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Holiness

“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.”

(Philippians 4:8)

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.

Sanctify them in the Truth (John 17:17)

“Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth.”

(John 17:17)

What a powerful statement!  Jesus lays out two great truths for us in this little statement…first, that it is by the means of the Truth that we should be sanctified and that the Word of God (Scripture) is Truth.  Yet, we need to lay out some definitions here to make sure we understand the depth of this statement.

The first question we really need to ask is what does the word “sanctify” mean.  In Greek, the term sanctify is the word, aJgia/zw (hagiazw), which is related to the term a¢gioß (hagios), meaning “holy” or “set apart for sacred use.”  The Hebrew equivalent to this term is vwødDq (qadosh); God regularly sets apart his people (Leviticus 19:2, 20:26), his priests (Leviticus 21:8), and implements or items of worship (Leviticus 27:30,32) as hÎwhyÅl v®døq (qodesh layahweh)—“Holy to the Lord.”  Thus, getting back to aJgia/zw (hagiazw), sanctification is the process by which God makes us holy as He is holy.  It is a process by which he refines us as by fire (1 Peter 1:6-7), scraping off the dross and refining us for his work here in this world and to be ultimately purified as we are prepared to enter into his eternal presence in glory.

Thus, if we are sanctified in Truth and the scriptures are the revelation of God’s word, then how are we sanctified in the Bible?  To begin with, let us state up front that the efforts of man in this area avail him nothing if not indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is not talking here about those who do not have new life, but he is talking about the born-again believer in Jesus Christ.  Also, it should be noted that Jesus did speak many other words and do many other things than are recorded in the Bible (John 21:25), so some would argue that the Bible is not synonymous with God’s Word.  While there is some truth to that claim, it is clear that the Bible is the only revelation of God that has been written down and preserved for us through the ages (through the superintending of the Holy Spirit).  Certainly, there are many texts that claim divine or apostolic authorship as well as prophetic authorship, but these texts have clearly been shown to be much later additions, written under pseudonyms, and are not inspired by the Holy Spirit.  It has become popular in this age to drag out these texts and create false theologies based on them, but such is the work of false teachers whose condemnation was designated and written about long ago (Jude 4).  Look to the fruit of such teachers (Matthew 7:15-20) and who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny Jesus Christ (Jude 4 again).  The second century church fathers refuted them when they were writing, we should heed their warnings and not stumble into the errors of these charlatans.

As we move, then, back to the Bible—God’s revealed word and the source of all Truth, then how is it that the Bible is a tool in our sanctification?  John Calvin made the argument that there are three purposes to the moral law as it is contained in scripture—the first was simply to set before us a moral code so that we can live together in society without killing one another.  Simply spoken, how different our world would be if every human being on our planet lived by those ten basic commandments!  Secondly, the Ten Commandments are designed to teach us our inability to live a holy life before the Lord.  The simple fact is that try as we may, we cannot keep the commandments of God and thus as we survey the world around us, it is filled with idolatry, crime, adultery, greed, lust, etc…  Thus, the law teaches us we need a savior to redeem us from our wicked state.  Then finally comes the third use of the Law, which is as a tool of sanctification (what Jesus is talking about here) not for all mankind, but for the believer.  As we seek to live according to the Moral Law of God out of a desire to honor our Redeemer and God, we grow more and more like the one who fulfilled that law for us, Jesus Christ.

Jesus said that if we love him, we will demonstrate that love in obedience to his commands (John 14:15).  In addition, in the great commission, Jesus commands the Apostles to go out and make disciples.  What are the marks of a true disciple?  First, they have been baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  But, secondly, they have been taught to obey “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  Thus, we can infer that it is not just the Moral Law that believers are to seek to obey, but all of God’s word as he lays it out before us.  This is not to suggest that we are to obey all of the sacramental laws of the Old Testament, Jesus has fulfilled them for us once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10) nor is it to mean that the civil laws of the Old Testament are to be applied as they were applied in the Old Testament—Jesus himself forgave sins punishable by death (John 8:11)—such laws were given for a people who were structured into a Theocratic kingdom, now we are a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9) and thus have a priestly function while living within the nations of others (just as the Levites did in Israel and just as Abraham did while living as an alien in Canaan).  We can certainly glean some moral principles from these case laws in the Old Testament, but their application is a moral guide and not civil law.

The heart at what Jesus is getting at, though, is that we must be taking God’s word and applying it to every area of our lives if we are to grow like him.  How do we do this, though, if we are not immersing ourselves in our Bibles and studying it—recognizing it as Truth?  What does it say about our hearts if we go to the Bible, yet it does not change us?  In Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), being changed—transformed even—into the image of Christ through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2)—and how is that renewal to take place?  It takes place through the application of God’s word to every area of our lives—indeed, as our Lord prayed, we are sanctified according to his Word.  Christian, pursue that end.

