We Are Called To HolinessErwin W. Lutzer | January 23, 2011
Selected highlights from this sermon
Holiness means that we’re free of sin so that we can be God’s exclusive treasure. Once we’re born into God’s family, we’re His children, and as His children, we need to live like it. We need to be pure; we need to act in love.
We also need to remember that though we don’t see the immediate consequences of our sin, there will come a time of judgment—yes, even for believers. Therefore, we need to live pure lives.
Finally, we need to grow in holiness because of the investment that God made. There’s no way we could ever accomplish our own redemption. God paid for it with the blood of His beloved Son.
May we never forget, nor take for granted, the ransom that was paid for our freedom.
Let me begin today with a question. I’m going to give you a word and as soon as you hear that word I want you to think of what you associate with it. If this were a classroom I would ask you to say it out loud but we can’t do that here because we have so many hundreds of people, but I’d like to know actually what you think when I mention the word holy or holiness.
A number of years ago a man by the name of John White wrote a book on prayer and he says that when he casts about for what comes to his mind when he mentions the word holy, he says it is hollow-eyed godness, beards, sandals, long robes, stone cells, cold baths, fasting, and stained glass. I remember when we were on the island of Patmos. You know out there in the east you have Eastern Orthodoxy that has icons and the tour guide said if you look at an icon have you ever noticed that the person is always expressionless? That’s intentional because they are so holy that they should have no expression on their face at all.
I began to realize that I’ve seen a lot of icons but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an icon with a smile on his face. Have you? Expressionless! If you think that’s what holiness is I wouldn’t be surprised that if I were to ask you if you would want to be holy you’d say, “Do we really have to? Is this something we really want to do? Do we want to really ruin our lives and suddenly become holy? What is it?” What misconceptions!
To be holy really means that you are set apart to God. God is holy and God is separate and we are to be separate as well. We are set apart to God so that if I give you a fuller definition it might be something like this: to be free of sin so that we can be God’s exclusive treasure. I’ll probably be repeating that a couple of times in this message. It’s to be free of sin so that we can be God’s exclusive treasure. That’s what holiness is.
Now take your Bible and turn if you would please to the book of First Peter. I hope that you are taking time to memorize First Peter 2:9. It is sort of the capsule verse that we are using for a four part series that comes out of the book of First Peter and you’ll notice that it says, “You are a chosen race.” We dealt with that last time. What does it mean to be chosen by God, to be called to a living hope? And then it says, “You are a royal priesthood (We’ll talk about that next time.) and you are a holy nation.” And the next messages are going to deal with what it’s like to proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light, but for today a holy nation.
A little boy was asked as to what holiness is and he answered very correctly. He said that holiness is to be clean inside, and that’s at least half the definition “I want to be committed to you alone and committed to no one else in the marriage relationship.” To be holy means to be separated unto God for his exclusive use and pleasure. I hope now that as we go through this that you will want to be holy.
Now what I’d like to do is to give you three reasons why we should be holy, and I begin here at verse 13 of First Peter 1. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy,’” the text says in verse 16. And then it goes on to talk about God as Father.
All right, let’s back off now for a moment and let’s put this in perspective. Why should you and I be holy? The first reason is because we have now the nature of God. We are God’s children. We are born children of corruption, children of disobedience. We are by nature children of wrath, the Bible says, but when we have been born again to the living hope that we talked about we are being born again into an entirely different family, and like father, like son. The Bible says that we are partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the pollution that is in the world as a result of lust, Peter says in Second Peter. And so what we really need to recognize is that we now have the nature of God, and that is what God likeness is all about. It’s being like God.
Now there’s a big word coming up. I want to warn you in advance. It’s one that I use only every two or three years but I like to use it when I do. The big word is this. We are not like God ontologically. We not like God in his essence, but we can be like God in relationship to some of his moral attributes and that’s what holiness is all about.
