Posts Tagged With: sanctification

God’s Holiness. III: Holiness and Renewal of the Mind

“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.’ If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:14–19; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

Our previous post showed that Christians are already holy because we have been set apart for God. However, sometimes we do not look holy. We may not feel holy. Perhaps we may feel like nothing has changed in our lives. While our status as Christians is holy people, set apart for God’s glory, our entire lifetime is a process of learning how to manifest His holiness in our lives.

Peter told his readers, “Do not be conformed to your former lusts.” Old habits of thought and behavior have a way of creeping in even after we have walked with Jesus for a while. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds to conform to God’s will, not to the ways of the world:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1–2).

This renewal of the mind is a lifelong process. The world continually bombards us with messages that contradict God’s Word and wisdom. Television, radio, music, news media, the Internet, etc., try to tell us what to think and how to feel about everything. Most of what they say gives little concern for what God has to say; some hold God in open contempt.

To counteract the world’s mindset, we must yield to the Holy Spirit as He renews our mind through God’s Word. You can find several articles on this subject here.

The Bible is our primary source for the renewal of the mind. Its words give life, unlike those of an ordinary book. Peter wrote that the Word of God is the imperishable seed through which we are born again (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus said that His disciples are sanctified through His words:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:13–23).

Probably most Christians have a problem accepting these words at face value. “Even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us.” “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them.” I admit it: I do not always feel like I am in Christ to the same extent that He is in the Father. I know my attitude and behavior can sometimes be quite a bit below the level of “godlike.” People do not always see the glory of God in me. Perhaps, no matter how long you have been a Christian, you may say the same thing. But, this is what Jesus says. This is the Word of God. I can choose to believe and accept it or I can deny it. I can seek God’s holiness to be revealed in my life or I can call Him a liar and decide that is impossible. Do we believe that God is truthful? If so, let us seek all that He promises for us!

We need God’s Word to counteract the lies of Satan. The world will continue to bombard us with its propaganda. Also, we have heard numerous messages that diminish our value and potential. We are told to accept sin and spiritual defeat as a normal part of our lives because we are “only human.” To counteract that, we need to spend time reading God’s Word, meditating on it, and studying it, all within a context of prayer to Him. God’s Holy Word, enlightened by the Holy Spirit within us, is vital to produce holiness in our lives.

It can be hard to take God at His Word, especially when He makes such bold statements. Let us not lose heart. Let us hear, read, know, and believe His Word and trust Him to bring it to pass in our lives. If we believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), let us trust Him that He speaks the truth when He speaks about our lives.

In what ways would you like to see God’s holiness manifested in your life? 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, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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: , , , | 1 Comment

Abiding in the Vine: III. Pruning and Cleansing

The previous article in this series mentioned that it is important for Christians to remain connected to other branches of the vine—other Christians, particularly the Church—to strengthen our connection with the Vine, Jesus. Some might say that they do not need church. They say they have been hurt by other Christians, and they think they fare better if they keep to themselves.

It is true that the Church is an imperfect reflection of Christ. Christians fail to live up to the full measure of Jesus Christ sometimes. Some of us can look more like nonbelievers or children of the devil than like children of God. We have to grow. We have to mature. Branches require regular maintenance.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit {God the Father} takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

A farmer tending to his vine. From pixnio.com (public domain).

We can imagine a vinedresser examining his plant. It has some lifeless branches; they have not produced any fruit for a while. These branches are simply taking up space. They need to be cut off. Perhaps fresh, living, fruitful branches will grow in their place.

There are some other branches, though, that are bearing some fruit. To increase the amount of fruit, the vinedresser might clip away the ends of some branches, beyond where buds, leaves, and fruit are growing. This way, the plant’s sap is not wasted nourishing empty space. Nourishment is maximized. Growth is enhanced. Life springs forth.

There are some people in the church who do not have the life of Christ in them. They may attend worship on Sunday. Some of them might even look really spiritual. But, the life of Christ—the fruit of the Spirit—is not present. The Holy Spirit does not dwell within them. At some point, they will be cut off. Matthew 13:24–30 indicates that this final cutting off will occur at the end of the age. In the meantime, God does not waste His time sanctifying the unsaved. He may still offer them repentance, but they should not mistake themselves for being Christian merely because they are surrounded by disciples of Jesus. In the words of Christian contemporary-music pioneer Keith Green, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.”

Meanwhile, the follower of Jesus undergoes the pruning process of sanctification. Perhaps the dead wood is sin that remains in the believer’s life. God wants to cut it off and set you free so that you can bear fruit. Sometimes, the dead wood is not really sin; it is just excess baggage that holds us back from fully serving Him. Monks throughout church history have made many sacrifices in Jesus’ name. At times, they gave up things that most of us would consider good: relationships with family and friends; careers; a few luxuries; opportunity to enjoy entertainment or engage in casual conversation (some monks take vows to say nothing unless it is in prayer and praise to God).

