Behold, a throne was standing in heaven and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance (from Revelation 4:2-3)
John’s Revelation is constructed of mere words. Just how close can human language get in representing the transcendent glory of God’s holiness? I believe John’s words are precisely what he was shown but that does not directly equate to reality. I believe what John saw was light years beyond human comprehension or description. In this assault on John’s human consciousness there was nothing remotely familiar to him. God had to strengthen him supernaturally in the Spirit to even survive this encounter. When John was returned from the Spirit, I believe he must have been frustrated, “How can I accurately tell this story?” The best descriptors available to him were this earth’s most precious stones and its most severe weather. Yet God allowed John to see so that he could report, and his report is invaluable.
The linchpin of evangelical Christianity is our personal relationship with God yet as I read John’s revelation I respond, “Oh Lord, this is not the primary vision I have of You. How are John’s words intended to effect my relationship with You?”
You and I do not have the same revelation that John did but that does not mean we are without revelation. I am most grateful to the writer of Hebrews.
And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3)
Again human language obstructs, but from that place, light years beyond light years away, the Son of Man came and gave us the revelation intended for us – Jesus of Nazareth. However alien and terrifying the God of Revelation may be, He chose to come to us as a Shepherd – the safest of all people to jittery sheep. God chose to span the dimensions and the millenniums as a Shepherd to rescue you and I.
We began our week by asking just what holiness was. As the week has come to a close, I am satisfied we are looking directly at holiness when we see Jesus. John’s revelation only serves to amplify the glory of Jesus. While John makes God’s otherness stunningly clear, I am simultaneously stunned that the radiance of His glory knew splinters and had dirt under His fingernails. I am awe struck that the exact representation of His holy nature touched whores and lepers and then sat down at the right hand of His Majesty on high. I am grateful that it is Jesus’ gritty hands that now hold all things together.
I believe in Jesus we not only have a door standing open in heaven, I believe we have a bridge Who spans the impossible chasm sin has created between man and God. And, if you have ears to hear, Christ is prepared to even become your life. If you are questioning, deep in your heart, which side of this chasm you are standing, receive Christ and become a child of God. Repent of whatever illusions have held you captive. Accept the Shepherd’s hand outstretched and be transported from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of your Father. So be it.
The Law was only a shadow of the good things to come. It could never, by the same sacrifices, perfect a worshipper’s conscience. If it had, its continuation would have been unnecessary. Animal blood won’t remove sins, it can only serve as a reminder of them. (a paraphrase of Hebrews 10:1-3)
The Law hinted at good things to come but it was kept, at least in part, to avoid a consequence. Parents aspire that their children eventually do the right things because they are right, not because the will suffer if they don’t. Parent’s don’t want their children living out of fear, but until they are mature, disobedience and punishment are essential. When my grandchildren disobey (or are considering it) they are warned, “If you disobey, you will receive a consequence.”
Earthly parents are trying to raise their kids so that they can one day integrate into society as healthy, independent and responsible people. Spiritual parents are trying to integrate those around them into the kingdom of God as healthy, God-dependent and God-gifted people.
God’s objectives are higher than ours though; He initially gave his children the Law to help them live in harmony with Him, each other and His creation and as a tutor, who was pointing them toward Jesus – the Lamb of God. The tutor’s primary message was this: All those millions of gallons of animal blood never cleansed a single conscience. The Law was designed to reinforce their need and point them to their coming Remedy.
He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (from Hebrews 10:9-10)
Father took away the the Law (which was pointing to Life) in order to establish Jesus (Who is the Life). He took away what had first been chiseled in stone in order to plant the Second in our hearts. In Christ, we have been sanctified, once and for all!
Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14)
We have been made into a holy people, standing continually as priests – stewards of the Life of God within us. Our sacrifice is our acknowledgement of the finished nature of our salvation and sanctification. We have been made holy! Our enemy makes inroads when we think of sanctification as those continuous offerings we must perform as mere sinners saved by grace. In this mode, we take on a false holiness that lives in continual remembrance of its sin. This is sold at some outlets as discipleship but it is not. This busy religious life leaves God’s children in a place of adolescence and impotency. The practical outworking of our salvation (aka sanctification) is completely dependent on our dependency on Christ. He (who dwells in us) is the hope of glory.
