Holiness and Faith
Holiness and Faith
Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 15
by William Klock
Holiness and Faith
When we looked at the first few chapters of First Corinthians, one of the things Paul talked about there is how the Gospel is foolishness to the world. But it’s not just the message of the cross, a lot of the time it’s the way we live because of the cross. God calls us to live that “foolish” message. Think about how he calls us to take off one day a week from our work. Think of the Christian farmer. During the harvest season, farmers are working seven days a week to bring in the harvest and yet the Christian commits to taking Sundays off to honour God. His neighbours think he’s crazy, and yet having lived in a wheat-farming area I’ve heard some Christians farmers tell me how God has blessed their harvests and how they could directly attribute it to their obedience to him. Like Abraham, they obeyed by faith what they believed to be the will of God, even though that obedience was often difficult.
We tend to think about holiness just in terms of separating ourselves from moral evil and from impurity, but in its broader sense holiness is obedience to the will of God in whatever he directs. It’s in saying with Jesus, “Here I am…I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7). We’re often prepared for the list of do’s and don’ts, but the fact is that no one is ready to pursue holiness unless you’re ready to obey God’s will in every area of life. The holiness the Bible describes calls us to do more than separate ourselves from the moral pollution of the world around us. It calls us to obey God even when that obedience is costly, when it requires deliberate sacrifice and even sometimes the potential of danger.
The fact is that obedience to the revealed will of Go is just as much a step of faith as claiming God’s promises. Consider what the writer of Hebrews tells us when he talks about obedience and faith interchangeably. In 3:18-19 he writes about the Old Testament Hebrews who would never enter God’s rest because they disobeyed first, and yet in he then says they weren’t able to enter because of their unbelief.
Hebrews tells us about the heroes in the faith, who it says were “still living by faith when they died” (Hebrews 11:13). But we’ll see that the element of obedience – responding to the will of God – was just as prominent in their lives as claiming the promises of God. The important point, though, is that they obeyed by faith. And since obedience is the pathway to holiness – a holy life being essentially an obedient life – we can say that no will become holy apart from a life of faith.
You see, faith isn’t just essential for salvation – it’s just as essential to live a life pleasing to God. Faith enables us to claim the promises of God, but it also enables us to obey his commandments too. Faith is what enables us to obey when obedience is costly or seems unreasonable from a worldly perspective.
Hebrews 11, the “faith chapter”, really drives this home. For example, we’re told there that it was by faith that Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did, and because of faith received God’s approval. We don’t know exactly what it was that was physically wrong with Cain’s sacrifice, but it seems that at the root he was disobedient about it in some way – probably in terms of what he offered. It didn’t make sense to Cain, so when it came to his offering he did his own thing. But by faith Abel believed what God said. He took him at his word and obeyed, even though he might not have understood why God commanded what he did.
The world’s values are all around us: fame, fortune, and happiness here and now. Those are the goals everyone has. And yet Scripture tells us the opposite: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27). The rich should not “set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). It takes faith to pursue such biblical values when the world around us is pursuing goals that are totally opposite. Faith needs to focus on believing that God ultimately upholds and blesses those who obey him, and who trust him for the consequences of obedience.
Take Noah as an example of this kind of faith. Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” God’s revelation to Noah about the judgement he was going to send was first of all a warning. By faith Noah believed that warning. He had conviction about things not yet seen based solely on the revealed Word of God. Noah also had confidence that the way of salvation from God’s judgement was through God’s appointed means: the ark. He responded to that promise, and saved himself and his family.
Noah’s building the ark is one of the greatest examples the world has ever seen of perseverance in a difficult duty of obedience. Image labouring for 140 years while the people around him made fun of him and told him he was stupid, but still doing it because he heeded God’s warning and believed in his promise.
