In this week's lesson from Psalm 99, we focused on worshiping God as The Holy One. Any time you are reflecting on who God is, especially his essential attributes such as holiness, you are undoubtedly left with plenty of questions. I know that's how I felt in studying and preparing this sermon.
We see in scripture, like in the example we studied from Leviticus 10, that God takes his holiness seriously, and in turn, we need to show him the respect and reverence he is due when we interact with and worship him. At the same time, we see that our Lord is a God of grace and mercy, and that he loves and cares for us in spite of our many shortcomings. Our goal as Christians is to maintain a healthy balance of fear and respect, while at the same time resting in the freedom we have in Christ as we pursue holiness in our own lives. This may sound easy enough, but in practice, we can often struggle.
When we get out of balance, on one hand, we can become rigid and legalistic. Rather than living lives that are marked by and saturated in Gospel truth, we become arrogant and self-righteous as we tirelessly work to outwardly look like something we aren't. Jesus compares people trapped in legalism to "whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27).
On the other hand, when the pendulum swings the other way, we encounter laziness. We love to herald grace as a free gift from God, because it doesn't require any effort on our part. When taken out of context, this too can be a misrepresentation of the Gospel. Proverbs 13:4 says "The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied." The keyword there is "soul." The proverb isn't talking about worldly labor that leads to financial prosperity, but rather a spiritual labor that leads to a wealth of spiritual blessing. Likewise, Paul writes in Philippians 2:13, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." There is a very real sense in which we are called to pursue righteousness through Gospel-empowered, grace-fueled, striving.
So, how are we to find balance? Perhaps the best biblical instruction on the matter comes from 1 Peter 1:13-25:
"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.' And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for 'All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.'
And this word is the good news that was preached to you."
I think Peter gives us a few useful principles that can help us find balance in our pursuit.
1. Prepare your mind AND set your hope full on grace
The Christian faith is a balance of intellect and emotion. All head and no heart leads to arrogance. All heart and no head leads to an immature faith. We must feed our minds with the truth of God's word. This means we need to be students of scripture, with a deep love of doctrine. On the other hand, we must drink deeply from the well of grace that comes through the continual proclamation of the Gospel. It's not enough to know about God...we need to know him, personally and intimately.
2. Don't be conformed by your passions
This one is simple. You can't trust yourself. Your flesh and your desperately broken and wicked heart will lead you astray. Deep inside of you there is a war raging daily between the new, spiritually alive man of Christ and the old, dead man of sin. It is quite literally a fight for your life and you play an important part in deciding the outcome. The more you feed, supply, and reinforce the "good guy," the more you empower him to fight for and win the day. Every battle is important, and every victory, no matter how small, helps us increase our chances of winning the next one.
3. Call on him
Prayer is an extremely beneficial, yet far too often underutilized tool for our spiritual vitality. I'm sure we can all list plenty of reasons why we don't pray as much as we should. But none of them hold any water. We are commanded to pray. Moreover, Jesus modeled a vibrant and powerful prayer life for us. Even a cursory study of the gospels will reveal our Savior's deep dependence on prayer. Jesus prayed all of the time...when he was strong, when he was weak, when he was afraid, when he was in need, when he was well cared for, and on and on and on. If Jesus, the God-Man, depended upon prayer for his spiritual well-being, who are we to think we can neglect it in our own lives?
4. Conduct yourself with fear
One of the key points of this week's lesson that I hope was adequately communicated is that God is holy (or other than). As such, he, and he alone, deserves our reverence and worship. When we don't show God the respect he is due, we are treading on dangerous ground. Time and time and time again, scripture reminds us to fear God...not because he is scary, but because he is the Almighty, Sovereign, and Holy Creator and King of the entire universe!
5. Know that you were ransomed with the blood of Christ
The greatest gift we can receive as believers is to be reminded of the Gospel. The Gospel gives us hope, fuels our affections, empowers our efforts in sanctification, heals our afflictions, humbles us, strengthens us,and reminds us we are loved and cared for...among many other things. Our lives begin and end on the Gospel. If we get that wrong, nothing else will work right. It binds all things together in our lives. Your life was bought with a price through the blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Never forget it!
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 3 - Delighting in God as The Holy One
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How is God's holiness described in scripture?
2. What does holiness mean for us?
3. How should we respond in light of God's holiness?