A-Z Theology: An Exercise on Holiness

Well, we’ve done it. 26 days through the alphabet focusing on holiness each day. Thanks for sticking with me through the whole time and being good sports as I try out something new.

To end I want to summarize the whole 26 days in two sentences: A holy God can only be approached by a holy people; Christians have been made holy by the works of Jesus. If you’re a Christian you’re commanded to walk in that holy life you’ve been called to, relying on the Holy Spirit rather than you’re own strength. So do it to it – Amen!

This quote was encouraging when I saw it the other day. On October 7, 1930 missionary linguist Frank C. Laubach wrote this in a letter:

Beside Jesus, the whole lot of us are so contemptible…But God is like Jesus, and like Jesus, He will not give up until we, too, are like Jesus.

Praise God!

Z: Zeal With or Without Knowledge

Well, after 25 days we have arrived at the final letter in our holiness alphabet-ology exercise. Z is a great letter to end on because we can talk about a glorious subject – zeal. As the title suggests, zeal comes in two sizes – with or without knowledge. I want to approach this in a different way than I’ve heard before.

In Galatians 1:13-14 Paul says, “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” This is Paul’s own words confessing that he was a very zealous man. But, his zeal was directed toward his Jewish traditions rather than the God who stood behind his traditions. This is zeal without knowledge. This has no power and leads many people to be “religious.”

Philippians 3 reveals more about Paul’s change in zeal from without knowledge to with knowledge. Phil. 3:4-6 says, “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” You see what he said? He identified himself as an extremely zealous Pharisee. What happened to change him? Phil. 3:7 says God happened! “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” You see, Paul used to be zealous about religion, now he is zealous to treasure a Person above religion!

Paul’s treasuring Jesus above religious laws and habit is holy zeal, and I want you all to be like this. I think most of you would agree with this. But how many of you think that one has to fit into some kind of box in order to be a Christian? ”I don’t” you say. Really? I do. Too many of us think one must be a conservative, good-looking, respectable, morally flawless, monetarily sufficient, un-tattoo’d, clean person in order to be a Christian. This is non-sense! This box is un-Biblical. Can anyone in a third-world nation fit into this box? Could a liberal democrat fit into this box? NO! If you find yourself zealous about outward things like this, I want to challenge you and say you’re being zealous about religious things rather than being zealous about Jesus. Holy zeal is only zealous about Jesus, and yes that does make some boxes, but rather than outward things defining these boxes, inward things define it. Christians must be zealous about getting to know God, repentance, prayer, Bible study, church involvement, preaching the gospel as it stands forth from the Bible, etc.

Bottom line? Zeal without knowledge cares about outward things while zeal with knowledge cares about knowing God and following Him as close as you possibly can.

Y: You Need Grace

For Y, I’ve got another treat for you. Benjamin Joffe has written a wonderful paper describing how Christians grow in holiness the same way they are saved, by grace alone. This may be a new idea for some of you, but I’m sure not for all of you. Enjoy these few paragraphs from his paper.

Sanctification can be defined as the process of pursuing holiness and thus becoming more like Christ. God’s call on our life regarding sanctification seems simple: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Yet, the concept of sanctification can be difficult to understand. In order to understand the true nature of sanctification, we must first understand the true nature of salvation, because the two are very closely related through the concept of grace. We cannot attain salvation by our own works. Our salvation is attained through the work of Christ on the cross; it cannot be earned through our own effort. It is a free gift given to us by grace, through faith. In the same sense, we cannot be sanctified by our own works. Our sanctification is attained through the work of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to fight against our sinful nature and experience victory over sin. We simply cannot become more like Christ with our own strength. Thus, not only are we saved by grace, but we are also sanctified by grace, because both are obtained only through the work of the Lord.

