Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness Holiness is for You Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 1 by William Klock Does this sort of thing ever happen to you? Here’s an example. In December construction started on a house next door to us. And it’s one of those big square boxes designed to take up the maximum buildable space on the lot. When they dug the hole for the foundation, it was less than a foot from our property line. And they did this just weeks after we had our lawn seeded. The grass was just starting to pop up. And within days our entire side lawn was trashed thanks to workmen tromping through it all day long. And then on top of that, they brought their dogs to work, didn’t tie them up, and pretty soon the dogs are running all overthe yard, tearing up the grass and leaving big steaming piles everywhere. I called the builder to tell him know that his guys were destroying my lawn and would they please “keep off,” but he just didn’t care and made that clear to me. I went over and talked to the workmen. Things got better for about a week. Then one day as I was walking home down the path from the church after work one day, I saw that they’d been working with their excavator and had gone way over the property line and had really torn up the grass this time. I was royally ticked off. I was seething with anger, resentment, and hatred. The only thing that kept me from storming up to the construction site and giving the guys a piece of my mind was the fact that they’d already gone home for the day. But as I went in the house and started to cool off, all that anger turned into discouragement. It had only been half an hour before that I had finished writing a sermon about witnessing our faith through our actions. And yet when I saw the mess those guys had made, I was ready to do exactly the opposite. I’d just been writing about showing to others the grace that God has shown us. I’d just been writing about being victorious over sin, and there I was not an hour later struggling with a sinful attitude. I think that all of us experience times like that. Think of the times when you’ve just finished your morning devotions and minutes later fall into some kind of sinful activity or attitude. Maybe your problem isn’t anger. Maybe you struggle daily with some other sinful behaviour pattern. Whatever it is, it can be discouraging and that’s the reason for this series of sermons. Whatever your particular problems with sin are, the Bible gives us the answers. It is possible for you and I to live in obedience to God’s Word and live holy lives. In fact, that’s what God expects each of us to do. You see, holiness isn’t just expected; it’s the promised birthright of every Christian. Think about the words St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). If you are a Christian, sin is no longer your master. Part of the reason we struggle so much with holiness is that we don’t understand it. Think about it. I say “holy” and for a lot of people that conjures up images of monks or nuns or puritans in tall hats and buckle-shoes. Or maybe “holy” immediately makes you cringe, because you think of a self-righteous, “holier than thou” attitude. So we’ve got to get past our wrong ideas and go back to Scripture – because holiness is a biblical idea. The word “holy” occurs more than 600 times in various forms in Scripture. In fact, one entire book, Leviticus, is totally devoted to the subject of holiness. Holiness is a theme the God has worked throughout the Bible and his command to us is, “Be holy, as I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Those false images we have of what it means to be holy come from our own misunderstanding. Holiness is about as basic it gets when it comes to doctrine, but a lot of Christians still seem to get it wrong. The Temperance Movement of a century ago practically equated temperance and abstinence with redemption and holiness and as a result many of our brothers and sister have come to equate holiness with a legalistic list of “thou shalt nots,” like drinking, smoking, dancing, and going to movies. The Anabaptists kind of did the same thing. Think of the Amish, who equate holiness to a great degree with a certain style of simple living. On the other hand the Higher Life Movement and classic Pentecostalism exhort us saying that perfect holiness is possible in this life if we only try hard enough and follow the right rules – and if you’re good enough and meet certain criteria along the way you can earnthe Holy Spirit. And so with messages like that, it’s no wonder Christians get discouraged in their pursuit of holiness. It’s sad, but we often miss the real meaning of “holy.” You see, in biblical terms, to be holy is to be morally blameless. It’s to be separated from sin and consecrated to God. The word itself signifies “separation to God” and describes the sort of conduct and living that should characterise a person who has been set apart for God. Look at how St. Paul describes holiness in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7. He contrasts it with a life of immorality and impurity. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. ForGod has not called us forimpurity, but in holiness. St. Peter contrast holiness with living according to the evil desires we had when we lived outside of Christ: As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, butas 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.” (1 Peter 1:14-16) In Revelation St. John contrasted one who is holy with those who do wrong and are vile: Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. (Revelation 22:11) The New Testament writers tell us that to live a holy life is to live a life in conformity to God’s moral precepts instead of the sinful ways of the world. It’s to live your life according to St. Paul’s “put off, put on” principle I talked about this morning: put off your old self, which is corrupted by its deceitful desires, and put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22, 24). So we need to ask: If holiness is so basic to what it means to be a Christian, why don’t we experience it in our daily living the way we should? Why do we so often feel defeated in our struggles with sin? Why does the church so often seem to be conformed more to the world than to Christ? I think we have three basic problems. The first is that our attitude to sin is more self-centred than God-centred. Let me explain what I mean. I’ve noticed that a lot of Christians are more concerned about their own “victory” over sin than they are about the fact that their sin grieves the heart of God. Do you see the difference? We struggle with sin, not because we know it’s offensive to God, but because we ourselves are success oriented. We know the right thing, but we’re trying to do it for the wrong reason. You see, we’ll never have a right view of sin until we see it as against God – until we see it as a breaking of God’s law and God’s holy standards – until we see it as our despising his authority and as our attempt to be in control. We need to see sin as the cosmic treason that it is. Think of Pharaoh or Balaam or Saul or Judas. They all admitted they had sinned. But then think of the prodigal son. He admitted, “I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Think of David. He admitted to God, “Against you and you alone have I sinned.” Dear friends, as much as God does want us to be victorious over sin, he wants us much more to simply walk in obedience. He wants our victory to be oriented toward himself. Victory is good, but victory needs to be the by-product, the result of our obedience to God. Instead of focusing on victory, we need to concentrate on living an obedient and holy life. If we do that we will then experience the joy of victory over sin. Our second problem is that we have misunderstood “living by faith” to mean that no effort at holiness is required on our part. In fact, sometimes we’ve even gone so far as to say that an effort on our part is “of the flesh.” Bishop Ryle made a good point when he wrote: “Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do, that the holiness of converted people is by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it. That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness…no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith.” You see, it’s good that we rightly acknowledge that we have no part in our justification – our redemption – knowing that it is God who elects us, calls us, and regenerates us in the first place according to his good pleasure. We have nothing to add to our justification. But our sanctification is different. Think of a farmer. When he plants his crops, he enters into a joint venture with God. He may do the tilling, planting, weeding, and fertilising, but unless God does his part, there can never be a harvest. And just so with us. God is the one who makes it possible by giving us his grace and placing his Spirit within us, but like the farmer, we have to cultivate those gifts to produce holy living. We have to take responsibility for doing a lot of hard work. Our third problem is that we don’t take some sin seriously. That was the point of last summer’s series on “respectable sins.” We become legalistic and put sins into categories. We grant that it’s wrong to do the big things, like rob a bank, murder an enemy, or have an adulterous affair. But we have no problem ducking out early at work or taking home office supplies; we have no problem hating our enemy’s guts and harbouring anger and resentment towards him; and we have no problem looking lustfully at women or men to whom we’re not married. But Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount that hatred is just as much a sin as murder, and that to lust after a woman is as much a sin as if we’d committed adultery with her. Sure we aren’t guilty of the “biggies,” but we’re guilty of all sorts of “little” sins we think we can get away with. And yet in Song of Songs, King Solomon wisely writes that it’s “the little foxes that spoil the vineyards” (Song of Songs 2:15). Those little sins often lead to bigger sins, but even when they don’t they’re still unholy and they still separate us from God. We become spiritual scoff-laws – the spiritual equivalent of the people who jay-walk, who don’t clean up after their dogs, who paint graffiti on walls, speed on the highway, and cheat “a little” on their taxes. In his commentary on Leviticus, Andrew Bonar makes a very wise point. In commenting on the minute and seemingly unimportant points of the Mosaic law, he reminds us that it’s not the importance of the rule, but the majesty of the Lawgiver that should be the standard of our obedience. He grants that some of God’s rules might seem like petty or arbitrary trifles, but he says that even when it’s little things like what we eat or wear, the principle involved in obedience or disobedience is the same principle that faced Adam and Eve as they stood under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil pondering whether or not to eat the forbidden fruit. He says, the principle “is really this: Is the Lord to be obeyed in all things whatsoever He commands? Is He a holy Lawgiver? Are his creatures bound to give implicit assent to His will?” Dear Friends, we need to willing to call sin “sin” not because it’s big or small, but because God forbids it. We can’t put different sins into categories and say some are okay and some aren’t. If we do that, we’ll never live holy lives. These are all ideas that I plan to develop more as we work through this series of sermons. But before we go further, each of us needs to settle these issues in our hearts. Each of us needs to ask, “Am I ready to start looking at sin as an offence against a holy God, instead of just a personal defeat? Am I ready to take responsibility for my sins? And finally, am I ready to make a conscious choice to obey God in all areas of my life, no matter how small or insignificant the issue might seem. Please pray with me: “Almighty God and Father, you call us to holiness and have imparted each of us with a great measure of grace and the indwelling of your Holy Spirit. Forgive us for ignoring and compromising your call. Give us an understanding of what it means to pursue holiness, and work in our hearts to turn us away from sin. Give us a desire to be holy as you are. We ask this through him who knew no sin and to whose image you us to conform, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness The Holiness of God Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 2 by William Klock Last week I made reference to Leviticus 11:44, where God commands us, “be holy for I am holy.” We need to understand that that’s his commandment to all believers. I think people take a verse like that and think, “Well, I’m not a priest or a pastor, I’m not a missionary or a monk, so it must not apply to me. After all, those are the professional holy people.” It amazes sometimes me that all I have to do is put on a clerical collar and suddenly I become a “holy man” to most people – even to a lot of people in the church – when the fact is that apart from the righteousness of Christ, I’m no more holy than any other person on the planet. I put on my spiritual pants one leg at a time, just like everyone else. God’s point in Leviticus is to call allof us to holiness, regardless of our earthly vocation. Our divine vocation is holiness. All of us are “holy men.” And notice the reason why God tells us to be holy: he says, “because I am holy.” That’s important, because it means he’s our standard. Our problem is that too often we’re satisfied with a sort of “cultural holiness.” We look to other Christians around us as our models and we conform ourselves to the standard of holiness that they set. The problem is that God didn’t call us to be holy as other Christians are holy. He called us to holy as he is holy. I don’t care whether you’re the Joe Pew-Sitter or Mother Theresa, as I said, we all put out spiritual pants on one leg at a time. None of us is perfect. None of us models the perfect holiness of God. True holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God. When the Bible talks about holiness, it describes both the majesty of God and the purity of the moral perfection of his nature. We need to understand that holiness is one of God’s attributes. In fact, I’d say that it’s his most important. Holiness is an essential part of Gods’ nature. His holiness is as necessary as his existence. God would not be God if holiness were not part of his character. Just like God’s wisdom and his being all-powerful are necessary to his existence, so is his holiness. Just as he cannot not know was is good and right, so he cannot but do what is good and right. Our problem is that it’s not always possible for us as human beings to know what is right or what’s just or what’s fair. Because of our limitations we can sometimes get stuck – lost in a moral quandary trying to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. But God doesn’t have that problem. He’s perfect, and so there is never any question for him about right or wrong. Sometimes we may know the right thing, but we hesitate to do it. We consider that doing the right thing might mean making a sacrifice or it might be a blow to our pride. God is the opposite. God never struggles to do the right thing. He does it and he does it without hesitation. It’s impossible in the very nature of God for him to do anything else. You see, God’s holiness is perfect freedom from all evil. We talk about a piece of clothing being clean when it’s free from any spot, or gold being pure when all the dross and other trace elements and minerals have been refined out of it. You can think of God’s holiness in the same way – as being absolutely free from all and every form of evil. St. John wrote in his first epistle, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God is the essence of light – he’s the essence of moral purity. And it’s not just God’s character that’s perfectly holy. He’s also perfect in his conformity to his own divine character. He never thinks or acts in a way that would be contrary to his holy character. Now contrast that with ourselves. At the moment of our justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. We’re still unholy, but in a legal sense, the perfect righteousness of Christ is given to us – it’s Jesus that the Father sees when he judges us. But it doesn’t end there. Through the gracious work of God’s Spirit within us, that holiness gradually becomes more and more of a reality. As we mature and cooperate with the Spirit we develop a more and more Christ-like character. We grow in areas like truthfulness, purity, and humility. But even as we become more like Christ, our actions aren’t