What would you tell them if a friend asked you to describe God? Many of us who consider ourselves “seasoned” Christians take our understanding of who God is for granted. Today is the first in a 4-part series entitled “Who Is This God of Ours?” which is designed to help us identify some of the important attributes of God so that we can talk with others about it.
Today’s focus is God’s HOLINESS.
Scriptures: Revelation 4:1-11; 1 Peter 1:13-19
From time to time my mother will express that one of the benefits of getting older is that you become less concerned with what other people think about you.
I’d agree with my mom, but it’s also been my own experience that that concern never quite takes its full leave. For example, how many of us don’t think twice about saying grace before eating a meal at home, but find it much more difficult to do so in a restaurant? If giving thanks to God is a part of our expression of faith, why would we not openly do that in public? If there’s a reluctance, it’s probably because at some level we’re concerned about what others might think.
Case in point: When the Detroit Annual Conference was still meeting here in Adrian, a clergy group to which I belonged always got together for a dinner at Red Lobster. A few of them were naturally gregarious, and it never failed that when the appetizers were brought to the table, one of them would stand up and invite the server to remain with us for the blessing. And, of course, the blessing was never offered in an understated, hushed tone, but always at a volume that everyone around us to hear. I’m ashamed to say that every time this happened I would become extremely uncomfortable. And I always wondered Why? Why was I embarrassed by that act of bearing witness to my faith in an absolutely non-threatening manner? The answer is simple. I was concerned about what others around us might think.
what would it take for us to be bold in living our faith once we leave this place of worship?
I think one of the biggest challenges most Christians face these days is boldly living out our faith. Being bold in our faith is a real challenge. And by ‘bold,’ I don’t’ just mean doing it publically. Being bold in our faith also means living it in a way that demonstrates full trust in God, as well being able to experience the ‘holy’ beyond the confines of a church sanctuary and the context of corporate worship. In the vernacular, I’m talking about being bold Monday-through-Saturday Christians to the point that others take notice.
The question is, what would it take for us to be bold in living our faith once we leave this place of worship? Well, one thing is for sure, time won’t necessarily make it happen. Boldness of faith and belief doesn’t happen automatically the older we get. However, what time does offer us is the opportunity to be touched by God in such a way that we consciously and purposefully choose a life of bold faith. I believe it comes down to having a certain experience of God. Specifically, God’s holiness. I think that having a powerful experience of God’s holiness can transform a person. I think it can have the effect removing their concern about making others uncomfortable with their unambiguous Christian witness and, conversely, enabling them to be bold in their Christian witness.
And I always wondered Why?Why was I embarrassed by that act of bearing witness to my faith in an absolutely non-threatening manner?
Scripture, of course, teaches that God is a holy God. So, what are we talking about when we speak of the God’s holiness? Well, if you tend to define holiness along the lines of being blameless, or pure, or even sacred, you’re correct – but that’s only one-half of its meaning. Fundamentally, holiness is about being separate, or set-apart. In the Hebrew, it comes from a word meaning “to separate or cut off.” With this in mind, to say that God is holy is to say that he is separate, or cut off, from everything that is sinful, evil, and contrary to his nature.
Scripture tells us that in his holiness, God cannot tolerate or even look upon sin:
- The prophet Isaiah says, “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isaiah 59:2).
- The psalmist makes the same point when he puts it in the positive: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).
- In the New Testament, John boldly declares that “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5).
So, to speak of God’s holiness is to affirm that he is totally and utterly separate from sin and evil.
This attribute, then, makes him one of a kind among….everything and everyone. Only God—the Creator of the universe, Yahweh—is holy. Only God is perfect, flawless, faultless, unblemished, and in this way he’s over and above everything he created. When John was given his vision of God’s throne room, he heard the inhabitants of heaven declaring this eternal truth. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come (Revelation 4:8). And according to John, this truth about God’s nature is so important that the heavenly throng “never rest day or night” in declaring this truth.
