As I He Is Holy
Greeting This is one of those messages that you almost feel a little arrogant preaching. It is the subject of holiness. Frankly, this is a scary sermon to preach because I know that I don’t live up to it. And yet it such an important topic and one that has been impressed upon me of late. The understanding of holiness is key to understanding who God is but also to understanding what we are to do.
Read 1st Peter 1:13-16.
13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
Here the Apostle Peter calls the Christian Church to holiness. He bases this command on the OT Scriptures. In verse 16, Peter quotes Leviticus 11:44 which is the passage of Scripture that I want to look at today. But before we do that, let’s pray.
The Extent of Holiness
Tell about reading through Leviticus. Most of this 47 verse long chapter deals with dietary rules for the nation of Israel. There has been much speculation about why certain animals were forbidden and others not. Health benefits have been suggested and yet passage seems to indicate that the primary reason for these prohibitions had to do with making Israel distinct from all other nations.
We know from the NT that with the coming of Christ and the fulfilling of the Law, such dietary restrictions are no longer necessary. Shadow has been replaced by substance, as the author of Hebrews tells us, and therefore it’s no longer necessary to cling to the shadows. In Acts 10:10-16 Peter, the same person who would later quote this Leviticus passage, saw a vision concerning this issue:
10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.13 (The very things Leviticus 11 prohibits) And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
Likewise, in Romans 14, Paul commands Christians not to not make an issue out of such things as OT dietary laws. So, it is clear that these instructions are no longer obligator for NT saints. It dealt with an issue that is no longer applicable to us in the same way that it was for OT Israel. And yet, it played a very important part in God’s plan.
Paul described the Law as a schoolmaster which brought us to the realization of our need of Christ. It shows us the nature of God and our own inability to live up to that nature. Put yourself in the place of an Israelite first receiving the Law. When God spoke to the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai it was an unprecedented event in human history. Never before had God offered self-revelation on such a grand scale before. In the past, He had given little snippets of information to individuals like Noah and Abraham. But now He was giving four books worth of information about Himself to an entire people group. But imagine the weight of the responsibility that must have come upon the shoulders of the Israelites as they listened to the Law being given.
Imagine trying to keep track of all that was being told them. “Okay, we’re to give this burnt offering of this specific type of animal at this specific place and these are the specific rituals associated with that and then there’s a totally different list of very specific details related to grain offerings and another set of rules about peace offerings with a sub-set of rules for priests. And then there’s a whole grouping of laws about motherhood and childbirth and details laws for identifying leprosy, and then laws about cleansing a leper and rules about cleansing a leper’s house. Then there’s laws concerning physical health. And long list of annual rituals to be carried out in very specific ways. Then there’s laws concerning sexuality and religious affairs. And list of random laws pertaining to harvesting and wages.” Oh, and if you mess any of this up it could very well bring about personal and national calamity. (Now you know why Moses had to write it all down)
That Israelite would come away with the strong impression that Jehovah was an awesome God whose demands were very, very high; so high that no one could fulfill them. This was exactly the point of the Mosaic Law; to showed us that we must put our faith in the only One who can fulfill God’s Law – the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then you get to Leviticus 11 and you see that God also had instructions concerning food. Holiness is the theme of the entire book of Leviticus and this chapter in particular. Verse 43 tells us that the Israelites were to avoid defilement.
43 Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby.
It is interesting to me that the weighty subject of holiness comes up in a conversation about meal time affairs. This, I believe, tells us a couple of truths about holiness.
One, holiness is comprehensive. It touches everything. There’s not a specific set of items designated for holiness with the rest of life to be governed as we please. Rather, holiness is to govern our lives from the pew to the dinner table and every place in between. This is in contrast to the prevailing notion of the day that says that “religion” is all well and good so long as you don’t get carried away. God’s okay just so long as He knows His place. But, the Bible would tell us that the Lord has dominion over every aspect of our lives – down to what we eat for dinner.