always consistent with our new character. We still tell lies sometimes. We still allow ourselves to dwell on impure thoughts. And then we’re saddened when we consider that our actions aren’t consistent with our character. But that doesn’t happen to God. He always acts consistently with his holy character. And it’s his standard that he calls us to when he says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” One of the ways we’re called to give God praise is by acknowledging his holiness. Think of St. John’s vision in Revelation 4, where the four living creatures around God’s throne never stop singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). Or think of the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory, also singing that three-fold ascription of God’s holiness. When Moses was praising God for delivering the Israelites from the Egyptian army through the Red Sea, he sang of God’s holiness. That’s really interesting, because I’m not sure that would be what I’d be thinking of at that point in time, but Moses knew: God is holy. He sang: Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11) Through Scripture we see God described by names like the Holy One, or the Holy One of Israel. Stephen Charnock, one of the Puritans wrote a great book called The Being and Attributes of God, and in his book he notes that “holy” is used more often as a prefix to God’s name than anything else. Holiness is God’s crown. Imagine God being infinite in power, having perfect and infinite knowledge, and being everywhere present, but without perfect holiness. Without holiness he would be something other than God. Holiness is the perfection of all his other attributes: his power is holy power, his mercy his holy mercy, his wisdom is holy wisdom. It’s his holiness more than anything else that makes God worthy of our praise. So we need to acknowledge God’s holiness. But it doesn’t stop there. He tells us, “Be holy, for I am holy.” God rightfully demands holiness of all his moral creatures. It can’t be otherwise. God can’t possibly ignore or approve of or wink at any evil committed by anyone anywhere. He can’t relax his perfect standard or he would be something other than he is. Instead he tells us, “So be holy in all you do.” Habbakkuk prayed saying, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habbakuk 1:13). Because he is holy, God can never excuse or overlook our sin, no matter how small it might seem to us. And that’s just it. So often we sin, but we justify it; we say, “Well, but it just a little sin. We come up with all sorts of ways to justify our sin. But if we truly understand God’s holiness, both his holy character and what he demands of us, we’ll be able to see that we can neverjustify before him even the smallest deviation from his perfect will. God doesn’t accept the excuse, “Hey, that’s just the way I am,” or even, “Well, I’m still growing in that area of my life.” God’s holiness doesn’t and can’t make any allowances for “minor” flaws and shortcomings in our character. It would be good for those of us justified solely through the righteousness of Christ, to meditate and think on the words of the writer to the Hebrews: “Make every effort…to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV). Sometime we justify our sin by claiming that God tempted us. Maybe we don’t make that accusation blatantly, but we feel that God put us in a situation and gave us no choice. But St. James reminds us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). King Saul felt that way in his first major campaign with the Philistines. Before going into battle, Saul was told to wait seven days. On the seventh day the priest Samuel was to come and make a sacrifice. Well, Saul waited seven days and when Samuel didn’t show up, he decided that he had no alternative but to make the burnt offering himself. He looked around him. After waiting for a week, the people were starting to become afraid and were scattering. The Philistines had had time to muster their army and were better prepared for a fight as each day went by. Samuel wasn’t there yet. Saul felt that he had to do something. It seemed to him like God had put him in a place where he had no choice but to disobey his explicit instructions. But because Saul disobeyed God’s express will, he lost his kingdom. Now what about us? Do we sometimes feel the same way and do the same thing? Maybe we shade the truth a little bit or commit a “slightly” dishonest act? When we feel that way, we’re in effect saying that God is tempting us to sin, that he’s put us in a position in which we have no alternative. One of the times we’re most vulnerable is when someone with authority turns up the pressure. When I worked as a computer tech I used to see our company do all sorts of dishonest things. We might have treated our customers well, but we weren’t above “sticking it” to our suppliers – after all they were just big faceless corporations that raked in millions in profits. What we stole from them was a drop in the bucket – and not to mention that because of their big bureaucracies they usually unfairly cost us a lot of money from time to time, so it was only payback – it all “came out in the wash.” I saw it happening over my head all the time, but when it finally came down to my level and I was told that as part of my job I was to be dishonest and defraud our supplier I had to make a choice. I was pretty sure that if I stood up for what was right, they’d show me the door. I could have gone along with it, arguing that God put me in a situation where I had no choice, but I knew that God calls his children to model his own perfect holiness and I knew that God calls us to trust him – no matter what. You see, because God is holy, he hates sin. That’s a strong word that we don’t like to use. It’s not P.C. these days. But when it comes to God’s attitude toward sin, we have to use the strongest word we have to convey just how much God hates it. God reproached Israel for her sins saying, “I hate all this” (Zechariah 8:17). Hatred is okay when it comes to sin, and in fact, the more we grow in holiness, the more we will hate sin. David said, “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104). If that’s true for us, think about what it means for God. As we grow in holiness we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin. How about this? How often do we say, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” It’s true, but I think that a lot of the time we rush over the first half of that statement in order to get to the second. But we can’t escape the fact that God hates sin. We can trifle with our sins or excuse them, but God hates them. And so every time we sin, we need to understand that we’re doing something that God hates. He hates our lustful thoughts. He hates our rationalisations that the end justifies the means. We need to be gripped by the fact that God hates all these things. Our problem is that we become so accustomed to our sins that we tend to lapse into peaceful coexistence with them. We may do that, but God continues to hate them. We need to cultivate in our hearts the same hatred for sin that God has. Hatred of sin as sin, not just as something disquieting or defeating to ourselves, but as displeasing to God, lies at the root of all true holiness. We need to be like Joseph. When he was tempted he said, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). Notice he wasn’t worried about personal defeat – he was worried about offending God! God hates sin wherever he finds it. He hates sin in the saint just as much as he hates it in the sinner. He doesn’t hate it in one person and overlook it in another. St. Peter tells us that God judges each person impartially. In fact, if you look at the biblical record, God seems to judge the sins of his saints more severely than those of unbelievers. Take David. Scripture calls him a man after God’s own heart, yet after he murdered Uriah, Nathan prophesied saying “Now therefore, the sword will never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12:10). Or think of Moses. For one act of unbelief, he was barred from crossing the Jordan and entering the promised land despite years of faithful service. Jonah, for his disobedience, was cast into a horrible prison in the stomach of a giant fish for three days and nights, so that he might learn not to run from God. In the deceitfulness of our hearts, we sometimes play with temptation by entertaining the thought that we can always go to God after we’ve sinned to confess and ask for forgiveness. I remember doing that once when I was about ten. My mom had explicitly pointed out some cookies in the pantry and told me not to eat them. Not long later I was left home alone and I made a beeline for the panty. I stood looking at the cookies, thinking I could eat one and ask God to forgive me later. And that’s exactly what I did. I ate one. And I asked forgiveness as I started happily munching on a second. I was anything but sorry for my sin. Playing with sin that way is dangerous. God’s judgement is without partiality. He never overlooks our sin. He never decides not to bother or that it’s not worth his time because the sin was small. No, God hates sin intensely whenever and wherever he finds it. These are things we need to think about. We need to contemplate the holiness of God and his hatred of sin. Doing so is a strong deterrent against trifling with sin. St. Peter tells us that we should live our lives on earth as strangers in reverence and fear (1 Peter 1:17). The love of God to us through Jesus Christ really should be our biggest motivation to holiness, but a motivation prompted by God’s hatred of sin and his judgement on it is really no less biblical. So in the end we need to remember that God’s holiness is an exceedingly high standard – a perfect standard. But its perfection doesn’t exempt us from keeping it. Because of who he is God isn’t capable of anything less. And while it’s true that he accepts us based only on the merit of Jesus Christ, God’s standard for our character, our attitudes, affections, and actions is always, “Be holy, for I am holy.” If we are to grow in holiness, we have to take that command seriously. Please pray with me: Holy Father, we ask you to keep your holiness always before our eyes. Remind us of the high standard to which we are called and remind us that without your grace, we can never achieve it. Remind us to rely on you and give us a passion to by holy as you are holy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness Holiness is Not Optional Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 3 by William Klock Last week we looked at those words from Hebrews: “without holiness on one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). But what do those words mean? If we left things hanging there, we might be inclined to think that in the end our salvation depends to some extent on our attaining some level of personal holiness. Lest we mistakenly think that, Scripture makes the following two points very clear: First, even the “best” Christian can never merit his own salvation through his personal holiness. Isaiah reminds us that even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags in the light of God’s holy law (Isaiah 64:6). Our best works are still stained and spotted with imperfections and sin. And second, Holy Scripture so often refers to the obedience and righteousness of Christ on our behalf. St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). And St. Peter tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Christ is the righteousness we don’t have, but he does that in two ways. We are disobedient to God, but he was obedient, both actively and passively. Christ was actively obedient in the sense that while he was here on earth he lived in a way that was completely sinless. His obedience to God was perfect. And his perfect life is credited to all those who trust in him for salvation. He was passively obedient when he died on the cross and fully paid the penalty for our sins and satisfied God’s wrath toward us. Hebrews 10:5-9 tells us that Christ came to do the will of the Father. And the writer says, “And by that will we have been sanctified [that means “made holy”] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). So it’s important that we understand that our holiness before God depends entirely on the work of Jesus Christ for us, by God’s will. So we might then think that the holiness we have to have to see God is this holiness that we have in Christ. But that’s not it either. The same writer of Hebrews goes on to write about a holiness that we are to strive after; we are to “make every effort…to be holy.” And he says that without this holiness, no one will see the Lord. You see, the Bible talks about both a holiness that we have in Christ before God, and a holiness that we’re called to strive after. And these two aspects of holiness compliment each other, because our salvation is a salvation to holiness. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying, “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7). He wrote to the Corinthians, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (1 Corinthians 1:2 NIV). To be sanctified is to be made holy. So we’re both made holy in our standing before God through Christ, and at the same time called to be holy in our daily living. So the writer of Hebrews is telling us to take seriously the necessity of personal and practical holiness. When the Holy Spirit came into our lives at the moment of our salvation, he came to make us holy in practice. And so if there’s not at least a yearning in our hearts to live a holy life that’s pleasing to God, we really need to seriously consider whether or not our faith in Christ is real. When we first start out, that desire for holiness may only be a spark, but as we walk with God that spark should grow and become a flame. True salvation brings with it a desire to be made holy. We forget that God not only saves us from the penalty of our sin, but he also saves us from its dominion over us. Bishop Ryle wrote this: “I doubt, indeed, whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted without being consecrated to God. More consecrated he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases; but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was converted and born again, I do not know what conversion means.” We get stuck in a narrow view that tells us salvation is just fire insurance – a get out of hell free card. And yet the whole purpose of our salvation is that we be, according to Paul, “holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). If we continue in our sin, we’re living contrary to God’s very purpose for our salvation. The Puritan, Walter Marshall, wrote: “What a strange kind of salvation do they desire that care not for holiness…. They would be saved by Christ and yet be out of Christ in a fleshly state…. They would have their sins forgiven, not that they may walk with God in love, in time to come, but that they may practice their enmity against him without any fear of punishment.” So holiness then isn’t a necessary condition of our salvation. That would be salvation by works. But it is a part of salvation that is received by faith in Christ. Think back to the angel’s announcement to St. Joseph: “you are to give him the name Jesus [which means ‘Yahweh is Salvation’], because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Because of this we can say that no one can trust in Jesus Christ for true salvation unless he trusts in him for holiness. It doesn’t have to mean that the desire for holiness is necessarily a conscious desire at the time a person comes to Christ, but it does mean that the Holy Spirit who creates within us saving faith also creates in us the desire for holiness. He just plain doesn’t create one without the other. St. Paul wrote to Titus saying, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). The same grace that brings salvation teaches us to renounce ungodly living. You can’t somehow receive half of God’s grace. If you experience it at all, you’re going to experience not only forgiveness of your sins, but also freedom from sin’s dominion. This is the point that St. James drives home when he talks about the relationship between faith and works. He tells us that a “faith” that doesn’t produce any works – and by works he means a holy life – isn’t a living faith; it’s a dead one. You might believe that Jesus saves, but if you haven’t put your trust in him and made him your Lord, your faith – really just “belief” – in Jesus is no different than that which the demons have. They know Jesus saves too! God’s holy nature demands holiness in the life of a Christian. When he calls us to salvation, he calls us to fellowship with himself and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). But, as St. John says, God is light; in him is no darkness at all. So how can we have fellowship with him if we continue to walk in darkness? Holiness is required for fellowship with God. David asked in Psalm 15, “O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” He was asking, “Lord, who may live in fellowship with you? And the answer that he gives in the next four verses can be summarised: “he who leads a holy life.” Think about this. Prayer is a vital part of our fellowship with God (and maybe the first aspect of that fellowship that we think of), and yet David wrote, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Even that most basic element of fellowship – prayer – is cut off if we aren’t pursuing holiness! We need to be careful though, because God doesn’t require a perfect, sinless life in order to have fellowship with him. If that were the case, we’d never have any fellowship at all. But he does require that we be serious about holiness – that we grieve our sins and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life. Holiness is also for our own well-being. Again, going back to Hebrews, Scripture tells us, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). God isn’t capricious. He disciplines us because we need it and to help draw us back in line. As long as we continue to be disobedient we increase our need for discipline. In the church of Corinth there were some who were so persistently disobedient that God had to take their lives. Sin isn’t something to mess around with. It’s serious business. David describes God’s discipline this way: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). When God starts talking to us about sin in our lives, we need to wake up, pay attention, and do something about it. If we ignore God, we risk experiencing his discipline. We need to listen to that still, small voice. If we don’t, we may end up listening to a divine two-by-four between the eyes. But it goes beyond fellowship and our well-being. Holiness is also necessary for effective service to God. