Bible meditations

God’s Holiness. I: Defining Holiness

“Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

What do you think of when you hear the word “holy”? Most people immediately associate the word with God. We immediately guess that it has something to do with God or Jesus. “Holy” is one of those religious-sounding words that we might throw around without knowing exactly what it means.

Some churches will claim to be Holiness churches, with an emphasis on holiness or entire sanctification. Many in such churches will be adamant about wearing the right clothing (women always wearing dresses, for example) or listening to the right kind of music (it must mention Jesus by name, and it cannot sound like rock!). They have other rules: no dancing, no alcohol, no cigarettes, etc. If you feel that God is leading you to live such a lifestyle, please continue to do so; even if these rules are not explicitly biblical, they can protect you from certain excesses that can lead to sin. However, rules do not make a person holy.

The Hebrew word “qadosh” is usually translated as “holy, sanctified, or consecrated” in the Old Testament. It describes God as exalted above His creation, set apart from infirmity, impurity, and sin. People (priests, Nazirites, prophets, etc.), objects (oil, priestly garments, etc.), places (tabernacle, temple), and even times (the Sabbath, Passover, Day of Atonement) can be set apart for God’s worship, service, or glory.

The New Testament uses the Greek word “hagios.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that it comes from a word meaning “religious awe or reverence,” so “hagios” describes something as “worthy of veneration.” However, most New Testament writers use the term in the same way as the Hebrew word “qadosh.” Biblehub describes it like this:

“The fundamental (core) meaning … is ‘different’–thus a temple in the 1st century was hagios (‘holy’) because different from other buildings (Wm. Barclay). In the NT, hágios (‘holy’) has the ‘technical’ meaning ‘different from the world’ because ‘like the Lord.’”

The opposite of “holy” might be “common or ordinary.” God is holy; we approach Him with respect and awe (the Bible uses the term “fear of the Lord”). We should not think of Him as “the man upstairs” or as someone we can treat lightly and bring down to our level.

A church building is holy because we set it apart for God’s worship. Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

As mentioned earlier, we may ascribe holiness to people or things that have been consecrated to God’s use and glory. Considering these objects might help us understand what it would mean for a Christian to be holy.

Think of some of the objects that might be considered “holy” by different Christians. Some churches have holy water, which church members might anoint themselves with before entering the church. Chemically speaking, it is just ordinary H2O. It is not “magic water.” However, it has been set apart as “holy.” We use it for worship; we do not use it to make coffee.

I have a small vial of “holy oil” that I might place on a person’s forehead while praying for them. There is nothing special or magical about that oil. I could probably refill the vial with extra-virgin olive oil from the grocery store, set it aside, and consider it “holy” because I use it only for prayer ministry, and have the same results. My church uses wine for communion; even though it is ordinary wine, and you might be able to buy it in any liquor store, we do not pop open the bottle to enjoy it with dinner. A church building is constructed with ordinary materials and may not look impressive or imposing; however, if it has been set apart for God’s worship and glory, it is holy and should be treated differently.

Each of these objects is holy, not because they are chemically unique, but because we set them apart to worship God, and He receives them. Thus, they can communicate God’s holiness to people.

It should be like that with us as followers of Jesus. God has received us into His family. He has set us apart to worship and glorify Him. We are declared holy by Him. We should participate in His holiness and communicate it to those around us.

Perhaps many of us pray, “Jesus, make me holy.” Instead, may our prayer and heart’s desire be, “Jesus, you have already made me holy. Reveal Your holiness in me.”

Where do you most see God’s holiness revealed? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Holiness, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Knowing God to Be Like Him

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
“Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2).
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY’” (1 Peter 1:14–16).

Over the last few months, this blog has discussed what some theologians refer to as God’s majestic attributes, the qualities that set Him apart from everything He created. These include His omnipotence (being all-powerful), omniscience (being all-knowing), omnipresence (being present everywhere), and His eternal nature (everything besides God has a beginning; He has no beginning and no end).

black cross on top of mountain
Image courtesy of Pexels.

