Holiness not included

Holy-Spirit fire“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 KJV).

Here’s a little word study about that fruit description.

Fruit means produce, as from a fruit tree; also the result of efforts, such as fruit of your labor.

Those nine character attributes show up and begin to develop as the result of having God’s Spirit dwell inside of you. By the way – these aren’t ordinary human traits, they are supernatural. God’s love. God’s joy. God’s peace, etc., etc.

Love, joy, peace – those familiar words have the usual meanings. Longsuffering means being patient with circumstances, remaining the same and keeping the same attitude no matter what happens around you. Goodness means integrity, honesty, morality. Meekness means mildness, gentleness; also controlled strength, as a horse that has been tamed and bridled. Temperance means self-control; similar to controlled strength in some ways.

All of these describe God’s character, which will become our character as the Holy Spirit lives in us, leads us, teaches us, co-labors with us in various assignments.

Notice what isn’t in that list? Holiness. Why is that? God is holy, it’s certainly part of his character. He tells us, “Be ye holy.” So why is it missing from this list?

The word for holiness has two meanings:

The first is a status, the second is an action. And in order to be the first one, you need to do the second one. It isn’t something that grows like fruit. It either is, or it is not. It’s an action of your will, a choice that begins with choosing to say Yes to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

2 Cor. 7:1 says, ” Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

“Cleanse” simply means to make clean, such as bathing, washing our hands, or scrubbing dirty pots and pans. Our flesh and our spirit need a bath. But we must cleanse ourselves? I always thought God did that – you know, he catches the fish (us), then he cleans them.

And he does, with his Word. Jesus told the disciples that they were clean, by the words he had spoken to them. Also see Ephesians 5:26. This looks like a contradiction… keep reading.

“Perfecting” means accomplishing or completing, as finishing a job.

2 Cor. 6:16-18 specifies what the promises from 7:1 are: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Those are spectacular promises!

“Walk in them” is interesting language. Literally it means walk around inside of them. I like that. “My people” means a people group of the same tribe, origin, culture, and language. “Receive you” means favor you, show favor to you.

II Peter 1:3 says, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:” Okay, now that we have faith in him, the knowledge of Jesus contains everything we need to live successfully.

He goes on to say that we should add some things to our faith – the very same things mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. All of those attributes are found in the knowledge of Jesus, and all are able to grow and mature.

However – and this is a big however – this knowledge isn’t dropped into our brains automatically when we are born again. It takes studying, appropriating, and practice. Like muscles, these attributes will grow with use.

We are co-laborers with Christ. Note, that word includes labor. Work. He doesn’t do all the work to produce character in us, or holiness in us. We have to do some of the work ourselves. He won’t force us to do our part.

And that explains a lot, doesn’t it.

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Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet

BePatientGirlMy friend Allyn Sawyer once created and gave me a framed cross-stitch of this. I love it! It’s so true.

Sanctification is an odd English word. It’s not a word we use every day, at home, on the job, or in conversation with friends.

It comes from the word sanctify, another odd word. Simply put it means to set something apart for one use. I’ve written about that before.

In the Bible that word means set apart for God’s use; consecrated to God; holy. The word saints means sanctified ones. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2), he addressed them as those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.

Being set apart for God’s use means God gets to use us. We get to cooperate. Simple.

I once read a book by a minister who taught that sanctification is a second work of grace that makes a Christian sinlessly perfect, an event that can happen in an instant. I have no idea what event had happened to him — every Christian I know continually strives to be sinless and I don’t know any who would say they’ve achieved that goal!

Being set apart for one particular use is quite understandable to me, however. It’s like my storing a large silver spoon in a kitchen drawer, using it only for serving food. (Not for digging in the flower bed!) It’s ongoing; as long as I serve food, that spoon will be set apart for that use.

Whatever else it is, sanctification is an ongoing process — and it’s an improvement process. We learn, and grow, and mature. We get better at hearing God’s voice and being led by his Spirit. Better at understanding the scriptures. Better at exercising faith, in praying, or in sharing a testimony with friends. Even better moms, dads, friends.

Better at becoming perfect as Jesus and the Holy Spirit go to work on us. Like sanctification, perfection is an ongoing process.

FlipWilsonGeraldine“The devil made me do it” was a hilarious skit by comedian Flip Wilson years ago, you may remember it.

“Wilson’s characters included Reverend Leroy, materialistic pastor of the ‘Church of What’s Happening Now,’ and his most popular character, Geraldine Jones, whose line ‘The devil made me do it became a national catchphrase.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip_Wilson)

I remember seeing Flip do that sketch on the Ed Sullivan Show. So very funny, people adopted that phrase wholesale to excuse their bad behavior. Nothing is ever their fault! Although Flip died in 1998, the attitude lingers on.