So, what is it about his holiness that can be so transformative? Think about it this way. If the human being you most admire were to suddenly appear at your front door, can you honestly tell me you wouldn’t, at least at first, be thrown and speechless? Whether we’ll readily admit it or not, every one of us would be somewhat dazzled and slightly overwhelmed if we found ourselves in the close presence of a celebrity or very important or powerful person.
I’ll give you an example from something that happened to me this week. I was recently invited to participate on a small panel, consisting of our bishop and me, who meet with a group of people who are assessing the how well Adrian College currently reflects its Methodist heritage and focus. In my twenty-five years of pastoring, I’ve never been in a situation of having to sit and talk one-on-one with the bishop. And to be honest, as kind as Bishop Bard is, I was a little nervous. When I arrived, I saw him in the hallway waiting for our turn to come to meet with the committee. When I walked up, he shook my hand and looked me in the eye and said, “Hi, Drew, it’s good to see you again.” Well, that personal encounter was enough for me to feel a little tongue-tied. I was glad that he carried much of the initial conversation with the staff member who was accompanying us in the hallway. Later on, when it was just the two of us walking out to our cars, I’m afraid to say I’m pretty sure I babbled on about nothing in particular. Why? Because in my world, the bishop’s important, even powerful. And it had an effect on me.
Well, if another person, who puts his pants on one leg at a time just like me, can have that kind of effect, what would it be like to be in the tangible presence of God Almighty? It would be absolutely overwhelming! In fact, if the gloried Christ walked into this sanctuary right now, I believe we’d be so overwhelmed by his holiness that everyone of us would fall to our knees as fast as we could, look down and away from him, and suddenly be aware of two things: the depth of our sinfulness, but also the greater depth his forgiving love. We’d be tangibly aware of his utter separateness from us, yet also his at-oneness with us. And I can only think that that experience would utterly and forever transform how we’d live out the rest of our days on planet earth. Because I don’t think that we could go away from that kind of experience and just return to ‘life as normal.’ I think experiencing Christ in that way would embolden us in ways we can’t imagine.
The Apostle Peter was a bold person by nature. There were twelve men in the boat when Jesus invited them to step out onto the water and come to him (Jesus was walking on the water at this point; see Matthew 14:22-33), but only one of them actually did so — Peter. When Jesus was preparing the disciples for his imminent death, Peter boldly declared that he would die with him. However, when it came down to it, he cowed in fear, denying that he even knew Jesus, let alone was one of his followers. After Jesus’ death, Peter hid behind locked doors with the rest of the disciples, for fear that they’d be arrested.
But then something happened to those fearful men. After the resurrected Christ presented himself to them, their fear of people was replaced with a bold, fearless faith. In the months and years to come, they became outspoken in their witness of the resurrection of Jesus, again and again defying the authorities’ demands to shut up. And tradition has it that every one of them died as martyrs. They remained bold in their witness, even in their deaths.
An encounter with God – experiencing his holiness – has the power to change our lives, filling each of us with a new courage to be bold in our Christian walk and talk. I’m not sure one can have a close encounter with God Almighty and remain timid and mousey in faith.
If, as you’ve been sitting here this morning, listening to this, and you’ve assessed that you’re not nearly as bold as you’d like to be in the living of your faith in Christ, please know that you’re not alone. I can include myself among that list. But I for one am committed to consciously moving into greater boldness of faith, and I invite you to join me. Here’s how I envision it happening, and I offer it to you for your own consideration.
Step 1: Adjust My Attitudes
The first step is to adjust my way of thinking. It’s important to replace old ways of thinking that are not aligned with God’s Word with the truths found in the Bible. So here are four important attitudes and beliefs to adopt.
New Attitude #1. I’m going to consciously adopt the attitude and, therefore, the belief, that any timidity I currently feel does not dictate what can and will be. God says, “Behold! I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5), and that includes me.
New Attitude #2. Whenever I sense in my spirit that God’s prompting me to say something or do something, and my first reaction is to feel nervous about offending someone else, I’m going to remind myself that there is absolutely no shame in the gospel. It may make others uncomfortable, or even upset, but the gospel message is truly good news even for those who don’t think it is. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed about this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work.” (Romans 1:16).