The trap is thinking that we must live righteous lives by our own strength after receiving salvation by grace in order to stay saved or earn God’s favor. This trap, called Neo-Nomianism or legalism, and can also be a way of trying to participate in our own salvation, as if Christ’s work on the cross was insufficient or if our works are sufficient. This idea is contrary to what has already been said about our salvation, as we are utterly unable to perfectly obey the law due to our sin nature. The law does not have power over sin. The more we attempt to follow the law, the more sin will be revealed in our lives, and we end up becoming lawless people.

So then, what do we do? We are clearly called to pursue holiness, but how should we proceed? The answer lies in finding a middle ground between Anti-Nomianism and Neo-Nomianism. We must understand that we cannot forsake our pursuit of holiness in light of our salvation by grace, but at the same time we cannot undertake our pursuit of holiness with our own strength. Jerry Bridges describes this middle ground this way:

“The pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no lasses faire attitude toward even the smallest sins. In short, it demands the highest priority in the life of a Christian, because to be holy is to be like Christ – God’s goal for every Christian…At the same time, however, the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure. That statement probably strikes many people as strange. A lot of Christians seem to think that the grace of God and the vigorous pursuit of holiness are antithetical – that is, in direct and unequivocal opposition to one another…Grace and the personal discipline required to pursue holiness, however, are not opposed to one another. In fact, they go hand in hand. An understanding of how grace and personal, vigorous effort work together is essential for a life-long pursuit of holiness.”

In summary, we must understand that we are called to actively pursue holiness (the opposite of license), but that we can only do so by God’s grace (the opposite of legalism). Stated another way, just as our salvation is achieved only through God’s grace, so our sanctification is also achieved only through God’s grace. The sin nature that makes it impossible for us to earn our salvation is not eliminated when we are saved. We do not experience complete victory over the power of our sinful nature at the moment of our conversion. We still battle this nature, also called the flesh, after we are converted. Before we were saved, we were unable to fight our sinful nature and it corrupted every aspect of our lives. However, the same grace that enables us to claim the salvation that we could not earn on our own us also empowers our sanctification, which we likewise cannot earn on our own. In that sense, since we are not able to be sanctified apart from the work of God, we say that we are sanctified by grace.

X: Ex-Nihilo Matters for Holiness

I know “ex-nihilo” does not officially begin with an X, but I couldn’t think of a topic beginning with an X (if you can, let me know!), so I figured this was just as good.

So what does ex-nihilo mean? Ex-nihilo, or “out of nothing” refers to how God created the world in Genesis 1. Why does that matter? Because this shows us that God created something out of nothing. The world was formless and void, and God took what was void and made it into something useful, where people can live. This applies to Israel and to us in different ways. To Israel, this meant that what God did at creation (creating something out of nothing) He can do again now with them. You see Israel was a sinful, rebellious people, wandering through a “formless waste” called the wilderness (Deut. 32:10). They would have read Genesis 1 and been encouraged that God could bring them, who were wandering through a formless land, into a land flowing with milk and honey. God would take Israel from being nothing to something. Genesis 1 therefore prepared Israel to enter into the promise land.

To us, it means something similar but different. We are living in a world that is in a sense “formless and void” because we live among people who disregard God and His commands. We, like Israel, are looking forward to the day when we are brought into a land better and greater than the land we now inhabit. But there’s more. We are sinful, rebellious people like Israel. Because of this, we are formless and void in our souls. BUT, the moment we trust in Jesus God does in us what He did at creation – turned nothing into something. Paul draws on this in 2 Corinthians 4:6 when he says:

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

You see how Paul brings Genesis 1 into our own salvation? God said “Let there be light” back at creation turning the empty void into a fruitful paradise. BUT MORE, God said, “Let there be light” in our hearts when we believed in Jesus giving us a taste for the glory of God in the face of Jesus. God, in us, has made nothing into something. Our hearts used to be barren, rocky, empty, and void, but now our hearts are an oasis of fruitful paradise. Where does holiness come into this? It is out of this new garden paradise in our hearts, that holy living flows.

God created holiness in us in an ex-nihilo manner.