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Holiness and usefulness in God’s kingdom go hand in hand. You can’t bring your service to God in an unclean vessel. Remember that the one who makes our service effective and who empowers us for service is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t called the Holy Spirit for no reason. When we indulge our sinful natures and live in unholiness, we grieve the Spirit of God – and he will not prosper our service. Now I’m not talking about the times when we fall to temptation and immediately go to God for forgiveness and cleansing. But if our lives are characterised by unholy living, God is not going to use us for holy things. Do you ever doubt your salvation? Well, holiness is also necessary for our assurance of salvation. True faith, as I said earlier, shows itself by its fruit. St. Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “Easy Believism” doesn’t do anybody any favours. There’s a world of people out there who sadly think that because they said a prayer at some point and asked Jesus into their heart, that they’re all set for heaven. They bear no fruit. They have no desire for holiness. Why? Because they never put their trust in Christ and never made him their Lord. In many ways they’re worse off than those who have never heard the Gospel, because they’ve been given a false security. (In case you’re wondering, this is why I’m not fond of altar calls, commitment cards, or “sinner’s prayers.” Jesus and the apostles (and the rest of the Church for 1900 years) never used any of those things.) You don’t become a Christian by walking the aisle, signing a card, or even saying a prayer – and yet too many people are led to believe that they’re “safe” because they did. The only way you become a Christian is by making Jesus your Lord. And the only safe evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life and a desire for personal holiness. St. John said that everyone who has within him the hope of eternal life purifies himself just as Christ is pure (1 John 3:3). St. Paul said, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). If we know nothing of holiness, we may flatter ourselves that we are Christians, but we don’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. If you profess to be a Christian, you need to ask yourself: “Is there evidence of a practical holiness in my life? Do I desire and strive for holiness? Do I grieve over my lack of it and earnestly seek the help of God to be holy?” Because, you see, it’s not those who profess to know Christ who will enter heaven, but those whose lives are holy. Even those who do “great Christian works” will not enter heaven unless they also do the will of God. Jesus said: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to die that he might give us the holiness that we can never have on our own. We give you thanks for your grace. But help us to remember that you have also given us your Spirit to work in our lives and make us holy in reality. Give us a passion for holiness, we ask Father, a passion for your holiness, a passion for the holiness that Christ gives us as a covering, and finally a passion for that holiness of life empowered by your indwelling Spirit. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness The Holiness of Christ Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 4 by William Klock The last time we were together to look at this subject of pursuing holiness, you’ll remember that one of our key texts was the passage from Leviticus 11:44. God tells us there, “Be holy, because I am holy.” I think that Lent is a particularly appropriate time to look at God’s command for us to be holy and what its implication are for us. But before we go further into our study of holiness, we need to take some time to look first at the holiness of Jesus Christ. You see, we need to be firmly grounded in our security in Christ. The more we study the subject of holiness, the more we’ll be confronted with our own wickedness and the deceitfulness of our hearts. The more we study holiness, the more we’ll see just how far we miss the mark of God’s perfect holiness. To see the sin in our lives can be hard. The key is that the true Christian will always in his heart flee for refuge to Christ. So it’s important that we understand the righteousness of Christ and the fact that his righteousness is credited to us. If we don’t have that we might be tempted to despair. So what does the Bible have to say about Christ’s righteousness? Over and over the Scriptures tell us that during his time on earth, Jesus lived a perfectly holy life. The writer of Hebrews describes him as being “without sin” (4:15). St. Peter describes him as one who “committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). St. Paul describes him as “him who had no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). St. John wrote, “In him is no sin” (1 John 3:5). We see the same in the Old Testament. Isaiah describes Jesus prophetically as “the righteous servant” (53:11) and the Psalmist as one who “loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (45:7). Those are just from six different writers, but they pretty well cover the universal witness of Holy Scripture that Jesus Christ was perfectly sinless during the time of his earthly life. Jesus’ own testimony about himself is even more compelling. At one point he confronted the Pharisees, looked them right in the eye and asked, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46). Now the significance there isn’t that the Pharisees failed to answer his question, but the fact that he dared to ask it in the first place. Here’s Jesus in direct confrontation with the people who hated him. He had just told them that they were of their father the devil, and they wanted to carry out his desires – not God’s. You have to think that if anyone wanted to point out some sin, some character flaw, or even just a careless act, here was their chance to point something out in Jesus. And consider that Jesus was there with his disciples. They’d been living with him for quite a while and would have had plenty of opportunity to notice any inconsistencies between his message and his life. And yet Jesus dared to ask the question because he knew there was only one answer: he was without sin. But Jesus’ holiness is more than just external conformity to God’s law. It was more than the absence of actual sin. His holiness was also a perfect conformity to the will of his Father. He said that he came down from heaven “not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). On another occasion he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34). I think the highest testimony to his positive holiness was his statement, “I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29). And still his holiness goes deeper, because it goes beyond his actions – it goes all the way to his attitudes and motives. Consider how often we do the right thing, but we do it for the wrong motive. How often do you do the right thing only because someone else is watching? Doing the right thing gives you more esteem in their eyes – or doing the wrong thing, you fear, would cause them to look down on you. I look back to my teenage years and can think of all sorts of situations where I did the right or the “spiritual” thing only because I wanted to get the attention of some girl I liked at church – I gave little or no thought to how doing that right thing might please God. But you see, there’s a lot more to holiness than just our outward acts. Our motives have to be holy too – they have to arise from a desire to do something simply because it is the will of God. (Remember that a few weeks ago I noted that one of the reasons we fail in our attempts at holiness is because we see our triumph over sin as an issue of personal victory when we should instead see it as an issue of obedience to God.) Even our thoughts should be holy, since they’re known to God even before they’re formed in our minds. Jesus Christ perfectly met these standards, and he did it for us. He was born into this world subject to the law of God that he might fulfil it on our behalf (Galatians 4:4-5). If we’re serious about holiness, any contemplation on our part of the holiness of God ought to cause us to react just like Isaiah. Remember that when he was confronted with God’s holiness he fell on his face and cried, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). A real understanding of the holiness of God – of his own moral perfection and infinite hatred of sin – should leave us, as it did Isaiah, seeing with utter dismay our own lack of holiness. His moral purity makes our own impurity stand out in greater relief. So it’s important that as we see the holiness of God, we also receive the same assurance that Isaiah received when the angel came to him, touched his lips with the coal and said, “See…your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). It’s not just at the initial moment of our salvation that we need this assurance. In fact, the more we grow and mature in holiness, the more we need assurance that the perfect righteousness of Christ has been credited to us. Part of our growth in holiness is the work that the Holy Spirit does in us to make us aware of our need for greater holiness. It’s what I talked about on Wednesday night – the divine microscope that focuses in on our sin, and just at the point where we think we’ve taken care of everything, God ups the power and shows us new things that we need to deal with. The more we see our need for holiness, we also need to keep in mind the righteousness of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and the fact that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). I know this is probably a basic concept for most of us, but I stress it here because we need to dwell on it when Satan attacks. He’s the Accuser. The Holy Spirit works to make us more aware of our lack of holiness and stimulates us to a deeper yearning and striving for holiness. But Satan will often try to use that work of the Spirit to discourage us. As we see our need for holiness, Satan often attacks by trying to convince us that we’re not really genuine Christians after all. He’ll whisper something to you like, “A true Christian wouldn’t think the evil thoughts you’ve been thinking today.” Sometimes he’ll attack us with his accusations when we’re young in the faith and think we’re immune and beyond his attention as we mature – but the fact is that this is an attack he uses on all of us just at the point when the Spirit makes us aware of our greater need for holiness. During my first year of seminary I was working as a chaplain at the local college. I started out with a Bible study on the Sermon on the Mount. And as I studied the Holy Spirit began to work in my heart to show me areas of sin in my life that I needed to clean up – and I started to see just how far short of God’s standard I was. It was a good thing. But often Satan would hijack things and I’d find myself asking, “How can anyone who struggles with these sorts of sins really be a Christian?” One day when I was really struggling I remembered back to a biography of Martin Luther I’d read a few years before – and I thought back to the way in which Luther talked about feeling Satan’s presence so profoundly that one day he actually threw his inkpot at him. I considered how Luther, in the face of those attacks by the Accuser, found his confidence in Christ. I remembered the words of his famous hymn: Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right man on our side, The man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabaoth his Name, From age to age the same, And he must win the battle. Those words reminded me that my assurance of salvation rests not in anything I can do or in any holiness I can achieve, but in the perfect holiness of Christ that has already been credited to me. He is the Mighty Fortress. He is the Rock. All of us, as we pursue holiness, need to flee to the Rock of our salvation. We don’t flee to be saved again, but we do flee to him to confirm in our hearts that we are saved through his righteousness alone. We start to identify with St. Paul when he wrote, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). This is the point at which Christ’s holy life lived on your behalf and my behalf becomes important to us. But Christ’s holiness gives us more than assurance. His life is also meant to be an example to us. St. Peter tells us that Christ left an example for us to follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21). More specifically, he wrote about Christ’s suffering without retaliation – and then he stresses that Christ committed no sin. St. Paul urges us to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), and also writes, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus’ sinless holy life is meant to be an example for us. Consider Jesus statement, “I always do what pleases him.” Have we truly made that our goal in life? Are we really willing to look at all our activities, all our goals and plans, and all of our impulsive actions in the light of this statement: “I am doing this to please God”? If we ask that question honestly, it ought to make us squirm. We know we do some things, good things in themselves, to get admiration for ourselves instead of the glory of God. There are a lot of things we each do for our own pleasure, with no regard at all for God’s glory. What’s my reaction when some acts like a real jerk towards me? Usually my first reaction comes from a spirit of retaliation until the Holy Spirit reminds me of the example of Jesus. How do we look at those who don’t show love for us? Do we see them as people for whom Christ died or as people who make our live difficult? This was driven home to me when I was in University. There was a guy who lived in my dorm. He was a particularly unpleasant and disagreeable person and I treated him in a far less than Christian fashion. One day one of my friends showed up for a Bible study with this guy in tow and together they explained how a couple of weeks before my friend had shared the gospel with him and it ended with him putting his faith in Christ as a result. I was embarrassed by how I had treated him – and particularly shamed by the difference between how I’d seen him as just some jerk to be avoided, while my friend had had compassion on him, seeing him as a fellow soul for whom Christ had died. Think of Jesus, who prayed for the sinners who crucified him even as he was dying on the cross. Let me close with a few words from John Brown, who wrote, “Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations, enthusiastic fervours, or uncommanded austerities; it consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wills.” Lots of people think that holiness is characterised by religious fervour or enthusiasm or – and this is good to keep in mind as we enter Lent – by some level of asceticism. It’s not. It’s also not the result of holding to a list of “do’s and don’ts.” When Christ came into the world, he said, “I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7). This is the example we are to follow. In all of our thoughts, all of our actions, in every part of our character, the ruling principle that motivates and guides us should be the desire to follow Christ in doing the will of the Father. This is the road we must follow in the pursuit of holiness. