INTRODUCTION – Willingness is not enough
(1 Thessalonians 4:7 KJV) For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
(2 Peter 3:11 MSG) Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?
Holiness and sin are major topics of God’s Word. However, we find holiness a challenge: through the experience of being human, we all seem to know a lot more about sin than holiness: we have all sinned. Whether it’s the obvious sins of stealing, lying, taking drugs, getting drunk or the deeper sins of pride, deception and gossip, we all know what its like to be caught in sin. Therefore, we usually view holiness as the ability to stop sinning and start doing right. But how do we stop it?
In the Old Testament, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel were known as God’s chosen people. And after God rescued them from Egypt, they made the following commitment.
“All the words which the Lord has said we will do” (Exodus 24:3)
However, even a quick read of the Old Testament shows that despite some bursts of obedience, they were generally unable to keep this promise. I am sure they were sincere in what they said at the time; the problem, however, lies, not in willingness, but in how to fulfil it. That is, how to obey what God wants.
This reminds me of a prayer I prayed repeatedly as a passionate new Christian, “Lord, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it; just tell me what you want me to do.” Although I prayed sincerely, I didn’t ever get the ‘to do’ list from God that I wanted, and I wondered why. A decade later, as a pastor, I had people say the same thing to me. “While you are away ministering, is there anything you want me to do? I’ll do anything you want.” To which I gratefully responded, “Yes, ring Mrs what’s-her-name to see how she is.” Only to receive a sharp, “I’m not doing that” as the reply.
Then I realized how God feels when we offer unconditional obedience in our prayers of devotion. He knows our hearts, and has had a long history of dealing with humans. He knows that despite our very best intentions to obey, and to do only what he wants, we simply do not do it all. For example, what if he said to us right now, “go the extra mile; forgive your oppressor; don’t let the sun go down on your anger; love your enemy; bless them that curse you; pay your tithes; don’t let sweet and bitter water come out of the same fountain (mouth); sell what you have, give the money to the poor and come follow me.” Would we instantly comply with all these directives? After all, we already have them written clearly in the Bible, but we are probably not obeying them all now. So why would God believe that we’ll keep the promise of future obedience: “Just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it”?
Clearly, the problem is not willingness, or the Old Testament would have worked fine. After all, when the descendants of Israel were relatively obedient, God’s blessings and miracles for them were amazing; even in the wilderness they enjoyed provision of food every day, supernatural victories, and miraculous longevity for their shoes and clothes (Deuteronomy 29:5; Psalm 78). If the problem is not our devotion, what is it? How do we please God and live the holy life he wants?
What is holiness? Holiness is being perfectly aligned with God: agreeing with, and going his way on values, actions, priorities, and character etc. Sin is the opposite: sin is acting independently of God through disobedience, delayed obedience, ignorance, or deception. One verse in particular should also give us some additional insight on what holiness is: holiness is about trusting God. It says, ‘Whatever is not of faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23). Therefore, holiness is connected to faith. Hebrews 11:6 confirms this when it says, ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’.
Holiness is about living a life that pleases God. And as we have seen, this would be impossible without faith and a sin-free life. In John 8:29, Jesus said he fully pleased the Father in all he did. This clearly shows that he lived a holy and faith-filled life. Therefore, by definition, he is our role model for holiness and faith.
I have invested decades in study and in meditation of God’s word to discover how to live the life of radical obedience that my worshipful heart desires. The topic of this book, therefore, is not about whether we should be holy, do right actions, and say right words etc., but about how to – how to live in holiness sweatlessly.
In Scripture, sweat speaks of doing things by your own efforts rather than in God’s strength and power. In the following verse, God speaks about how he didn’t want his priests to wear anything that would make them sweat; this was an Old Testament way of showing us that he wants us to be holy without our efforts, and approach him on a basis that doesn’t depend on our own works or track-record.
(Ezekiel 44:18 NKJV) “They shall have linen turbans on their heads and linen trousers on their bodies; they shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat.”
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