W: The Place of Works in our Sanctification

What is the place of “works” in our pursuit of holiness? Before I answer let me tell why I think this is a very important question to ask. Works are a necessary part of our own holiness, but our holiness is not based on our own works, but the works of Jesus (incarnation, life, death, resurrection). As a Christian, you are just as holy when you do your daily devotion and prayer time as you are when you don’t do those things; and though we may feel more holy when we do our “Christian duties” we must not base our holy standing before God on these duties. So where do our own works come into play? Obviously we cannot become holy people by sitting around navel gazing, we must do something! But what exactly is the place of our own works in our sanctification? Philippians 2:12-13 shows us whats up.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

You see it? There are two things present here that must see in proper order. First, notice that there is a clear call to holiness in that we’re commanded to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Second, notice that God clearly states that He is “at work both to will and work” in us and through us what is pleasing His sight. Now the real question comes: which one of these comes first? Does our working out our own salvation happen first, or does God’s working in us happen first? If our works happen first, and God’s as a consequence of them, then that would mean God cannot “will and work in us according to his own pleasure” unless we move through “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” first. This is wrong, dishonoring to God, and I hope you see why – in this option, God is in a box and cannot do anything until we move first. This is a man-centered view of God. Think about the other way around. God decides in His own heart to “will and work in us according to His own pleasure” and because of this we have the ability to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” This is correct and very God-honoring, because we, not God, are in the box. In this option we do not do anything at all until God moves first. This is a God-centered view of God.

Do you see how this places our own works of holiness as the result of our salvation rather than the ground of it? Pursuing holiness will only happen by “works” done by us in fear and trembling, but those works only happen because God has first worked in us.

APPLICATION question: Have you reversed this idea by thinking the ground of your salvation was your own works of holiness? Hmmm…I know I have. Have you?

V: Vanity, An Often Tolerated Sin

The definition of vanity is absurdly sinful to me, “excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.” Upon reading that, I find myself almost laughing out loud because this definition is ridiculously sinful isn’t it? Few people would admit to being this self-centered. Most who read this sentence probably think of people they know who fit into this category (I do) rather than themselves. But, lets all turn the mirror around shall we? I think we as Christians (who are called to be holy, humble people) tolerate vanity too much. I think it shows primarily one primary way – we are obsessed with ourselves.

We’re obsessed with our appearance, and it shows because anytime we can get a quick “reflection” of how good we look, we do. Watch people (and yourself) as you walk through a parking lot and you’ll see this come true. We’re obsessed who we are, and where we’ve come from and therefore proud of who we’re not and where we haven’t come from as well. We’re obsessed of what we’ve done, and what we will do one day. This world seems to foster in us a drive to “increase” ourselves and our image as much as we can when Jesus calls us to “decrease.”

As Christians we cannot increase our image, worth, or reputation while decreasing for God’s glory at the same time.

U: Unbelief, The Root of All Sin

For U, I want to give you a gift. One of my good friends (who has requested to remain nameless) has written a wonderful post for you. I enjoyed the read, so I know you will as well. Enjoy!

We sin in many ways: flagrantly or hidden in the quiet recesses of our heart; repeatedly or once in a lifetime; by omission or by commission. Though these sins vary in their expression, type, severity and frequency, all come from one particularly bitter root—unbelief. This is not just any kind of unbelief or some vague distrust, but, rather, unbelief in one particular idea—that God really is to be the object of all your love and affection, the center of your whole life around which you order every aspect of your entire being, the one thing in the universe without which you could not live. Why might this be? It seems to flow naturally from what it means to be a human. Our whole being yearns to worship something. It is part and parcel of the human condition to seek out something on which to place all our hopes, dreams, affections, activity and energy. If we decide, as we usually do as sinners, to place something other than God in this central place of honor, our entire lives will become disordered—i.e., a total and complete mess of sin.