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you sent your only Son to succeed where every one of us has failed, that by faith we might each appropriate his righteousness for ourselves. We confess that we often forget that it’s by his stripes, not our own, that we are saved. Forgive our pride and self-righteousness. Drive us we ask you to the cross that we might find there both assurance of his saving work in our lives and an example to live as we seek to please you. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness Dead to Sin Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 5 by William Klock This morning I talked about the fact that God doesn’t just save us to that we can be saved. He saves us so that we can live a new life and be like Christ. And I think that for anyone who’s a real Christian, that is our desire. The problem is that because we continue to struggle with sin, we often give up on that goal. We may not be living in gross sin, but we give up on ever really living a holy life, and so we settle into a sort of moral mediocrity. But we’re not pleased with it and neither is God. We read the promise of Romans 6:6-7 that we are no longer slaves to sin, but it seems impossible and we just get frustrated with the commands of Scripture to lead a consistently holy life. Some of us try to be holy by our own willpower; some by faith; some by agonising in prayer over particular sins, but we all seem to fail. As we struggle with sin, one of the questions we ask is: “What should I look to God for and what am I responsible for myself?” Often we get confused at this point, because when we first started out as Christians we assumed that the Bible would show us what God wants from us and that we’d just do it. We fail to consider our tendency to hold onto our old sinful ways. After a lot of failure with our sinful nature, we might be told things like our problem is that we’ve been trying to live the Christian life in the energy of the flesh. We need to “stop trying and start trusting,” or to “let go and let God.” We might be told that if we’d just hand the problem over to Jesus and rest in his finished work on the cross, he’ll live his life in us and we’ll be victorious over sin. If we’re frustrated with our struggles with sin, that sounds like good news that God has already done it all and that all we need to do is rest in Christ’s finished work. The first time I heard this I felt like a drowning man who was just thrown a life preserver. But even still, I was struggling and being defeated by my sinful nature. I think we’ve all dealt with this. Victory just isn’t ours. We still struggle with pride and jealousy, materialism and impatience and lust. We still eat too much, waste our time, judge each other, shade the truth here and there, and fall into all sorts of other sins – all the time hating ourselves for it. So you start to wonder what’s wrong. “Why can’t I find the victory described in the books that others seem to have found?” We start to feel like something is uniquely wrong with us and that somehow our sinful natures must be worse than everyone else’s. That’s when we start to despair. I’m convinced that one of the ploys of Satan is to try to confuse us about the issue of what God has done for us and what he still have to do for ourselves. A lack of understanding on this issue is, I think, the reason for so much of our confusion when it comes to pursuing holiness. It’s important that we make this distinction, because God has made provision for us to live a holy life, but he’s also given us definite responsibilities. First I want to look at God’s provision for us. Look at Romans 6:12. St. Paul says: Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Notice that pursuing holiness – that the part about not letting sin reign in our mortal bodies – is a command. It’s something we must do. It’s an exhortation from St. Paul. He addresses our wills, saying, “Do not let sin reign,” and he implies that this is something that we’re responsible for. The experience of holiness is not a gift we receive like our justification; it’s something that we’re exhorted to work at! The second thing to notice is that Paul’s exhortation is based on what he already said. Remember how I said that when you see a “therefore” you need to ask what it’s there for? He’s calling us to pursue holiness for a reason. If we go back and look at Romans 6 we see him give the reason. Look at verse 1 and 2: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How canwe who died to sin still live in it? He goes on to develop that, but verses 1 and 2 give us the reason for the “therefore” in verse 12. We are not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies, because we have died to sin. So what does it mean that we’ve died to sin? Verses 2 to 11 tell us that our dying to sin is the result of our union with Christ. Because he died to sin, we died to sin. Now note that our dying to sin isn’t something we do; it’s something Christ has done for us if we are united with him. We also need to realise from these verses that our dying to sin is a fact whether we realise it or not. Because Christ died to sin, everyone who is united to him has died to sin. Our dying to sin isn’t something we do or something we make come true in our experience by reckoning that it’s true. It’s just plain true. But this is where some have misunderstood things. We’ve picked up the idea that to have died to sin means to somehow be removed from sin’s ability to touch us. But to experience this in our daily lives we’re told that we have to reckon ourselves dead to sin (verse 11 KJV). And we’re told that if we’re not experiencing victory over our besetting sins, it’s because we’re not reckoning on the fact that we died to sin. Now we are to reckon – to count or to consider – ourselves dead to sin, but our reckoning doesn’t make it true, even in our experience. Verses 11 and 12 have to be taken together. Because we are dead to sin through our union with Christ, we are not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies. Our daily experience with regard to sin is determined – not by our reckoning, but by our will – by whether we allow sin to reign in our bodies. But our will has to be influenced by the fact that we died to sin. So what does St. Paul mean when he says “died to sin”? He means that we died to the dominion of sin – to the reign of sin. Before we trusted in Jesus Christ for our salvation we were living in the kingdom of Satan and sin. We “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). We were under the power of Satan (Acts 26:18) and the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13). Paul says we were slaves to sin (Romans 6:17). We were born into the kingdom of sin, slavery, and death. Every one of us who has lived since Adam, except for Jesus Christ, has been born a slave in the kingdom of sin and Satan. It’s through our union with Christ that we have died to that realm and been set free from sin (Romans 6:18), rescued from the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13), and turned from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18). Before our salvation we were in bondage to sin, under the reign and rule of sin. Regardless of however decent and moral we thought we were, we lived in the kingdom of sin. But now through our union with Christ in his death to sin, we have been delivered out of the realm of sin and placed in the kingdom and realm of righteousness. Think of it this way. When someone dies in this world, they “pass away” – they’re no longer a part of it and no longer under its influence. That’s what St. Paul is saying about us and the kingdom of sin and death. With Christ, we died to that kingdom and have been transferred to the kingdom of righteousness. The old kingdom has no power over us. Here’s our problem, though. Because we were in the realm of sin and under its rule and reign, we started sinning from the day we were born. Because we were slaves, we acted like slaves. We developed sinful habits and character. Even if we were what that world considers “good,” we were still living for ourselves, not for God. We were enemies of Christ. We were just like the Jews who said of Christ, “We do not want this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). This is why we continue to sin, even though we’ve been delivered from the realm of sin and Satan. Our well-trained sinful nature is still with us. Even though sin’s dominion and rule are broken, the remaining sin that dwells in believers still exerts huge pressure power that constantly works toward evil. It’s like a nation with a civil war going on inside it – two competing factions. An outside army comes in to help one of the factions win and take control of the government, but instead of disappearing, the losing faction goes underground and starts fighting a guerrilla war. In fact those guerrillas fight so well that the country supplying the outside help can’t withdraw its troops. This is what’s going on in us. Satan has been defeated and the reign of sin overthrown, but our sinful natures start a guerrilla war in the hopes of leading us back to sin. The result is a struggle between the Spirit and our sinful natures. St. Paul wrote about this in Galatians 5:17: For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. To add to that, because we were born sinners, from our birth we’ve developed habits of sin. One of my favourite writers, Jay Adams, likes to say that “We were born sinners, but it took practice to develop our particular styles of sinning. The old life was disciplined toward ungodliness.” And so we tend to act according to our sinful habits that we’ve worked so long and hard to refine. Think about what happens in countries where the people have never known freedom, and are suddenly liberated and encouraged to establish democracy. It doesn’t usually take. Look at Russia. For centuries the common people lived as virtual slaves to the nobility. When there was finally a revolution in 1917 the people had an opportunity for freedom, but they were so used to living as slaves that they allowed a Communist government to form. Even now, with the fall of that government, many of the people struggle to live as free people. It’s hard to for slaves to stop living like slaves. Being a slave has become part of their very nature – it’s a habit in a lot of ways. And so with Christians: we tend to sin out of habit. It’s our habit to look out for ourselves instead of others, to retaliate when injured, and to indulge the appetites of our bodies. It’s our habit to live for ourselves and not for God. When we become Christians, we don’t drop all of those habits overnight. In fact, we spend the rest of our lives putting off these habits and putting on habits of holiness. To make it even more difficult, we’ve not only been slaves to sin, but we still live in a world full of slaves to sin. The values of the world around us reflect that slavery, and the world does its best to drag us back and conform us to that sinful mould. So even though sin no longer reigns in us, it will constantly try to get at us. Even though we’ve been delivered from the kingdom of sin and its rule, we haven’t been delivered from its attacks. In his commentary on Romans 6, Martyn Llody-Jones writes that though sin cannot reign in us, that is, in our essential personality, it can, if left unchecked, reign in our mortal bodies. It will turn the natural instincts of our bodies into lust. It will turn our natural appetites into indulgence, our need for clothing and shelter into materialism, and our normal sexual interest into immorality. This is why St. Paul exhorts us to be on our guard so that we will not let sin reign in our bodies. Before our redemption, before our death to the reign of sin, an exhortation like that would have been useless. You can’t say to a slave, “Live as a free man,” but you can say that to someone who has been delivered from slavery. Now that we’re, in fact, dead to sin we are to count that as being true. We’re to keep in front of us this fact that we’re no longer slaves. We can now stand up to sin and say not to it. Before we had no choice; now we have one. When we sin as Christians, we do not sin as slaves, but as individuals with the freedom of choice. We sin because we choose to sin. Let me close by summing all of this up. We’ve been set free from the reign and rule of sin and the kingdom of unrighteousness. Our deliverance is through our union with Christ in his death. When Christ entered this world he voluntarily entered the realm of sin, even though he had never sinned. When he died, he died to that realm of sin (Romans 6:10), and through our union with him we died to that same realm of sin too. We are to count on this fact that we are dead to sin’s rule, that we can stand up to it and say no. And so we’re to guard our bodies so that sin does not reign in us. You see, God has made provision for our holiness. Through Christ he has delivered us from sin’s reign so that we can now resist sin. What we need to remember is that it’s ourresponsibility to resist. God doesn’t do that for us. To confuse the potential for resisting (which God does provide) with the responsibility for resisting (which is our part) is to set ourselves up for failure in the pursuit of holiness. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for sending your Son to die to sin, that as we are united with him in faith and baptism we might die to sin too. We ask you to remind us daily of the fact that Jesus has already freed us from sin, and give us your grace and work in us by your Spirit to help us set aside the habits and patterns of sin that we continue to let rule our mortal bodies. We ask this in the name of Christ. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness The Battle for Holiness Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 6 by William Klock Last time we were together we looked at how, through our union with Christ, we’re delivered from the dominion of sin – we’ve been translated from the kingdom of sin and death to the kingdom of righteousness. We are no longer slaves to sin. And yet each one of us stillstruggles daily with sin. We can all identify with St. Paul when we writes, “When I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21). And the fact is that the more we realise and accept that our struggle with sin is lifelong, the better equipped we’re going to be to deal with it. The more we can see the strength of indwelling sin, the less power it has over us. You see, our ability to fight the sin in us is directly proportional to the extent that we’re aware of it. The good news is that even though believers still have this indwelling propensity to sin, the Holy Spirit continues to work in us too. As strong as the flesh is, the Spirit gives the believer an even stronger desire for holiness. The believer struggles with the sin that God enables him to see in himself. This is what St. Paul is describing in Romans 7 – and it’s what differentiates the believer from the unbeliever. The believer knows his sinfulness and fights with the Spirit’s help to overcome it. The unbeliever lies in darkness and doesn’t even know it. Tonight I want to talk about this battle with sin. It’s been dethroned in our lives, but it’s still hostile to God. The sin in us is the enemy of righteousness in our hearts and it’s ready to oppose every effort we have to do good. So if we’re going to wage a successful war against the enemy within us, we need to know something about its nature and the tactics it takes. First, Jesus tells us that the seat of indwelling sin is the heart. In Mark 7:21-23 he says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Now the Bible uses heart in different ways. Sometimes it refers to our reason or our understanding. Sometimes it refers to our affections and our emotions. Sometimes it refers to our will. In general heart refers to the whole soul of a man or woman and all of its faculties, not each individually, but as they work together in doing good or evil. The mind as it reasons, discerns, and judges; the emotions as they like or dislike; the conscience as it determines and warns; and the will as it chooses or refuses – all of that together is the heart. And Scripture doesn’t give a healthy diagnosis for the heart. