THE WAY OF HOLINESS
Preparing for the Heavenly Bridegroom
"For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God (Yahweh-Elohim): the Lord thy God (Yahweh-Elohim) hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6, KJV).
I wonder how many of you have come to realise, having studied the sciptures with a view to implementing them in your lives, that the most important element in our religion is what the Lord halls holiness. Now this doesn't mean that we are to be self-righteous or to have a "holier-than-thou" attitude. This is not the meaning of holiness. No, the holiness I want to talk about today is the holiness without which noone will be able to see the Lord and commune with Him face-to-face (Heb.12:14).
The word holiness ought to be one that needs no definition because it is enshrined in one of the names that the Lord has given us, namely saints. For the Hebrew word for 'holy' is Kadesh and means "set aside", "separated", or "consecrated". In the Old Testament passage we have just read, the Israelite people were chosen or selected by the Lord for a special mission. In other words, they were called to play the most difficult and dominant part in the divine plan which charted human destiny. Indeed, the Israelites were called to be the instruments in God's hand whereby His love and purposed could be revealed to the world.
God was, of course, concerned about other races of people as much as He was concerned about the Israelites. The same God who had blessed Abraham had also blessed Lot and his descendants. The same God who had blessed Isaac had also blessed Ishmael and his children (Gen.16:10; 17:20).
As we know from history, many kings and princes, the descendants of Ishmael, have ruled over Arabia and, politically, have played a greater part in human history than the descendants of Isaac did over Palestine. The Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael, were the builders of one of the greatest empires in the world.
Likewise we can trace the blessings of the lost ten tribes of Israel throughout the centuries after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. We see how, for example, the British and German Empires left their marks in the world, for both good and evil. God blessed these nations, giving them the political means to establish themselves and the agency to use that power. They were blessed according to the promises made to their forefathers, whom they have largely forgotten. Their lights shone and then went out, just as the lights of Arabia shone for a while and then fell into darkness.
The Lord, therefore, blesses every nation and gives them the opportunity to exercise those blessings, for good or evil. But the mission of Israel was diffferent to the Arabs and other peoples who have played a role in history, for their mission was, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, purely spiritual (Rom.9:6-8). They were called to bring God's truth and light into the world. Moreover, this call to righteousness, and the blessings associated with it, were subject to the loyalty and the obedience of the people (Deut.28).
God does not discriminate between people and races, but He chooses certain races for certain purposes because of their qualifications. The Israelites were better qualified in the field of religion than other races. God chooses people for all kinds of purposes and objectives. And when they fail, He rejects them and calls others. And thus, as Paul says to the Galatian saints, those who believe in the faith of Abraham are the heirs to his religion (Gal.3:29).
Holiness in the New Covenant
As we know from the writings of Paul, the heirs to the religion God established through Abraham are the saints of the New Covenant. We know also that those who accept Jesus as the promised Messiah, and place their whole trust in Him, become the New Israel (See the article by the author, What is the New Israel?). Therefore the promises made to the old Israel, plus all the requirements for salvation, become binding on the new Israel, though on a much higher level, depending on the type of covenant. Therefore this people, like all others who accept Christ, are set apart and called into a life of holiness.
But what is holiness? We have seen that it is not self-righteousness and that it is not acting in such a "holier-than-thou" way. Unfortunately too many people have sought to put themselves above others and in so doing totally misunderstood what real holiness is.
To begin with, I am going to compare holiness with a scripture in the Book of Ecclesiastes. This is not a book of scripture that is often read, unfortunately, for it contains great pearls of wisdom. The writer of this book, believed by many to have been King Solomon, the great philosopher-king of Israel, came to this conclusion about life, a conclusion we dare not ignore. And he said:
The Book of Ecclesiastes is a bit like a seesaw which is not balanced, that is, with the fulcrum not in the middle but towards one end. For the seesaw to balance, a very heavy person is needed to sit on the short end and a lighter person on the long end. That unbalanced seesaw is a good picture of our own lives. The writer of Ecclesiastes saw this very clearly. As a man, he made wonderful plans, did marvelous works, exercised great wisdom, and yet came to the startling conclusion that it was all "vanity", like "chasing wind".