You’ll notice it says that we should not be conformed to the world and to the passions of your former ignorance. There are two ways at least that we can be like God, maybe more, but first of all, we can be like God in purity. As a matter of fact that’s the emphasis most often when we’re talking about Godlikeness because God has no sin. God is entirely and totally pure and he says, “I am holy, therefore you be holy.”
Now you and I know what impurity is, don’t we? You’ve had the experience of being in church and you have been praising God and you’ve been reading the word and you really do feel cleansed, and then you go home and you see something on television that is sensual and it’s as if the fellowship that you had with God and the cleansing that you had simply drained away. We know what impurity is. We know what uncleanness is. When Jesus cast out demons they are sometimes called unclean spirits. Those of you who are in a sinful relationship you have told yourself there’s nothing wrong with it. You have justified it. You have rationalized it. You’ve given a hundred different reasons why of course it’s okay, but there’s something within you that says, “This isn’t right. It is impure. It is unclean.” And if you are struggling with such a thing as pornography you know that that is unclean. And so God is entirely pure. And so what God is calling us to today is deep repentance, not just about the sins of the flesh but the sins of covetousness, the sins of dishonesty. In him is no sin, the Bible says about Jesus, and the same about God the Father. God is calling us today to purity, that we might be washed and sanctified without spot and without wrinkle. Let me ask you something. What does God have to put you through before you are willing to give up uncleanness?
There’s another way that we can be like God, and that is in love. It says in Ephesians 5, “Be imitators of God as dear children, and walk in love.” There’s another way that we can be like God. Why should we be holy? It’s because God is holy. Key verse today “You should be holy because I am holy,” and he’s quoting the Old Testament where over and over again God said to his people, “Be holy for I am holy,” and then God says in Exodus 19, “And you shall be my treasured people.” That’s what holiness is all about ’s enough to make even an icon smile. Maybe holiness is more than simply expressionlessness, as indeed it is. Like father “Be ye holy for I am holy.”
There’s a second reason. It is not very well accepted in evangelical circles today and that is because of the judgment of God. Notice what is says in verse 17, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”
Now he uses two words there that seem inconsistent with grace. Let me ask you a question. Is it safer to sin today than it was in Old Testament times? You know in Old Testament times you knew that if you sinned you might be stoned to death. You might find that the earth opens up and you are swallowed up into it. We don’t have those kinds of things happening today so people take a casual attitude toward sin because they say, “It’s safe to sin.”
Right now as a staff we are dealing with someone who used to be a member who has decided that he’s fallen in love with a different woman other than his wife, and in the marriage relationship he was unfaithful and now he’s divorcing one woman so that he can marry another. And supposedly he’s a believer and in e-mails back and forth he made the statement to the effect, “I know that God will forgive me and then I’ll move on.” In other words, God will forgive me. That’s kind of his business. I mean isn’t God in the forgiving business? And then I’ll move on.
Now let’s look at the text. You see we live in an era of such casualness, which is totally contrary to the New Testament because he uses the two words judgment and fear. You say, “Does that refer to us as believers?” Absolutely it refers to us as believers. Ask Ananias and Sapphira who lied and God struck them dead. Can you imagine that they arrive in heaven and they say, “We didn’t understand this. We thought that this is the New Testament era and we’re under grace.”
There was a pastor who said that if God dealt with people like that today we’d have to have funeral parlors in the basements of churches to take care of all the dead. God says, “Just because you’re under grace doesn’t mean a casual attitude.” Yes indeed, God will forgive you, but there are two kinds of judgment.
First of all, all sin has immediate judgments. And by the way, speaking of sexuality when it comes to that kind of sin, David, the Bible says, was totally cleansed by God, because God does forgive, and he bounced back, but his children didn’t. He had four sons. Each of them ended very, very badly in great sin. Yes, you see, all sin has some immediate judgment. You can receive forgiveness for it. That’s true, but the consequences continue to boomerang, and the fact that you are forgiven does not mean that the consequences are thereby negated. They might be lessened in certain contexts but at the end of the day all sin is judged, including a believer’s sin ’s sin.
