On contemplating all that is going on in the world today, and looking at the witness of the church specifically, this question keeps entering my mind: “What are we missing?” Being a true believer, we know salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone, that it is not by works but through grace. We understand that it is not what we do but Christ’s finished work on the cross that matters. We know that the finished work of Christ showed God’s love for and toward us. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Here’s the answer to that question. It may be that the word “love” is where we are missing it…
As John’s words tell us, it is about God’s Love, not our love. Not carnal or worldly love, but God’s love. Understanding God’s love may be the point to which we need to return. And to understand God’s love, we will need to remember our basic understanding of God. Now, our understanding of God comes from our Jewish heritage. As we examine that heritage, we see many comparisons to the struggles we face today. Most of the Old Testament books, whether the history or the prophets, deal with the struggle between maintaining the faith of Father Abraham or reverting to the faith of the pagan nations around them.
In some ways, those religions were very much alike. The altars were built in similar styles and were often in the same location. The offerings were similar (with the exception being that of human sacrifices), and the celebration time of feasts were mostly the same. Yet, there is one major difference. I use the word “is” because we are fighting the same temptation today.
The pagan gods were based on creation itself. Their powers were based on the experiences of the people and the creation around them. While the pantheon may have had a god who was Charles-in-Charge, none of them were all powerful. Thus, you had a god for wind, a god for rain, a god for the sun and moon, etc., etc., etc. Those who lived in agrarian societies developed gods and goddesses over fertility. They created their gods in their own image and in the image of the creation around them. For the most part, those people didn’t want the gods to be a part of their lives, so their offerings were either an appeasement to keep the gods at bay or were used as a bribe to gain something from them. Hence, the fertility gods and goddesses.
Our heritage is that of one true God who is not derived from creation but actually is the creator of all. He alone is the Elohim, the God of creation and power; the El Shaddai, the Almighty God; the El Elyon, the Most High God; and the Adonai, the Lord, the master of earth and sky. Thus, God was not created in the image of humanity. Rather, humanity (both male and female) was created in His image; and therefore, being created in His image, we were created to be like Him. And unlike the pagan beliefs, we were created to be in relationship with God. From the very beginning, it was God’s plan to walk and talk and dwell with us. It was our desire to be god that ruined the whole mess. It was our desire to make God like us, trying to be equal with Him, which was played out in the eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Our heritage carries with it 8 precepts about God that are held as absolute. The first precept is that God is Holiness. The Hebrew word for this is Qadosh. Translated, it means absolute Otherness from creation, moral perfection.
The words “holy” and “holiness” get thrown around a lot, but somehow, we have lost their meaning. We sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, but we relate it to ourselves more often than to God. We think about living the Holy life and in doing so equate it with a set of rules and regulation we need to strive to live by in order to be Holy. The problem is there is no set of rules and regulations that can make us Holy. Rules and regulations are works of the flesh, and in order for them to work, we have to be perfect. And we can’t be perfect. There is only One who is perfect, who is Qadosh, and that is God.
When we realize we can’t be perfect, we begin to change the rules of perfection in order to make it where we have a better chance at being Holy. The problem is that in doing so we exchange the image of a Holy God for the image of ourselves as god. We begin to tell God, “This is the way it should be.” We allow ourselves to be conformed to the world around us instead of being transformed by the Holy Spirit. We look at the tree in the Garden of Eden and say to ourselves, “It’s good to be god.” We forget that we were created in God’s image instead of the other way around.
God’s plan of salvation is offered to us through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. It is through Jesus that we are called. It is through Jesus we are redeemed. It is through Jesus that we are forgiven. It is through Jesus that we are justified. It is through Jesus that we even have a clue what the love of God is all about.
If we follow the ministry of Jesus, He reveals Himself as someone who completely understands the Absolute Otherness of God. We read, “Then cried Jesus in the temple as He taught, saying, ‘You both know me, and you know from where I am: and I am not come of myself, but He who has sent me is true, whom you know not.’” (John 7:28) We also read, “Then said Jesus to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you shall know that I am He, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things.’ ” (John8:28) Also, ”Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwells in me, He does the Works.’ ” (John 14:10); and last but not least, “ ‘Sanctify them through your truth: Your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they might also be sanctified through the truth.’ ” (John 17:17-19)
Nowhere do I read that “the people and I are one” or “the work that I do is the work that the people do through me” or “the words that I speak are the words that the people speak through me.” And I definitely don’t read that he is sanctified by the people so that God can know the truth. God-sent! Not world-sent, not human-sent, not government-sent, not even politically-correct-sent. God-sent! Jesus came to us from a Holy God and paid the price for us to be accepted into His Holiness, not His Holiness into our sinfulness.
