham’s children though the pagan nations regularly have set their hands to make poor imitations of what can really only be found in God. We are called and set apart as holy and God indeed sets a wall around us to protect us. To that end he sent his Son to suffer and die on the cross so that our sins might be washed or swept away in his grace. How significant even the names of these ancient cities are; how sad it must have been for Abraham to see the bastardizations of truth all around him. How we also ought to lament at how often truth is warped and distorted in our culture as we sojourn in a land that is not our own.
The Lady in the Basket: Zechariah 5:5-11
“And he said, ‘This is Wickedness.’ And he thrust her back into the basket and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening.” -Zechariah 5: 8, ESV
The contrast that Zechariah paints here is stark. While wickedness in the land both then and now is not small, for it is a great stench that rises up from the idolatry of our land, it shows the comparative smallness of wickedness in comparison to God’s goodness, holiness, love, and righteousness. We are also reminded that no matter how bad things get, God is always in control for he wrote the book in the first place. The lead weight on the lid to the basket is also a reminder to us of the weight of the law when brought to bear on sin. While sin may seem great, it is nothing, and those consumed by sin are simply being kept for the final judgment and punishment in the lake of fire.
We must be faithful in our witness to the world that there is hope and redemption, but that it is not in the basket, rather it is in him who controls the outcome of that basket. There is hope in Jesus and in Jesus alone.