God is Holy

It strikes me as problematic that there are more bumper stickers that read “God is love” than there are that read “God is holy.”    Come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one that reads: God is holy.

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Referring to Isaiah 6, R.C. Sproul says this about God’s holiness:

The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.

The third Person of the God-head even has a name:  Holy Spirit.    Yes, God is also love, but when choosing a name for God’s presence in the world He chose the name Holy Spirit rather than Loving Spirit.

There is a lot to be said about what the word holy means, but at it’s core is this idea of transcendent separateness.  To be holy means to be set apart.  When the bible calls God holy it is to say that God is so distinct, so lofty, so set-apart from all else.  There is none like our God (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2:2; Psalm 86:8-10).

To be holy also means to be pure.   The trouble God went through to describe the way the temple of God was to be built, the ceremonial rites of priests, the mandate that sacrifices made to God be unblemished, the purification rituals of those who would dare come before God, all demonstrate God’s precedence upon moral purity.     The psalmist declares,

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood (Psalm 24:3-5)

The importance God places on the holiness of those who would be called His children is not confined to the Old Testament.  Paul says this about God’s goal for us,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:3-4)

And to the Corinthians he reminds them that sexual impurity makes one unholy,

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

We glorify God by becoming holy, as He is holy.   For the Christian it is not an option, but a command: Be holy, as I am holy (Lev. 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16).

So if holiness is what God is, and is what God wants us to be, why don’t we hear more about it?  Why don’t bumper stickers reading “God is holy” sell?  My hunch is because “love” is something we all want, and the sentimentality behind it sells.   Today, love is popularly understood as an emotion (we “fall in” and “out” of love) rather than it being the robust, active decision as seen in God, and meant to be embodied by Christians.   In the bible, love has more to do with obedience than feelings, but in our culture today love, however you want to define it, wins.

The word “holy,” by contrast, has fallen out of popular use and is not as easily reduced to a feeling.    I believe this has something to do with the fact that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world, and our conscience knows that to speak the word “holy” we are talking about God, who is unlike us, yet calls us to be like Him.   Love may be what we want, but holiness is what we need.

Sadly, by evacuating our talk of God as holy along with His desire for us to be holy, while simultaneously using “love” for everything from what I had for dinner last night and to describe God, we miss the God revealed to us altogether who is far more marvelous than we can imagine.    It is only when we grasp the truth of God’s holiness – how separate and transcendent He is from us –  that we can even begin to appreciate what it means for Him to come to us in Jesus, and die for us “while we were yet sinners.”   That God is holy should makes us come undone, as it did Isaiah (Isa. 6), or make us drop like we are dead, as it did John, the disciple whom Jesus loved (Rev. 1:17).

Meditate on the awesome holiness of God.   It will radically transform what it means to you when you see those “God is love” bumper stickers.

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Authority and Submission

Man should not do anything out of a knowledge of right and wrong.  Rather, he should do all things out of obedience.  The principle of discerning good and evil is the principle of living by right and wrong.  Before Adam and Eve took the fruit, their right and wrong were in God.  If they did not live before God, they knew nothing; both their right wrong were just God Himself.  But after man received of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he found a source of discerning between right and wrong apart from God.  As a consequence, after man’s fall, there was no need for him to seek after God.  He could get along by himself.  He could isolate himself from God and judge between right and wrong.  This is the fall.  The word of redemption enables us to turn back to God for our right and wrong.

This is from Watchman Nee’s book, Authority and Submission.   I’m not very far along in it but this paragraph really hit home.   Nee states that every Christian must live under authority and that every work done outside of submission is a work in the flesh, not of the Spirit, and therefore no good.   Nee cites 1 Samuel 15 as one example among many to illustrate the prominence God places in submission to His authority over anything else, even sacrifice (or worship) of Him.    King Saul thought he was doing well to worship God, but he had a rebellious heart in offering up a sacrifice that was not his to offer, and in so doing disobeyed God and was punished for it.    “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Nee says that God’s greatest demand upon us is submission.   Only those who have been broken can truly submit to God’s authority, and once we get a glimpse of God’s authority, at least once, we will be forever changed and our heart will have a new Master.   We will see lawlessness (living for self, outside of authority) more clearly, not only in ourselves but in others.

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I remember a day when God’s authority pressed Itself upon me to such a degree I went speechless.    I was at Pure Life and as was my custom I was down by the cross, alone, praying.   My wife and kids were due to visit in just a few days and I was praying for their safety.    I was really crying out to God to protect them on the road and that our visit would be a great one.   And then, in the midst of this prayer I went numb, and my tongue felt like a 1000 pounds.   I began to mutter, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, forgive me.”     Why?  Because the Spirit of God said to me,

Chad, you are seeking My blessing for a trip you did not consult Me about.   Is that not arrogant of you?