Theologians will refer to some of God’s other qualities as His moral attributes, including His holiness, love, justice, goodness, mercy, etc. These qualities make God truly worthy of our worship. Omnipotence without justice or love would produce the worst tyrant imaginable. Omnipresence without love and mercy would give us no hope of escape; because of God’s love, His permanent presence makes Him a refuge to which we can flee. His majestic attributes set Him above everything He created. His moral attributes allow us to worship Him and take comfort in His presence, power, and wisdom.

On the other hand, the distinction between God’s majestic and moral attributes is somewhat arbitrary. Each of God’s qualities is an essential part of who He is. He does not slip between His majestic and moral attributes as different circumstances arise. He is always all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, eternal, holy, loving, and righteous. God does not fragment Himself and exercise only one or two of His attributes at one time, then switch to a few others as the circumstances dictate.

One clear distinction exists between God’s majestic and moral attributes. God urges His children to share in His moral attributes. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus told His disciples to be perfect, even as the Father is perfect. (If you think “perfect” here means sinless, or if you are prone to perfectionism, please read this post. God will love you even if you sin.) We should love others because God is love. We should forgive as we have been forgiven. The child of God should desire to be like his heavenly Father.

Several forthcoming posts will look at some of God’s moral attributes. As we consider them, we must remember that a proper definition of His qualities is necessary. The Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). We will get some bizarre ideas if we define love the wrong way; the love of God should not be confused with the ideas of “tolerance” that are popular nowadays, or with the distorted “love” of a child molester, or with my undying love for cream-filled doughnuts. Nor, when we think of God’s holiness, should we mistake it for the self-righteousness arrogance of some religious people who claim to be holy. God is the ultimate example of love, justice, holiness, and goodness; we should not expect Him to submit to our culture’s expectations and standards.

As we reflect on who God is and what He is like, may we be drawn to become more like Him and be the people He made us to be.

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Which of God’s attributes inspire your life and worship most? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spiritual Gifts and Natural Talents

Let’s start with a Bible trivia question. Who is the first person whom the Bible says was “filled with the Spirit?”

Did you say Jesus? John the Baptist? Did you go back to the Old Testament and say David, Moses, or Abraham?

All of those answers would be wrong.

The correct answer is “Bezalel.” You might be asking, “Beza-WHO?”

“Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you: … they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you’” (Exodus 31:1–6, 11; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Bezalel,” by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

(Notice that Bezalel was a craftsman or carpenter. Jesus was a carpenter until He was about 30 years old and then preached for only three years. Feel free to ponder that in your free time.)

Many Christians think God draws a big distinction between the secular and the spiritual. We may be tempted to think that there are areas of our life that God is really concerned about and others that do not matter to Him. We think God is interested in what we do in church or how we study the Bible and pray. We can think of a few rules that we think God is really interested in enforcing, like whether we dance, drink alcohol, or listen to the “wrong” kinds of music.

However, we might be inclined to think there are other areas of our lives that do not matter to God. For many of us, one of those areas might be our jobs. It is easy to forget about the Lord while we are working. We immerse ourselves in our work, stop thinking about God for eight hours, and perhaps assume God is not paying as much attention to us.

The story of Bezalel changes that perspective. For the first time, the Bible says that God filled someone with the Spirit of God. In spite of that, Bezalel’s career was not what we usually think of when we hear that someone is filled with the Spirit. He was not a prophet. The Bible never quotes him. We do not know anything he said. He was not a king or ruler. He did not perform any miracles or heal anybody. In fact, we do not even know for certain if Bezalel ever felt the leading of the Holy Spirit. Maybe he never felt like God was telling him how to do anything. It is very possible that he spent his entire career simply relying on his skills and experience, even while building the tabernacle, not realizing that his best ideas had been implanted in his brain by God.

However, God saw things differently. Bezalel’s talents, experience, wisdom, and understanding were all gifts from God, instilled throughout the years. He had probably spent decades building and crafting ordinary everyday items. He probably developed his skills while working as a slave in Egypt before Moses led God’s people out. Even in such mundane circumstances, God was preparing him for important service.

Stained glass image of Mary and Jesus, working as a carpenter. Photo by Thomas Quine, via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

How can we follow in Bezalel’s footsteps?

