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Aug 21, 2016

The Happiness of Holiness

The Happiness of Holiness

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Living in God's Grip of Holiness

Keywords: god's character, happiness, holiness, joy, meaning

Summary:

This is the first of several messages in a short series on the holiness of God. It looks at the relationship of happiness to holiness.

Detail:

The Happiness of Holiness

Series: Living In the Grip of God

August 21, 2016

PRAYER TIME:

  • Body: for someone suffering physically
  • Soul: for someone suffering mentally and emotionally
  • Spirit: for someone facing a crisis of faith, needing to know Christ, plagued by spiritual doubts; a good model of life in Christ to you (strengthening & perseverance).

MESSAGE INTRO: 

Q:  What do you think of when you think of the word “holiness”?

One nationwide study from Barna Group found that "the concept of holiness baffles most Americans." When asked to describe what it means to be holy, the most common reply was "I don't know." Of those identified as "born again," only 46 percent believed "God has called them to holiness." The study concluded, "The results portray a body of Christians who attend church and read the Bible, but do not understand the concept or significance of holiness, do not personally desire to be holy, and therefore do little, if anything to pursue it." [Found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/may/how-we-forgot-holiness-of-god.html?start=3 on 8/18.16]

It’s kind of hard to strive after something when you have no idea what it is!  J

            Holiness can be one of those hard-to-grasp spiritual words we’re famous for throwing around in the church.  And even when we may have an idea about what it means, holiness is not something most of the world is going to applaud you for.

            So let’s start with a simple “word-association” about “holiness.”  What are single words that come to mind when I say the word “holiness”?  [Get answers.]

How many of you would normally have thought of the word “happiness” as describing the quality of holiness?  Most of us don’t really associate happiness with holiness.  We associate a lot of other things with holiness but usually not happiness.

  • Cathedrals that are cold, quiet and stained glass laden?
  • People who are reverent, quiet, pious, wear odd clothes/cloaks, live in a monastery and smell like mothballs or mold?

For most of us, our notions of “happiness” feel much more at home connected with words like party, picnic, vacation or friendships… not “holiness.” 

Over this next year, we’ll continue to spend time most Sundays working verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible or a particular passage of Scripture. But I also feel prompted to punctuate those studies with a sort of systematic encounter with the nature or attributes of God. 

            I just performed another wedding yesterday.  I like to ask every couple I marry, “Just what is it in your beloved’s character or personality that has attracted you to them?”  You see, relationships…especially deep, lasting relationships…depend a lot on mutual attraction.  If you don’t know WHO God is or WHAT He’s like, it’s going to be pretty hard to want to get closer to Him or to have much passion to get to know Him.  And worse still, if you are either afraid of who God is or some aspect of His character…like holiness, that’s going to put a real damper on your walk with Him.

            But I believe God is actually THE Being our hearts long to know most.  I believe His character and His qualities are what our hearts need most. 

That doesn’t mean we’ll always be completely at ease with God.  There is much of God we may still find mysterious or even confusing.  But the same could be said of marriage and deep friendships, couldn’t it? Sometimes they are mysterious and confusing.  But that can actually move us to invest more in those relationships, not less.

            Christian author A.W. Tozer has famously said that a culture will not be able to rise higher than its concept of God.  I think the same is true of any Christian and certainly any church.  That’s why knowing God as He truly is, not necessarily as we currently think He is or even wish he were, is one of the most important things we can grow in as God’s children.

So let’s start with trying to nail down a general definition of what holiness is all about.  What IS holiness?   

First, while this may seem like one of the more difficult attributes of God to understand, it isn’t.  Being eternal (no beginning or end) or sovereign (accomplishing everything that agrees with His divine plan…including overseeing everything that happens in the universe) or all-powerful or all-knowing, those are more difficult for our little brains to embrace because they are qualities we don’t and won’t share with God…ever. 

On the other hand, holiness is not something you can discover by looking at human nature apart from God…which is what every human is to a greater or lesser degree—separated from God. Holiness has to be discovered and understood by looking at God who is holy and more specifically how He is different from us in terms of moral goodness.

The Old Testament word for holy (qodhash—holiness) clearly carries the sense of being “separate” or “separated,” even “cut off.” 

The idea of the phrase “a cut above” begins to approach it but only if you think of infinitely a “cut above” the best morally of humanity.  When we find a product that we think is “a cut above” the competition—like the I-phone or a Mercedes Benz car, we think of outstanding, superior quality or excellence. 

Holiness, when we’re talking about God, also includes the sense of majesty, of greatness and of pure goodness of desires, choices and actions.  It is being and doing “right” all the time, in every way and to the deepest level.  It is being separated from evil or anything that is not God in all his righteousness.  God has always been holy because he has, is and always will be separated from evil.  His nature cannot be evil nor joined to evil. 