Two, holiness is practical. Holiness isn’t an abstract concept floating in space. For the Israelites, this passage would have had very practical, down-to-earth ramifications. It would affect what the young men hunted, what kind of cattle fathers would raise and what sorts of meals mothers would cook. Holiness touches everyday realities.
By quoting this passage in a letter to churches, I believe Peter is teaching that the principle (though maybe not the exact application) of Leviticus 11 is very relevant to the NT Church. Thus, I want to look at three truths that this passage teaches us about holiness.
The Basis of Holiness
43 Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby.44 For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
It is far too easy to think of holiness as something done by stern faced men in dark clothes who always look like they’re short on sleep. Instead, the Lord declares that holiness is based in Himself. He is the standard for holiness. In commanding us to be holy, God is inviting to be, to an extent, like Himself.
Doug McLachlan says: “The holiness of God is His “apartness” in two realms. First, there is His holiness of majestic transcendence. This describes the divine separation from all that is created and finite, for the God of the Bible is both uncreated and infinite. Second, there is His holiness of moral purity. This describes His basic separation, apartness or difference from all that is unclean and sinful. God’s holiness is the self-affirmation of His being. God is holy. Thus God has a constitutional reaction against anything which contradicts His holiness or is unlike Himself morally. Therefore, God demands that all people, and especially believers, be like Him in character and conduct. This seems to be Peter’s emphasis when quoting from Leviticus, “Because it is written, ‘Be ye holy for I am holy.’” While we can never share God’s majestic transcendence, we can all share in His moral purity. God is separate – that’s what it means to be holy – and we too must be separate for we are called to be like Him.”
Illustration about Robert the Bruce and Sir James Douglas
Thus being holy is not a dry conformity to a list of regulations. The pursuit of holiness is an act of love and devotion.
Another thing that needs to be said is that rather than being a drain or enslavement, the call to holiness is an invitation to experience ultimate reality and true joy. After giving the Law, God told Israel in Deuteronomy 30:15, “I set before you this day life and good.” Sin has deadened us to all that is good and beautiful. But in being holy as God is holy we find that we are truly alive. We find that we can taste and see the goodness of God. Holy living frees us to experience all the joys that God intended us to experience.
In the 1st Peter passage, the apostle tells us in verse 14 to be: “as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.”
Thus, being holy is about imitating our Heavenly Father, like a little child. All children do this, almost instinctively. Likewise, because we have been made children of Holy God, we are to imitate Him. This involves removing the former lusts. Because our Father is radically holy we too shall pursue radical holiness. In Leviticus we’re told that this desire to be holy like God will cause us to avoid defilement.
This is a ridiculously high stand. Be holy as God is holy. If it were just a matter of conformity to rules that would be another story. Anyone can follow a few regulations. But this is something much harder. This divine holiness is not only affects our outward life but our inward lives as well. Talk about motives. How can we possibly meet that standard? Is holiness a matter of gritting your teeth and trying real hard? This passage seems to indicate something very different.
The Motivation for Holiness
Why were the Israelites (and relatedly us as well) to be holy? Look at Verse 45: 45 For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Our motive for holiness is wrapped up God’s two opening declarations of this verse: I am the LORD (Jehovah). I’ve rescued you so that I might be your God. First, it’s based on who God is. Jehovah is not like the other gods. He is holy and awesome and beautiful and splendid. And that requires something of us.
But secondly, it’s also based on our relationship to God. This glorious majestic God has chosen to rescue us so that He may not just be the Lord but our God. He is Israel’s God in a unique sense and for the believer He is our God in a unique sense. It’s important to note that the Mosaic Law is that it’s not a list of prerequisites that Israel must meet before God saves them from slavery. Rather, it’s a list of commands given because He already did save them from slavery. We have been liberated from a bondage far worse than that of Egypt. Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ have been liberated from the power of sin and death to the end that the Triune Jehovah might be our God. And it’s because of that that we are to pursuit holiness.