First, remember that everything you have—including your talents—comes from God. He orchestrated your DNA and your life experiences to make you the person you are. Even if you do not feel like your gifts and talents are particularly “spiritual,” they still come from God.

Those talents should still be consecrated to the Lord’s work. The Kingdom of God needs different people with diverse talents serving in various ways. We will not effectively spread the Gospel relying only on pastors, musicians, and Sunday school teachers. Your skills and experiences have placed you in your current career. You can minister to people—co-workers, classmates, customers, etc.—whom your pastor will never meet.

Even within church, a variety of gifts are necessary. While pastors, teachers, and worship leaders get most of the attention, most churches have important behind-the-scenes servants whose talents are needed to ensure that the worship service runs smoothly: from the person who prepares the bulletin, to the janitor who cleans up after service, to the person who fixes anything that breaks in the building, to the hospitality team that provides coffee and bagels for post-worship fellowship time.

Whether you have spiritual gifts in a strict biblical sense (see 1 Corinthians 12:1–11, Romans 12:3–8, and Ephesians 4:11–16) or skills that could be used mostly outside the church, all of your talents can be consecrated to the Lord’s service.

I can see this in my own life. My strongest spiritual gifts are teaching, discernment of spirits, and word of wisdom. However, the clergy at my church often ask me to serve in areas which rely more on my administrative and organizational skills. While those are abilities I developed in the workplace, they have at times benefited the church and helped in spreading the Gospel.

You have such skills as well. See where your greatest talents lie. Use all of your abilities for God’s glory. Your talents come from God. Give them back to Him.

“Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer).

What talents has God given you? How are you using them for His glory? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Unchanging Good God

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:16–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created with the YouVersion Bible app.

Do we believe this statement? Do we really believe that whatever God gives us is good? Do we really believe that every good thing we have comes from Him?

This passage appears in the midst of teaching on temptation and sin. That is not an accident. Elsewhere, Scripture tells us that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Unbelief and sin walk hand in hand. Believers are often tempted and fall into sin when they think the pleasure of sin is somehow better than the blessings of God. People commit adultery, fornication, or other sexual sins because they feel that God is depriving them of something good. Some steal because they do not believe God will provide or think He is not giving them all that they deserve.

We do not trust God when we do not believe He is Who He says He is. In recent months, articles on this blog have reminded us that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, eternal, always present with His people, etc. Do we really believe that?

Do we believe that God is unchanging? Malachi 3:6 says, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” We can place our faith in Him because He is the same God who sent His Son to die for our sins. If He was willing to give His Son for us, and His Son was willing to give His life for us, we can trust Him to give good things to us. He has not changed.

Do we believe that God is incorruptible? Not only is He unchanging, He is devoid of impurity or evil. He will always be holy and loving.

Do we believe that God is unlimited? Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. He is not going to run out of blessings anytime soon.

James 1:17 tells us that God is the Father of lights. In Him there is no variation or shifting shadow. He does not change course. He does not distort. We can design prisms to diffract light into its various component wavelengths. This even happens in nature, giving us rainbows. However, God Himself is never distorted.

Think of every good thing you have ever received. James 1:17 tells us that it comes from God. Receive it with gratitude. Accept it as a gift from Him. Consecrate it to Him. Accept it as something that you can use to bring Him glory.

The good things that come into our lives should remind us to look to God with gratitude. Bad things, or things that seem bad to us, should also draw our attention to God. Has our commitment to Him waned so that we sought joy and happiness outside His will? Have we started to doubt His love and thought we could grab better things than He gives? Perhaps He gave us something good, but we do not see the good in it yet.

Perhaps something bad even came into your life. Maybe you have experienced illness or some other major life crisis that turned your world upside down. God can bring good out of that:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Even if something has been horrible, God can find a way to bring good out of it. My wife recently read an autobiography by Joni Eareckson Tada, a Christian artist/author who was paralyzed in an accident as a teenager. Due to her injuries, she had to learn how to paint while holding the brush in her mouth! Her ability to create art in this way gained recognition for her, and she has been able to share the Gospel with thousands of people who would probably have paid no attention to her if she had normal mobility. She has been an inspiration to many who suffer from disabilities or debilitating diseases. Was her accident a good thing? Not really: Perhaps one could blame it on the devil. Would it be easy for someone in her circumstances to lose faith and hope? Absolutely. It may have been evil or a tragedy, but God empowered her to use her circumstances for good. Few people can serve God in her capacity.