So in a way, the holiness of God binds all the other qualities of God together in moral perfection that can never be compromised. That’s why the 4 living creatures in Rev. 4 never stop saying, day and night, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come”  (vs 8). They don’t shout, “Righteous, righteous, righteous” or “loving, loving, loving.”  It is God’s holiness that makes Him so amazing and so perfect.  It is holiness that binds and balances all the other qualities of God together in perfection.  It is holiness that sets God apart from fallen angels, fallen people and fallen nature.  It is his holiness that separates God from every human being who chooses sin and self and rebellion instead of God.  Holiness cannot make peace with evil.  It is against its nature.  It can only provide a way back to holiness for sinful people like you and me. 

This is why the holiness of God can be so absolutely terrifying to anyone who is not themselves absolutely holy.  This is why the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6 cried out, “Woe is me” when he was given a vision of the holiness of God.  As good a man as he was, simply viewing God in the glory of his holiness, high and lifted up, was enough to crush the very breath and life out of him as a sinner. 

            So, what’s so attractive about that?  What’s so “happy” about holiness?  Why on earth should holiness be desirable for human beings who don’t start life holy, don’t live life holy and usually don’t die as holy people?  What’s so happy about holiness if human beings don’t naturally get it?

ILL: Let me try to illustrate holiness this way.  Imagine that holiness is like PERFECT HEALTH. By “perfect” I mean you never get sick, never develop a bad gene in your body so you never age, never contract a disease or succumb to an illness. In fact, imagine that you live forever in this perfect body because you’re never going to come down with something that kills you or even ages you.  That would be “perfect health,” wouldn’t it?

            But no one we know on earth has ever or now has perfect health.  We all get sick to varying degrees, we all age at different rates, we all have gene mutations that mess with our joints and spines and muscles.  We all die eventually. 

            But does that mean we don’t want better health?  Hardly. One-fifth of the American economy is spent on striving for better health.  Why?  Because better health means a full life—less pain, suffering, weakness while having more strength, ability and drive to do things that help us and others live better. 

            That’s what holiness is like in the moral, mental, spiritual, ethical, political, relational realms of life.  It is “character-health” that makes life what it should be, as God designed human life to flourish.  Just think of the power and beauty of holiness!

  • Holiness makes every desire of the heart right, moral.
  • Holiness makes ever thought pure, loving, true to reality.
  • Holiness makes every decision wise, right, good and fruitful.
  • Holiness makes every relationship to others kind, sacrificial, loving, grace-filled, patient, wholesome and generous.
  • Holiness makes every priority good and godly.
  • Holiness makes every hope God-oriented and right.
  • Holiness would make every invention useful, every business productive and a blessing to all, every home a place to experience God, every city a gathering of people doing what is best for every neighbor.

In essence, to be holy is to be more like God in heart, thought and action.  It is as natural as thirst for those of us who love God to long for holiness.  In both the Old and New Testament, God’s people are exhorted to “BE holy” because God is holy. 

Eph. 1:4 tells us that one of the very reasons God chose us was so that we would “be holy.” 

Hebrews 12:14 tells us to Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

Jesus said the very same thing in the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:8) when he told his followers, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Holiness has nothing to do with being old, out-of-date, dower, dreary or rigid.  It has everything to do with experiencing the beauty of God himself, of life in Him and of joy unbounded. 

And, yes, holiness involves separation from evil.  But that is simply separation from what “makes us sick” spiritually, morally, relationally…the whole gamut of life.  Holiness involves God-ordained boundaries in our behavior and thoughts and dreams and desires that lead us more into the life of Christ and more out of what the N.T. calls “the flesh,” “the world,” “sin,” “unrighteousness” and any number of negative terms used in the Bible about life apart from God. 

When the Bible talks about holiness or things being holy, we can divide those references into 2 general categories:

  1. Eternal beings:
    1. God: when it comes to beings, God is the primary “holy” being.  Any holiness in other beings (like angels and people) flows from their right relationship with God. 
    2. Angelic beings—most often referred to as “the holy angels” (Rebellious angels are called “demons”.)
    3. God’s People: God wanted Israel to be his “holy people” in O.T. days.  Currently, the church of redeemed saints, all who have put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross for them, are “God’s holy people.”  

Both demons and unredeemed people share the same lack of holiness because of a lack of being right relationship with God.  And, as such, they share the same eternal fate of chosen separation from God. 

  1. Temporal things: In the T., everything from the Sabbath day to sacred food are to be “holy” or “set apart/separated” for use in connecting with GodGround can be holy, whether the site of the Temple or sand around Moses’ burning bush.  In every case of “holy” ground, it is holy because God is there.  Then there is incense, golden plates, the law of God, the Holy City of Jerusalem, temple offerings and sacrifices…hundreds of things can made “holy” or “set apart” to be used in helping humans connect with God. 