The other word that he uses, and by the way that’s the immediate judgment. There’s also a future judgment. When we stand in the presence of Christ we are going to be judged (Second Corinthians 5:10) for the deeds done in the body whether they be good or bad. The thoroughness of that judgment is amazing, and John says in the book of First John that we should live in such a way that we do not have shame at his coming. Wouldn’t that in itself be a judgment
The other word that he uses is not only judgment, but he says, “Pass the time throughout the time of your exile in fear.” Most pastors will tell you that fear simply means reverence. I mean, why should we who are under grace fear God? Actually it is throughout the New Testament. It says, regarding the early church, “And they met together in the fear of the Lord.” Paul says in Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and with trembling.”
Yes, fear means fear. It doesn’t mean soul-destroying fear. It doesn’t mean the kind of fear that a servant has of his master, especially if the master is unpredictable. It’s not that kind of fear. It’s the kind of fear that we have between a son and a father. You know there’s a sense in which I feared my father. It was not that I ever thought that he would disown me or cast me out of the home or not take care of me, but there was something about Dad. All that he needed to do is to look at you and you kind of shivered. Are there others of you who had a dad like that? He just looked at you and that’s all that was needed? Now my older brother need a little more than simply a look (laughter) but I was the youngest, and the youngest is always the charmer. You know, they just need a look and they begin to obey. But I feared him but in a good sense.
In the very same way we should fear God. Do you remember when Joseph was confronted with sin? What did he say when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him? “How shall I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” That’s a proper fear of God. What he was saying was, “I have a right view of God and I have a right view of sin.” He didn’t say, “Now how can I have this affair on the side and get by? What lies can I tell afterwards?” It’s not the fear of God that is insulting God. It’s not the fear of a servant, but it is the fear of a son.
Why should we be holy? First of all because if you are born again you have the nature of God, and not only that but we anticipate the judgment of God. God takes it very seriously. And by the way, if you are here today, and you are simply investigating Christianity, I want you to keep listening because I want you to know what you are missing out on when it comes to holiness and everything else.
There’s a third reason and that is because of the investment of God. Notice how Peter connects these ideas. He says, for example, in verse 18, “knowing that you were ransomed (and this is a continuation of the sentence) from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown (or chosen) before the foundation of the world.” Peter says, “Don’t you know how much God invested in you?”
Now, when we think of the word ransom we have to realize that there’s the word redeem. You have a situation in those days where there were many, many millions of slaves. And a slave could have bought his own freedom if he had had enough money but, of course, he didn’t. In that sense the slave had a better chance of redeeming himself than you and I do because he could have won the lottery or in some way he could have had the money that he needed but there was no way that you and I could redeem ourselves. Dead in trespasses and sins, everything that we do is somehow tainted. There is really no way that you and I could have accomplished our own redemption. Jesus had to do it. Just like in the Old Testament you remember the story of the Israelites in Egypt how that God was going to send a plague, and he did and the firstborn of Egypt were killed by the Angel of Death (the Angel of the Lord), and yet if there was a lamb that took the place of the firstborn “When I see the blood I will pass over you,” God said, and that’s why we have the Passover. It’s because God passed over all those who were protected by the blood of Christ. But the lamb died in the place of the firstborn.
In the very same way he says here that Jesus Christ is our redeemer and the price that he paid was called a ransom. Let me say two things about that ransom. First of all it was intended to purchase us out of the slavery of sin, and you know sin is a terrible slave master. Jesus said that whoever commits sin is a servant of sin, especially when sin becomes an addiction. What a terrible master it is. You wake up in the morning and it tells you what to do. It tells you what to do during the day no matter how much you dislike it, no matter how much it affects your conscience. No matter how polluted you feel afterwards, this is something that you have to do, and Jesus came to purchase us out from under that kind of slavery. He bought us so that we don’t have to have that obligation to sin anymore. And so the object is really our redemption, and what is the price that is paid? Once again Peter refers to money
If you were with us last time you know that he referred to the trial of our faith being much more precious than gold, even if it is the kind of gold that is refined by fire, he says. Now in the very same way he says, “We were not redeemed with perishable things.” Don’t you love it? When an economic crisis happens the thing that people go for, the thing that they are willing to die for is gold. Have you seen on television (probably the history channel) all that people have been willing to endure during the gold rush? Poverty, the death of some of their teams, going through excruciating things just to get gold, and Peter says that far from it being imperishable, it is perishable (silver and gold). He says, “That’s not what purchased you. You were purchased by the precious blood of Christ.” There’s no comparison.