I concur with Jesus; “It is finished!” Everything required for our salvation and our sanctification is complete, in Christ. Yet, we do not live in sinless perfection because of our flesh. Even as new creations we are left to work out this salvation that is in us. I have no fear or trembling of God’s intentions toward me or of final outcomes. God is good and there are very good things to come. However, I am not above a little fear and trembling when it comes to the process aspect of sanctification which involves consequences.
We are not orphans nor are we illegitimate. God is our Father and He is actively transforming us into the image of his Son. Christ is in us. For His holiness to find its way to the surface while the flesh is protesting, at the very least, will provoke (if not fear and trembling) a little awe and wonder. I am right there with my grandkids. I am progressively learning obedience and consequently, I am (more often) doing the right things for the right reasons. These right things are not burdensome because they are coming from the new rightness in my heart.
Father, bring many sons and daughters into maturity for your name’s sake. We look forward to the day when the world sees you as our perfect Parent.
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)
Peter believed the end of all things was at hand so he is withholding nothing. His words are like the father who is calling out to his child on their last lap of the big race. He is pulling no punches in regard to what he understands about being holy. I’m going to relay some of the things this great spiritual father is calling out to us as we run.
God himself signed us up for this race when he caused us to be born again. He did this so we would gain what awaits us at the finish line – an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for us. He is saying he knows many of the previous laps were grueling but that by enduring those laps, we qualify ourselves for praise, glory and honor. Ultimately Peter tells us we will meet Him who signed us up and strengthened us in our running and as a little bonus… we obtain the salvation of our souls.
“Focus children!” The father yells out to us, “Stay focused! You can do this because I did it. My sweat and my blood equip you to run. You watched me do this. Just follow my example. You are born of my Seed which is imperishable. My Life – My Word – Jesus, is the living and enduring word of God within you! You and He will endure to the finish line, and far beyond.”
When I was 15 I thought I was a pretty good broad jumper and I thought I was pretty fast, that is until the track meet. I recall jumping against Renaldo Martino, a boy my age from another junior high school. It was as though he was a frog and I was a flea. He was also at the starting line of the 220 yard dash. After the gun went off, we were neck and neck, for about 5 feet. The frog had turned into a rabbit and I, apparently, a tortoise. When we rounded the curve, Renaldo and the pack left me behind. Something in me just died. Mid race, I knew I was an inferior athlete. I just walked off the track, leaving it to the beings it was designed for.
Quitting was a mistake, one I regret. There were some people watching who were not just interested in the power in my legs. Those who mattered were prepared to applaud what was in that boy’s heart. Had that boy just finished the race, he would have made a few fans very happy. Quitting is a terrible thing to do to yourself and to those who love you.
Don’t we feel a bit like giving up though when we, the fallen offspring of Adam, are commanded to be holy as God is holy? Isn’t that like setting the high jump bar at 20 feet? When I feel the gravity of my flesh, I am tempted to think the bar has been set unfairly – for a different breed of athlete than I. But I haven’t quit. In my discouragement I have probably slowed down to a walk a few times, but I am still on the track. And, I hear a crowd of voices cheering me on, One in particular, who has heard my cry. He is saying,
You are going to cross the finish line Rob! You are going to cross it in your stride! Don’t compare yourselves to others. Run your race. You can be holy because I am holy. Holiness is not achieved through abstinence or prohibitions. Holiness is My life and I gave it to you freely! Live and run, out of My Life in you. I’m with you now and I’ll certainly be there at the finish line.
I have found something to be true about human beings. We are typically capable of much more than we think we are capable of. In Christ, our inner reserves of strength are far more than we know. When the tests or the trials come, we must not look at others and compare. We must simply say, “Thank You Lord, for this lap. Do not let me run it without understanding Your heart.” With this attitude we waste none of our training, and we come to know the Coach.
Read 1 Peter. The apostle truly believes everyone’s race is about to end. He is admonishing them, “Brace yourself. You are going to suffer. But you will not be disappointed!” Listen to Hebrews 1:1-3. Different coach, same exhortation;
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Father, teach us to run our race out of Your life in us. Help us to maintain our stride, in Christ. Train us to keep our eyes on You, our Life, our example and our finish line. Let this be so.