They gave up good morally-acceptable things to devote themselves to the will of God. What about us? Are there good things holding us back from doing the better things God has planned for us? Are we watching TV, playing sports, reading books, or surfing the Internet, but cannot find time for prayer or fellowship? God may need to do some pruning in your life. It is part of your growth as a Christian and your fruitfulness as a branch on His Vine.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1).

Sometimes, commitment to Christ will mean more than giving up sin. It may involve giving up every weight that limits are faithfulness and fruitfulness. It will require us allowing God to cut off the fruitless ends of healthy branches along with the dead wood.

Let us remember that the believer in Jesus Christ is saved because he already believes. We do not become Christians, or become “more Christian” or “better Christians,” because we let God prune us. If you are a believer in Christ, you are already cleaned, forgiven, and saved. Shortly before He was arrested, Jesus said:

“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).

Earlier that evening, He had already introduced this concept. While washing the disciples’ feet, He came to Peter:

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean…’” (John 13:6–10).

The child of God is already clean through the Word of God. We are already saved and forgiven. However, as we live our lives, we collect junk. We face temptation. We give in to temptation and sin. We may be wounded by the attacks of Satan, the mistreatment of others, or the misfortune of daily living. We need to be wiped clean every now and then through confession and renewed repentance. This process does not make us Christians. It merely preserves us so that we can continue to grow in Christlikeness and fruitfulness.

We do not get to decide how God will prune us. Since God is doing the work and we are merely the branches, He is in control. If you sense that the Holy Spirit is convicting you to give something up, do what He says. Do not bargain or offer alternatives. To obey God is better than offering your own self-selected sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22).

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that we need to be in fellowship with the church, even if we feel that we have been hurt by other Christians. Dealing with their imperfections is one of the ways we grow and are pruned and cleansed. People will hurt us. They will give us reasons to forgive them. They will irritate us, thereby revealing our weaknesses. It is all part of the spiritual growth process. If we avoid church because we have been hurt, we are only hurting ourselves.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Abiding in the Vine, Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hungering and Thirsting for Righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photo by Len Rizzi, National Cancer Institute, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Why do I still struggle with this sin?” “Maybe you are not hungry enough to be set free.”

“Why can’t I find time to read the Bible and pray?” “Maybe you are not hungry enough to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’”

“Why do I always find time for TV or the internet or music, but never find time to worship God?” “Perhaps those are the things you really crave.”

One factor which will determine how you grow in your relationship with God is your desire. Are you hungry for God? Do you want to know Him better and live in such a way that you bring glory to Him? Perhaps many of us live defeated lives because we are not hungry enough to serve Him. God desires it: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). God wants you to have a close relationship with Him. Do you want it?

Hunger and thirst are two very strong natural desires, which explains why Jesus used these words to describe a believer’s spiritual desire for righteousness. They are necessary for survival. As I am writing this article, the temperature outside is over 90 degrees. The “real-feel” temperature was over 100 degrees most of the day. I have spent most of the day with water or Pepsi close by. My body keeps telling me, “We need more water!”

I do not eat only because I like food (although taste all too frequently affects my dietary decisions). I eat because, without proper nutrition, I will die. The human body can survive only a few weeks without food. It survives only about three days without water. Under normal circumstances, your body will keep sending you signals if it does not receive the nutrients it needed.

Likewise, Christians should expect the Holy Spirit to produce a craving for the things of God in our lives. He draws us. He produces a desire within us, and then He equips us to seek satisfaction. Without filling that craving for God’s presence in our lives, we will starve spiritually.

While we may hunger and thirst for righteousness, we may not be filled immediately. As with many things in life, satisfaction often takes time. A few years ago, my pastor laid out the following four steps on a men’s retreat:

  1. Desire—We recognize a goal that we want to achieve.
  2. Decision—Some people never get beyond the desire stage. They may say, “I should pray more,” but it does not happen. We must make a decision that we will do what we need to do to achieve that goal. This usually includes figuring out a plan for pursuing that goal.
  3. Discipline—This is the hard part. After making a decision and forging a plan, we have to take the time and make the effort to pursue that goal. It might take years of doing your part. This is where most people fail in anything they try to achieve.
  4. Delight—If you are faithful in your discipline, you get to delight in achieving your goals.
Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