I was shut-up.  He was right.   I was living my life outside the authority of God.  I was offering sacrifices (prayers) to God, but my heart was doing my own thing, discerning for itself what was right or wrong.    Of course, I told myself, a family visit is “good”!  Why ask God about it?    The Lord reminded me that day of James 4:13-15,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord will, we will live and do this or that.”

How much of my life has been lived under my authority rather than God’s!   For so very long my I lived a lawless existence, disobedient in both big and small things, because regardless of the lip-service I might pay to God, the only real authority I acknowledged was my own.   But when the awesome Majesty of God gets hold of our hearts, though, we will be stopped short of transgressing His commands because we will know what it is to live under Authority, and how worthy He is to demand it of us.

As for the family visit?   I wrestled for a few days with whether it was right or wrong for them to come (I was still trying to discern myself!) until one night, gently, the Spirit of God whispered, “Child, just ask me.”    There was, I believe, a part of me that felt my Father in heaven was stern, and wanted to deny me good gifts.   As if my past sins precluded me from having any benefits today.    Trembling, I asked, “Father, is it OK for my wife and kids to visit this weekend?”    Tears streamed down my face when I felt the waves of His “Yes” to me wash over me, again and again.    I also had the assurance they would be well taken care of.

God wants our submission to His authority, and His alone.   It is not so that He can deny us that which we may want, but so that He can give us everything we need.

Unknown in Heaven and Hell

There is a fascinating story in Acts 19 about some traveling Jewish exorcists who marveled at the miraculous things Paul was doing through the name of Jesus Christ.     Such was their envy of his power that they decided to use Paul’s Lord to help them in their own ministry.    To those who were harassed by an evil spirit, these Seven Sons of Sceva commanded them to come out “by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims” (Acts 19:11-17).

For so long I said the same thing to my own demons!     For decades I trusted in the power of the Gospel that others believed in but never the one I knew for myself.    For years I preached about a Jesus who could save the world from sin….just not my own.    I would tell people as a pastor, “be healed in the name of Jesus” when in reality I was thinking, “I hope Paul’s Jesus is listening.”

Faith envy is easy to succumb to, isn’t it?    I think it’s because it is far easier to trust in the faith of another than it is to take the leap ourselves.   Unlike Peter who at least jumped out of the boat chasing after Jesus we opt instead to stay inside, where we think it’s safe.    We marvel at the faith-filled Peter’s around us, wishing we could be like that, even as we assure ourselves that it’s better this way because Peter did sink after all, right?

Thankfully there are examples out there of victory  – of walk-on-water- moments – who caused me to confront my own lack of belief.  There are few things as a Christian more troubling than knowing we should be free from the chains of our habitual sins yet having little to no experience of that in our own lives.    Seeing it happening for others gave space for the Holy Spirit to convict me that my relationship with Jesus had little to do with he and I and more to do with my riding the coat-tails of others, in the same way the Sons of Sceva rode the coat-tails of Paul.

When you try to confront the demons in your life by conjuring up the faith of others you get the response these seven sons received:

Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?

Who are you?   The devils rightly know Jesus and Paul because they are storming the gates of hell.   But who are you?   Why should the demons be concerned with you?   There came a point in my defeated Christian existence that I realized I was not even in the battle which Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10ff, but a mere spectator.  I was an unknown player in both heaven and hell.  I was still sitting in the boat, believing the lie that being around Jesus was good enough.    I was not truly “struggling” against sin in my life, as much as I might try to convince myself or others that I was.  In reality,  I was mastered by it.  

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When these seven sons tried to attack the demons before them through a power that was not their own they were “mastered” by these spirits, scripture tells us, and fled the scene “naked and wounded.”   When we try to defeat the sin in our lives by trying to appropriate the faith of someone else, or by calling upon the power of some program or technique, or through doubling-down on our efforts to be more religious (I’ll do, do, do, more, more, more!), then we are facing the enemy naked and alone.   Our sin will man-handle us again and again.  We will remain defeated…and unknown by either  heaven, or hell.

I’m a worm and no man

To be broken is the beginning of revival.

“Brokenness” is the opening chapter of Roy Hession’s challenging, inspired book, The Calvary Road.   He begins with brokenness because without a broken spirit (blessed are those who are poor in spirit, Jesus said) we will not know the life of Jesus.

