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“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
At Easter I wrote about Holiness, that holiness is intimacy with God. (Here’s that post.) I described how Bernard of Clairvaux’s 14th century hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, was a personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
I return to this subject because I did not adequately describe the beauty and purpose of holiness. There’s something else at work here. Holiness is also an outward response to that intimate friendship. To live in holiness, we must walk in holiness. The apostle Paul writes:
I am a prisoner because of the Lord. So I am asking you to live a life worthy of what God chose you for. - Eph. 4:1
Building on the foundation that I laid in the previous post: Holiness is more than intimacy with God. Holiness is both:
- Personal intimacy resulting from relationship in righteousness through faith and
- Public witness of ethical behavior. God’s people are called to represent God’s holiness to a hurting world.
Holiness is not merely intimacy; it is also action and ethical behavior within the community and with all people. Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright‘s book, The Mission of God, expains that holiness is manifest through ethical behavior, works of righteousness. The New Testament narrows it down to loving our neighbors. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you have fulfilled all the law and the prophets. Holiness, in contemporary language, may best be summed up in social justice. Paul writes:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
Please understand, you do not earn holiness through any actions of your own. Neither are you holy if you simply do good works of social justice. However, those who have been called to intimate friendship with God have no choice about whether or not they are to love their neighbor, through ethical behavior in and through their community and through acts of mercy and social justice among the nations.
To be sure, holiness literally means to be ‘set apart,’ to be wholly different. God is holy, completely different, other than all other gods. And God in Christ Jesus calls his people to be holy as he is holy. Israel was also called to be holy, unlike any other nation.
In his book The Mission of God, Christopher J.H. Wright outlines the nature of being “set apart”, the election of Israel. Israel’s election is:
- In the context of God’s blessing of “every nation”
- Does not imply rejection of other nations
- Not due to special features of Israel
- Founded only on God’s inexplicable love
- Instrumental, not an end in itself
- Part of the logic of God’s commitment to history
- Fundamentally missional, not just soteriological
When God accepts us and welcomes us into close fellowship with him through the blood of Christ, we are “MADE HOLY.” That holiness calls us to be wholly different:
Finally, brothers and sisters, we taught you how to live in a way that pleases God. In fact, that is how you are living. In the name of the Lord Jesus we ask and beg you to do it more and more.You know the directions we gave you. They were given by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God wants you to be made holy. – I Thes. 4:1-3
“What language should I borrow, to thank Thee dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
This line comes from “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” a 12th century hymn by Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was a reformed Benedictine abbot in France during the time of great challenges to the Church. Islamic nations, European kings, and even as many as three simultaneous popes all vied for power in “Christendom,” where the Roman Church was preeminent in the Western culture. I cannot defend all that Bernard did during his thirty years as a minister, however I can safely say that his life’s work elevated personal faith over religious ritual. He called upon his generation to truly know Jesus.
I am moved again today by this personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
Nearly every time I teach for a week in a Youth With A Mission training school, I invariably return to the primal call of this hymn to intimacy with Jesus. This call is consistent throughout the Bible and throughout history. God calls us to intimacy.
When God called him by name, Moses replied, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exo. 3:5)
How strange. What made that place holy? The Almighty not only introduced Himself to Moses, but He shared the deep things of His own heart with someone he chose to trust. The LORD said,
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.”
What made that place holy was intimacy; God revealed his deepest hurts to Moses. It is the same when I share from my heart the things that cause me pain. These things are not for everyone to know. If I choose to trust someone and share my pain, it is a ‘set apart’ conversation, a holy moment with a trusted friend.
That place of trusting relationship is ‘set apart’ – it is a ‘holy’ place. When God chooses to open His heart to reveal His thoughts, it is a most Holy place because His character is perfect and His abilities are limitless.
God knows all things perfectly. He saw the suffering of the people of Israel in captivity that He chose to represent His name and bring forth the Messiah. They were in chains and cruelly mistreated and He heard their cries. God felt something in His heart that He shared with Moses. God invited Moses to the Holy place of intimacy where He felt that pain.
Centuries later, the apostle Paul went to Athens where he found an altar with the enscription: To the UNKNOWN GOD. This was Mars Hill, the place where people considered ultimate questions of origin, destiny, and value. Plato had taught his students, including Aristotle, to consider the uncaused cause, the wholly unchangeable and ultimate good. Perhaps Plato was a pre-Christian prophet to the Western world?
The difficulty with Plato’s line of thinking is that the ultimate good, the UNKNOWN GOD, cannot change. He cannot experience anything, including pain. This line of thinking became the frame of reference for Western theologians for most of Christian history.