No matter what happens, let us look to God. If good things come, let us give thank to the Father of lights, from whom we receive all good things and every perfect give. If tragedy or trials come our way, we can seek God to bring good out of our circumstances. God is good all the time.

Can you share times when God has brought good into your life, or has even brought good out of bad things that have happened to you? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is With Us Always. V: Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:6–9).

Moses anoints Joshua (holding spear) as his successor. Image by illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The previous few articles in this series looked at worship as one of our responses to God’s continual presence with us. However, God does not want us to merely sit in church singing hymns or kneel in a corner reading the Bible and praying. As important as these are, God wants us to go where He leads us. He is with us always because He is everywhere. It is up to us to walk with Him. If we practice the presence of God wherever we go, He is still with us.

He wants us to go. He wants us to advance His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He commanded His apostles to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), not to sit around together reminiscing about their time with Him. They were to bring His message to those who did not meet Him.

Centuries earlier, Moses had led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Near the end of his life, he commissioned his servant, Joshua, to complete the work of bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. In Joshua 1:6–9, God gave the same command to Joshua three times: “Be strong and courageous.” Moses had given that instruction to Joshua earlier (Deuteronomy 31:6–7), along with a similar injunction: “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Fear is the opposite of faith. It keeps us silent. It discourages us from doing what God commands. It may tempt us to commit other sins. Sometimes, it disguises itself as another emotion, like rage or anger.

God’s command to Joshua was grounded in His promises to the Israelites and His presence with Joshua. Joshua had served Moses for many years: as a personal assistant, military leader, spy, etc. Eventually, Joshua and another man, Caleb, were the last two men alive who had escaped Egypt as adults. (See Numbers 13 and 14 to see why this happened. Joshua and Caleb were part of a 12-man mission to spy out the Promised Land. The then other spies believed that the Israelites would be destroyed if they tried to enter the land. Joshua and Caleb believed God would give them the land. Since the Israelites sided with the pessimistic spies and did not trust God. they were sentenced to 40 years of wilderness wandering until only Joshua and Caleb were left.) Joshua and Caleb had endured 40 years of God’s discipline because of the faithlessness of their 10 colleagues.

Joshua accompanies Moses down Mt. Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments. Image by illustrators of the 1890 Holman Bible. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Joshua had followed Moses through the Red Sea. He had seen all the miracles God wrought throughout their journeys. But, he had also endured decades of disappointment. After 40 years of trusting Moses to hear from God and give them direction, suddenly everybody was looking to Joshua for guidance. He had seen how often the Israelites rebelled against God and Moses in the wilderness. Would they rebel against him? Would God change His mind and not lead the Israelites into the land He had promised to give them? Joshua could be guided by God’s promises or by past difficulties.

It takes courage to break free from the past. It takes courage to embrace second and third chances when God gives them. It takes courage to serve God. It takes courage to trust God’s leadership, wisdom, and power when the situation looks impossible. Joshua would need that courage.

To build courage and strength, Joshua would need to remind himself continually about God’s presence, promises, and precepts. This is why God repeatedly juxtaposed His commands to be strong and courageous with injunctions regarding His Word:

  • “{B}e careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Know God’s Word so that you can do God’s will.
  • “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth….” Keep speaking God’s Word every chance you get.
  • “{Y}ou shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it….” Let God’s Word fill your mind so that you know what to do in every circumstance.

God calls us to be strong and courageous. If we want to receive God’s blessings and see His perfect will in our lives, we must obey His will. We have to be strong and courageous to do so. If we want to gain strength and courage, we must know that God is with us, that He has promised us abundant life in Jesus’ name, and we must know what He wants us to do. Boldness, wisdom, courage, and strength are all necessary if we wish to experience the blessings of God’s presence and power in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer, which is recited at many Twelve-Step meetings, says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Let us seek courage from God so that we can change the things He is calling us to change.

Do you have any thoughts about God’s command to be strong and courageous? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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