What is brokenness?  You know it when you see it.  Or experience it yourself.  It’s that moment when you realize that you are undone, that everything you have tried to offer God is a sham, that you no longer have any excuses.   

It’s a painful death of Self.  

An unbroken person will still try to justify themselves.  They will offer what seems to them a good reason for being who they are and for doing what they do.  They will blame their history, their culture, their parents, their church, their spouse, their kids, their job, and on and on.  They will continue to insist that they have some rights.   They will name certain conditions before they will act.  

While doing all of this they may very well say they are sorry.  But being sorry is not the same as being broken.  And being sorry makes you just, well, sorry.  

God can’t and won’t do anything with a sorry person.  But He will do miracles with a broken one.

There is a prophetic word in Psalm 22.   You know this Psalm in part because the words Jesus quotes from the cross comes from it: 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

Jesus was not trying to draw our attention to only one verse, but to the entire Psalm, as any good Rabbi would do.   Further down, in verse 6, is this pathetic cry, 

But I am a worm and no man

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Jesus, the son of God, who had every right to boast, every right to call a legion of angels to his rescue, who had every right to justify himself as sinless before God, did none of that.   Instead, he became a worm on a cross, and bowed his head to the will of His Father.   

Matthew, in his gospel, does not want us to miss this connection.  He tells us that while Jesus hung on that cross people passed by, deriding him, “wagging their heads,” at him.   It’s the same thing the Psalmist says the people do to him after calling himself a worm (Psalm 22:7).

Hession says this about worms,

There is a big difference between a snake and a worm, when you attempt to strike at them.  The snake rears itself up and hisses and tries to strike back – a true picture of self.  But a worm offers no resistance, it allows you to do what you like with it, kick it or squash it under your heel – a picture of true brokenness.  And Jesus was willing to become just that for us – a worm and no man.  

Are you coming to God as a snake or as a worm?

To be broken is the beginning of revival.   Jesus became nothing on the cross for our sake and God raised him from the dead three days later.  It is promised to those who are broken, not sorry, but who bow their necks and say to God, “I am a worm and no man,” that God will not despise you (Psalm 51:17), but heal you.   He will become your God, and you will become His child.     

I know this to be true in my life and in the lives of many others:  The degree to which we are still in bondage to our sin is the degree to which we still act like a snake rather than a worm.   

To be broken is the beginning of revival.   

The Heart of the Matter

An article I wrote about revival in the Methodist church was published on a website called Seedbed.    Readers of this blog will, I trust, benefit from some of Rev. Sangster’s advice which I share in that post.   Any real move of God in our lives will only begin when we stop pointing fingers at others, or at our past, or at our present and look within our own hearts.

You can read it here:  The Heart of the Matter

What is Fearing God?

What does it mean to have fear of God?   Scripture says that it is the fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom, so what does that mean?  Does it mean to be frightened in the way that I am of spiders?

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A couple of passages help me to understand this idea of fearing God a bit better.   One is Isaiah 66:2, which reads,

All these things (the heavens, and earth) my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.  But this is the one to whom I will look:  he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

 

Much of my Christian existence, both inside and outside of addiction, was spent trying to understand, debate, parse, dissect, even twist God’s word.   Rarely, if ever, did I “tremble.”    I did not have the “woe is me” moment Isaiah himself had in chapter 6 of this same book, where he was confronted by the words of a holy God, and knew he was a dead man lest someone step in between he and this God.  

Do you tremble over God’s word?  Does it stand above you, naming you, judging you, pushing you; or do you stand above it, telling God “You can’t really be like that”?  

Another passage that speaks to me about the fear of God comes from my favorite Psalm, 119.  It reads,

And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules (Psalm 119:43)

Here, the Psalmist rightly understands that should God remove His hand from his life, if he should be without the words of God, he is ruined.   It is wholly by the grace of God that he can stand, and as such, he fears God doing what later on the writer of the Revelation of Jesus Christ will threaten the churches with should they not repent:  the removal of his favor/blessing.  

Do you fear God removing his hand from your life?   Or do you presume upon his kindness and mercy, assuming that because nothing terrible has happened you have nothing to fear?  Perhaps God is not watching, or doesn’t really care about how you live your life in private?    

The following is an excerpt from Steve Gallagher’s book, Living in Victory, explaining a biblical fear of God and what it looks like.   I think he’s spot on:   

 

I can respect God, not just because He has the power to hurt me, but because, in spite of that power and the fact that I have endlessly provoked Him, He has been kind to me. Jesus said of God, “…He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:35) As this kindness, in the face of my rebellion and ingratitude, becomes more real to me, a deep reverence begins to form in my heart.