Today there are books on the market that say many (if not all) of a Christian’s imperfections, sinful habits and weaknesses are caused by the devil — by persistent demon influences, or emotional scars from past sin or abuse done to us by evil people. Some authors offer personal deliverance or “how-to” advice on self-deliverance, for a fee (cost of the book or conference).

While I don’t believe everything in those pages is wrong, I have a problem with some of it. Where in the gospels did Jesus teach those things? Jesus performed countless healings and deliverances. He showed them how, then sent the disciples out to do likewise and they did.

We’d all like to be free from all hang-ups in a flash when we’re born again, never to sin again, but it seldom works out like that. The gospels and the epistles give us many admonitions, good things to learn and practice, because we are born again as baby believers, not as mature Christians. We have to grow up.

BeautyForAshesAnd, sometimes it does involve seeking help from mature Christians who know more than we do about overcoming certain struggles. The book “Beauty for Ashes” by Joyce Meyer helped me a lot some years ago. (http://www.joycemeyer.org) Along the way I discovered that this growing-up process isn’t automatic – it involves work, time, and lots of patience. Trial and error, too.

Consider these verses: (references from NIV unless indicated)

  • Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
  • His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
    For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.
    For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. II Pet. 1:3-8
  • Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher (perfecter) of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb. 12:2 KJV
  • Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil. 1:6
  • He (Christ) is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. Col. 1:28
  • Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Phil. 2:12-13
  • If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Gal. 5:8, 25
  • The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Gal. 5:22-23 (Fruit doesn’t appear instantly; it grows.)
  • Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Gal. 5:24

Does all that mean we have it made now? We no longer do anything wrong, foolish, or childish? Well, obviously not, because so much of Galatians chapter 5 is admonishing the believers what not to do. Even the apostle Paul struggled with this himself. (See Rom. 7:15-25)

But the Lord will enable us to “just say no” to the wrong things and “yes” to the right things. It takes cooperation, it takes practice, and “Practice makes perfect.” Eventually.

Be Ye Holy

BurningBush(Previous title Bush. Burning. Holy?)

When Moses was tending his father-in-law’s flock up in the mountains, he saw an angel in the middle of a bush on fire (Exodus 3:1-6). Well, that was certainly unusual.

Curious, he went a bit closer to check it out, and God called him by name! That was even more unusual. Then God said, Take off your shoes, the place you’re standing is holy ground.

Wow. The dirt was holy. I could understand the bush being holy, but even the dirt? God himself had picked that spot for an encounter with Moses. Because God was there, the place was separated for his use.

It’s as though God had drawn a line around that bush, claimed it for his own purpose, set it on fire and then settled first an angel, then his own presence into the middle of the bush.

That story is fascinating and so is the rest of Moses’ life, but this is about being holy. Holiness. What is it, exactly?

I Peter 1:15-16, “But, as he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of life, Because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy.” Peter was quoting Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2 and 20:7, God’s instructions to the children of Israel. God’s people. Peter was making it clear to Christians that this same instruction applies to us. We are also God’s people. We must be holy.

“Holier than thou.” That’s about all I could remember from my childhood about holy, or holiness. That and the old hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy.

What did it mean? In my child’s thinking it meant Long-faced. Somber. Serious. Gloomy. No smile. No laughter. No joy. No happiness. No colorful clothes. No fun. Nothing attractive, that’s for sure. But an actual definition? I had no idea and really didn’t care. These days, I have a different idea.

The English word for holiness has an interesting origin. Wholeness. One hundred percent one thing. Not contaminated with anything else. Not mixed with anything else. Wholly one thing. Like an element, not a compound. Sodium. Gold. Hydrogen. Not Salt. Not Brass. Not Air. Those are compounds.

Also, whole means nothing is missing. There’s not a bite missing, not even a tiny chunk missing. One hundred percent complete.

In the Bible, the original words are interesting too. Most places in the Old and New Testaments it means set apart, separated and kept for one particular use. Sacred. It is used to describe God, people, places and things. Sometimes it is translated sanctified. The sabbath is to be kept holy. The priests were to keep themselves holy. All the articles used in the sacrifices and worship were to be holy.

In my kitchen I have a manual can opener. I use it for one particular thing, opening cans. Now, I suppose since it’s clunky and fairly substantial, I could use it as a blunt object. You know, hit a burglar over the head with it. That’s a remote possibility. Still, my can opener is holy, sanctified, going by the original Bible definition.

But there’s another word also translated holy. That word means pure. Clean. Free from defilement. Uncontaminated. Uncorrupted. Wholly one thing. This is the word used to describe the holy place. The Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and in the Temple. The Holy One of Israel – Jesus. Applied to people, it means morally upright. Having integrity. Honest.

This word corresponds more to the old English definition. One hundred percent one thing. What thing? I think it means the righteousness of God. Set apart from everything else and everyone else, separated for one particular use by God and for God. Pure, and purely his for whatever purpose he decides.