"The end of the matter, after everything has been considered, is, Fear God! And keep His commandments! This is what being human is all about. For God will bring every deed to judgment -- every hidden thing -- whether it is good or evil" (Eccl.12:13-14, author's translation).
When I first read this book I felt very depressed. "What's the point, then", I asked myself, "of making great plans and doing my best to realise them, if it is all vain and like chasing wind?" For many years I used to retreat to this book when my plans failed and I felt sorry for myself. I used to derive a sort of perverse comfort from it, thinking that if Solomon discovered that great plans in life were a waste of time, that maybe I should pack it in. You see, my mother taught me to be a planner. She taught me that organisation was the key to success. In her younger days she had run her own guest house and been very succesful and throughout her life was always in demand as an organiser. Even in her old age she is still sought out by the local political party she belongs to because of her skill. And yet I could see that she was not happy. Whenever I visit her in England she proudly tells me of all the things she has achieved for the local party and then bitterly complains about the way they use her to further their own power struggles. So whilst I could see the great fruits of planning, and the success it brought her, like Solomon I wondered if it was all in vain, like "chasing the wind".
But then I made a discovery that changed my whole perception about this book and the man who wrote it. I should have seen it but I didn't because I was using it for the wrong motives. Yes, planning and working hard are fine, but on one condition -- a condition, incidentally, Solomon (to take a good example) discovered too late in his life -- planning and hard work are fine SO LONG AS ONE FEARS GOD AND HIS JUDGMENT, AND KEEPS HIS COMMANDMENTS.
A famous Jew by the name of Herzl, who founded the Zionist movement (and is either loved or hated for it), had an epigram that I like because it reflects very much my own sentiments. It was: "If you will it, it is no dream". For a dream to come true, you must have will-power, and to have will-power you must have faith. But Herzl was no religious man and he left out an essential dimension in his epigram. Willing something to happen, or dreaming something to happen, is not sufficient in the arena of the Gospel. For unless we have the mind of God, our own dreamings and willings are chasing wind. Have you every tried to chase the wind? I recommend you try it sometime. Go outside on a windy day and see if you can catch it! To find God, we need more than will-power (or faith) and dreaming (or a vision of Zion) -- we need HOLINESS.
God has a plan -- a master plan. Some people call it the "Plan of Salvation", though I think that is an incorrect use of the word salvation, implying that we must work for it instead of receiving Christ's free gift. Rather, I would speak of the Plan of Exaltation, the way whereby we can enter into the Church of the Firstborn and receive everything that the Father desires us to have. That Plan involves the building of Zion, a community of the saints living the firstborn life in all holiness. That is what we as a Church are striving towards. It is what we have been called to. It has been our plan since the Church was organised back in 1988.
What does that "plan" include? It includes, for one thing, very practical things. There are, in the scriptures, alot of things we are commanded to do. In the New Testament alone, there are (by one estimate) 1,050 commandments of all kinds! 1,050 things we are supposed to do! (Evangelical Christians should make a note of that!). But a plan without holiness is like a car without fuel. Holiness and planning are like a wife and husband. Separately they are useless, for they cannot create anything. No husband and wife, no children. No planning and no holiness, no Kingdom of God. It's that simple.
Holiness means doing everything in life in the fear of God and in obedience to His commandments. That includes planning, programming, building, administering, researching, writing, working, playing, etc.. There are clearly times to retreat from the bustle of daily activity and to "wait upon the Lord" as we learn from the lives of Jesus, Elijah, Moses and Joseph amongst many others. But these retreats prepare us for advances. The Scriptures teach that progress comes in conjunction with human planning and willing participation, not from passive indecision. The planning must be done with a willingness to set the plan aside in order to follow God's immediate instruction -- we worship God, not the plan. But when we don't hear such an instruction -- when God does not speak to us directly with an unequivocal revelation --then we follow the plan. Gods blessing may come in a manner unrelated to the plan, yet the planning itself will have been obedience to God.
I am speaking here of individuals. In the light of what we know from the scriptures and what God has revealed personally for us by direct revelation, it is our responsibility to sit down and work out a plan for our lives, both short-term and long. We should then follow that plan until God speaks to us either confirming, modifying, or rejecting that plan. That is the way a disciple should order his life. Having made personal plans we should not forget, however, that there are three levels of planning, and likewise, three levels of holiness. And it is these that I want to briefly touch now.