When I asked you on Monday what your first thoughts were when you considered the word holiness, some of you thought of compliance with some legalistic code of behavior. Pentecostal Holiness? Mennonite Holiness? Puritan Holiness? Whoever Holiness. Some sects and denominations have trafficked heavily in this kind of spirituality in an effort to…
possess their own vessels in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, for God has called us for the purpose of purity. (And let it be known) he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, parentheses mine)
Our efforts to possess our own vessels in sanctification is more complicated than just identifying everything we think of as unholy about ourselves and then abstaining. What does one do with that unholy thought in the presence of this command? Just edit it out? Many a soul has tried. They have seen that thing within and agreed with the preacher that there is no good in them. In shame and fear of consequence they cap that thought and try to move on to things a bit more lovely and worthy of praise, but the unholy thought persists, driving the haver-of-that-thought to despair and a deeper conviction of their depravity. With this pattern of thinking, one is more apt to create and addict than a saint.
The book of Romans (written 7 years later) may have been very useful to the Thessalonian Holiness Movement in counseling those struggling with their personal sanctification. If all they heard Paul say was, be pure or else, it is doubtful if they made any progress in maintaining their own vessels with honor. Their inconsistency was bound to have puzzled them as they gave themselves wholeheartedly to managing their own sin. Perhaps Paul’s own theology was evolving as he too was personally working out his salvation in fear and trembling.
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man (Dr. Jeckel), but I see a different law in the members of my body (Mr Hyde), waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:21-24)
This passage looks like the sweaty kind of revelation a wrestler gets about his opponent when he has once again been pinned to the mat. It seems that in regard to sanctification, Paul had met his match. Interestingly, not once did Paul mention the flesh to the Thessalonians. This makes me think that he gleaned this knowledge as he tried to reform the Mr. Hyde within. I believe Paul’s victory over his flesh was secured as he pieced together a picture of his own dueling natures in light of the prevailing authorities: The Law? Or the Spirit? Paul understood as well as anyone that the Law’s singular contribution to the new life was as a tutor. It could teach, like no other, how futile sanctification is (void of Spirit) in the flesh.
For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. (Romans 7:5)
If we make a vow, take a pledge, make a promise or commit to personal holiness, the Law will step up to the lectern and make her point; “Moral rallies only excite the flesh. They are doomed from the outset. You must walk in the Spirit. Are we now clear?”
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:6)
Paul had to reckon that his Mr. Hyde (the flesh) had been crucified and that his spirit was resurrected in Christ – raised up with a new nature. A NEW NATURE! From his revelations by the Spirit, through his own experience, and from those he met with, Paul arrived at a victorious theology regarding his inner duel. He reasoned…
So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (an adaption of Romans 7:24-25)
Paul may have not have fully understood the flesh and the Spirit when he first wrote to the Thessalonians but he did lay a foundation stone that would contribute to a future understanding of being made holy and sanctification…
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
Once again, Life (which, by nature, includes holiness) is in the Seed. James concurs…
In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (from James 1:21)
I have approached holiness from a vain, naive place that was heavily dependent on my convictions and my will power. This was the best formula I can imagine in creating a yo-yo Christian. I was up on the days when I believed myself to be in compliance. I was down on those days when my performance was lagging. This was futility and striving after the wind. The tutor did her work however. I have come to understand that our Christian lives are nothing less than the Life of Christ. I have been FAR more successful in maintaining my vessel in honor by honoring the spiritual reality of my new nature and reckoning that my flesh has been crucified. After all, the Holy Spirit now indwells us.
Father, by your grace and mercy we have become a holy people and a royal priesthood. May this secret and its implication somehow leak out. May it dawn upon us who we actually are as Jesus’ younger brothers and sisters and as a new race of people. Amen.