Another good example is Abraham. God’s call to him had two parts: a command and a promise. The command was to leave his father’s house and go to a land that God would show him. The promise was that God would make him into a great nation, and through him would bless all the families of the earth. Abraham believed that both the command and the promise came from God, so he obeyed the command and expected fulfilment of the promise. Hebrews 11:8 says about him: “By faith Abraham…obeyed.”
When I preached on Abraham a few years ago it really struck me how Abrahams faith and obedience are recorded in Genesis in such a matter-of-fact way. And yet because it’s so matter-of-fact we might miss how much difficulty there was in obeying God. John Brown compares Abraham to “a person, previous to the discovery of America, leaving the shores of Europe, and committing himself and his family to the mercy of the waves, in consequence of a command of God and a promise that they should be conducted to a country where he should become the founder of a great nation, and the source of blessing to many nations.”
It goes without saying that the path of obedience as we pursue holiness is often going to run totally counter to the world’s wisdom and way of doing things. If we don’t have conviction in the necessity of obeying the revealed will of God on top of confidence in the promises of God, we’ll never persevere in this difficult pursuit. We have to have conviction that it’s God’s will that we seek holiness – regardless of how hard and painful the seeking may be. And we have to be confident that the pursuit of holiness results in God’s approval and blessing, even when circumstances might make things appear the opposite.
A lot of the time specific acts of obedience require both conviction and confidence. Consider God’s commandment to Israel to keep the sabbatical year. Every seventh year the land was to have a Sabbath rest to the Lord, during which no sowing or pruning was to be done (Leviticus 25:3-4). Now along with the command God also promised that he would bless their crops in the sixth year so that they would have enough to eat until the crops in the eighth year were harvested (Leviticus 25:20-22). The people had to have confidence in the promise of God in order to obey the command of God. Now they’d already had an example of just this kind of provision during their forty years in the wilderness. God forbid them to collect manna on the Sabbath, but he also ensured that the double measure they collected the day before would keep until the Sabbath so they’d have something to eat. If they tried to save manna overnight any other day of the week it would rot by morning – but not on the Sabbath. And yet the history of Israel in the Old Testament shows that as time went on they lost their confidence in God’s promise and that they lost their conviction that his revealed will on this matter was important to their national and spiritual prosperity.
The principle behind the Sabbath and Sabbatical Year carries over directly into the New Testament and to us. Jesus says in the Sermon the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The command is to seek God’s kingdom first. The promise is that as we do, God will provide for our temporal needs. It’s because we’re often fainthearted about the promises of God, we find it hard to obey his command. The result is that we often give the things of this life top priority as we make decisions about life.
Let’s go back to the Old Testament for another example. Take Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. He illustrates how a lack of faith leads to disobedience. God promised him in 1 Kings 11:38: “If you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.”
But did Jeroboam trust God and believe his promise? The rest of the story tells us that he didn’t: “Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.’ So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, ‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’”
He disobeyed so quickly you have t wonder if he even heard God’s command and promise. He certainly heard, but the message was of no value to him because it wasn’t combined with faith (Hebrews 4:2). And yet before we judge Jeroboam too harshly, we each need to consider our own lives. How often do we fail to obey God’s clearly revealed will because we fail to exercise faith?
Because we fail to believe that humility is the path to God’s exaltation (1 Peter 5:6), we jockey for a place of position and power in our relations with others. Because we don’t believe that God takes note of and will in his time avenge all the wrongs done to us (Romans 12:19), we study in our own minds how we’re going get payback when someone wrongs us. Because we’re not convinced of the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13), we play with it, thinking that we’ll find satisfaction there. And because we don’t have a firm conviction that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (12:14), we don’t seriously pursue holiness as a priority in our lives.
Faith and holiness are linked together. Obeying the commands of God usually involves believing the promises of God. One definition of faith might be “Obeying the revealed will of God and trusting him for the results.”
Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” If we would pursue holiness we must have faith to obey the will of God revealed in the Scriptures and faith to believe the promises of God will then be ours.