Advent Calendar day 4: Intentional worship

So yesterday I talked a little bit how Paul was opinionated and in today’s readings we see Paul providing some instructions for worship and for the church that on the surface seem rather chauvinistic and outdated. Paul admonishes that women ought to be modestly dressed, to be quiet and not to teach or assume authority over a man. This scripture certainly causes the blood of feminists to boil and frankly I have never heard churches speak about this. Preachers are like “Paul we agree with many things you say but as for this one- we ain’t even going there”. Frankly, I too wanted to gloss over this scripture and all but one thing kept coming to mind all day and convicting me. I kept hearing the word of God saying “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (1 Timothy 3: 16-17 NIV)- so read with an open mind”. So I meditated on this scripture a bit more and here’s what I have learned.

Paul was addressing his disciple Timothy and passing on God-inspired instructions that he operated by as he preached to Gentile pagan nations who did not know God (1 Tim 2: 7). These people who had come to know God under Paul’s teachings were coming from a cultural context very removed from what the Jews would have known and it was Paul’s ministry to help them make sense of how to become Christ-followers and truly let go of “worldliness” in pursuit of holiness. One may argue that the worldview in Paul’s day was a lot more primitive than they are today but that does not negate the word of God which is forever settled in heaven. Paul’s instructions to women remain relevant to the “more advanced-more-refined-feminist male or female” today as it did in those days. Here is the scripture in its entirety but I encourage you to read the passage from chapter 1:

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;  she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

1 Timothy 2: 9-15 NIV

Paul encourages the proselyte women of his time to eschew disorderliness and vainglory but instead to pursue lasting virtues of faith, love and holiness. Paul encouraged women to work on having an identity that was not superficial but rather, deeply rooted in action- good deeds. This was the appropriate way for newly converted pagan women to present themselves in worship and it still rings true for children of God today. This is why after much thought, I titled today’s post ” intentional worship”. Women and men alike must be intentional in giving God worship that pours out from the inside out. Our actions must come from a place of love, faith and holiness that it adorns us before God and all that are beholden to us. Jesus said it best when He taught:

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:16 NLT

This is God’s expectation of his children, women and men alike and whether Paul said it in a way that rubs many of 21st century Christians the wrong way or not, the truth of God’s word remains the same. Holiness should be our watch word and song.

Yours Truly

Compromise

Have you ever been in a situation where you try to justify your actions even though you know they are not exactly 100% righteous or godly? As we make the commitment to be intentional in being holy, one of the stumbling blocks that we will encounter is compromise. Compromise is defined as

to weaken (a reputation or principle) by accepting standards that are lower than is desirable

to bring into disrepute or danger by indiscreet, foolish, or reckless behavior

Compromise is exaggerating just a wee bit to make your side of the story sound better than it actually is. Compromise is taking longer breaks at work and not accounting for the time in your timesheet. Compromise is speaking a half-truth famously known as a white lie to cover your tracks (not exactly lying but not exactly speaking the truth). Compromise is violating traffic laws by driving over the posted speed limit. Compromise is helping a friend cheat on an exam because you are trying to help them. Compromise is taking credit for someone else’s hard work and not being careful to return credit where it is due.

This brings to mind an incident when I was applying for my son’s passport. One of the requirement was that the guarantor should have known me for at least 2 years and my lovely neighbor had only known me for  approximately 1 year, 11 months and 26 days. “Well, what difference does 4 days make?”  I know  that some may think of  such minute and arbitrary things as inconsequential and trivial but the  bible has this to say about compromise:

[It is] the little foxes that ruin the vineyards. Song of Solomon 2:15

It is compromise on the little issues that leads to the greater downfall (Bridges, 2006). Every time I read this scripture, I examine myself:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. Matthew 7:13 NIV

I have always pondered how christians can be on the broad path and not even know it! Ever heard the term, slippery slope? Compromise is the slippery slope that leads godly and holy people from the narrow path to the broad path. It starts with the small insignificant things and next thing you know, you are living in full-blown sin. What compromise does is that it weakens your resolve and deadens your conscience. When you compromise, you slowly chip away at your resistance to temptation and eventually you will not be able to say NO to sin. Compromise is reckless if you are serious minded about being holy. Compromise is what God warns about when He says of obeying His commands:

Do not turn aside to the right or the left. Prov 4:27, Deut 5:32, Deut 28:14

Dear readers as I conclude I leave you with this Psalm:

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths. You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands. As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should! I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me! Psalm 119:1-8 NLT

Be a person of integrity. Do not compromise your walk with God. Be intentional in being holy. Feel free to share your experience in the comment section below so we can all learn from each other.

