Archive for January, 2011

When we don’t get holiness right…

Last evening, I taught our church briefly on the ever important topic, the holiness of God. The result was typical; I was deeply convicted during my preparation time.

Good definitions of holiness:

  • Wayne Grudem describes holiness as God’s being “separated from sin and devoted to seeking His own honor.”
  • “The essence of our God’s holiness,” writes Bryan Chapell, “is that He is wholly other. He is separate from anything that could sully His glory or diminish His perfection. He is majestic, elevated, high and lifted up. He is not entangled by His creature’s failures. He is not tainted by earth’s stain. He is pure.”
  • R.C. Sproul maintains regarding holiness, “At times it points toward pure, at other times it points toward separate and at other times it points toward transcendent.”

I believe that there are some serious ramifications in our personal spiritual lives as well as in our corporate spiritual lives when we fail to get the holiness of God right.

  • If we don’t get the holiness of God right, we are committing idolatry. At a certain level, we have all committed idolatry. Each time we sin, we fail to think rightly about God and thus end up worshipping a creature of our own creation instead of the true God who created us. If we miss the fact that God is altogether separated from sin, we cannot possibly be worshippers of the true God at any level.
  • If we don’t get the holiness of God right, the amazement of His love, mercy, and grace will fade into regular, ordinary, common-place cliches that are stripped of their spiritual power. God’s love is amazing precisely because it is undeserved. His mercy captivates us because the judgment we deserve has been withheld. His grace overwhelms hearts because by it we are granted what is undeserved and could never be earned. When holiness is ignored, minimized, or even inaccurately conceived, then in our estimation love becomes deserved, mercy a misnomer, and grace expected.
  • If we don’t get the holiness of God right, we will never see the seriousness of sin nor will we be able to understand the target that we pursue, holiness as God is holy. Isaiah had to see the Lord in all his splendor, grandeur, glory, and holiness before he could respond, “Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips…” (Isaiah 6). If we don’t grasp the holiness of God, then we will lose sight of what He expects of us (1 Peter 1:13-16). If we are not careful, instead of seeking to measure up to the holiness of God, we will content ourselves with measuring up to others in our Christian communities or perhaps even comparing ourselves with our unregenerate neighbors.
  • If we don’t get the holiness of God right, we will not be able to worship with the right heart attitude. We cannot possibly have the proper gratitude for our salvation, if we miss God’s holiness, and then we cannot possibly worship Him with a heart overwhelmed from that salvation and overwhelmed with the majesty of His person.

Hebrews 12:4 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

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Continue in Prayer in the New Year

As I’ve been preaching through John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit has been convicting my heart regarding this matter of prayer. I certainly want God to use me for the furtherance of the gospel, but I confess that my knees are not worn out yet. In this season of spiritual growth, the Holy Spirit graciously continues to expose my self-dependency, arrogance, and pride — for thinking that I can function without daily appropriating His power through prayer. And He’s been revealing the truth of Scripture to me, truths that are really all about Him, God-centered, if you will. Quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing about the power of prayer. We need, rather, to speak of the power of God, which can be appropriated by a believer through prayer.

In John 14, Jesus tells the disciples that they will do greater works than He has done. Pause and let that sink in for a moment. Greater works than Jesus? Certainly, in some sense Jesus masked His own majesty during His earthly ministry, but yet the works that He did do are astounding still (i.e. feeding the multitude, turning water into wine, raising Lazarus, etc.). Our greater works are greater only with respect to the worker. In other words, in His earthly ministry Jesus did less than He was actually able to do, while in our time to work for the Lord, through His divine enablement, we will do more than we should be able to do! Haddon Robinson illustrates this idea really well (not word for word),

Aboard a US submarine in enemy waters of the Pacific, a sailor was stricken with acute appendicitis. The nearest surgeon was 1,000’s of miles away. Pharmacist Mate, Wheller Lipes, watched the seaman’s temperature rise to 106 degrees. His only hope was an operation. Said Lipes, “I have watched doctors do it. I think I could. What do you say?” The sailor consented. In the wardroom, about the size of a drawing-room, the patient stretched out on a table beneath a floodlight. The mate and assisting officers, dressed in reversed pajama tops, masked their faces with gauze. The crew stood by the diving places to keep the ship steady; the cook boiled water for sterilizing. A tea strainer served as an antiseptic cone. A broken-handled scalpel was the operating instrument. Alcohol drained from the torpedoes was the antiseptic. Bent tablespoons served to keep the muscles open. After cutting through the layers of muscle, the mate took twenty minutes to find the appendix. Two and a half hours later, the last stitch was sewed, just as the last drop of ether gave out. 13 days later the patient was back at work. Admittedly, this was a much more magnificent feat than if it had been performed by trained surgeons in a fully equipped operating room of a modern hospital.

Thus, when God uses mere humans to preach the gospel of life to a dark world, dead in their sins, it is a greater work! One for which only He can receive the glory. And these greater works can only be accomplished in and through the Church as we continue in prayer, thus appropriating the power of God. Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I yam going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

In chapter 15, then, Jesus reminds the disciples of the importance of abiding in Him, saying, “Without me, you can do nothing” and “If you abide in Me and if my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it will be unto you.” The more we abide in Jesus and His word abides in us, the more our heart (still riddled with sinful desires) will be aligned to His will, the more we will pray according to His will (in His name) and then ultimately the more prayer we will see answered as Jesus brings forth spiritual fruit in our lives (Christian character, conduct, and converts) as He does greater works through us, His Church.

If God’s leading me to John 14-15 weren’t enough (and the fact that I know John 17 is coming!), I read this a couple days ago in Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening (actually given to me for Christmas by a friend whom God saved through the ministry of our church, himself one of God’s “greater works”),

It is interesting to notice how large a portion of Sacred Writ is occupied with the subject of prayer, either in furnishing examples, enforcing precepts, or pronouncing promises. We scarcely open the Bible before we read, ‘Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord’; and just as we are about to close the volume, the ‘Amen’ of an earnest supplication meets our ear. Instances are plentiful. Here we find a wrestling Jacob — there a Daniel who prayed three times a day — and a David who with all his heart called upon his God. On the mountain we see Elijah; in the dungeon Paul and Silas. We have multitudes of commands, and myriads of promises. What does this teach us but the sacred importance and necessity of prayer? We may be certain that whatever God has made prominent in his Word, he intended to be conspicuous in our lives. If he has said much about prayer, it is because he knows we have much need of it. So deep are our necessities that until we are in heaven we must not cease to pray. Do you not need anything? Then, I fear you do not know your poverty. Have no mercy to ask from God? Then, may the Lord’s mercy show you your misery! A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, and the honour of a Christian. If you are a child of God, you will seek your Father’s face, and live in your Father’s love. Pray that this year you may be holy, humble, zealous, and patient; have closer communion with Christ, and enter more often into the banqueting house of his love. Pray that you may be an example and a blessing to others, and that you may live more for the glory of your Master. The motto for this year must be, ‘Continue in prayer.’

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