A piece of gold may be able to buy a slave out of slavery in the Roman Empire. Gold will never purchase you out of the slave market of sin. Only Jesus could do that. Have you ever thought about how terrible sin is? It is so terrible that in order for God to purchase us out of its power and slavery he had to give the best he had, namely his son, to come and die and to give his life and to shed his most precious blood. Sin is terrible.
Now when you and I magnify sin, because it was sin that put Jesus on the cross, it would be like taking a knife that was perhaps used in the murder of your own son. If your son were murdered you would take the knife that the murderer used and you would keep it in a case and you would show it to all your friends and you’d say, “You know this knife is very, very precious to me.”
You say, “Well that’s absolutely absurd,” and that’s how absurd it is for us to honor our sins and become slaves of them because we were purchased at such high cost by God. No wonder we should love the Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder we should serve him. No wonder we should love holiness. First of all, it’s because we’ve been born again with the nature of God, and secondly because of the fact that we should fear the judgment of God, and then we think of the investment of God. And we’re playing around, toying with our sins when Jesus did so much to redeem us from them. How sin dishonors Jesus!
Now to help us nail this down for just a few moments let me suggest the following bottom lines. The call to salvation is a call to holiness. It is a call to Godlikeness. You know the Bible calls us saints, and it does often. For example, the Apostle Paul begins the books of Ephesians and Philippians, “To the saints which are in Ephesus, or the saints which are in Philippi, etc., etc.” Do you know what the Greek word is? It’s the holy ones. “To the holy ones in Ephesus. To the holy ones in Philippi.” That’s what it really is because in Jesus when you receive him as Savior, you are already in him made holy, and God declares you to be a saint. You know this idea that you have to die and then you have to do some miracles because somebody prayed for you in order to become a saint, I hope that you understand that that is purely human man-made tradition. That’s not the way you become a saint. You are already a saint.
Would you look at the person next to you right now and say, “You are a saint.” Some of you are taking a little longer to say that than I anticipated. (laughter) Paul could write and say that to the saints that are at Moody Church. You see, we become saints by faith in Christ but, and this is very critical now, now that we have been made holy in Jesus it is our responsibility and privilege to pursue holiness in actual experience.
I told you that the prayer that I try to pray every morning before I get out bed is this, “Oh God, glorify yourself in my life today at my expense.” Eventually, by the way, that expense becomes the very best thing that could happen to me, but another prayer that we really ought to pray is this. “Oh God, today make me as holy as it is possible for a human being to be.” It says in the book of Hebrews that we should pursue holiness without which no man will see the Lord.
I want to speak to you candidly today if you are totally comfortable with your sin, if there is nothing within you that says, “I desire something better and I would like really be holy I would like to be Godlike in purity and in love.” If there is nothing within you that says that, you need to seriously question whether or not you are a believer because God implants his nature within us. God gives us a desire for holiness because a desire for holiness is a desire for God and a love of God produces holiness in fact, a love of God to the exclusion of self, or if you love self, you will not love God. But the call to salvation is always a call to holiness. Are you saved? Have you been born from above?