Take a simple example. Suppose someone, Jon, worships material success and seeks after this above all else; his heart, in its insatiable desire to worship, has chosen to prostrate itself at the altar of money. At first this is not apparent. Jon loves many other good things—thinks it right to be ethical in business practices, give money to the poor and disenfranchised, and attend church. Perhaps if we observed him during fruitful years of economic growth we might never suspect that an accumulation of great wealth was really his most treasured goal. Perhaps God has blessed his wise living. But then the hard years come—stocks plummet, work loads increase, salaries are cut, bonuses are cancelled—and the ever looming threat of financial ruin becomes acutely apparent. In this suffering Jon’s priorities are revealed. Forced between reporting job-terminating losses to his superiors and fudging financial records, Jon takes the immoral path and lies. When deciding whether to give more money to a poor friend suffering from a debilitating sickness and paying the lease on his new boat, Jon chooses a status symbol over the health of one of God’s image bearers. Personally asked to work on Sundays by the CEO, Jon decides to forsake the community of God in order to please an entirely different set of brothers and sisters.

All this behavior grows from one root, a belief that there is one thing Jon cannot live without. This one thing is money. It is not God. For if it were God, financial ruin would be a devastating burden (for money is not evil), but it would not be a crushing one, as Jon would still believe that his ultimate worth and value comes from God, not from money. He could act honestly, generously and faithfully, even if such action means a serious loss of financial status, because Jon would be identified by one supreme truth—that he is treasured and valued by God, a God who is working all things for both Jon’s good and God’s good.

How can we flee from our unbelief, our lack of trust in the goodness of God toward us? There is only one way. We must look to the cross and on it Christ crucified. The blood, the tears, the sweat, the flayed skin, the separation from his heavenly Father. These are the signs of God’s love for us, his complete and total commitment to do whatever it takes to eradicate all manner of idolatry from our lives and bring us into deep community with himself. So turn to him, and rest in his loving embrace. There we will find the strength to defeat the idols of our unbelief and replace them with something far better.

T: The Treatment of Your Temple

In Exodus we see God command His people to build a tabernacle. This tabernacle was not to be just any building, but a grand portable piece of architecture. God was very specific about how He wanted it built and what He wanted it built with. Just to name a few of the items contained within it and around it: the tent which covered the wooden skeletal structure (Ex. 26:26-30), the bronze basin and its stand (Ex. 30:17-21), the surrounding fence of fine linens hanging from 60 wooden pillars (Ex. 27:9-19), the entrance gate (Ex. 38:18-20), the bronze altar of burnt offering (Ex. 27:1-8), the veil separating the holy of holies from all else (Ex. 26:36-37), the table (Ex. 25:-23-30), the lampstand (Ex. 25:31-40), the altar of incense (Ex. 30:1-5), and the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:10-22) were to be made exactly how God wanted them to be made. God commanded that His tabernacle would be treated with the utmost of reverence. Why did He go to all this detail? Because God is holy, and He will be treated as holy by all who enter into His presence.

When we move over into the New Testament Paul makes an astounding claim in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” Do you feel the magnitude that Paul is laying out before us here? Just as the tabernacle was the place of the presence of God in the Old Testament, so too, the believer’s physical body is the place where the presence of Almighty God dwells in the New Testament Christian. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul uses this truth to urge Christians out of sexual immorality, but the application seems endless when you think about it doesn’t it?

We saw earlier how meticulous the building of the tabernacle had to be, there’s more. God not only commanded a meticulous build, but commanded a meticulous behavior (in Leviticus) by all who would worship within the tabernacle. Think about how this applies to your own physical body. Your body is the temple of God! That should massively affect how you treat it. I realize I’m about to say something that will make some of you angry, but I think it’s 100% true. Because your body is the temple of God, you cannot do whatever you like with it. You are not free to do whatever you want with your body. You must take meticulous care of your body, eating well, exercising, and keeping it in strong condition. Think about the holy attitude all Israel had toward the tabernacle. Do you have the same attitude for your body now? You ought to. Why? Because your body is the temple of God, and where God dwells, holiness reigns.

When one sees the holiness commanded by God in Exodus and Leviticus in regard to the tabernacle, one cannot ignore Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 6. Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 6:12 apply to this as well, “Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything.” Because the Christian’s physical body is the temple of God the Christian is commanded by Scripture to responsibly steward their bodies. This affects the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the amount of exercise you do, what you use your body for, and what you decorate your body with.