Peter also makes this point in 1st Peter 1:13: 13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
Here, Peter reminds the Christians of the full measure of grace that will be realized when Christ appears. God’s already given us grace now and will give us even more grace in the future. And it’s because of that that Peter can command us to gird up our loins and be sober. Because God has already secured our ultimate victory, we are to engage in this fight for holiness.
It’s really important that we get this right. One of the biggest issues facing the Church today is the relationship between holiness and grace. Actually, it’s one of the biggest issues facing the Church of any day. Paul had to deal with way back in the very beginning. After giving a great thesis on grace he had to quickly clarifying that he was not saying that we should sin that grace may abound. He knew that if he didn’t clarify someone would take it that way. Now today, many promote grace at the expense of holiness. Others promote holiness at the expense of grace.
And yet, the Scriptures never portray those two essential concepts as antithetical or even counter-balancing. Grace and holiness are not so much weights of either side of the scale as they are adjoined twins that will both die if separated. To use another illustration, holiness is the destination and grace is the vehicle that gets us there. God wants us to be holy and yet we are simply not capable of meeting that goal. Therefore, God has lavished upon us His grace accessed through faith in the Lord Jesus.
And it is that liberating, relational grace that is to motivate us to pursue godliness. This is vital to keep in mind. Because if you don’t you will find yourself stuck on a treadmill of good deeds and self-correction trying to keep up with all the demands being placed upon you so that you might earn God’s favor. God has called us to something far more freeing and yet a lot more terrifying. Because He has purchased us at a great price we are already positionally holy. If you are putting your faith in Christ there is a sense in which you are already as holy as Jesus is. You are as perfect as you can possibly be. However, in light of all that God has done for us, we are to pursue holiness in a practical way. We are to take what God has done positionally and make it a reality practically. Not to earn God’s favor but we already have God’s favor, compliments of the Lord Jesus. Not as an attempt to gain love but because of the love that is already shown to us. If this not kept straight the pursuit of holiness will become a discouraging rat race of consuming self-improvement.
Martin Luther illustration
It’s an incredible thing that God has done for us. The believer is already righteous, holy and perfect in Christ and he can rest in that reality. And yet, resting in that reality will cause him to labor for practical righteousness, holiness and perfection. It’s both/and not either/or.
Grace and holiness go together but not like ham and eggs go together but the same way that cooking and eating go together. That is to say, they’re not just a nice pair but there’s a progressiveness to their relationship. Grace is the enabler while holiness is the result. So, some people get so caught up in cooking that they forget to actually eat. Others talk so much about eating that nothing is ever cooked.
We see this in Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Paul is talking about grace, he inhales and then in the next breath talks about godly living. Because grace is a powerful force, it changes everything when applied to a person’s life. The life that has accessed grace through faith will be changed in a miraculous way. Holiness is what grace accomplishes. Saving grace grants us positional holiness and sanctifying grace gives us practical holiness.
Our being saved by grace actually makes holiness all the more potent. Because if we came into a relationship with God through some effort of our own, than there’s only so much that God can demand of us. His requirements can only go to a certain point because we did something to earn God’s favor and that much belongs to us.
But if we are saved by faith so that if might be of grace, than God owns us. And not just part of us but all of us. Because we were redeemed purely because of God’s mercy, than we are completely bound to Him and His commands.
Sometimes this will seem radical and over the top. But I would contend that every labor of love does to those who are not bound by that same love Illustration about our courtship. Therefore, love compels us to a radical godliness.
Matt Chandler says, “Grace-driven effort is violent. It is aggressive. The person who understands the gospel understands that, as a new creation, his spiritual nature is in opposition to sin now, and he seeks not just to weaken sin in his life but to outright destroy it. Out of love for Jesus, he wants sin starved to death, and he will hunt and pursue the death of every sin in his heart until he has achieved success.”
Therefore, if grace is not the enemy but the ally of holiness, than one of our greatest weapons in the fight for godliness is a deep understanding of what God has done for us. When we begin to understand the full magnitude of what God has accomplished – not just in our head but in our heart – we cannot help but pursue His holy character. In the Law, the Jews were repeatedly reminded that it was their liberation from Egypt that was to motivate their holy lifestyle. In the same way, the NT believer’s freedom in Christ is to drive him toward holy living.