THREE LEVELS OF HOLINESS
Firstly, we must begin with personal holiness. Individual holiness is loving God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength (Deut.5:5; Mark 12:30). This includes praying, repenting, forgiving, committing ourselves to God and to one another, and to spreading the Gospel, to name but a few. It includes being discipled, as well as discipling others, to be involved in the local fellowship or congregation, to love God and our neighbour, and not to love the world except in the way that God loves the world, which was to give His only begotten Son Jesus, that whosoever trusts in Him should have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed (John 3:16). It includes avoiding selfish concerns, pride, fleshly methods, and the abuse of power. It includes seeting aside our differences, regarding others above self. It involves taking the unity God gives us in the Church when we are faithful and making it real on earth amongst those who are not of the Covenant. It includes doing by faith the good works that God has prepared us to do. It includes keeping close to the Lord. All these things ought to be obvious to us for they are everywhere spoken of in the Scriptures, and are written in the hearts of all true believers, even if we do not always meet up to every standard of holiness. Yet so long as we are repenting when we fail, that holiness will never depart from us.
Personal holiness would not be difficult to achieve were we to live as isolated individuals. It is not difficult to achieve provided one has faith and obedience, but cannot exist without what I am going to call "interpersonal holiness", or what the Scriptures call "loving one's brother" (or sister) (1 John 4:7-21). The Jews call it being a mentsh, a word which comes from the German "Mensch" (a man). But a mentsh -- either a man or a woman -- is more than just Homo sapiens -- a mentsh is a real person, what a human being ought to be: upright, ethical, caring, soft at the right time and firm at the right time -- or, as the English writer Rudyard Kipling expresses it in his book, "If":
Being a mentsh also means getting along with each other, allowing for the fact that on many doctrinal and practical matters we are all at different levels of sanctification and priesthood. It means preserving the brotherhood whilst everyone "works out salvation in fear and trembling" (Phil.2:12), to use Paul's words. Or to use the language of the modern revelations, it means accepting on faith that which we do not understand, by living in the fear of God and in obedience to His Word. (For the truth is that everyone finds parts of the Word of God hard to understand, myself included). It also means accepting that God manifests Himself in many different ways according to the Covenant we are in.
"If you can keep your head when those (round about) you
Are losing theirs and blaming you;
If you can ,
Then yours is the world, and all that is in it,
And what is more, you'll become a man", a mentsh, "my son."
If, for example, a member is sceptical of some of the spiritual gifts, for whatever reason (perhaps fear, or misunderstanding), then God will manifest Himself in those gifts that he does believe in. Another member may have faith in another set of gifts, with God manifesting Himself through those in that person. Both should respect each other in terms of what God is doing through them whilst at the same time acknowledging that they must yet repent for their lack of faith and unity. Therefore a member who does not have the gift of teaching or prophecy, for example, should not despise this gift in another, but rather identify the areas where his faith lacks and then seek to improve upon that faith. We are in the priesthood order that we are because of our faith.
This interpersonal holiness is not only important between New Covenant Christians but between New Covenant Christians and other Christians who are seeking to honour God according to their own understandings. Above all, we must build these relationships upon the common rock of love and good will, remembering to always have the grand perspective, the Grand Plan of God the Father, which is to join all the righteous together as one Body in Christ.
Paul, in writing to Timothy, said that to be a pastor of a congregation one must be able to govern one's own family (1 Tim.3:1-6). The reverse is also true. To be good Christians we must be governable. Thus a holy person is both able to govern as well as be governed. Our discipleship extends in both directions. For wherever we are in the Kingdom there will always be people whom we have responsibility for, as well as those who are responsible for us. Acknowledging both is essential to a true balance -- it is essential to wholeness -- which is the same as holiness.
Most conflicts in Christian Churches, do not revolve around doctrines and practices, but personalities and power struggles. In Paul's letter to the Galatians he lists fifteen sins which exclude a person from the Kingdom of God, and the majority of these reflect bad interpersonal relationships. They include "feuding, fighting, jealosy, anger, selfish ambition, factionalism, intrigue and envy" (Gal.5:19-21). To deal with these, we come to the third level of holiness.