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach – if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23)
Do any of the following words or phrases describe the way you feel about your relationship with God? Merely accepted? Tolerated? Not quite there? Trying hard? Often discouraged? Feel like an imposter? Let’s review some of the things Paul told the Colossians who had been making great headway on the main highway but who were now in the ditch, stuck in some errant thoughts about their God. Let me begin by encouraging you that God is even more faithful than AAA when we are stuck. His hand is always outstretched to those asking to be lifted out of the muck.
While our heresy may not be the same as the Colossians, if we are trying hard to be a good Christian we are in the muck. We will be spinning our wheels with thoughts that keep us alienated and even hostile in mind to the grace of God. Feeling merely tolerated and trying harder is deep muck. I’m speaking as one who knows this ditch. The tow line is always the Word and the Spirit. What do they have to say?
He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach. (Colossians 1:22)
Paul is speaking to stuck Colossians. Do you hear anything about the Colossian’s contribution to their own rescue? Do your hear anything about their efforts? No, because other than asking for help, the effort (if you can even call it that) is all God’s. In fact, they went into the ditch while trying to stay out of it. They had been adding things to the simple gospel. Their vehicle lurched off the road when they began approaching God with human effort in order to sustain their holiness.
I am not unfamiliar with discouragement. I’ve been in both the south-bound and the north-bound ditches. Let me tell you first about the south bound. I grew up in a cold-Baptist turned lukewarm-Presbyterian-home. In my organ-thundering church, I was sprinkla-tized as an infant and run through the Communicant Class at 13. (None of this was voluntary.) Even though I received a presentation Bible and a certificate declaring my good standing with the church and (God?) nothing had sprouted. No fruit was produced. If I ever write a chronological account of my life, I will title the period from ages 13 to 23 as “The Decade of Alienation and Hostility.”
The following story will give you an idea of my unborn-again spirituality. I recall a mini-revival my first year at OSU. It began because I felt mini-regret for attending the Campus Crusade song service while drunk as a sailer on leave. Myself and a friend sang with unholy gusto and, as I recall, with raised (mocking) hands. That evening (yes, I had been drinking early) I proclaimed to my roommate. “We need to be better Christians.” From his Baptist-backslidden heart, he was compelled to say, “Amen!”
The next day, I glued all the drawers shut in his desk. I also stole his fetal pig for his biology class, did my own dissection, and distributed its parts strategically among his belongings. The abdominal parts went into his radio (which I had disassembled). The tail went into his toothpaste. When he brushed his teeth the next day, my sins were exposed. He was not nearly as impressed with my creativity as I was. My point? I had no clue who God was. I was buried to the axle in the south-bound ditch where I was to stay for another 5 years. I am confessing to misdemeanors here. There were plenty of felonies to come. I was headed deep into the domain of darkness. I had not been born again, no matter what the certificate said.
Whatever seed the shepherds had sown had not taken root. To this date, I don’t know if it was an issue of bad seed or a bad heart (maybe both?). My thought life was accelerating rapidly from alienation to outright hostility. I was now whole-heartedly pursuing evil deeds. In a very real sense the prodigal had taken his inheritance and was squandering it in a debauched lifestyle. I was south-bound and down.
Five years later, after flunking out of college, being thrown in jail a few times and wrecking a few cars (and lives?) I found myself buried in darkness. I was a radical failure. I was a profound looser. I hated myself and others for what my life had become. I tried hard labor which would atone (in the Cummins family religion) for sin. I also tried on pop-phycology and transcendental meditation. The world did not have any salve available for my wound. I did not just feel lost and lonely; I knew I was being held prisoner. Something dark had its its clutches in me. It was pulling me downward. I knew it intended to kill me. In my despair, I had reconciled myself to this fate. Only the detail’s of my demise were left to be worked out. Yet, in muck, up to my eyeballs, I asked Jesus to rescue me. Effortlessly, he popped me out of the ditch.
He rescued me from the domain of darkness, and transferred me to the kingdom of His beloved Son. (adapted from Colossians 1:13)
I was on the main highway. Whew!!!! OMG!!!! I had no clue what Light and Life actually looked like. It was brilliant!!! I had been born again. I reasoned, “I cannot go back into darkness. I must do whatever it takes to stay out of that south bound ditch!!!” I want to live a life that is pleasing to God! I must choose a lifestyle that embodies my gratitude (and keeps me out of the ditch). This must be my call into ministry.” And, deep in my heart, I also thought, “Is it my imagination, or do I hate myself far less than I used to?”