Purify Me with Hyssop: Psalm 51 (part 8)

“Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;

deep clean me, and I will be made whiter than snow.”

(Psalm 51:9 {Psalm 51:7 in English Bibles})

 

David understands well one of the most important lessons that any human can learn:  it is only God and God alone who can cleanse from sin.  No amount of good deeds or sacrifice on our part can atone for our sin—certainly, by human effort we can satisfy our human judges and often placate the other humans we have offended—that is all well and good—but dealing with God is an entirely different matter.  God is not impressed by even our greatest feats—has not the skill to perform such feats come from God to begin with?  God is not impressed by all the wealth in the world—does not all the wealth of the universe come from His creative hand?  Oh, beloved, as we have spoken earlier, though our offense may be against another human being, our sin is against God, and our efforts fall woefully short of being able to satisfy his justice.

You might say, ‘were there not sacrifices made by the priests to atone for sin throughout the history of ancient Israel?’  Indeed, there were many sacrifices.  On the Day of Atonement and on the Day of Passover, blood poured out of the temple and onto the streets of Jerusalem from the hundreds of thousands of animals slaughtered.  Yet, friends, these sacrifices were not only temporary sacrifices, they also pointed to a far greater sacrifice that would come, when Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself, allowed himself to be sacrificed on the day of Passover for our sins—your sins, if you are a born again believer in Jesus Christ, and my sins.  Loved ones, the only reason that ancient sacrifices were of any value was because of what would come; their only power and effectiveness came from the reality and the potency of what they pointed to—namely the death of God’s divine Son on the cross.

Thus, forgiveness is God’s to give, not man’s to earn.  How often we seek to do things to atone for our own sins, as if these things will impress God.  How often we punish ourselves by depriving ourselves of God’s good blessings, thinking that God will be pleased by our actions.  Dear friends, remember, God is the one who gives out and who takes away all good blessings—if he desires to strip you of blessings as a means of chastising you and rebuking you, he will do so.  If God desires to chastise you in other ways, he will do so, for he chastises those he loves (Hebrews 12:6) just like a father chastises his children.  At the same time, if we repent with a broken and a contrite heart and God desires to show mercy upon us, why do we shun such affection?  Indeed, we are unworthy of such blessing in the wake of our sin, but are we not always unworthy of the blessings of God?  Are we not deserving only of wrath and judgment even on our best days?  Beloved, it is God’s to forgive, and it is God’s to wash you clean.

The Hebrew word that David uses in the second line is the word sb;k’ (kabas), which normally is the verb that means “to wash” or “to clean.”  Yet, David uses it in the Piel stem, which is a grammatical form that adds not only intensity, but a sense that it is repeated over and over.  In Hebrew, when this verb is used in the Piel, it refers to a deep cleansing that is done, much like you may scrub a stain over and over again to make sure every last remnant of the stain has been removed.  Forgiveness is a deep cleansing from God, one that not only removes the surface stain, but one that cleanses even to the core of our being. 

One other note of importance:  hyssop was an important element in ancient purification rituals.  It was a small, bushy plant in ancient times that the priests would pluck small branches from, dip the bushy end into either water or blood (depending on the ritual), and then sprinkle the water or blood onto the person as a sign of their cleansing (some have argued that it was likely a hyssop branch that John the Baptist was using, dipped into the Jordan river and sprinkling on those who came for baptism rather than immersing them into the river—for a great discussion on this, read Edmund Fairfield’s “Letters on Baptism”).  This sprinkling was meant as a visible sign of the forgiveness that the repentant person sought.  In seeking forgiveness from God, David is placing before him the request that the forgiveness be both visible and on the surface (the hyssop), but also deep down and to the very depth of his being (sb;k’).  Oh, how we need such total forgiveness in the wake of our manifold sins!

Beloved, hear these words of David and apply them to your own lives.  Is this how you repent, falling on the mercy of God and recognizing it is only in God’s hands that forgiveness can be given?  Or do you seek to “earn” forgiveness by doing certain things that you perceive as being noteworthy before God?  Loved ones, let grace be grace.  Come to Christ with nothing in your hands and do not despise it when he fills your hands with mercy and grace.  Come to him with a broken and contrite heart and let him heal you—let him deep clean you to the deepest recesses of your soul.  The hyssop is good and important, but it is the deep cleaning we need and it can only be given by God in his abundant grace and mercy.  Come to Jesus, beloved, come to Jesus and live!

Weak and wounded sinner, lost and left to die,

O raise your head for Love is passing by.

Come to Jesus, Come to Jesus,

Come to Jesus and live.

Now your burden is lifted, carried far away,

And precious blood has washed away the stain,

So, sing to Jesus, sing to Jesus,

Sing to Jesus and live.

-Chris Rice