Monday, December 06, 2010

Prepare for Action: Be Holy in All Your Conduct

This is week two of our four weeks series with the theme: “Prepare for Action: Readying Ourselves for the Arrival of the King.”  Last week, I said that Advent is a time of preparation for the arrival of our King.  It is not just a time of preparing for an event that happened in the past, the incarnation of the Son via the womb of the Virgin Mary.  It is a time for refocusing on the reality of the second coming of Christ.  Because we live in a culture that has, by and large, lost the urgency of his immanent arrival, I decided that we would place our focus on these Advent Sundays on how Christians ought to prepare themselves for the coming of our Holy King.

Last week, we covered the first of these topics.  We were exhorted by the apostle Peter to prepare our minds for action by setting our hope fully, not partially, on the “grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13).

This week, we focus on the second of the exhortation of Peter related to the coming of our king, to be holy in all of our conduct.  We get this from the three verses which have been read to you, and which I will read again now:

[14] As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, [15] but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV)

Peter addresses his brothers and sisters in the church as “obedient children.”  We are children of God, and this is deliciously good news!  We are not children of the world, or of some satanic or demonic power, we are children of the Most High God, adopted into God’s family by the precious blood of his Son.

And the Father desires that His children be obedient.  What do obedient children do?  They obey their Father.  They desire to please their Father.  God desires to be glorified by us in all of our conduct. Obedient children are not conformed by their worldly passions - things that go by the wayside and aren’t eternal.  Instead, they obediently set their hearts on eternal things, on the things of God, putting out of their minds those things which, in their ignorance of God, they thought were so great.

How do you become a child of God? By believing in his Son, Jesus Christ, who bought and paid for you so that you might become part of the God’s family.  Having put your faith in Jesus, your sins were, once and for all, forever forgiven so that you are considered by God as righteous, and therefore eligible for the inheritance prepared for you in the kingdom of God.

What, then, is the standard of conduct for those who have received God’s grace and have been called from the darkness and death of the world into eternal life with the Father?  What should characterize their personalities, their actions, and even their most secret thoughts?  The answer is given in the text:

“[15] But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

What is this holiness, then. What does it mean to be holy in all our conduct?  To get a good answer to this question, we must  know more about what the holiness of God means, especially because of what Peter wrote in verse 16, which is a quote from Leviticus 11:44

[44] For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.  (Leviticus 11:44 ESV)

What is the standard of holiness by which God’s chilren should live?  God’s perfect holiness is the standard.

How Holy Is God?  Totally Holy.

In our weekly adult bible study, Bible 101, we’ve begun to examine the chapters in Exodus regarding the construction of the tabernacle.  Moses is called up into the holy mountain of God further instructions from the Lord.  He went up, and was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (see Exodus 25ff).  After receiving some instructions on obtaining contributions from the people for the construction of a sanctuary, we begin reading the instructions for the fabrication of the tabernacle.  The instructions begin with the design of the most holy object in Israel, the Ark of the Covenant. Instructions are then given for the design of the table for the Bread of the Presence and the Lamp made of pure gold. More detailed instructions are given for the construction of the tents for the tabernacle, for the court of the tabernacle, for the garments the priests will wear, rules for consecrating the priests for service, and then more instructions for the third object of the holy place, the Alter of Incense.

I remember reading all of that as a kid and being totally bored.  What is with all of this detailed, laborious instruction for the construction of this thing?  Why couldn’t the writer quote what God saying something like, “Build this thing according to my instructions,” followed by something like, “and it was done as God instructed.”

It wasn’t until years later that I better understood what those seemingly boring, detailed lists of instructions were about.  You see, the construction of the tabernacle, the design of which would later be used in the design and construction of the temple, is about bringing the most perfect, righteous, holy God in communication with His created human beings.  But there is a big problem.  The big problem is that the perfect holiness of God is fundamentally incompatible with the taint of human sin. Therefore, for there to be any communion at all between the totally sovereign and perfectly holy God of Israel, an elaborate interface had to be constructed for God to be manifestly present with His people. What these elaborate instructions show us, then, is the perfect holiness of God.

The perfect holiness of God isn’t much thought of these days.  As a result, we don’t have a healthy fear of the God who is supremely holy.  What are the implications of unholiness before a totally holy and righteous God if holiness and sin are incompatible.  They aren’t good.