Application question: If you’re a Christian and you do whatever you want with your body without caring about what God thinks about your body, you’re in sin, and you need to repent. Do you need to?

S: Does Your Sacrifice Smell?

When thinking through what to write about the letter S in our endeavor toward holiness, I thought it would do us all good to go over a smelly topic. I want to focus on our stink – thats right – if your holy I ought to be able to smell you! Let me explain.

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul brings the Old Testament practice of sacrifice into New Testament reality by saying the worship of Christians is to be a living sacrifice. This phrase “living sacrifice” is a strange oxy-moron because a sacrifice is something that dies. Yet Paul calls us to be living sacrifices, not dead ones. This means that we as Christians are a people who have died, not physically, but spiritually. Paul illustrates this in 1 Cor. 15:30 where he says, “I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” What kind of dying is Paul referring to? Peter explains in 1 Pet. 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” So you see, Christians, as living sacrifices, are to die to sin every second of everyday and live to Jesus. In this manner, our lives are to truly sacrifices walking around. We have died to sin, and live to Jesus.

Now when we talk about sacrifices, the Old Testament says in Leviticus and many other places that when a proper sacrifice is made to the Lord, the aroma goes up to God and pleases Him. Paul also brings this forward into New Testament reality in 2 Cor. 2:14-16 where he says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?” Here it is for us in broad daylight. Our living sacrifice smells. It can either be a smell of life to life or of death to death. This means some may smell us as the source of all life, and others may smell us as the source of all death. Either way, the lives of Christians “smell” to this world.

The question for you and me today is: what do I smell like? Life or death? Nothing is more sweet than the aroma of holiness.

R: The Regular Routine of Repentance

When I think of a one word summary of how the gospel actually works itself out in the life of a believer, the word REPENTANCE comes to mind more than anything else. In this manner, repentance is not only how one becomes a Christian, but how a Christians lives everyday of their lives. I think repentance involves three things (I’m implying that if one of these three is missing, true repentance has not happened):

1) Turning away from sin and turning towards God.

2) Trusting in Jesus as we would a parachute.

3) Treasuring Him above all else.

Although Martin Luther was not the only figure of the reformation, he was a figure head of it, and his 95 theses was the last match that lit the fire of the reformation. The very first item in the 95 theses, says this, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Luther really believed this, and it shows itself because on his deathbed his last words (which were written down on paper) said this, “We are beggars! This is true.”

Luther is a wonderful example of repentance for us. Why? He was definitely a child of his time. He was very German. He drank too much, swore too much, had a bad temper, had a bad diet, and unleashed his literary skill against all theological opponents, often criticizing not only the heretical ideas authors wrote, but the character of the authors as well. Though we know these little things of Luther’s sin, Luther knew it very well because he lived with himself everyday, and looked in the mirror everyday at a man who was sinful to the core. But don’t miss this – Luther knew his sin well, and because of this he was simply astonished that God would show such grace to a man like him. That led him to repentance.

So let me ask you: Are you astonished at God’s grace? If not, you probably don’t know your sin very well at all. If you did, you would understand that “God’s grace is not like a parent helping their infant walk across the room, but like a slug captured in a ring of fire with no where to go. The slug will be consumed unless God intervenes.” (Luther quote)

God intervened for me, and does still. This leads me to repentance. How could God show such grace to a slug like me?! Does His kindness toward you lead you to repentance? It ought to (Romans 2:4).

Q: Question For You

For Q, I want to give you a quote from my favorite rapper Lecrae.

Paul said if Christ aint resurrected we wasted our lives, that implies that our lives drift around Jesus being alive…If He’s truly raised to life, then this news should change your life!

I’ve got a simple question for you: Has the truth of Jesus’ resurrection changed your life? If so, amen! If not, you’ve got a need to go deeper. Lecrae’s quote is devastatingly stunning because it shows the truth that one cannot meet Jesus face to face and remain the same person. Paul speaks the same way in his letters. He always speaks of sin in a “past” manner. We “once were” this or that. We “once did” this or that.