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). St. Paul notes that even as believers we don’t know our own hearts (1 Corinthians 4:3-5). None of us can fully discern the hidden motives of our hearts. And in this unsearchable heart there’s a lot of sin dwelling. A big part of sin’s strength is for that reason. We fight with an enemy that sometimes we can’t fully search out. The heart is also deceitful. It excuses, it rationalizes, and it justifies our actions. It binds us to entire areas of sin in our lives. It causes us to deal with sin by going only halfway. Sometimes the heart convinces us that it’s enough to give our intellectual assent to the Word of God instead of actually giving it our full obedience (James 1:22). If we know that indwelling sin occupies a heart that is both deceitful and unsearchable, that ought to lead us to be extremely cautious. We need to ask God daily to search our hearts for sin that we can’t or won’t see. Think of David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” We need to make sure that a significant part of the time we spend each day in prayer is confession – not just confessing the sins we know, but asking the Spirit to reveal the ones we don’t know. But the process doesn’t end there. Just praying that our sin would be revealed isn’t enough, because the primary way that God searches our hearts is through his Word, as we read it under the power of his Holy Spirit. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” We need to pray for God to search our hearts, but we also need to continually expose ourselves to the searching of his Word! And we need to be careful to let the Holy Spirit do the searching. If we depend on our ownability to search our hearts, we’ll usually end up falling into one or both of two traps. We run the risk of falling into a sort of morbid introspection that can become the tool of Satan. Remember that he’s called the “Accuser.” He likes to accuse us to the point of discouragement. He knows that if he can make us discouraged and dispirited, he can usually sideline us in the battle for holiness. The other thing that often happens is that we miss the real issues in our lives. The deceitfulness of Satan and of our own hearts will lead us to put our attention on secondary issues. In my own life and in the lives of others, I’ve seen many times when we put our focus on one particular sin that we don’t seem to be able to get control of, but the whole time we’re doing that we ignore a whole slew of much more severe sins to which we’ve been blinded – and the sins we’re usually blinded to are the ones that seriously hurt those around us. Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to see those areas to which we’re blind. So the seat of indwelling sin is our deceitful and unsearchable heart. But second, we also need to realise that indwelling sin works through our desires most of the time. Ever since humanity fell in the Garden of Eden, we’ve tended to listen more to our desires than to our reason. I think it’s safe to say that desire has become the strongest part of our hearts. Do an experiment the next time you find yourself tempted to sin: pay attention to the struggle between your desire and your reason. If you give into temptation, it’ll be because desire overcomes reason in the struggle to influence your will. Even the world recognises this. Think about the way it appeals to our desires through what Hebrews calls the “pleasures of sin.” Now obviously not all desire is evil. St. Paul talks about his desire to know Christ (Philippians 3:10), of his desire for the salvation of his fellow Jews (Romans 10:1), and the desire that his spiritual children would grow to maturity (Galatians 4:19). But what I’m talking about here is the evil desires that leads us to sin. St. James said we’re tempted when we’re dragged away and enticed by our own evil desires (James 1:14). If we’re going to win the battle for holiness, we have to recognise that our basic problem lies inside us. It’s our own evil desires that lead us into temptation. We might be prone to think that we’re just responding to outward temptations that are presented to us, but the truth is that our evil desires are constantly and actively looking for temptations to satisfy their insatiable lusts. Look at your own life and consider the particular temptations that you’re most vulnerable to – and think how often you find yourself actually searching out occasions to satisfy those evil desires. Even when we’re engaged in one way or another with the battle against a particular sin, our evil desire or indwelling sin will often lead us into playing with that very sin. Sometimes while we’re confessing a sin we find ourselves starting once against to dwell on the evil thoughts associated with that same sin, and we may be tempted again. Now that’s not to say that temptation doesn’t often come to us unexpectedly, but even then, our evil desires are ready to grab hold those temptations and welcome them right in. Just as fire burns any combustible material presented to it, so our own evil desires immediately respond to temptation. John Owen, the famous Puritan pastor and writer said that sin carries on its war by entangling our desires and drawing them away. For that reason Owen said that denying sin has to be mainly directed at our desires. We need to make sure our desires are directed towards glorifying God, he said, not towards satisfying the lusts of our bodies. We need to make a habit of desiring God and his glory, and as desire for God becomes our habit, the old habit of wanting to satisfy the flesh will gradually be pushed aside. The third thing we need to understand about indwelling sin is that it tends to deceive our understanding or reasoning. Our reason, when it’s enlightened by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, stands in the way of sin gaining mastery over us through our desires. That’s why Satan’s number one strategy is to deceive our minds. St. Paul wrote about the “deceitful desires” of the old self (Ephesians 4:22). He said that we were at one time “deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). And while these passages talk about our old life, we have to realise that this deceit still wages war against us, even though it no longer has mastery over us. Deceit of the mind is dangerous because it happens by degrees, a little at a time. First we’re drawn away from being watchful, then from being obedient. We’re like Ephraim, of whom God said, “Strangers devour his strength, andhe knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, andhe knows it not” (Hosea 7:9). We get overconfident and it draws us away from being vigilant and watchful. We start thinking that we’re beyond a particular temptation. We look at someone else’s fall and say things like, “I would never do that.” But St. Paul warns us: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1Corinthians 10:12). Even when helping a fallen brother or sister, we need to watch ourselves lest we also be tempted (Galatians 6:1). We’re often drawn away from obedience by the abuse of grace. St. Jude writes about certain men “who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4). We abuse grace when we think we can sin and then receive forgiveness by claiming 1 John 1:9 (“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”) We abuse grace when, after sinning, we dwell on the compassion and mercy of God to the exclusion of his holiness and hatred of sin. We’re drawn from obedience when we begin to question what God says in his Word. This was Satan’s first tactic with Eve. Just as he said to Eve, “You surely shall not die!” so he says to us, “It’s just a little thing!” or “God won’t judge that sin.” So I think we can see that even though sin no longer has dominion over us, it still wages its guerrilla warfare against us, and if it’s left unchecked, it can and will defeat us. The recourse we have against this warfare is to deal with it swiftly and firmly with the first motion and activity of indwelling sin. If temptation finds any place to setup shop in the soul, it’ll use that to lead us into sin. Think of Solomon. He wrote, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11 NIV). And we also need to remember that our fight against sin is never at an end. The heart is unsearchable, our evil desires are insatiable, and our reason is constantly in danger of being deceived. Jesus was wise to say, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). And Solomon warned, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we would ask that your Spirit keep us constantly on guard against sin. Remind us each day that as long as we’re on this side of eternity, sin will continue to wage war against us. Give us a hunger for your Word, that we might know good from evil, and keep us vigilant in the your Truth, that we might see sin when it comes. Father, give each of us a passion for you, that our desires might be turned from the flesh to your glory. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness Help for the Battle Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 7 by William Klock A quick recap to jog your memories. A month ago we looked at the fact that God has delivered us from the dominion and reign of sin through our union with Christ in his death. We were slaves to sin and we acted like it. We worked hard to develop sinful habits. But as he took our place on the cross, he died to sin and took us with him. In his death he freed us from sin – we’re no longer slaves to it. I stressed that we need to count on this fact and resist sin so that it doesn’t, as St. Paul says, reign in our mortal bodies. Three weeks ago we looked the continuing problem: sin is still present in our mortal bodies. It’s not the king, it’s not the master, but it wages this guerrilla war anyway, working all the time to deceive our minds through evil desires. And so we might ask, “What good does it do to be told that Jesus won the war with sin when he died on the cross, if I’m still harassed and daily defeated by that same sin?” If we want to experience holiness day by day in practical ways, the first thing we have to do is accept that in his good and perfect wisdom, God has seen fit to allow our daily battle with indwelling sin. But we also have to realise that Go doesn’t leave us alone for the battle. Just as he delivered us from the dominion of sin, he’s with us as we fight to win the daily battle. We’ve look at lot at Romans 6:11 in the past couple of sermons and I want to go back to it again tonight. St. Paul tells us there that not only are we dead to sin, but we’re also alive to God. We’re not only delivered from the dominion of darkness, but we’re also brought into the kingdom of God. In fact, Paul says that we have now become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18). He doesn’t leave us in a neutral no-man’s land in between the two kingdoms. If we’re alive to God, the first thing that means for us as we pursue holiness is that we are united with Christ in all his power. We can never do it on our own. There’s nothing “do-it-yourself” about Christianity. Philippians 4:11-13 is a great example of this. In those verses St. Paul talks about how he’s learned to be content in all things and in all circumstances, whether he’s well-fed or hungry, in plenty or in want. Earthly circumstances don’t matter – he is always content and the secret is Christ, who gives him strength. Holiness works the same way. Our reaction to our circumstances is a part of our pursuit of holiness. Holiness is not a list of do’s and don’ts; it’s conformity to the character of God and obedience to his will. Accepting with contentment whatever circumstances God allows for us is very much a part of a holy walk. We’re able, as Paul says, to respond with contentment because Christ gives us strength. He stressed this again to the Colossians when he prayed that they would be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11). Where do the endurance and patience come from? They come as we are strengthened by God’s power. Consider another prayer. This was the one St. Paul described in Ephesians 3:16. His prayer was “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” He concluded that prayer by acknowledging that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” This is the first implication we need to understand of being “alive to God.” We’ve been united with the One who is at work in us to strengthen us with his mighty power. All of us have known that sense of hopelessness caused by sin’s power. We struggle with a particular sins and have resolved time after time not to give into it, and yet we still do. That’s when Satan comes to us and says, “You might as well just give up. You can’t overcome sin.” And he’s right as long as we’re trying to do it on our own. But you see, in Christ we are alive to God, united to him who will strengthen us. By reckoning on this fact – counting it to be true – we will experience the strength we need to fight temptation. Friends, it’s only as we reckon these two facts – that we are dead to sin and to its reign over us, and that we are alive in God, united to him who strengthens us – that we will keep sin from reigning in our mortal bodies. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his commentary on this passage, says, “To realise this takes away from us that old sense of hopelessness which we have all known and felt because of the terrible power of sin…. How does it work? It works in this way: I lose my sense of hopelessness because I can say to myself that not only am I no longer under the dominion of sin, but I am under the dominion of another power that nothing can frustrate. However weak I may be, it is the power of God that is working in me.” Our problem is that we treat this knowledge as if it’s just theory or as something to be stored away on the shelf – just knowledge, but not something practical. But it is practical. To count on the fact that we are dead to sin and alive to God is something we must do – and do actively! We need to form the habit of continually realising that we are dead to sin and alive to God. Practically speaking, we do this when by faith in God’s Word we resist sin’s advances and temptations. We count on the fact that we are alive to God when by faith we look to Christ for the power we need to do the resisting. Faith, though, always has to be based on fact, and Romans 6:11 is fact for us. A second implication of being alive to God is that he has baptised us by his Spirit, who now lives within us. Really, it’s not so much a second result, but another way of looking at our union with Christ, because his Spirit is the agent of our union with him. It’s the Spirit who gives spiritual life and the strength to live that life (Romans 8:9-11). It’s the Spirit of God who works in us so that we may decide and act according to God’s good purpose (Philippians 2:13). St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8). Paul connects the giving of the Holy Spirit with our living a holy life. He’s called the Holy Spirit and he’s given to us primarily to make us holy – to conform us to the character of God. Think about St. Paul’s call to flee sexual immorality. Why? Because, he says, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:18-19). In Romans 8:9 he tells us that if the Holy Spirit lives in us we aren’t controlled by our old sinful natures, but by the Spirit of God. To the Galatians he wrote, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). So why do we have the Holy Spirit living in us to strengthen us toward holiness? It’s because we’re alive to God. We’re now living under the reign of God, who unites us to Christ and gives us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us. The first thing the Spirit does in us is to open our eyes to real holiness. He makes us aware of God’s perfect standard and as he does that he starts to show us our own sins – the area where we miss the mark. One of Satan’s most powerful weapons is his ability to make us spiritually blind – unable to see our sin. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The answer is that no one can understand it and expose it except the Holy Spirit. Even Christians taking in good Bible teaching can be deceived about their own sins. A lot of time we think that consent to the teaching of Scripture is as good as obedience. We hear a point of application in a sermon or in our own study and we say, “Sure, that’s true; that’s something I should act on.” But we let it drop at that point. St. James says we’re deceiving ourselves when we do that (James 1:22). We’re like the guy who looks in the mirror and sees he needs a wash and shave, but walks away and forgets what he looks like. As we grow in the Christian life one of the dangers we face is spiritual pride. We know all the right things, the right methods, all the do’s and don’ts. But we start to lose sight of the poverty of our own spiritual character. We may not see our critical and unforgiving spirit, our habit of backbiting, or our tendency to judge others. We may become like the Laodiceans of whom Jesus said, “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Think of David when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered to cover his sin. Was he repentant and humbled by his sin? Not in the slightest. In fact, when Nathan came to him with the story of the man who stole his neighbour’s lamb, David was ready to condemn that man to death for a far more minor crime. You wonder how he could do that. He could because he was spiritually blind. It wasn’t until Nathan the Prophet said to him, “You are the man!” that David was able to see the awful heinousness of his sin. When we are alive to God in Christ, it’s the Spirit’s job to come to us like Nathan and say, “You are the man!” Even when that accusation comes from the mouth of a brother or sister, it’s the Holy Spirit who enables us to accept it and to say like David did, “I have sinned against the Lord.” The Holy Spirit opens the inner recesses of our hearts and enables us to see the moral cesspools that are hidden there. This is where he starts his ministry of making us holy. And the natural result of seeing God’s standard and our own sinfulness is the awakening in us of a desire to be holy. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit as he works in us to make us holy. We’re sorry for our sins with a godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). We say with David, “Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin….purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean…wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:2, 7). St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Before we can act we have to will. To will means to desire and to resolve. When the Holy Spirit shows us our sinfulness, he doesn’t do it so we can despair over it, but to lead us to holiness. He shows us the nastiness of our sin so that we’ll develop a hatred of it and begin to desire holiness instead. Sanctification, the theological word for the process of becoming holy, doesn’t happen overnight. There’s no quick fix. We need a strong desire for holiness in order to prevail in the fight. We fail time after time. The attacks of Satan and our own old, fallen nature are too strong for us unless the Holy Spirit is at work in us to create that strong desire for holiness. He gives us that desire as he shows us our sins and holds them up against God’s standard of holiness. The primary way he does this is through Scripture. As we read and study the Bible and as we hear it taught, we ought to be captivated by the moral beauty of God’s standard of holiness. Even though his standard is something beyond our reach, we recognise and respond to that which is “holy, righteous, and good” (Romans 7:12). Even though we fail so often, in our inner being we “delight in God’s law” (Romans 7:22). Now this is one of the places where we need to make a distinction between God’s job and our job. If the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to show us our need and to create in us a desire for holiness, then doesn’t it follow that we need to be in God’s Word on a consistent basis? Should we not go to the Word, whether to hear it preached or to do our own study, with the prayer that the Holy Spirit would search our hearts for any sin in us? (Psalm 139:23-24). After the Holy Spirit has enabled us to see our need and has created in us a desire for holiness, there’s still something else he has to do. He has to give us the spiritual strength to live a holy life. St. Paul said, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” To live by the Spirit is to live in obedience to and dependence on the Holy Spirit. There has to be a balance between our wills (which is expressed by obedience) and our faith (which is expressed by our dependence). No one overcomes the corruptions of his heart except by the enabling strength of the Spirit of God. St. Peter said that God has given us “His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world” (2 Peter 1:4). It’s as we participate in the divine nature that we escape corruption – and this participation is through the indwelling Holy Spirit. We express our dependence on the Holy Spirit for a holy life in two ways. The first is through a humble and consistent intake of Scripture. If we truly desire to live in the realm of the Spirit we have to continually feed our minds with his truth. It’s hypocritical, stupid, and presumptuous to pray for victory over our sins while being careless in our intake of the Word of God. But it’s still possible to be consistent in our intake of the Word and yet not have an attitude of dependence on the Holy Spirit. God said through Isaiah, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). We are to come to the Word in a spirit of humility and contrition, because we recognise that we’re sinful, that we’re often blind to our sinfulness, and that we need the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The second way we express our dependence on the Spirit is to pray for holiness. St. Paul prayed continually for the working of God’s Spirit in the lives of those to whom he wrote. He told the Ephesians that he prayed that they would “be strengthened with power through his Spirit in [their] inner being.” He prayed that God would fill the Colossians “with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Colossians 1:9-10). He wrote to the Thessalonians, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through” (2 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV); and, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else….May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God” (3:12-13). Paul knew that we depend on the Holy Spirit for holiness, and he expressed his dependence in his prayers. I think a lot of us start out in the Christian life thinking that all we have to do to lead a holy life is to find out from the Bible what to do and then just do it, but that only leads us to self-confidence. We need to learn that we’re ultimately dependent on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to reach any degree of holiness. Then as we look to him, we’ll see him working in us – revealing our sin, creating a desire for holiness, and giving us the strength to respond to him in obedience. Please pray with me: Holy God, you gave your Son to die and to rise again that we might die to sin with him and rise with him to new life, but Father, remind us also that you’ve put your Spirit within us to make that life a reality. Remind us that relying on ourselves will never produce holiness. Give us a desire to seek out your holy standard as we study your Word, and open our hearts to the working of your Spirit as he gives us understanding and enables us to live the new life you put before us. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness Obedience–Not Victory Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 7 by William Klock As we’ve been talking about holiness, the focus of the last couple of sermons has been on the ways in which God has given us provision for holiness – how he enables us to be holy. The Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, and in doing that he unites us with his death and his resurrection. Christ died to sin and as the Spirit unites us to him, we also die to sin. Christ rose to new life, and as the Spirit unites us with him, we also rise to new life. The indwelling Spirit works within us to reveal the sin in our lives, he works in us to change our hearts and to give us a desire for holiness, and as we struggle to kick sin to the curb and embrace holiness, it’s again the Spirit who gives us the strength to do it all. And so that’s why St. Paul tells us that it’s through the power of the Holy Spirit and according to our new nature, that we are to put to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13). The problem is that too many of us stop half-way through that verse. “Okay, I’ll let the Spirit work…I’ll let the Spirit do it for me,” we say. The Spirit is the enabler when it comes to putting sin to death, but Paul also stresses that it requires action on our part too. The work of putting sin to death is from one point of view the work of the Holy Spirit, but the same work, if you look at it from another angle, is also our own work. There are two sides to it. Last week I spent the whole time talking about the “by the Spirit” part of this verse. Tonight I want to look at our responsibility – the second half of the Romans 8:13 that tells us, “put to death the deeds of the body.” Paul is clear that God puts the responsibility for holy living squarely on us. He calls us to do something. We’re not called to “stop trying and start trusting” – some common but very unbiblical advice that only leads to frustration. He says, we are to put to death the misdeeds of the body. It’s not something that we find only here. This is the message we find throughout the epistles – and not just Paul’s. We are commanded to assume our responsibility for a holy walk. He wrote to the Colossians, telling them, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). It’s some that we are told to do over and over again. The Spirit does his work, but he also gives us our own work in the process of sanctification. The writer of Hebrews tells us: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1) Notice he says let us throw off the sin and let us run with endurance. There’s a clear expectation here that we need to assume responsibility for running the Christian race. St. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). We are the ones who are called to submit to God and resist the devil. It’s ourresponsibility. St. Peter says, “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14). Those words be diligent address our wills. The NIV says “make every effort.” It’s something we must decide to do. Part of the struggle we have with this comes from our history. I think the pietistic culture that’s been a part of a lot of Protestant traditions for the last hundred and fifty years has tended to lead us astray. Somewhere we got the idea that any effort on our part to live a holy life is “of the flesh” and that “the flesh profits for nothing.” We’ve got the idea that God’s not going to reward any effort on our part to live the Christian life. We rightly affirm that we can’t earn our salvation by good works. But just as we received Jesus Christ by faith, well, then we transfer that over to the process of sanctification and assume that we’re supposed to seek a holy life by faith. We think that if we put in any effort on our part, we’re just getting in God’s way. Just as one example: I’ve seen people take a passage like 2 Chronicles 20:17 and twist it to say something it doesn’t. It says, “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you.” People take that passage (and others like it) as a message from God telling us to turn the battle with sin over to him and he’ll fight the sin in our lives for us. That’s not what we’re called to do. And this illustrates the danger of reading and using Scripture out of context. Those words were given to the Israelites in Jehoshaphat’s reign. An army was gathered around Jerusalem and they prayed for God’s help. And God spoke through one of the Levites, telling them not to go and fight, but that God would take care of the besieging army – and he did. The next morning the Israelites went out and found that the entire army had died overnight. Those verses are only a word to us indirectly and they have nothing to do with our being made holy. We can be very foolish. We mistake dependence on the Holy Spirit to mean that there’s to be no effort on our part and that we have no responsibility. We mistakenly think that if we just turn it all over to God, he’ll make our choices for us and choose obedience over disobedience. That all we need to do is to look to him for holiness. But that’s not God’s way. Remember that he’s allowed us to be where we are: redeemed people stuck still having to deal with the world, the flesh, and the devil – and he’s allowed it for a reason. The best way for us to learn and develop our character isn’t by studying theory, but by going out and fighting the fight. I just finished reading a fictional novel about a young Roman senator who was sent out by his family to serve with Caesar in his war with the Gauls. He wasn’t really a soldier even though his rank made him an officer. He had studied the arts of war for years, but for him it was all theory and book-learning. In fact, he had no interest in fighting with the legions – it was just something he had to do in order to work his way up the ladder of Roman politics. And so here he went on his horse up to Gaul, his slave in tow, and wearing his best parade get-up. He knew he’d made a mistake when he marched into Caesar’s camp. The soldiers snickered at him. When he got to the camp praetorium, Caesar and all his officers knelt before him as Caesar joked that a man in such finery on the battlefield must be Mars himself paying a visit! And it only got worse as this young officer quickly learned that theory and book-learning don’t get you very far in a real battle. In fact, he found that he just got in the way of the soldiers. It was only as he dressed himself in the common, plain armour of the rabble, got dirty, and started fighting the battle with the men who had been doing it for years that he became a real soldier. And it’s like that with us. God allows us to be in a place that requires we get dirty and fight the real battle. Drifting around the world in our finest and acting all spiritual isn’t what holiness is all about! But he doesn’t send us into the battle alone. We have to go. We have to fight. But the Spirit comes with us too. Our job is to fight and to fight hard, but it’s the Spirit who makes us conquerors. And that needs to be stressed: the Holy Spirit has been given to every Christian. He’s not something you have to earn. He’s not something you have to ask for. If you who were once an enemy of God, have found yourself turned 180 degrees, and have given your heart to Christ, it is only because God first put his Spirit in you and drew you to himself. It’s not even that you can’t be a Christian without the Spirit. You can’t be become a Christian without the Spirit. If you’re a Christian, be assured that he is with you. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says: “The Holy Spirit is in us; He is working in us, and empowering us, giving us the ability….This is the New Testament teaching – ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ We have to do so. But note the accompaniment – ‘Because it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure’! The Holy Spirit is working in us ‘both to will and to do.’ It is because I am not left to myself, it is because I am not ‘absolutely hopeless,’ since the Spirit is in me, that I am exhorted to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.” We need to rely on the Spirit in our putting to death the deeds of the body. As Lloyd-Jones observes in his preaching on Romans 8:13, it’s the Holy Spirit who “differentiates Christianity from morality, from ‘legalism’ and false Puritanism.” But reliance on the Spirit is not meant to foster a “Do-It-Yourself” attitude. It’s supposed to foster the attitude that says, “I can do it through him who strengthens me.” The Christian should never complain of want of ability and power. If we sin, it’s because we choose to sin, not because we lack the ability to say no to temptation. If we’ve been at all slack here, now is the time for us to face up to our responsibility for holiness. I know that a lot times we share with each other – or maybe we’re embarrassed to tell someone else, but we feel it anyway – that we’re “defeated” by this sin or that sin. But you know what? We’re not defeated; we’re simply disobedient! We talk a lot about sin in terms of defeat or victory. We judge our progress in holiness by defeat or victory. But what we really should be doing is thinking of it in terms of “obedience” and “disobedience.” Think about it. When you say that you’re defeated by some sin, you’re unconsciously slipping out from under your responsibility. You’re saying that something outside of you has defeated you – that sin came with a Sherman tank or a nuclear bomb and you were defeated by it because there was no hope of fighting back. But remember what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians as they struggled with some serious sins? He wrote to them: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13) When we talk about being defeated, we’re forgetting that the Spirit is within us and empowers us to overcome any and every assault of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It doesn’t matter how big his firepower is, the Spirit’s is bigger. If we’re being “defeated,” the problem isn’t God, the problem is us. So instead of talking about being defeated, we need to talk about being disobedient. I know it takes more humility to admit that, because it takes ownership of the defeat – it places the blame not on the Spirit who failed us, but squarely on our own shoulders because we’ve chosen to disobey. We’ve chosen to entertain those lustful thoughts, or to harbour resentment, or to shade the truth a little. We need to brace ourselves up and we need to realise that we’re responsible for our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We need to reckon on the fact that we died to sin’s reign, that it no longer has any dominion over us, that God has united us with the risen Christ in all his power, and has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you’ve filled each and every one of your children with a full measure of your Holy Spirit, and because he is with us, you have also given us full assurance of victory. Forgive us for the times we choose to turn our backs on you and refuse the help your Spirit gives, and instead disobediently say “yes” to sin. Remind us of the fact that we are more than conquerors because you live within us. Remind us that we need to accept responsibility for our sin, and train us through our trials to lean on your Spirit, who is alive and at work within us, because of the saving work of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness Putting Sin to Death Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 9 by William Klock Last Sunday evening we looked at how the New Testament makes it clear that while God gives us his Holy Spirit to enable us to pursue holiness, each of us still has the duty to put up a fight. Sitting around and praying for victory won’t make us holy. Waiting for God to put an end to sin in our lives, won’t make us holy. We have to take personal responsibility for the sin in our lives and put it to death – as St. Paul says in Roman 8:13: put to death the misdeeds of the body. He uses the same expression in Colossians 3:5: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” If it’s part of your fallen nature and sinful, kill it – destroy its strength and its vitality so that it can no longer have control over you. Again, the key is that we have to do it, but we do it only by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. We can’t do it on our own. John Owen wrote: “Mortification from self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness is in the soul and substance of all false religion.” Putting sin to death is done with the strength of the Spirit and under his direction. Owen went on to say, “The Spirit alone is sufficient for this work. All ways and means without Him are useless. He is the great efficient. He is the One who gives life and strength to our efforts.” So we put sin to death by the Spirit, but it’s also a work that we have to do. Without the Spirit, there’s no mortification of sin, but without our working in his strength, there’s also no mortification of sin. So the question we need to answer is this: How do we destroy the strength and vitality of sin in our lives? First, we need to have convictions. We have to be convinced that a holy life is God’s will for every Christian. We have to believe that the pursuit of holiness is worth the effort and pain required to mortify the misdeeds of the body. We have to be convinced that “without holiness no one will see the Lord,” as Hebrews says (Hebrews 12:14). And we need to zero in on specifics with our convictions – we need to have convictions about specific areas of obedience. We do that as we expose ourselves to God’s Word. Remember, we were born sinners and we’ve spent our lives exposed to the world and we’ve trained ourselves into sinful habits. Our values are not God’s values. Even after we become Christians, those habits, influences, and values are still with us. We’re still bombarded by the world around us. That’s why St. Paul says in Romans 12:2: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remake you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed” (Philips). It’s only through God’s Word that our minds are remoulded and our values renewed. Consider this: when God gave the Israelites instructions for their future kings, he said that a copy his law “shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statues” (Deuteronomy 17:19 NASB). The king was to spend day and night immersed in God’s Word. Why? So that he would learn to fear the Lord; so that he would learn the necessity of holiness; and so that he would know God’s specific will in the situations of life. Think about it. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Obedience is the way to holiness, but it’s only as we have God’s commands that we can obey them. God’s Word must be so strongly fixed in our minds that it becomes the dominant influence in our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. We need to be in his Word “day and night” like the king. But let me also add, that one of the most effective ways of letting Scripture influence our minds is by memorising it. Remember that David, the king, said, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). If you want to memorise Scripture, you need to have a plan and you need to start with some well-chosen verses and then learn a practical system that you can keep up. In the past I’ve recommended The Navigator’s Topical Scripture Memory System as a great starting place. You can pick up a copy at any Christian bookstore or online. Years ago I figured out I needed to memorise Scripture, but I never had much success doing it haphazardly, but this system fixed that. I urge you to at least check it out. It worked for me and I know lots of others for whom it really worked. But you have to remember that the point is to make practical application of what you memorise to daily life. It’s as you make that application to life situations that you start to develop convictions. That’s why when people come to me for counselling, one of the things I do most frequently is to give them some Scriptures to memorise and apply to the situations that cause them to struggle. When we do that, each instance of temptation, instead of being an opportunity for disobedience and defeat, become an opportunity to build conviction and to practice obedience as we remember what God’s Word says about that sin. That how we develop convictions: by bring God’s Word to bear on specific situations that come up in our lives and by determining God’s will in that situation from his Word. Now there are lots of life issues and sins that are clearly and directly addressed in the Bible. It’s a good thing to memorise verses that clearly spell out God’s expectations about honesty, for example. You could memorise Ephesians 4:25, 28: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor…Let the thief no longer steal.” God’s will about abstinence and sexual immorality is clear from passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” These are things that Scripture makes plain and obvious and we shouldn’t have any difficulty developing convictions about God’s will when it comes to them. But what about issues that aren’t specifically or directly addressed in the Bible? How do we learn God’s will in these areas? Let me give you a little “Formula to Know Right from Wrong.” You need to ask four questions that are based on three verses from 1 Corinthians: “Everything is permissible for me–but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Question: Is it helpful—physically, spiritually, and mentally? “Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Question: Does it bring me under its power? “Therefore, if what I eat causes a brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). Question: Does it hurt others? “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Question: Does it glorify God? The formula is simple, but powerful if you’re willing to use it. The questions can be very searching and convicting, but they have to be asked if we want to purse holiness as a way of life. Let’s apply it to some pretty common situations. Think about the TV shows you watch. Are they helpful–physically, spiritually, or mentally? In some cases that may be a plain “yes,” but for the ones where the honest answer is “no,” you should really consider turning them off. What about the question, “Does it bring me under its power?” We’re not talking only about chemically addictive things like drugs or alcohol. What about the TV? Are there shows that have so great a hold on you that you just can’t miss the next episode? If that’s true, the TV may have you under its power. Jerry Bridges gives the example of a woman he knows who was a national junior tennis champion. She was a Christian, but her entire life was caught up in playing tennis. As she started to consider the claims of Christian discipleship seriously, she realised that tennis held a power over her that was keeping her from wholly following Christ. She made a decision to hang up her tennis racket to break that power. It wasn’t until years later, when the pull was totally gone, that she started playing tennis again just for recreational value and with freedom of conscience. I think the illustration of the tennis player emphasises an important fact. The problem may not be the activity itself that is sinful, but instead our response to that activity. There’s nothing inherently wrong or sinful with tennis. In fact, under the right conditions, it’s physically and mentally beneficial, but because this woman had made it an idol in her life, it had become sinful for her. Next question: “Does it hurt others?” Let’s go back to the champion tennis player. Suppose another Christian friend who liked tennis purely for recreational value had insisted to this woman that there’s nothing wrong with tennis. Technically, they’d be correct, but they’d be insisting on a view that would likely be harmful to the young woman’s spiritual life. Lots of activities, strictly speaking, are morally neutral, but because of some immoral associations in a person’s past may be detrimental to that person, at least for a time. Those of us who don’t have that immoral association need to be considerate of those who do, lest we cause them to slip back into an activity that is sinful for them. How about those areas in which Christians have different convictions as to what God’s will is? St. Paul talks about this in Romans 14, where he takes up the problem of eating certain food. He gives us three general principles to guide us. First: we shouldn’t judge those whose convictions are different from ours (verses 1-4). Second: whatever our conviction are, they must be “to the Lord,” that means that they must be developed out of a sense of obedience to him (verses 5-8). And third: whatever convictions we have developed as “to the Lord,” we must be true to them (verse 23). I think it’s wise for us to be willing to listen to the opposing conviction our brother might have and be willing to admit that we might possibly be wrong – that we may need biblical correction – but that aside, we must be true to our convictions. If we go against our convictions, we are sinning, even though others may have perfect freedom in that particular thing. The question we need to ask in a serious pursuit of holiness is this: “Am I willing to develop convictions from the Scriptures, and to live by these convictions?” This is often where the rub comes. We hesitate to face up to God’s standard of holiness ina specific area of life. We know that to do so will require obedience that we are unwilling to give. And this leads us to the second quality we have to develop if we’re going to put to death the misdeeds of the body. First we need convictions, but second, we need commitment. Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We have to honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It’s at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. We have a “just one more time syndrome. Or we want to push the limit. How close can I come to sinning, without actually sinning. I had a friend in high school who would sit on a big rock by the entrance of the school and watch all the girls get off the bus in the morning. One day he said, “The Bible says not to look at a woman twice, so I’m making the first look count.” He’d never pick up a Playboy, but he’d spend his lunch break in the library pouring over the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. And he’d say, it’s okay, because they’re not naked. He kind of missed the point. God says not to lust after someone who isn’t your spouse. It really doesn’t matter how many looks you take or if the person you’re looking at is clothed or not – it’s a matter of what’s in the heart. But that’s our problem: we don’t want to give up our sin. We compromise on it or we keep giving it chances. Just one more look, just one more desert before the diet, just one more episode of my favourite TV show before I give it up. What we’re doing is postponing the day of commitment, the day when we say to sin, “Enough!” I know that what we eat isn’t necessarily a sin issue, but dieting does illustrate the point. Think of all the times Christmas and New Years have been coming and you know you shouldn’t eat all the goodies that are coming, but you postpone the dieting until the new year. How often does that kind of resolution last? For most people, not long. Postponing just allowed the old pattern a foothold to keep going. King Solomon said that the eyes of a man are never satisfied (Proverbs 27:20). One more lustful look or one more piece of pie never satisfies. In fact it usually does the opposite. Every time we say “yes” to temptation, we make it harder to say “no” the next time. Remember that we’ve developed habit patterns of sin. We’ve developed the habit of shading facts a little bit to our advantage. We’ve developed the habit of giving in to the inertia that refuses to get up in the morning. These habits have to be broken, but they never will until we make a basic commitment to a life of holiness without exceptions. St. John said, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1). The whole purpose of John’s epistle, he says, is that we not sin. Jerry Bridges writes about this saying: “One day as I was studying this chapter I realized that my personal life’s obejctive regarding holiness was less than that of John’s. He was saying, in effect, “Make it you aim not to sin.” As I thought about this, I realized that deep within my heart my real aim was not to sin very much. I found it difficult to say, “Yes, Lord, from here on I will make it my aim not to sin.” I realized God was calling me that day to a deeper level of commitment to holiness than I had previously been willing to make. “Can you imagine a soldier going into battle with the aim of “not getting hit very much”? The very suggestion is ridiculous. His aim is not to get hit at all! Yet if we have not made a commitment to holiness without exception, we are like a soldier going into battle with the aim of not getting hit very much. We can be sure if that is our aim, we will be hit—not with bullets, but with temptation over and over again.” Jonathan Edwards was known for making resolutions. One of his was this, “Resolved, never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” Dare we make that kind of resolution? Are we willing to commit ourselves to the practice of holiness without exceptions? There’s no point in praying for victory over temptation if we’re not willing to make a commitment to say “no” to it. Its only by learning to deny temptation that we will ever put to death the misdeeds of the body. It’s usually a long and slow – and often painful – process and we fail frequently. Our old desires and our sinful habits are not easy to shake free of. To break them requires persistence, often in the face of little success. But this is the path we have to take. Again, Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness The Place of Discipline Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 10 by William Klock In the last sermon on holiness I talked about the need to put sin to death – to establish convictions