Did you hear the error in my reasoning? It was the “I must do ” clause. In my zeal, the seeds of human effort were already present for life as an elder brother, who would get stuck on more than one occasion in the north bound ditch of religion. As the parable tells us; elder brothers can be just as alienated and hostile in mind as a prodigal can, perhaps even worse, because they believe they have been snubbed. The elder brother’s ditch is deeper because they don’t even believe they are stuck.
Do you feel accepted? Tolerated? Not quite there? Trying hard? Often discouraged? Feel like an imposter? I began with these questions because they are elder brother symptoms of which I am intimately familiar. These are the heart cries of those in the north-bound ditch. They usually have to get muck deep in their engine before they cry out because of the perks of religion. The religious crowd will applaud them as they exhaust themselves (hopefully, for God’s sake) in the myriad wheel spinning missions of the local Shepherd and his staff.
These expenditures of spiritual energy are an affront to the grace of God. The man in the southbound ditch is alienated from God because he never knew him. He had never received the grace of God. The person in the northbound ditch has received the grace of God and then squandered it in his efforts to be a good and acceptable child. Paul would ask,
Were you placed up on the main highway by your own efforts? Did you ever get yourself out of a ditch by downshifting and giving it more gas? How do you plan on completing this journey from down there? (thoughts inspired by Galatians 3)
Having been popped out of the ditch of Pharisaic zeal, Paul has weighed in with apostolic authority. How well he understood our plight! To those in the southbound ditch, who have never tasted of God’s grace and to those who have tasted and have spit it out, he says…
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. (Galatians 2:20-21)
The Law happened to be the ditch where Paul was spinning his wheels. Every man has his own ditches. There must come a time and place where we acknowledge our heart’s plight and ask for the only true help available to us. If you feel like a step child to God; if you know you have not been born-again; if you feel like a discouraged imposter, reach up. Jesus eagerly waits to get us up on the main highway, where the life of Christ is our energy. Resting then in His efforts, and the Gift of His Life, we can then pray and proclaim with Paul…
Now to You Father who are able to keep me out of the ditches, and have made me to stand in the presence of Your glory blameless with great joy, to You my only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ my Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (adapted from Jude 24)
If any of you want to talk to me in greater depth about your experience or mine, I’m available.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:10)
Life is in the Seed. Unless the Lord is the Seed, they labor in vain who tend the garden. On earth our hearts are this garden. If the Seed has been planted and has taken root we have become children of God. If the Seed has not taken root, we are not His children. Children begin with the Seed. If we are to be holy as God is holy, our success rests in this reality and no other. We resemble our parents because we came from their seed. So, to do our part as stewards of our own hearts, we must realize when God tells us to be holy we must first realize that we are holy – even if this holiness is embryonic.
If we have an understanding of holiness as a mere moral attribute, there will a compulsion to go out and do what we think are holy things. To be sure, there is doing in tending our garden but if the doing is without respect to the Seed, we will develop as mere human (religious) doings with mere human fruit as opposed to any God-birthed fruit that would spring up, causing righteousness and praise to blossom before the nations.
I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
Isaiah’s mixed metaphors don’t need to throw us. We can get from the garden to the wardrobe with a little effort. Assuming Adam and Eve were adorned in God’s finest before they donned their first animal skins, we can assume God is speaking (through Isaiah) of something internal as opposed to external, something spiritual as opposed to material when he is referring to our garments.
When Christ lives in the garden of our hearts, there are always wardrobe upgrades. As we live with Christ as our life, we will find ourselves rejoicing and exulting in our Lord; for we will be like Adam and Eve. We will have nothing but Christ as our clothing, nothing to explain our lives but Jesus. When we are at rest in the understanding that Christ is our life, we adorn ourselves with our finest jewel – Christ alone. He (exclusively) is our hope of glory.
Father, teach us to do our part well as stewards of Your Life in us. May the mystery of Your Seed grow and escape the boundaries of our gardens, bearing fruit that is available to those You have placed near to us. May we truly be holy as You are holy. Amen.