The fear of the Lord

In the last post, Holiness is for everyone we learned that the grace of God helps us to say No to sin. Today, I learned that something else is able to keep us from sinning: the fear of God.

…so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning. Exodus 20:20b NIV

What comes to mind when you think of the phrase, “the fear of the Lord”? Do you instantly think “…is the beginning of wisdom”? or do you think of the reverence and awe that we give to God?

The first time the phrase is used in the Bible is in Gen 20:11 and thereafter used many times in the bible. So let’s break down the fear of God into its fundamentals, shall we?

The bible says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14:1 NIV) and we know that the fear of God is indeed the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7). We also know that Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Putting these three concepts together: at the heart of the fear of God is an acknowledgment of God.

We know from our studies so far that God is a loving God who is intentional in his everlasting love for us. We have also learned that this same God is a Holy God and abhors any kind of sin because it is his very nature and essence to be free from any moral defect. His love makes Him a merciful God and His holiness makes him a just God.

So back to our working definition: The fear of God is an acknowledgment of the God, and having an understanding of who God really is, means we have a balanced view of the mercy as well as the justice of God.

Back in the bible days, the fear (acknowledgment) of God evoked actual fear in the hearts of people and at times it was recorded that people became like dead men. People were actually afraid of God and did not have personal relationships with God. Very few people understood this balanced view of God’s mercy and justice. People like Abraham, David, Job, they understood what it truly meant to fear God and enjoyed a relationship with Him. This fear was inherited from Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve had always encountered the loving mercies of God in the garden of Eden until the day they sinned. The bible recounts they heard the footsteps of God and were afraid so they hid. God had come to talk to them many times. They had heard God’s footsteps many times. So what was different this particular day? Adam and Eve prior to the fall  lived the Psalm 89:14 life:

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. NIV

Every time God came down to chat, love and faithfulness went before Him. But after they sinned, Adam and Eve experienced Psalm 85:13 for the first time:

Righteousness [justice] will go before Him to prepare the way for His steps. Berean Study Bible

And their response was fear. They were afraid because they saw their unworthiness to stand in the presence of His majesty. This was the expression of the fear of God Isaiah had when he encountered God. Look at what he said:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For 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 NIV

Fast forward into the era of grace and the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Now people are not afraid of God. The definition of the fear of God has evolved so much it is now relegated to just having reverence and awe for God. While having reverence and awe for God is extremely important, exclusively doing so without any acknowledgment of the justice of God is detrimental. We have overextended the love and the mercy of God. We are no longer afraid of this God that smote down a man because he touched the ark of God to prevent it from falling! Afterall, God calls us friends and He wants us to have a relationship with Him not to be afraid of Him. Right? WRONG!

Yes God wants a relationship but with only those who know him. And if you truly know God, then you will know that holiness means everything to God. Righteousness and justice are the foundations of His throne. Armed with this knowledge, you will not have an irrational fear of God but rather a holy reverent fear.

live your lives in reverent fear during your temporary stay on earth. 1 Peter 1:17 Berean Study Bible

God is a consuming fire. You cannot come close to God because of His magnificence. He dwells in unapproachable light. He has the power to destroy your life just as easily as he preserves it.  And yet this God stepped into humanity so that you will no longer be afraid to approach him like Adam and Eve. He invites you to commune with Him daily. He listens to your requests and does your bidding. This is having a balance of the justice and the mercy of God. This is the fear of God. This is the beginning of wisdom!

So yes, you should be afraid of God. But this fear, in the dispensation of grace, should drive you to reverence and worship. It causes you to run to God not away from Him. It is this fear that causes you to be in awe. This is the fear that gives you wisdom and keeps you from sinning. Read this scripture carefully and let your heart understand:

Who will not fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed.” Revelations 15:4 NLT

Grace empowers us to say No and the fear of God keeps us from sinning. Be intentional in your holiness walk.

Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments so we can learn from each other. Sorry, this was a long post!

Holiness is for everyone

referencing Walking in Holiness

There are two facets of holiness described in scripture: a holiness which we receive because of the work of the blood of Jesus and the holiness we strive after.

To you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. 1 Cor 1:2 NLT

There is a holiness we attain in the process of salvation. This is also known as sanctification. The process of salvation begins with confessing one’s sin. This sets a snowball effect in motion as described in the scripture below.

But you were cleansed; you were made holy [sanctification]; you were made right with God [justification] by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT

At the risk of oversimplification, salvation = confession of sin (calling on the name of Jesus) –> cleansing by the blood of Jesus + sanctification + justification. We know there are more steps here according to  Romans 10:14 [How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? NIV] but I digress.

The second facet of holiness is a calling to holiness.

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. 2 Tim 1:9a NLT

In fact Ephesians 1:4 implies that the purpose of salvation is to be holy. And I know very well how difficult fulfilling this call is. Many Christians, myself included, have a desire to live a holy life but have struggled for years with particular sins or deficiencies of character. As Jerry Bridges so eloquently described me: while I am not living in gross sin, I have given up many times attaining a life of holiness and have settled for a life of moral mediocrity. Today, I am encouraged by this scripture:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:11-13 NIV

The grace of God is available to help me say NO to sin! Note that the grace is not available so I can keep sinning and repenting but God has made provision for me to denounce sin by his grace. Take a minute to think about that.

In my last blog referenced above, I spoke about reckoning yourself as dead to sin (Romans 6:11 KJV). And while it is true that considering yourself as dead to sin is a powerful first step in being able to say NO to sin, verses 11 and 12 must go hand in hand.

So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Romans 6:11-12 NLT

Because you are dead to sin, DO NOT let sin control you and DO NOT give in. Our daily victory and experience with sin is not in the reckoning of yourself as dead to sin but it is in your WILL.

Because you are dead to sin, if and when you do sin, it is not because you are powerless over sin. It is because you make the CHOICE to sin. Wow!

Dear readers herein lies the link between holiness and obedience (the submission of your will) and we will explore this further. I hope you have learned something that will enable you to be intentional in walking in holiness before your God.

Stay tuned for more. Check out Jerry Bridges’ pursuit of holiness. And share your experiences in the comments so we can all learn from each other.

referencing Be Ye Holy

Yesterday, we established that God’s character and essence is holiness and holiness is nothing less than a conformity to the character of God; a conformity to the image of Christ. The process of holiness is summed up in this scripture:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4: 22-24 NIV

Taking off the old self and putting on the new self. Period. Sounds simple right? And if holiness is that elementary why don’t Christians experience more of it? Why do many of us feel constantly defeated in our struggle with sin? Why does the church often seem more conformed to the world than to the character of God?

Putting off the old self

Although this statement sounds cliché, it is far from that. Putting off the old self involves many actionable/ practical steps that a Christian can undertake. The first is to consider yourself dead to sin.

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6: 11 NASB

This is a deep acknowledgment that you no longer have a sinful nature because you are now in Christ and affirming this knowledge in your life through your actions. This brings to mind an article I read about how elephants are tamed/trained.

The baby elephant is shackled to a secure pole with strong ropes and after pulling and twisting, and tugging, it realizes it cannot break free and stops resisting. This process is  repeated until the state of bondage becomes engrained in the elephant. Eventually, the chains are replaced with a simple rope that is usually not tethered to anything. But because the elephant becomes so accustomed to being held back, the untethered rope keeps the animal in check. The elephant considers itself in bondage although, in reality, it is free. Can you see the parallel?

This is what Jesus did for us: “He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains” Psalm 107:14 NIV. We are truly free from the oppression and bondage of sin. But do you truly know that you are free? Believe you are free? Or is it just a lofty thing you read about in the bible?

Once you come to the realization of this deep truth that you are free from sin, that you are no longer controlled by your sinful nature, and you do not have to succumb to the pressure of every temptation, you have began the process of the renewing of the mind; a vital step in the process of holiness.