Eventually, God’s holy people (O & N.T. saints redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ) will be made completely holy (totally set-apart/sanctified through and through—body, soul and spirit) and will dwell forever with our Holy God in a completely holy place (heaven/New Jerusalem). If you are a true child of God, you cannot escape the centrality of holiness to your experience with God now and in the future.

So, REVIEW:

  • WHAT is holiness?
  • WHY is it so desirable to God’s children?

So now let’s talk about HOW holiness is linked to happiness.

The famous Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, said, "It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness."  He should know. 

Frankl was Austria’s leading psychiatrist and neurologist when Hitler annexed his country prior to WWII.  As a 16 year old he had corresponded with Sigmund Freud and sent him a two-page paper which Freud ask for permission to publish in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 

By 1941, his theories had received international attention and he was working as the chief of neurology at Vienna's Rothschild Hospital, where he risked his life and career by making false diagnoses of mentally ill patients so that they would not, per Nazi orders, be euthanized.

That was the same year when he had a decision to make, a decision that would change his life. With his career on the rise and the threat of the Nazis looming over him, Frankl had applied for a visa to America, which he was granted in 1941. By then, the Nazis had already started rounding up the Jews and taking them away to concentration camps, focusing on the elderly first. Frankl knew that it would only be time before the Nazis came to take his parents away. He also knew that once they did, he had a responsibility to be there with his parents to help them through the trauma of adjusting to camp life. On the other hand, as a newly married man with his visa in hand, he was tempted to leave for America and flee to safety, where he could distinguish himself even further in his field.

According to biographer Anna S. Redsand, Frankl was at a loss for what to do. So he set out for St. Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna to clear his head. Listening to the organ music, he repeatedly asked himself, "Should I leave my parents behind?... Should I say goodbye and leave them to their fate?"  He was looking for a "hint from heaven."

When he returned home, he found it. A piece of marble was lying on the table. His father explained that it was from the rubble of one of the nearby synagogues that the Nazis had destroyed. The marble contained the fragment of the 5th of the Ten Commandments—the one about honoring your father and your mother. With that, Frankl decided to stay in Vienna and forgo whatever opportunities for safety and career advancement awaited him in the United States. He decided to put aside his individual pursuits to serve his family and, later, other inmates in the camps

He and his whole family were arrested in September 1942 and taken to a concentration camp.  He would spend time in several, Buchenwald and Auschwitz among them.  When he was released 3 years later at the end of the war, he had lost most of his family—his then pregnant wife and both parents.  

            In 1946 he wrote what become one of the world’s all-time best sellers, the book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning.  It took him only 9 days to write the entire book.  In that book about his concentration camp experiences, he concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died in the camps came down to one thing: meaning.  Prisoners who could see past the immediate atrocities and suffering and hold onto something greater than themselves survived.  The others lost hope, became suicidal and usually gave up on life. 

So how does this relate to holiness…and happiness?  If, as is the case with most Americans, happiness is your goal in life, life will become for you all about arranging and rearranging experiences such that you experience the least stress, pain, difficulty and suffering so that you can basically “get what you want.”  I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not but that can lead you to frustration and downright despair pretty quickly when life doesn’t deliver on your expectations.  That’s why many people dive into addictions of drugs, alcohol, work, sex, you name it, to deaden the pain of unmet expectations and desires.

But if you understand that every present problem, pain, challenge or even horrible situation have eternal meaning because they can lead you into becoming more like Christ…purging by fire the old sinful, loveless, selfish traits and replacing them with holy love, holy patience, holy generosity…then even a concentration camp or death takes on meaning.  And true meaning will lead you to God.

            There is far more to “the good life” than simple pursuit of happiness.  In fact, since the holiest Being in the universe, God, is also the most supremely happy Being in the universe, it stand to reason that sharing in that holiness will, often in this life and continually in the next, make us the happiest humans in existence…regardless of our circumstances.

ILL:  Take, for instance, the work of the HOLY Spirit in the life of any follower of Jesus.  Imagine that you have a history of being addicted to, say, cocaine.  You come to simple faith in Jesus, embrace the forgiveness and freedom from sins power and come to know what it is like to, yes, feel life’s pain but also now have the necessary strength from God to face that, grow through it and become a more Christ-like son or daughter of God. 

            The Christ-follower that fully feels pain and enters into the struggle for holiness without using reality-deadening substances or experiences not only feels all of life more richly; they also start to feel more joy, more deep purpose and more of God’s peace.  Falling back into old habits and addictions doesn’t bring “happiness” anymore; instead it brings a deeper sense of conviction and sorrow than before you had the Holy Spirit.  Making right…”righteous”…pure…holy choices actually leads to a deeper, more meaning-filled life.  Learning to love Christ and others brings a type of joy and happiness that living for oneself and personal happiness never can bring.  That’s part of holiness.