However, the God who is revealed in scripture, Righteous and Holy, is also honest when He says He feels pain. Scripture says in Genesis 6:6:
“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”
Some say these ‘human-like’ expressions of God are anthropomorphisms, that God is only using language that we can understand in our frailty and limited understanding. They say God is pretending to be like us so that we may relate to him.
If that is true, the ultimate anthropomorphism is Jesus. The ‘Word’ became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). He is Immanuel, God with us, offering intimate friendship to all who will come near.
Jesus is ‘the exact representation’ of God’s being (Heb. 1). He represented perfectly the love and justice of His Father. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
When Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, the Father wept. When Jesus felt the pain of rejection, the Father felt pain too. When Jesus made the atoning sacrifice on the cross, the Father made the sacrifice as well. God knows everything about everyone, including me. He knows every sin act that produces broken relationship and it causes Him pain.
God is all-powerful and all knowing, but He restrains His power and knowledge for the sake of relationship with us. If I had all power and all knowledge, I am sure I would determine to make use of my abilities. The results would be disastrous. However, I am not God. Inasmuch as I chose to break with my conscience and choose to selfishness, I became morally depraved. I was without hope and without God. I was in need of a Savior.
God could judge the earth and all the wickedness, but he waits patiently for you and me to return to our source of life and hope and love. God is restrained from judgment for the sake of relationship. He always chooses the highest and best for everyone.
“For this is what the high and lofty One says–he who lives for ever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa. 57:15)
His invitation to “Take my yoke … and learn from me” is a call to intimacy with Him, “for (He is) gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
God is patient. He limits His judgment, not his ability or his knowledge, for the sake of relationship.
God stoops down to love you and me, free moral beings, because He is condescendingly gracious. God’s eternal nature is limitless from time eternal past to time eternal future; He is eternal in duration. The Greek notion, representing mankind’s highest thinking, says God is timeless. This sophisticated human invention gave rise to the ultimate ideal, the UNKNOWN GOD, who exercises His power and knowledge without restraint.
There is no point in confusing this issue; we either worship an ideal UNKNOWN who controls all things perfectly and is therefore responsible for all things good and bad, or we worship the God who is all powerful, yet patient, humble, and not responsible for the evil acts of humanity. We either worship a god who could not limit his power or we worship the One Moses met at the burning bush, the all-powerful “I AM” who shows restraint. We either worship a god who absolutely never changes, including no emotional responses to the acts of his human creation, or we worship the God of the Bible who responds to our prayers, is touched by the feelings of our weaknesses, and feels the pain of rejection and the joy of new life. We either worship a god who controls all things, or we worship Jesus who makes us free to choose to love him or reject him. We either worship a god who is created after our own image, or we worship the Suffering Servant of Isa. 53 who went to the cross to die for my sin.
Relationship with an UNKNOWN GOD is impossible. That is how we have true intimate relationship with a wholly blameless Eternal God. And this is why my prayers echo the words of Bernard of Clairvaux:
“Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
Revelation is cast with vivid imagery, influenced by the backdrop of “volatile times” in Jerusalem and Rome. By illustrating a cosmic struggle with satirical exaggeration, Revelation employs symbols intended for his first century audience, not clearly understood by subsequent generations. To illustrate, the Roman instrument of execution would not be found in the “seven churches;” the symbol of the cross is not found anywhere in the text. The “beast” (Rev. 17:7) and the “antichrist” (1 John 4:3) were understood to be Rome and Nero and Peter had already designated Rome as “Babylon” (1 Pet. 5:13). Demystifying the symbols allows the reader to again focus on the central figure, the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), the One “who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 4:8).
This powerful portrayal of the incarnation is coupled to John’s warning to the churches of the dangers of false “Gnostic” teachings, which inevitably lead to a lack of concern for Christ’s mission to all humanity. John reveals that the One who “emptied himself…being born in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7) is eternally incarnate, “every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7). However, he is not merely physical; he does not only “seem” to have suffered physically. Likewise, he is not only spiritual. He is personal, a living soul who “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). The revelation of Jesus’ incarnation confounds false teachings of dualism; he is God and human enthroned.
Today congregations are caught in a similar conflict between two extremes: One is the “secular” materialist view, which denies the miraculous, including the resurrection; and the other is the “super-spiritual” view, which tends to minimize Jesus’ incarnation and an ethical commitment to the surrounding world. The book of Revelation is about the “time” of “wrath” and “reward” for “all who fear [his] name, both small and great,” and included in that time of wrath is the destruction of “those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18). The severe warning to John’s audience and churches today is this: distorting the truth of the incarnation will separate followers from Christ, from the reality of this life, and from responsibility for all of life. Failing to teach the incarnation leads to idolatry and immorality.
See more at http://johnthenry.wordpress.com