So I repeat, consider yourself dead to sin! This means not toying with the notions of anything that defies the absolute moral perfection of God. It means a willingness to call sin “sin” and not categorize sin into what is unacceptable and what can be tolerated a little bit. It also means not playing with temptations by entertaining the thoughts that we can always confess and ask for forgiveness later. This brings me to the second point about putting off the old self.

Remember that holiness is a conformity to the character of God and one of the inherent characteristics of holiness is that it hates sin. We may make excuses for our sin or trivialize them but the reality is that God hates our sins. He does not say, “this is a small sin so I will overlook it”.

He hates all sin and to put off the old self means to cultivate in our heart the same hatred for sin that God has.

Frequent contemplation of God’s holiness and His hatred for sin should deter us from messing with sin. Remember Joseph, when faced with an appealing temptation to sleep with his master’s wife, said:

How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God? Genesis 39:9 NIV

Dear readers, let’s take some time to settle these two issues in our hearts: Do you live this Christian life reckoning that you are no longer bound by sin or are you constantly feeling the blows of defeat to the same sins you confess over and over again? Will you begin to consider and believe it as final that sin has no control over you? Will you begin to look at sin as an offense against the very nature of God? Will you begin to develop a hatred in your heart for those sins that you cannot seem to shake? Will your confession about sin be, “how can I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

Stay tuned for more on the holiness series and be intentional in living out your faith.

P.S. Feel free to comment below so others are blessed by your insights too.

 

Be Ye Holy

Holiness is such an interesting concept and sometimes, it is presented like it is something you can conjure up; like it is a quality you should have simply because you gave your life to Christ. However, many a christian will agree with me that the realization of holiness in the life of a person appears to be for the most part, unattainable. But why? Lets break holiness down into its fundamentals…

Holiness is not the same as righteousness.

Righteousness is to be in right standing with God; free from guilt and sin. It is also known as justification. Justification (righteousness) is by grace, through faith and comes to us by way of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.

And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,   and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:22-24 Berean Study Bible

We are righteous because of Jesus. Period. We cannot do anything to make ourselves righteous because our own righteousness is comparable to filthy rags and does not measure up in the presence of His majesty. Holiness  on the other hand, is a different ball game all together. Where righteousness is a state of being,  holiness is a transformative process where you become more like God. Holiness is the very nature, the very essence of God. God’s Holiness is as necessary as His existence and we cannot separate one from the other.

One cannot become more like God without God as the author  and architect of that process; hence, no one can attain a degree of holiness without God. God makes it possible for us to walk in holiness but we must do the walking. Let’s look at this scripture carefully:

But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 Berean Study Bible

This passage of scripture does not minimize our responsibility. As Jerry Bridges states in his book, the pursuit of holiness, some Christians are quick to talk of the provision made by Jesus Christ’s death and relinquish the process of holiness to God. Others simply do not understand the distinction between God’s provision and our own responsibility for holiness.

Unlike righteousness, where Jesus did all the work, in holiness we do some of the work.

Pursue peace with all men, as well as holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 Berean Study Bible

The word pursue suggests that it is a process; not something to be acquired like a trophy. As Jerry Bridges put it, as we begin to conform to the will of God in one area of our life, God reveals to us our failings in another area. In essence, the more you want to become like God, the more refining you will have to go through. So how can we be holy?

The idea of exactly how to be holy has in many instances, been misrepresented. To some, holiness is obeying a long list of prohibitions- usually in the area of smoking, drinking, sexuality, dressing, mannerisms, and associations, and this list varies depending on  religious grouping or church denomination. While some of these ideas are accurate to an extent, they miss the true concept of holiness and are in danger of  following the model of the Pharisees with their endless lists of do’s and don’ts and self-righteousness. So then, what does it really mean to be holy?

As you journey with me through the intentionality of living a holy life, I pray that you make the deep commitment to walk this journey faithfully by allowing God’s Spirit to convict and challenge you  as he will me, to do whatever it takes to pursue holiness.

Stay tuned for the rest of this series and be intentional in living out your faith!

P.S. check out Jerry Bridges’ book, the pursuit of holiness.