Though each one of us is singly connected with God, yet we are collectively a Body and individually members thereof. This holiness must be expressed in a corporate way which singles us out as a community from the communities organised in the world's way. When we speak of communal holiness we are talking about social action, Gospel witness, and, as a community, remaining close to God.
If interpersonal holiness is difficult, communal holiness is doubly so. In my opinion, most Christians do not understood what this holiness is, which requires a sacrificing of individualism for the creation of a corporate identity. There are very few people who are able to do this, which is why the Church of the Firstborn is so small. This sacrifice does not mean that we loose our individuality, as the Eastern religions teach, but make it a servant of the collective identity, which is itself a reflection of the nature and personality of God.
It is especially difficult to live in this kind of holiness in a worldly setting, in an outer Church environment which is why the Lord has commanded the building of communities, or Stakes of Zion or Holy Cities. It is only here that the Patriarchal Priesthood is fully revealed.
Like a well-coordinated football team serving a common purpose and obeying the rules of the game, the Church of the Firstborn has an individuality all of its own, as well as a unique holiness. Instead of a group of individuals acting to obey the will of God, by exercising their own wills, they act as a single organism with a single will and purpose. This can only be achieved when the barriers of conventional thinking are broken down and we learn to think and behave in the kind of unconditional way that Jesus taught. And our experiences in individual holiness and interpersonal holiness in the outer fellowships prepare us for the firstborn lifestyle. Therefore our obedience and faithfulness in the ouer Church is our personal foundation that qualifies us for the Holy City.
That is what a Holy City is. Holy. The people act as a collective whole where personal desire is set aside for the sake of the collective whole. This is not communism, however, where the centre is man, but the Gospel of the Firstborn, where the centre -- and therefore the holiness -- is Christ.
The New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ exists first and foremost to spiritually educate souls for the Holy City. And the door to the foundation of the Holy City is the Temple. It is here that the people are taught about communal holiness and the necessity of entering communal covenants to allow the Father of All to manifest Himself spiritually and bodily amongst His people. In a few years we shall start building a Holy City in the north countries so now is the time to start preparing for it. So I want to conclude by giving a few simple guidelines as to what we as a people need to do.
Preparing for the Holy City
To consider what we must do to prepare for the Holy City we must first consider where we are. To be holy in any degree means to be saved. Noone, moreover, is saved from sin and its consequence -- eternal separation from God -- without Jesus Christ. But standards generally have been lowered -- not God's, but man's. Many people think they are born again when they are not. Here is reality -- one can have extraordinary, supernatural experiences, and still not be saved. One can be miraculously healed of a fatal disease and know that God did it and still not be saved. One can experience the very presence of God and still not be saved.
It is typical of this generation to confuse experiences and feelings with salvation. But the criteria for salvation are very clear in Scripture: repent, accept God's grace and forgiveness by trusting in Jesus as the Christ, Saviour, and Lord; acknowledge Him publically; be baptised; and by the power of the Spirit lead a holy life.
A person who is not wholly dedicated to living a holy life on all three levels -- personal, interpersonal, and communal -- is not saved. That is what being saved means. Being saved is God making you righteous IN HIS SIGHT (not self-righteous!). This means that you are being conformed daily to the righteous image of Christ Himself. God does not produce half-way dedication. Half-way holy is not to be born again. Only saved people can be holy, but only holy people are saved.
To be saved does not mean to be perfect or to be fully sanctified -- it means being in right relationship with God. When we accept Jesus as our Lord, it means that we accept Him as our commander, for that is what "lord" means. When Jesus is your Lord, He tells you what to do, and you do it. "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt.7:16). The criterion of our saved-ness is not, therefore, our feelings (which bob up and down like the waves on the sea), but our obedience, which manifests in our fruits, or works. So beware. Don't measure your relationship to God in terms of your feelings but in terms of your obedience to His commandments, for it is only in obedience that God declares you righteous, and therefore saved. Otherwise you will think you are sitting in heaven when in fact you are sitting on a piece of toast1.
Perhaps now is the time for each of us to individually pause and ask ourselves: "Am I saved?" And if he isn't sure, he should do some real soul searching until he is sure. In this holy fear of God, we should then start working out our salvation before we find ourselves down some dark spiritual corridor where there is no Christ and no eternal security.
This sermon was given on Sunday 1 September 1991
This page was created on 1 June 1998
Last updated on 1 June 1998
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