There’s a second bottom line and that is this. This call to holiness is always a call to enjoy God. Remember I mentioned the little boy who said that holiness is being clean inside. Is there anything as wonderful as being clean inside and being in fellowship with God? Oftentimes when I am asked to give my autograph to something I always like to write Psalm 16:11. “In thy presence there is fullness of joy. At thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” You really want to be free of sin. You want to be free of the clouds that are left over after you sin, and all of the nagging conscience. You want to be free of that. You come to Jesus Christ. You are cleansed. You are forgiven. You are made clean inside, and then you live clean and you discover fulfillment and blessing and a sense of the benediction of God on your life.
The first page of Augustine’s confessions says, “Oh God, thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their all in thee.” In the sixteenth century Henry Siegel (I believe it was) said that every person is born having a raging thirst for God within and he goes to this well to get it quenched, and to that well, and all of the wells are basically empty, and he goes to the cisterns that are broken that can hold no water, and he goes from here to there, from relationship to relationship, from issue to issue, and what he doesn’t do is to go to God, and find that that’s what he has been looking for all the time. Paschal said, “We are created with a God shaped vacuum that only God can fulfill.”
I wish it would be more true of my life but the more you know God you can really say, “You know, there is a place of quiet rest near to the heart of God, a place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.” What a place to be. Can we agree as a church to be done with sin? Can we agree to that? Is there anybody out there who says, “Yeah, we agree.”? (applause) Playing around with mud pies, as C.S. Lewis said, when God has prepared something so much better for us. “Be ye holy for I am holy.” Write that verse above your television set.
Finally, a call to holiness is a community project, which really leads us to the messages that will follow. You’ll notice that is says that we are one nation. We are a holy nation. We can’t be holy alone. We can’t make it on our own. God established the church in such a way that he says that we need each other, and that’s why the early church, which we will also be looking at, was always meeting together. Why? It’s because there is strength in community. We are community as we will be explaining, called by God to live passionately for Jesus Christ, but we can’t do it without community.
I conclude today by appealing to those of you today who have never trusted Christ as Savior. There was a man by the name of John Bunyan who wrote a book entitled, “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” Actually Bunyan was in jail for twelve years for preaching the Gospel. He could have gotten out if he would have just stopped preaching, but the whole idea was that he was told there in England that he had to be licensed to preach. And he said, “I’m not going to be licensed by anybody because licensing means control.”
So he’s in jail. He writes that marvelous book, “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” and in it, if you know the book, he visualizes himself with a burden of sin on his shoulders. The burden of sin is a troubled conscience. It’s with you when you wake up. You need sleeping pills to put you to bed because of the guilt and the turmoil, and it’s always with you. And the Apostle Paul described it in Romans 7 by saying, “Who shall deliver me from this body of sin, this sin that I carry on my shoulders?” If you could go to the grave of Bunyan, as Rebecca and I had the privilege of doing, in England, you would see that there on his tombstone, chiseled into it is a picture of a man broken, burdened over with his load of sin, and he’s rolling it off at the foot of the cross. It’s the only place, my friend, where your sin can be rolled away - the precious blood of Jesus to redeem you, to save you.
Can we as a church be committed to holiness? If we are committed to holiness we will be a strong powerhouse in the city of Chicago and around the world because the Bible says that Jesus is working with his people to sanctify the Church, to present her pure and holy without spot and without wrinkle, and that’s really what Jesus is after, but you and I thwart that. Because sin means so much to us we don’t want to give it up.
“‘Be ye holy for I am holy,’ saith the Lord God.”
Let us pray.
Father, this message is difficult to preach and difficult to hear because we’ve had our own way so long, and we have had such a casual attitude towards our own sins. And I confess that and our congregation confesses that, and we ask today, Lord, that in these moments as we sing together may we sing a prayer from the very depths of our heart that whatever you ask us to do would you give us the grace to do it?
And now before I close in prayer, those of you have never trusted Christ as Savior, why don’t you just finally give up your sin and say, “I trust Christ. I receive the precious blood of Jesus for myself.”
And those of you who already know him and love him, what issues in your life are keeping you from the joy of holiness?
Speak to us, Lord, we pray. Amen.