 

Fear is the sense of being overwhelmed. One aspect of our fear of God comes from being overwhelmed by His kindness, mercy, and love. The deeper the revelation of God, the deeper the sense of being overwhelmed by His goodness. It is in the light of this understanding that we see the words reverence and awe as accurate synonyms for fear.

 

Another thing that creates fear of God is the realization that it is only His grace that keeps us from falling back into the pit He pulled us out of…fearing the Lord means fearing the loss of His grace that keeps us from our sin. It means fearing a separation form Him and being left to oneself.

 

The man who really knows God fears being separated from Him. He might struggle with tempting thoughts about things he has done in the past, but the thought of returning to that old way of life strikes dread in his heart. That man knows only too well what life without God is like. Despite all the alluring temptations, the thought of life outside God’s presence is frightening… Those who have never been broken by God usually have little fear of Him.

 

 

 

The Mercy Prayer

I have touched on this prayer before in a post about putting on Christ but felt it deserved some attention of it’s own (I would recommend checking out the series that link will take you to if you are struggling with self-gratification).    The Mercy Prayer is a prayer I learned while at Pure Life, developed and taught by Rex Andrews.   This prayer, I believe, was one of the biggest contributing factors to the freedom I have experienced.   Why?  Because it helps to transform one’s mind from one of being consumed with self to one that is consumed with the thoughts of God – and God’s thoughts towards others are driven by mercy (see Hosea 6:6 and Matt. 9:13).   God’s will for you and I is mercy.

What is mercy?  Rex Andrews defines it as the following:

MERCY is God’s supply system for every need everywhere. Mercy is that kindness, compassion and tenderness, which is a passion to suffer with, or participate in, another’s ills or evils in order to relieve, heal and restore.  It accepts another freely and gladly as he is and supplies the needed good of life to build up and to bring to peace and keep in peace. It is to take another into one’s heart just as he is and cherish and nourish him there. Mercy takes another’s sins and evils and faults as its own, and frees the other by bearing them to God. This is the Glow-of-love. This is the anointing.

You can see by this definition why Jesus is God’s grand display of Mercy.   He took upon himself our sins as his own and bore them to God.

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This is why praying the following mercy prayer is so important.  It nurtures within our minds – long corrupted from habitual sin, pride, and pleasing ourselves – the mind of Christ, who, though in “the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant…”(Phil. 2:5-8).     When we pray the prayer of mercy we are “renewing our minds” (Rom. 12:1-2) to be like that of Christ, and laying our flesh aside in favor of the life of the Spirit.

When I am stressed, angry, when my will is being crossed, when I don’t know how to pray for someone who comes to mind, when temptation arises, or when I have free time and don’t know what to do with myself, I pray this prayer.    When you ask me to pray for you, this is what I am most likely praying.  I’ve taught it to my church, and they are praying it, too.   It is a way, I have discovered, to follow Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).    Learn this prayer and pray it. It will change your life!     But first….a warning…..

YOU WILL NOT WANT TO PRAY IT! 

When beginning with this, your flesh will resist it with force.   The first person that crosses your will, the first time your spouse does something that irks you to no end, the first time your co-worker gossips about you, you will want to do anything but pray mercy over them.    When this happens, don’t quit, but rather, give glory to God!   For His word is true!  Your flesh naturally wars against the things of the spirit (Gal. 5:17).   Give thanks to God for knowing you so perfectly, yet loving you so abundantly.   Remember that you are in a battle, a spiritual battle (Eph. .6:12), and the following prayer is one of your greatest weapons to defeat the enemy.

Pray this prayer.  Pray it often.   And watch how God rewards your perseverance, and blesses the prayers of a righteous person who prays in alignment with His will!

Mercy Prayer

1) Lord, I thank You for_________.

I thank You for saving him. Thank you for what You have done and are doing in his life.

2) Make__________ to know Jesus (more). Help him to increase in the knowledge of God. Destroy speculation and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and help him to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

3) Make__________ poor in spirit. Bring him down Lord, but please do it gently. Help him to see his neediness. Help him to see himself in light of You. Put him in his rightful place Lord.

4) Fill ___________ with Your Holy Spirit. Immerse him in Your Spirit Lord. Come to him in power and in might. Baptize him in fire Lord.

5) Life___________.

Life him according to Thy loving-kindness. Pour out Your life giving mercies into his soul.

6) Bless__________. Lord, bless him in everything he touches. Bless him spiritually, physically, and financially. Bless his loved ones. Do for him Lord, instead of me.

7) Mercy__________.

Flood him with need-filling mercies. Pour them out in super abundance. Find and meet every need in his life as You see it Lord.