Today it seems we are determined not to seek the Father’s Holiness, but rather to make our sinfulness holy. To exchange agape (sacrificial love for other) for phila (you are my good friend), and to abandon agapaeo (love and serve with fidelity) for eros (sexual delight).
Sin is not a sin because it is mentioned a certain number of times in the Scriptures. Sin is sin because it separates a Holy God from the people He died to forgive, redeem, and justify. The problem is not the sinner – Jesus died for the sinner. The problem is where we are placing our focus. Our focus is on people. (What do other people think? What is politically correct or accepted by society?) We say to ourselves, “They are so talented, they are such a nice person, they do such good works.” We substitute phila (brotherly love) for Agape (God’s purest sacrificial love). We say to the Father, “I want to accept Your offer of salvation, but I want it on my terms. Accept me where I am and as I am, and don’t expect me to change. I love the fire insurance, but don’t transform me. Be conformed to me.”
Our focus should be on the One who called us, and on the reason for which we were called. Our focus should be on the One who died for us so that we should be transformed by His Spirit into his Holiness. Our job is to lead people to God, not lead God to the people. God is already among us. The veil was torn from top to bottom in the Temple when Jesus died, and the Father stepped out, in a mighty way saying, “I AM HOME!” We are called to have His mind and the mind of His Son.
The problem is not gluttony or abstinence; tea drinker or alcoholic; thief or honest; untruthful or truthful; adulterer or faithful: coveter or generous giver. It’s not even heterosexual or homosexual. It is that we have lost our understanding of a Holy God. Our number one focus should be on the one who is Qadosh. “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: You shall be Holy for I the Covenant Keeping God your God of Power and Creation is Holy.” (Leviticus 19:2). A Holy God, even though He loves the sinner, still hates the sin.
Yet we want to say the cross doesn’t matter, that the 3 hours Christ spent on the cross where God turned His back and cast every sin that each and every one of us as well as those who have gone before and will come after have ever or will ever commit. Where Jesus for the first time in the Scriptures cries out, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Notice this 1st time Jesus does not refer to the Almighty as “Father.”…. But God had to forsake Jesus. God had to turn His back on His Son. A Holy God cannot be in the presence of sin. But hey, today that’s OK, because we can just proclaim through our worldly view of love that whatever the sin of our choice is, it is no longer a sin. We trade God’s love for worldly sympathy and empathy and call it love. What a cheap exchange….
In our selfishness and our self-centered attitudes, we have come to believe that it is all about us. But CHURCH, I’m here to say IT IS NOT ABOUT US. It is about a HOLY GOD and a FINISHED WORK on THE CROSS. We will never be able to understand God’s love apart from the CROSS. We seem to have forgotten that Jesus came to redeem, not certify. But when WE decide that sin, any sin, is no longer sin, then who needs redemption? Like the pagans of long ago, we have created ourselves as gods in our own image. And we the clay say to the Master Potter, “Who are YOU to mold US?”
We need to repent, that is, to change our minds about God. We need to remember that, yes, we are in the world, but we are not of the world. We must always be aware that through Jesus the Christ God has called us to be with Him, not Himself with us. There is a big difference. As Peter reminds us in his first letter (I Peter), where he quotes Leviticus, “We are to be Holy as the father is Holy.”
Let us not be where Oswald Chambers said the church was over a 100 years ago. At that time, early in the 20th century, O.C. said, “The great word we bow down and worship today is PROGRESS; we are progressing and developing, and the consequence is we are blind to the facts of history and blind to moral facts. The Bible revelation about man is that man, as he is, is not as God made him.——It is possible to be so full of love and sympathy for unregenerate man as to be red-handed anarchists against GOD.” (Reference The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers; Section on Biblical Ethics; page 127)
CHURCH: Pray for God’s Holiness to return. Not what humanity calls holiness. Not what the world calls holiness. Not self-holiness. Pray for GOD’s Holiness. The God who is Qadosh – Absolute Otherness from His creation. The one who is Moral Perfection.