Another story from the Old Testament that illustrates this.  Having been anointed king of Israel, David decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  The Ark, as we have just discussed, was the most holy object in the nation.  It resided in the Holy of Holies, the most holy place in the tabernacle. There were specific laws for transporting the Ark.  It was to be carried by the priests using gold-covered poles which were placed through rings, so that no priest or human being would ever touch this most holy object.

What did David do to transport the Ark to its new home?  A new cart was built, so that the Ark might be rolled up to Jerusalem, pulled by oxen.  Right away, we know there is a problem, because the Ark isn’t being carried by the priests, as God commanded.  Here’s what happened, as recorded in 2 Samuel:

[5] And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. [6] And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. [7] And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. [8] And David was angry because the LORD had burst forth against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. [9] And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” [10] So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. [11] And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household. (2 Samuel 6:5-11 ESV)

What sin had Uzzah committed that he would be summarily executed for touching the Ark?  The great Puritan academic and preacher Jonathan Edwards said Uzzah’s sin was a sin of presumption, of presuming that his sinful hand was less incompatible with God’s holiness than the sinless dirt and mud into which the Ark might have fallen.  He was quite wrong, as we can see.  These are tough things for us to hear, because we desire a God who will related to us on our own terms.  But God demands, and indeed has the total right to demand, as the creator of the universe, that we approach Him only His terms.

The good news of the gospel is that God has himself, in the person of his glorious Son, fulfilled all of the terms for us.  That’s why the curtain was torn in two upon the death of Jesus, exposing the Holy of Holies, the most holy place, containing the most holy object in the nation, to profane eyes.  Jesus took upon his shoulders all of our sins so that we can be free for the holy obedience we could never have apart from Him.

You Were Called to Be Holy

How seriously do you view the holiness of God? We are to be holy in all our conduct, as he is holy. We are created in God’s image, saved from his wrath for sin by the death of his Son, so that we might become his obedient children, holy and righteous in all our conduct, as children of the Most Holy God ought to be.

The way many people live - and I include myself in this analysis - is by doing everything in their power to look good to the world and to those inside the church. But then there’s just that one vice that we reserve a special room for, to duck in when the worldly addiction, lust, or other idol whispers that it needs attention.  Do you have any secret rooms in your life?  Our public conduct is one thing, but God demands purity of heart as well.  What this means is that, while we may successfully hide our sinful secrets from others, they can never be hidden from God.  If you thought WikiLeaks was dangerous, you ought to see the contents of my own heart when it is compared with God’s perfect holiness.

One day I was reading a blog by a guy named Tim Challies, a good Canadian brother who spends a lot of time reading and writing about contemporary Christian fiction and non-fiction literature.  One day he made a comment that really got my attention: If someone else had total access to your computer and to your web browser and all of your online accounts, what would they discover about you?  What would that person discover, say, about your Internet browsing behavior, or how you spend your money?  Would they discover a relationship that is inappropriate or unbiblical?  Building on that thought, suppose someone developed a technology whereby a screen could be mounted on your forehead, facing the world, so that anyone could see what you were thinking.  What would they see?  I have many co-workers who likely would not have been happy with what they saw.  It’s easier to look good than to be holy, isn’t it?  And yet, our calling as those who have been saved by the good news of Jesus Christ is to be holy as God is holy.  This text today exhorts us throw ourselves onto the grace and mercy of God, and to totally eliminate everything impure and unholy from our lives, so that we might become his obedient children.

I think this is why in the reformers viewed the church as a priesthood of all believers.  The priests in the Old Testament had to go through elaborate rituals in order to be pure enough to minister in the tabernacle of God.  By the precious blood of Christ, we have all been once-and-for-all ordained by God for holy service, and to fling away from us anything that detracts from the holiness into which we have been called.  You may be particularly burdened with a sin that has been problematic for a long time.  You’re invited today, by the blood of Christ, to trust in his Grace, repent, and by the power of the Holy Spirit fling that sinful idol into the ash heap of the old ways of life which were lived in ignorance.  The urgency to get our spiritual house increases with each passing second, as our Lord Jesus Christ prepares his glorious return.  Let us join together in keeping each other accountable in prayer, steadfast love, and forgiveness, so that we might be ready for his arrival.  Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
December 5, 2010 
Second Sunday in Advent
Copyright © 2010 by Christopher Donald Drew 

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