If you’ve met Jesus your life will change. If your life has not changed (since you met Him), do you really know Him? If you find that this question concerns you – it’s a good sign you desire change whether you’ve seen any or not. If you find that this question doesn’t concern you and you claim to be a Christian at the same time, two options are in play: either you are in a season of fantastic rebellion, or you don’t know Jesus.

One cannot meet Jesus, and remain the same. Where are you?

P: Like the Publican I Stand

In Luke 18:9-14 we find a parable written to those who trusted in their own goodness and righteousness. Jesus proceeded to tell these prideful people that it was the Publican (the sinful tax collector) who was justified by faith rather than the Pharisee (the seemingly proper, collected, squeaky clean religious man). Why? Because while the Pharisee was publicly boasting of his own goodness the Publican shows us the definition of godly humility and repentance by not even being able to lift his head to heaven but rather beating on his chest screaming “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!”

So why name my blog The Publican and why bring the name up today in a series on holiness? Simple. It is a straight forward statement of who I am, who I know myself to be, and why I love Jesus Christ, the God-Man so very much. The way of the Publican is the way of holiness. If it weren’t for the righteousness of Christ I have no hope nor plea. Every time you come here and read something on my blog I want you to be reminded that you are reading the the thoughts of a mere Publican pilgrimaging on a path to paradise found in Christ. I happily boast of being morally bankrupt. May you join me in the Publican’s refrain and find that the end of yourself is the start of everything God has for us in Christ:
“Lord be merciful to me a sinner.”

Lord, like the publican I stand, And lift my heart to Thee; Thy pardoning grace, O God, command, Be merciful to me.

I smite upon my anxious breast, Overwhelmed with agony; O’ save my soul by sin oppressed, Be merciful to me.

My guilt, my shame, I all confess, I have no hope nor plea But Jesus’ blood and righteousness; Be merciful to me.

Here at Thy cross I still would wait, Nor from its shelter flee, But Thou, O God, in mercy great, Art merciful to me.

(Thomas Raffles, 1831)

O: Obedience, the Way to Joy

Today, I’m going to talk about a non-optional part of the Christian life – obedience. I think most people think about the word obedience in “canine” terms. Meaning that when the word obedience pops in their heads the first image that comes to mind is a dog, learning (usually by being yelled at) what to do and what not to do.

Now, this idea is not a a bad one to have, it’s just not a very honest or Biblical view to have about obedience. You see, when a dog goes through training it has to do two things that take a lot of patience and time. First, the dog has to unlearn old habits. Second, after the dog unlearns those old habits it has to replace the empty space with new learned habits. We are the same way. When a sinner becomes a Christian, they’ve got sinful habits built into their life that God hates. These habits need to be unlearned. This takes time, patience, and the Holy Spirit. But we can’t stop there in our (lifelong!) school of obedience. After those old sinful habits are unlearned and gone (usually in part), we must replace them and push them out fully with new learned holy habits from God’s Word. But, I ought to mention that this is really hard. Why? Because sinner’s desire obedience as much as a young boy desires a bath. This is exactly why the school of holy Christian obedience is a lifelong school for Christians. It takes a lifetime to actually learn and do what Paul talks about in Romans 12:1-2, and 13:14.

There’s more though: I think we’ve got to unlearn sinful habits and learn holy habits, because sinful habits kill our joy in Jesus above all things. Really. In my opinion the Bible says the way to the fullness of joy is obedience to God. I think John 15:9-11 has a massive impact (understatement of the century!) on our idea of obedience and joy. John 15:9-11 says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”

Notice these things:

a) 15:9-10 clearly teach that if you love Jesus, and you want to abide (live) in the love of Jesus, you’ll obey Him. Normally people stop here with and paint a very bleak, duty-based picture of Christian obedience. ”Ive got to stop doing this, and start doing this.”

b) 15:11 shows more. It reveals that Jesus told us these things for two reasons: First, that His joy may be in us. And second, that our joy might be full. I think Jesus says this because He knows something we barely do. When we obey what Jesus tells us, we go deeper and deeper into our relationship with Him. The deeper we dive into Jesus, the more satisfied our souls will be (joy), because our souls were made to be in close relationship with Jesus, swimming in the ocean of His infinite glory and grace! We get fullness of joy, and Jesus is glorified by our satisfaction in Him – amen!