New Attitude #3. When I hear myself thinking what difference would it make, I’m going to remind myself that it’s the power of God at work, not me. It’s not on my shoulders to change someone’s mind, or make them see the truth; that’s God’s job. All I have to do is share out of my experience.
New Attitude #4. When I’m doubting that whatever I have to do or say really won’t make much of a difference, I’m going to remind myself of God’s promise that he always brings to fruition any attempt to be bold in my faith-sharing. He says, “Just as the rain and snow come down from the heavens and causes the grain to grow…so it is with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Step 2: Time with God
The second step to becoming more bold in my faith is to make sure I’m spending time alone with God on a regular basis, preferably daily, but if not, as often as I can. And that’s accomplished by two things that you can do simultaneously. First, it’s vital to be regularly in God’s Word, reading it. And not just reading through a passage in order to finish the task of doing your daily Bible reading. Reading through it is not the goal. This means making the time to be able to read the passage slowly, and many times over, allowing your spirit to set down a few roots. Make observations of the text. If anything is confusing or unclear, pose your question to the Holy Spirit, then give him time to respond. Now, in this matter let me share a personal opinion. Devotionals like The Upper Room and Our Daily Bread don’t constitute Bible reading. I’m talking about getting out your own Bible, reading it, and letting God speak to you, not another person.
Along with reading Scripture regularly, preferably every day, spending time with God involves talking to and listening to him. 2-way prayer. I’m not talking about closing your Scripture reading with “Thank you God, now bless my day, Amen” prayer. No, I’m talking about sitting there in silence for many minutes, just listening with your heart. You don’t have to close your eyes or fold your hands or bow your head. In fact, I find that I’m usually kind of staring at the text. I’m not so much reading it, but looking at it, kind of zoning out.
Step 3: See God In Action
The third step is to consciously remain aware of what’s happening around you throughout your day. And when you notice something nice, or beautiful, or a kind action of another person – anything that you might consider a blessing, even if small – consciously note it, and thank God for it. Give him the credit for it! This is the act of looking to see God at work around you in your everyday life. The more you and I can be aware of God at work, the easier it become to respond accordingly.
For example, when I came to work one morning this week, the first thing I saw was this turkey vulture up on the cross about the fellowship hall. With his wings spread out like that, my honest-to-God first thought was, That turkey vulture is blessing our church!!! That’s seeing God in action!
Step 4: Obediently Do It!
The fourth and last step is probably the most challenging. And it flows out of incorporating the previous three steps into our daily lives. And that’s to choose to step out in obedience if and when you feeling even the smallest prompting of the Holy Spirit in your own spirit.
For example, has the music in worship ever moved you so that you a part of you wanted to raise your hand up, cup them in front of you, but you didn’t because you were afraid that the others around you would think you just went off the deep end?
Or have you ever wanted to affirm to something in worship by saying, “Amen, ” but didn’t because that’s not how we do things here, and you didn’t want others to think you strange? If so, what if all of us, including me, were to see that as an opportunity to actually do the very thing we’re feeling nudged to do, come what may? Maybe the reluctance we feel – mostly because we’re concerned about what others might think – is the sign to step forward in faith and act in obedience.
To me, this lines up with what Peter says in today’s reading: “Don’t be conformed to your former desire [or you former ways of thinking and acting], those that shaped you when you were ignorant [when you were a babe in your faith]. But, as obedient children, you must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-15).
In this case, to be holy is to consciously align ourselves with our Holy God –through beliefs and attitudes that are aligned with God’s promises,
through spending time in God’s holy Word and 2-say prayer,
through learning to see God at work all around us every day,
and through obediently responding to God’s nudging’s,
so that we consciously become vessels through whom his life-transforming holiness can be perceived by others. When we encounter the holy in God, it changes us. And when we live boldly for Jesus Christ, others will be drawn to him, and they will be changed. May it be so starting today!