There’s one problem with that second definition. How can a person be holy? In the Old Testament, it took a lot of work. And a lot of blood. Blood of sacrificed animals, smeared on the priests’ clothing and on their bodies, blood dabbed on the altar, blood poured on the ground, blood everywhere. Blood mixed with anointing oil. All day, every day, day after day — blood everywhere, and never cleaned up.

Really, that blood was the only thing that kept the priests from being burned to a crisp when they approached the presence of God. It recalled the night of the dead first-born children of Egypt. It was a perpetual memorial to the deliverance and mercy of God.

There’s only one way a person today can be holy, and that’s to have the Holy One of Israel settled into your life. Jesus, the resurrected Lamb of God is one hundred percent pure God. Jesus, the one who made the ultimate sacrifice of his own blood. Jesus, who anoints us with the Holy Spirit, the fire of God in the midst of us. In us, and on us.

Since he has paid for us, he has a right to separate us from everything else to his own use, his purposes, his agenda, his itinerary. To make us wholly his.

Set asides

Christians sometimes make things more complicated than they should be. They use religi-speak instead of ordinary English, muddling up the plain meaning of some basic concepts.

“Holy” is one of those. In the Old Testament, the definition is simple and clear – set aside for a single purpose.

Something doesn’t have to be extraordinary to be holy – just dedicated for a single purpose. Like a dedicated phone line connected to a computer.

One key in my pocket fits my front door. It doesn’t fit the ignition in my car or a safety deposit box at the bank. It has a single purpose: to lock and unlock my front door. Not everybody’s front door – just my front door.

God assigned Aaron and his sons to a specific task that no-one else was given. They were not assigned to be soldiers or farm hands. God gave them the job of priest, with a single purpose: protect the children of Israel from God himself. If they didn’t do their job, God’s presence in their midst would prove deadly.

Because God planned to come and reside inside their camp, and the essence of his presence was not compatible with contaminated creatures.

Before he could come, they would need a shield from his presence. The work of the priests, making animal sacrifices to obtain blood to create a barrier, would shield them. That blood and the intention of its use – payment, forgiveness, mercy – would protect them. Much like a lead apron shields and protects the x-ray technician in the radiology department. And so Aaron and his sons were set aside from the other tribes of Israel for this one single purpose.

In the New Testament, the word for “holy” still means set apart for a single purpose, but the definition also carries the connotation of “pure.”

100% one thing, not contaminated, not mixed with anything else, whole. Not pure human, however – pure good. 100% good, the way God defines it. No wrongdoing. No sin. No contamination.

Pure gold is 100% gold. That sounds great, but you can’t make jewelry from pure gold, it is too soft to be usable. Even diamonds aren’t 100% pure, there’s some tiny flaw somewhere. That’s why there are so many classifications of diamonds, so many price ranges.

Jesus said, there is none good but God. Nothing on this planet is 100% pure and nothing is 100% good, except God. But I Peter 1:15-16 tells us to be holy. How can God expect us to be holy, if that means 100% good?

He doesn’t, not in our own ability if that was even possible. What he does desire is that we agree to be set aside for a single purpose, like Aaron and his sons. Set aside for God’s purpose, his use and no-one else’s.

The purpose of our agreement to this request (accepting the blood sacrifice of Christ) is simple: it permits God in the person of the Holy Spirit to reside in us. He himself will provide our protection and prevent his presence from destroying us. He’ll improve us as we go along. He created the human race; he doesn’t want it obliterated.

Seen this way, being holy makes perfect sense to me, perfect, practical and wonderful.

The “Darth Vader” of the evangelistic world?

georgeverwermosbach.jpgGeorge Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilisation, spoke to the new recruits at OM’s January 2008 GO (Global Orientation) Conference, which I attended. Here are some of my notes from one of his presentations.  George is pictured wearing his signature map of the world jacket. George says he has a “Pentecostal heart” and an “Evangelistic head.” It takes both groups working together to reach the world. He has always stressed holiness in his work with OM, but the way he used to do it led too often to legalism. It takes a close walk in God’s love to avoid legalism. George says his “gifting” is to say one stupid thing in every message. (I didn’t hear any such stupid things in his comments to us, however.) One of his early messages was titled “Hunger for God.” He has found that this message can be depressing and wishes he’d done a better job with it, because 30,000 people have downloaded it! George acknowledges that he has a negative streak. He fears he has become the “Darth Vader” of the evangelistic world. How do we stay positive in a negative world? It’s the work of the Holy Spirit! and a lifetime pilgrimage. I John 2:1 (also read 1:8) was written so we would “sin not.” There is no sinlessness on earth, but lots of opportunities to “sin less” with God’s grace. Suicide has become more and more common in the world, even in the church. Sexual sins, too. God’s radical grace is needed to combat these. If we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, the righteous, holy one, Jesus, who has paid for our sin and will continue to forgive and cleanse us from sin. Producing holiness is a continuous process. It takes spending time in the Word, prayer and repentence, knowing God and acknowledging his radical grace, to produce holiness in us.