about a holy life and to make commitments to live them out. We do that, and yet we still fail. We miss the goal. How often have you committed to stop a sinful habit in your life and then find yourself falling into that same sin the next day – or maybe even the next hour? We really do desire holiness, but we don’t seem to make any progress toward it. Well, that’s the point of these sermons and tonight I want to talk about another aspect of pursing holiness. Jay Adams, one of my favourite authors on living the Christian life says this, “You may have sought and tried to obtain instant godliness. There is no such thing…We want somebody to give us three easy steps to godliness, and we’ll take them next Friday and be godly. The trouble is, godliness doesn’t come that way.” The rest of that particular book goes on to explain that only way we can achieve any measure of godliness (or holiness) is through Christian discipline. The book’s title is Godliness through Discipline. I suggested this book to someone once and they balked at the title. Discipline?! It’s almost a bad word in our society and even in the Church. This person thought that discipline was contrary to our freedom in Christ – that it was legalistic. And yet St. Paul is very clear that we are called to train or discipline ourselves to be godly. He wrote to Timothy: “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). In 1 Corinthians 9:25 he makes an analogy with an athlete and the physical training that trains them to perform well and in that same passage he tells us that this sort of athletic training-like discipline is an attitude of life that every Christian should have. If an athlete disciplines himself to win an earthly prize, he tells us, how much more should we Christians discipline ourselves to win a crown that lasts forever. Webster’s describes discipline as “training that corrects, moulds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” That’s exactly what we need to do as we pursue holiness: we need to correct, mould, and train our moral character. Of course we start our discipline toward holiness with God’s Word. St. Paul said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Notice the last thing he mentions is training – the same thing as discipline. This is what Scripture will do for you if you put it to use! In his book Jay Adams says, “It is by willing, prayerful and persistent obedience to the requirements of the Scriptures that godly patterns are developed and come to be a part of us.” St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: You were taught “to put off your old self…to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). But where are we taught those things? Only in Scripture. Discipline toward holiness starts with Scripture – with a disciplined plan for regular intake of God’s Word and a disciplined plan for apply what he says to our daily lives. Remember that I said before that the pursuit of holiness is in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. He has his part – in fact he makes it possible – but we have our part too. The Spirit is the ultimate author of Scripture – he provides us with the Word – but we have to read, study, and learn it. He’s the one who enlightens our minds to understand it, but we still have to commit to applying what he teaches. The most basic problem we have is that you can’t apply what you don’t know! Every Christian needs to discipline his or her life for a regular healthy diet of the Word. We each need a planned time every day for reading and studying the Bible. If you see someone who is progressing in holiness, I guarantee you that that person has disciplined himself to spend time in the Word each day. There’s not other way. You have to know the Word if it’s going to make a difference for you. Now this is the critical point where Satan puts up a fight. He’ll do everything he can to stop us. He’ll give us all sorts of excuses or distractions: I’m too sleepy in the morning. I’m too busy during the day. I’m too tired at night. And if we let Satan do his work, we’ll never find a good time for God’s Word. This is where discipline comes into play. If there’s no time for it, you have to make time for it. If you schedule it, it’s easier to make it happen on a daily basis. I spend at least an hour, usually more and often two, each morning praying through Morning Prayer and reading Scripture. But I didn’t always do that. For a lot of years I squeezed in a short time of prayer and devotion before running off to work. It was better than nothing, but it was pretty shallow. When my work schedule changed and I had to leave for work at six, it suddenly meant getting up at five and there was no time to squeeze in even that shallow time with God. It dropped out entirely for a good six months. And during that time I felt like I was spiritually shrivelling up. I’d say I’d do it before bed, but that almost never worked out. In fact, in my entire life, I’ve only met a couple of people who could stay faithful to prayer and Bible reading time before bed. For most of us it needs to be in the morning so that everything else doesn’t squeeze it out. Eventually I bit the bullet and decided that I was going to have to start getting up at four to get it done. It wasn’t easy at first. It meant going to bed a lot earlier than I liked. It meant missing some TV shows I liked to watch. And yet in that discipline I found great blessing. For some people it may work better to wait until they’ve got ready for the day. For a busy mom it might mean waiting until husband and kids are out the door, but the bottom line is that every one of us must make time for God’s Word and then keep to it. But it’s not just that disciplined intake of God’s Word requires a planned time; it also requires a planned method. We’re prone to thinking about taking in God’s Word by hearing – like you’re doing right now as I preach – or reading it ourselves. We can go deeper and talk about taking it in through study – going deeper than just reading. Maybe reading some notes in our Bible to help us understand better or even reading a commentary. We can talk about the need to memorise the Word too. We need to do all those things in order to store it in our hearts and minds so that we can apply it. Memorisation is especially important for application. We especially need to memorise passages that deal with the sins we struggle with, so that those passages are there and waiting for application when temptation comes. But we need to do more than hear, read, study, and memorise. We need to meditate on Scripture too. When Joshua became the leader of the Israelites, God said to him, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). To meditate on Scripture is to think about it – turning a passage over in our minds, allowing the Spirit to give us a full understanding of it, and then applying it to our life. If we do it at all, we don’t do it enough. Again, just like reading and studying (or even coming to Church to listen) means we have to discipline ourselves; meditation requires discipline. Most of us think we don’t have time for this, but think about the fact that God told Joshua to meditate on his Word – and Joshua was just then becoming the commander of the Israelites. I think he was busier with that job than any of us are with ours! I know people who meditate on Scripture as they drive or while they’re showering or doing other thing in life that give them time to think. How much time do you spend day-dreaming or thinking about things that aren’t all that important. Discipline yourself to use that time more productively, meditating on God’s Word. Even take time as you read and study to sit quietly and meditate on what God had just said to you in the Bible. If you’ve been memorising Scripture it makes it easy to meditate on those passages anywhere – and at the same time lets you review what you’ve memorised. The goal of meditation is application – to make yourself obedient to what God has said in his Word. That’s the second half of discipline – and it might be the most difficult, because obeying God usually means changing how we live. Remember that I’ve said that as fallen people, we’ve made sin a habit. As the Word shows us our sins, it means breaking long-established habits – and that’s often a hard thing to do. I used to swim competitively. When I was taking swim lessons I developed a quirk in my kick when swimming the breast-stroke. At the time nobody corrected me, but it became habit. On the swim-team in high school my coach noticed it, showed me how to kick the right way, and then spent the rest of my first year shouting at me from the pool deck every time he saw me falling into that long-established, but bad habit. It had become so natural that I had a terrible time breaking the bad habit and getting in the habit of kicking the right way. Our patterns of disobedience with God are similar. But discipline for holiness doesn’t mean gritting your teeth and saying, “I’m not going to do that anymore.” Discipline means structured, planned training. Just as you need a plan for regular Bible study, you also need a plan for apply God’s Word to you life. You know, having my coach yell at me only fixed my bad breast-stroke kick momentarily. What eventually broke the habit and established a new one was a structured and planned programme. Our assistant coach saw the problem and gave me some specific exercises to do that put my attention on the problem and the solution all at once – and it didn’t take long to break the bad habit once I had the plan. As you read, study, and meditate on Scripture, as yourself these three questions: What does the passage teach me about God’s will for a holy life? How does my life measure up to that Scripture; specifically where and how do I fall short? (Be specific; don’t generalise.) What definite steps of action do I need to take to obey? The most important part of the process is the specific application of Scripture to specific life situations. You see, we tend to be vague when it comes to sin, because commitment to specific actions makes us uncomfortable. We need to stop making general commitments to obedience and instead aim for specific obedience in specific instances. We deceive our souls when we grow in knowledge of the truth without specifically responding to it (James 1:22). When we do that, it almost always leads to spiritual pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). Not long after I was ordained I was spending some time studying the Sermon on the Mount. On one particular day I was meditating on what it meant to be salt and light – specifically to the non-Christians I worked with. I was thinking about how God called the Israelites to be a light to the Gentile nations and how he gave them the Law – a long set of rules that laid out for them what was holy and godly and what was sinful. And that’s when the Spirit convicted me. I needed to be a witness to my coworkers by not stealing. You see, I pirated everything. When I was a teen I didn’t really even think about it. My friends and I would pirate computer software all the time. When I worked for a computer store it was even easier. I’ll tell you, it’s a rare person who works for a computer store who buys software when it’s so easy just to make copies. Then came the internet and we could download pirated software too – and then we could download pirated music and movies. If I rented a DVD and liked it, I’d just make a copy. It’s not that I didn’t know it was wrong, but it had become a habit. But that day as I was meditating on Jesus’ words and applying it to my life, I realised that I needed to break that habit. It had to be a commitment. I figured I’d better do it while the Spirit was really working on me. I pulled out my laptop there at work and started tossing stuff. After twenty minutes that 80GB hard disk that I had so desperately needed to store everything only had 20GB of data on it. When I got home that day I filled a big garbage bag with CD’s and DVD’s that I had pirated. But the really hard part came the next day as a CD or a software application came across my workbench. Then it took discipline. “You know,” I thought, “I’d like to listen to that music all the time.” Or, “That application would be really useful on my computer or that game would be really fun to play.” That’s when God’s Word, memorised and stored in my heart and mind and already specifically applied to the whole issue of stealing software and music and movies, took over and helped me keep my commitment to obedience. Do we fail at it? Yes. Any kind of training starts with failure. I didn’t get my breast-stroke kick fixed on the first – or even the second or twentieth – try. We fail more often than we succeed. But if we persevere, we gradually see progress until we start to see ourselves succeeding more than failing. This is what happens when we seek to put to death particular sins. It’s easy to be discouraged or to give up when at first we so often fail. We wonder what’s the use. But that’s exactly what Satan wants us to feel. The answer is perseverance. We want instant success, but holiness doesn’t come instantly. Sinful habits aren’t usually broken overnight. Follow-through is required to make any change in our lives and that follow through requires perseverance. In the last sermon I talked about Jonathan Edwards resolving never to do anything he’d be afraid to do if it were the last hour of his life. But also made this resolution: “Resolved, never to give over, not in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruption, however unsuccessful I may be.” If Edwards resolved never to do anything he shouldn’t do, why would he also resolve never to give up fighting regardless of how unsuccessful he might be? It’s not that he didn’t really mean it when he made the first resolution. The issue is that he knew that we would still fail sometime in spite of his resolution. He knew that perseverance was required. So he first resolved to seek to live a holy life, then to persevere despite the failures he knew would come. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 24:16: “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again” (NASB). You see, the person who is disciplining himself toward holiness falls, sometimes a lot, but he doesn’t quit. Each time he fails he gets back up and gets back to the battle. The unrighteous, however, falls into sin and just gives up. He has no power to overcome because he doesn’t have God’s Spirit at work in him. Think of Romans 7 where St. Paul describes his own struggle with sin. I know a lot of people have a hard time with that passage, because we don’t like the idea that we have to struggle. We want – even expect – instant victory. We want to “walk in the Spirit and let him win the victory.” But God wants us to persevere in discipline toward holiness. I’ve heard people say that Paul’s as “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15) are too strong for a Christian walking in the Spirit. But really, what Christian can deny that this is his own experience? The truth is that the more we see the holiness of God and his Law revealed to us in the Scriptures, the more we recognise how far short we fall. Think about Isaiah. He was a prophet who walked in the righteousness of God’s commandments, and yet when he came face to face with God in all his holiness, his only response was to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). As we grow in the knowledge of God’s holiness, even though we’re also growing in the practice of holiness it always seems that the gap between our knowledge and our practice gets bigger. This is the Spirit’s way of drawing us to more and more holiness. As we progress in holiness, we hate sin more and more and find greater delight in God’s law (Romans 7:22). We see the perfection of his Law and the rightness of all the things he requires of us. We agree that, as St. John says, “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), but are holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). But during all this time we also see our own inner corruption and our frequent falls into sin. We cry out with St. Paul, “Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24), and we want to give up. But we dare not go there. If we would succeed in our pursuit of holiness, we must persevere in spite of failure. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we thank you for the indwelling gift of the Spirit, who truly is our Helper, as he opens our eyes to your truth, to your holiness, and to our sin and empowers us to follow you. Give us grace that we might be committed to the daily study and application of your Word, that we might better obey you and persevere in our pursuit of holiness. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.