Thus, as we struggle to stamp out sin in our lives or develop the things that are lacking, we mustn’t simply grit our teeth and whiten our knuckles. Rather, we must put our faith in God’s grace. As a side note: I think that one of the key evidences of whether or not we are trusting in God’s grace is how much time we spend in prayer. If we’re relying on our own strength we don’t need to ask God for any. But when we’re at the end of ourselves we simply must go before the throne of grace, trusting God with the victory.
And when Christians do this, something incredible happens.
The Result of Holiness
I’m going to call this the result of holiness but I’m not quite happy with the terminology. One could make the argument that what I’m about to describe is not the result of holiness but that it is holiness. However, I still think that there’s a distinction that can be made here so I’m going to go ahead a use that wording.
I’m going to say that the result of holiness is distinction. I see that in the last two verses of this chapter.
46 This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth: 47 To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten.
Now again, some would argue that the distinction is holiness. However, I think the distinction described in these verses is a visible, evident difference. It’s something you can see. This, I believe, is related to Verse 45 where God tells the nation of Israel that they are to be His people. And God’s people look different than other peoples.
This is the reason, according to Verse 47, that these regulations about the eating of animals were made. It was so that you could tell the difference between the clean and the unclean. Now the verse is referring to the animals that were clean and unclean but by extension it was so that at a glance, a person could tell the difference a Jew and a non-Jew. When someone was traveling through the Near East and passed through Israel he would see a very evident difference between the Jewish nation and all other peoples. Everything, down to their dinner table, was dedicated to God. In the same way, there should be an obvious difference between the believer and non-believers.
(This is command is both individual and corporate. This is a distinctly Christian concept.
Do you see that in this passage? Eating is an inherently individual activity. Granted, you can eat in a group but the actual act of eating is an individual one. And yet, the results are corporate. It was not just an Israelite that would be distinguished but Israel that would be distinguished. Likewise, we are to be holy as individuals so that Christ’s Church is visibly distinguished from all that is unclean.
This is the heart of Christ. We read in Ephesians 5:25-27:
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Jesus went to extreme lengths (like being tortured to death) to make the Church spotless, glorious and without wrinkle. Therefore, we should also go to extreme lengths to accomplish that same end. For us, “extreme lengths” means dying to self, as Jesus died on the cross.)
That’s really what holiness amounts to – dying. All that is unlike God must burn in the fires of love and devotion. That’s Romans 12:1. And it’s a painful process. Holiness hurts. It means doing things we don’t want to do and not doing things that we do want to do. But the stakes are too high to avoid this challenge. The reputation of God is at stake. And ultimately in obeying God we find true joy and satisfaction.
When God made Man He made him holy, in the sense of moral purity. Humanity was created in the Image of a Holy God. But sin ruined that. We are all born into the world as unholy. And yet, through faith we take on the traits of the Holy One of Israel, that is Jesus Christ. Peter would later tell us that the goal of all this was that we might be a holy nation. Holiness is the entire point of human history.
Look at where the incredible promises of Romans 8 all lead to.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son
For the believer everything conspires to the end that he or she might be like their Savior. That is, that they may be holy. But you’ll notice that the law of the beasts was designed to give the Israelites a choice. It’s was to teach them the principle of this, not that. Thus, holiness involves a choice. It means choosing one thing over another thing. Therefore, as we chase after holiness we must learn to choose certain things over other things.
You may have noticed that I’ve been rather vague throughout my sermon. I’ve not given any specific examples. The reason is that as soon as I give an example that will become the issue. At the same time, I hope it has not been so vague as to be unhelpful.
The important thing is this: God has invited into a relationship with Himself and He is holy. Therefore, as children of God we are to pursue the holiness of our Father. But He’s not left us on our own but has lavished us in grace, empowering us to meet that objective of holiness. Therefore, may we passionate chose to embrace this high calling.