Application: Have you ever thought the way to be happy in this life is to be obedient to Jesus? If you lack joy in your life, John 15:9-11 moves you to ask this question – are you being disobedient to Jesus somehow? Now, this is easy to see sometimes and really hard at other times, which is why prayer is so vital in our pursuit of holiness. Ask God to show you where you’re being disobedient, pray that He’ll cause you to unlearn that habit, relearn a holy one from His Word, and enjoy doing what you were made to do, communing with Jesus.

N: Not Discerning the Body

In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Paul describes the Lord’s Supper. In the following verses (11:27-34) Paul does something that is rarely done in Christian churches, he places restrictions on the Supper. You mean, there are times when even Christians are supposed to withhold from taking communion? YES, and this is a part of true (Christian) holiness.

You see, Paul says this in 11:27-29, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.” In this passage Paul makes it clear that before a Christian ought to partake of the Supper, we’re to examine ourselves. What are we looking for in this examination? Sin. Do you have any un-confessed sin, or anger at your brother/sister, or any type of alt with someone, are you a Christian or are you banking on your own goodness as the ground of your acceptance with God? All of these things should cause us to refrain from taking the Supper, because if we don’t, and go ahead and take it, Paul says we will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord and will be eating and drinking judgment on ourselves. Do you want to do that? To “not discern the body” is a mistake I’m afraid far too many Christians make. I wonder how many Christians have even heard of this before? That is a scary thought. 11:30 even shows us that people got sick and died from failure to examine themselves before communion. Bottom line – the supper is seriously holy!

I wonder if the whole idea of examination sounds crazy to you. You think, “I’m a Christian, why would I have to examine myself?” Because anytime we approach the presence of God we ought to do reverently, not foolishly or rashly. God is mystically present in the table, thus, we ought to take some time in preparation before we go up to it.

APPLICATION: Examination is a must for the Supper, but did you know that it ought to be a normal characteristic of one’s Christian life as well? 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Test yourselves to see if you’re in the faith; examine yourselves!” When was the last time you actually thought long over the state and/or condition of your soul?

Perhaps you should take a moment as you finish reading this to do so. If not, definitely do it before you take communion next – and encourage others to ponder over 1 Cor. 11:23-34 as well.

M: The Mind-Blowing Model of the Apostle Paul

So far, this post on M has proven to be a hard one to write. I think this is so because the concept I want to give you today is so simple. As the title suggests, Paul’s “mind-blowing model” is found in 1 Corinthians 11:1 where he says, “Be imitators of me, just as I am of Christ.” I’ve got a one word commentary on this verse – “Wow!”

This means (at least!) two massive things: First, Paul was a sinner (Romans 7:14-25 clearly shows this), and as a sinner he knew he needed Jesus, and sought after Jesus hard because of this! Second, Paul calls people to imitate his life. Is Paul calling us to imitate his sin? No, that is ridiculous. I think Paul is calling us to imitate the life of a sinner who knows they need Jesus, and therefore pursues Jesus as hard as they can! I hesitate to say it, but I will – perhaps this (being a sinner, knowing you need Jesus, and therefore pursuing hard after Jesus) is the essence of a holy (Christian) life. Alright “essence” is a big word to use. Perhaps “A BIG PART” would be better.

One thing is for sure: holy Christian living requires that you know and embrace your sinfulness, that you know and embrace Jesus because of that sinfulness, and that you pursue Jesus as hard as you can because of all these things.

Paul called us to imitate him, could you call people to do the same?