Here is a natural example. You go to the doctor for an annual checkup. He tells you, “You are 40 pounds overweight. You have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. You are at high risk for a heart attack.” You desire to be healthy. Some people stop there. “I want to be healthy, but I do not want to exercise and Big Macs are delicious.” Perhaps your desire leads you to make a decision to make a few lifestyle changes; you will cut a few unhealthy foods from your diet, replace most junk food with raw vegetables and fruit, and work out at a gym three times per week. This will require discipline; it will only work if you stick with it. Most people fall back into old habits within a few weeks of the decision, because they lack the discipline necessary to achieve their goals; perhaps the desire was not strong enough. However, if you stick with your lifestyle changes for one year, you will most likely enjoy the delight: At your next physical, the doctor reports that you lost 25 pounds, you cholesterol levels are going down, and your blood pressure is normal. The desire alone did not do the trick. Making a decision and remaining disciplined brought the delight.

Now, let’s apply this to the growing Christian. Maybe you say, “I desire to know the Bible better.” That is a great first step. Is it a real hunger, though? If it is a hunger, make a decision to read and study it. Find a good Bible-reading plan and stick with it. Join a Bible study group. You will not turn into a Bible scholar overnight. In fact, you may find some discouragement early on as you come across passages that make no sense to you. Do not lose hope; keep going; remain disciplined. After a few months, you will begin to notice that Scripture verses pop into your mind when you face a certain problem, or you might start noticing how the passage you read today reminds you of something you read a few months ago. Delight will come.

So, if you are not growing spiritually, what do you really desire? What are you willing to discipline yourself to do? Does your desire to know Jesus better exceed your desire to play video games, surf the internet, or watch television? Are you really hungry and thirsty for the things of God, or would you rather munch on some emotional junk food?

The choice is yours. God is hungry and thirsty to draw close to you. Do you hunger and thirst for Him and His righteousness?

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

New Heart, New Spirit, New Life

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25–27; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

A fresco from St. Mary’s Church, Bergen auf Rügen, Germany, with the words of Ezekiel 36:26. Image from Wikimedia, under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

When Jesus raised the cup at the Last Supper and called it “the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20), the disciples should have recognized the words. God’s covenant with Israel was sealed in the blood of sacrifices. The prophets, especially Ezekiel and Jeremiah, had proclaimed God’s intention to make a new covenant with Israel. Jesus was saying that the new covenant was about to come, and His blood would be the sacrificial offering.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31–34).

Some believers have been taught that Jeremiah spoke these words to Israel and, therefore, they do not apply to the church. However, Hebrews 10:16–17 quotes this passage directly and states that this is speaking of the New Covenant brought about by Jesus’ blood and death. While the Jewish people before Christ may have experienced part of the blessing foretold by Ezekiel, the fulfillment was found in Christ.

The Old and New Covenants have several similarities and a few differences. In this post, we will look strictly at the new heart and new spirit that are part of the New Covenant. An in-depth comparison and contrast of the two covenants would be too extensive for a single post.

The passage from Ezekiel 36 is a key part of a prophecy regarding the restoration of the Jewish people. They were exiled in Babylon as God’s judgment for idolatry and other sins. The New Covenant prophecies of the Old Testament usually come in this context: Israel has sinned but will be restored. Related to that glorious restoration, God would write His laws in their hearts, giving them new hearts and new spirits. Whereas the Old Covenant was primarily external and physical (people of a particular nationality required to follow specific rules, regulations, and rituals), the New Covenant would be primarily internal and spiritual.

In this New Covenant, God cleanses His people from our sins and idolatries. Then, He gives us a new heart and new spirit, inspiring us to live by His will.

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7).

“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:31).

The two greatest differences between the Old and New Covenants are the role of Jesus as the One who fulfills the Law and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, who gives the new heart and new spirit to the follower of Jesus. He will reveal our sins and idolatries to us, giving us a spirit of repentance and a desire to do God’s will. He will pour out the love of God in our hearts, so that we can obey the two greatest commandments, to love God and love our neighbors (Matthew 19:37–40).

Only by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can we really understand God’s word, will, and ways. One of the most common errors Christians commit is trying to obey God on our terms, in our strength. We try to figure out His will by using our own logic or listening to current public opinion. We may try to do His will based on the same motives as someone who does not have a relationship with Christ—fear of being rejected by God if we sin, trying to impress others, seeking approval from others. Even when we figure out God’s will, we try to do it in our own strength and timing.

We need the Holy Spirit within us. We need His power to strengthen us. We need God’s word and His own life-force within us to live the life that pleases Him. If you have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, pray that He may give you the strength you need. Ask Him to let you know when you have wandered from His leadership and started trusting in your own wisdom and strength. Let Him be your guide and strength.

Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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