So, since the Spirit that God has given us to commune with Him is the HOLY Spirit, when actual, experiential “holy living” becomes our daily experience, happiness results.  It is not insignificant that over 90 times in the N.T., God’s work in us and in this world is done by and through the HOLY Spirit. 

So it is no surprise either that when the Apostle Paul writes to the various New Testament era churches, he repeatedly and consistently refers to the church, the people of God, you and me, as “holy” and “holy people”.  In almost every one of his letters, he speaks of us as “holy people” and calls us to holiness. 

So it is evident that holiness is or NEW identity in Christ.  The moment you trust in Jesus Christ and receive the Holy Spirit, your identity changes.  You are not viewed by God or even by the greatest leaders of the church as “saved sinners.”  No, you are now “holy people”…”saints” as some versions translate it. 

What difference can that make in our daily lives?  Who we really think ourselves to be will determine both the choices we make and the outcomes we live. 

ILL:  Imagine that you grew up never having a job.  Ever since you were a teenager, you got what you wanted by stealing from your parents…then robbing neighbors…mugging people on the street...stealing cars and reselling them…trying to stay one step ahead of the law.  Every now and then you’d get caught, do some time in the slammer and then, when you were released, you’d be right back out on the street and in your neighborhood with your old buddies doing the same things. 

Imagine that one day when you’re in prison, you get a letter from a very wealthy uncle you had no idea existed.  You’d heard about this guy, but you never imagined he was related.  This uncle is, in fact, one of the managers of Apple

In the letter, your uncle states that, upon your release, he’s got a whole new life waiting for you.  He’s willing to take you into his home…actually an estate.  He’s ready to send you to college and provide all the tutors you may need to get a really good degree.  And then he wants to have you come and work at Apple, learn the ropes and, hopefully someday join the management team of the company.  

In addition, he’s told you that he intends to make you his heir to one degree or another, depending on how well you are able to manage the opportunities he shares with you in the days ahead.

Now let’s say you decide to take him at his word.  So when you get out of prison, sure enough, he has a room for you in his mansion.  He starts you in college and puts you to work in an internship at Apple headquarters.  It isn’t easy but it certainly is a better life than you had before. 

Now, how are you going to respond if a bunch of your old buddies from the hood show up at your uncle’s estate one day and invite you to come back to the neighborhood, move in with one of them, sleeping on their living room couch and do a few small robberies to pay for room and board?

The answer to that all depends on a.) who you think you are now, and b.) what future you want for yourself.  If you think of yourself as a high school drop-out with a criminal record from the hood, you’ll probably ditch your rich uncle, the schoolwork, the tutors, the mentors and the hard work it’s going to take to become a manager in Apple.  

But, if you realize that you, the real and new YOU, really is a different person now—someone who likes the experience of learning, of working hard, of living in wealth rather than poverty and of having a completely different future than was ever possible before, you’re probably going to call your uncle’s private security guards and have those old “friends” ushered off his property.   

Your identity and the new experiences you are having living out that identity, will be a powerful deterrent to slipping back into the old way of living. 

It’s the same with holiness. Holiness is our new identity.  The life we find in the holiness of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit is a very different life from the life we had running from God’s Law and engaging in sin as an unbeliever.  We may still find ourselves slipping back into old thoughts about ourselves and life from time to time. We may get a little nostalgic about the adrenalin rushes sin gave us.  We may even miss the “freedom” not having to fight the old sinful habits and thoughts.

But the healthier our thoughts and heart becomes, the more we’ll realize, that really wasn’t much of a life compared to the new life we now have and the future life God promises for all who take Him up on his offer of salvation and sanctification.

The fact that holiness is the very nature of the God we love means that holiness is also our new nature as children of God.  To deny what we now really are in Christ is to miss out on the joy and happiness God has NOW for those who love Him.

The fact that holiness is the calling we now have for life in Christ means that it is what will be most blessed, most fulfilling, most rich and, yes, most happy calling we could possibly pursue in life.

The fact that living in unblemished holiness is our destiny, our future, means that living into that future and destiny right now IS the richest and deepest way we can experience life today.

Do we want happiness in life?  Then we must seek holiness in life. 

In the weeks to come, we’ll unpack HOW we can seek and experience holiness.  But hopefully it was abundantly clear today that holiness starts and ends with a personal faith-relationship with Jesus Christ.  There is no way any of us will experience the holiness God requires unless our life is “in Christ.”  Just like you escape the heat of summer by taking up residence “in” an air conditioned building, so you escape the judgement of God against sin by “moving into” relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

  • Admit you are a sinner needing saving by Jesus.
  • Believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord—his death to satisfy God’s holy justice against your sin and to purchase salvation and his Lordship to lead you into a new life.
  • Confess to others your faith in Christ.

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