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Holiness Our Destiny

Richard W. O'Ffill

1 Peter 1:15, 16: "Just as he who has called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, be holy because I am holy."

Some time ago I was attending a Sabbath School class. The teacher that day was talking about the 27 doctrinal beliefs of our church. It seemed to be the consensus of the class that 27 doctrines were too many.

The teacher asked, "Which ones shall we keep?" "Which ones are necessary for salvation?" Someone said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shall be saved." Another person said, "Definitely not the Investigative Judgment!"

The teacher went on to express his opinion that he thought the time had come in which we don't have to believe in the same things anymore. He said he was glad that we were now allowing pluralism.

I don't need to tell you that these days there is increasingly a tendency in the church to "agree to disagree." We used to be able to say that, no matter where you traveled in the world, one Adventist church was like every other because of our common beliefs. Now this isn't necessarily true.

I know of a church in one conference that says that it is for burned-out Adventists. It has decided not to follow the church standards nor teach the Investigative Judgment.

Now, to some people this may be OK. "We are a democracy," they say. But wait a minute! Is the church a democracy? Christ is the head of the church. Is Christ the head of the church like a president or prime minister is the leader of a country? Can He be voted out of office?

You remember, a democracy is usually based on a constitution. The constitution of a country sets the parameters or the boundaries by which the citizens will relate to each other. But even a constitution can be changed by a constitutional convention.

Back to the matter of the church. There is, as you know, a visible church and an invisible church. Anyone can join the visible church as long as the other members agree and that person is willing to cooperate with the group. It is, if you please, a democratic process.

The invisible church, though, doesn't work that way. A democratic process does not govern members of the invisible church. In the visible church, the leadership and constitution can be changed. But in the invisible church, the members have put themselves under the headship of the God of the universe, who can never be voted out of office and whose word is forever and ever.

Many people who are members of the visible church often complain about the rules, such as "What's wrong with this," or "I don't agree with that!" On the other hand, the members of the invisible church don't sit around trying to see how much they can get away with or how they may do their own thing as they see it. Rather, the people in the invisible church want to know more and more of what we might call the rules and regulations of the eternal God. They are not trying to get out of the rules--they are actually trying to get into them. This is because God is writing His law in their hearts and their greatest joy is to do His will.

In fact, for the members of the invisible church, the greatest joy that they have is to serve Him. The more they understand what He wants them to do, and the more they obey Him, the more freedom they enjoy.

In the meantime, there are members of the visible church who continue to be "hung up" trying to decide how much doctrine--(which, by the way, means teaching)--is too much, and what are the minimum requirements that one must fulfill in order to be saved.

The prospects for the future on the visible church side of things are a little worrisome. History teaches us that denominations tend to break up after 150 years or so, and that is about how long this visible church has been around.

Now, don't think that I'm saying that someday there may no longer be a visible church. Not to worry, because as long as you have members of the invisible church around, you will have a visible church. This is because whenever you find two or more members of the invisible church, they will always end up making a visible church.

However, there is a distinct possibility that those who finally decide not to be members of the invisible church will shake up the visible church on their way out. I'm afraid that there is going to be some spiritual anarchy and even a little spiritual sabotage. We have been told in one place in scripture that there would be a falling away, and in another place inspiration says that there would be a shaking. However, the true visible church will survive for the simple reason that it is comprised of so many who are members of the invisible church. We need to realize, though, that as all of this is happening, that things in the visible church will not be the same as they were before.

Friends, the things that we are experiencing these days were prophesied and they are being fulfilled before our eyes. It was prophesied that Judas would betray the Lord of Glory. So he did. Jesus, however, tried not to give Judas an excuse to do what he did, but Jesus dedicated most of His time and prayers for the others, such as Peter. You remember, Peter almost was lost in the events surrounding Judas' betrayal of the Lord.

So in the last days the people of the invisible church, who are in the visible church, will be distinguished by the fact that they do not want to give an excuse to leave those who will eventually sell out, and so they will be ministering and interceding on behalf of the weaker members who could possibly be lost as a result of all that is going on.

Using a word from the insurance industry--the people of God will put forth every effort in the power of the Spirit to mitigate damages. However, make no mistake--mitigating damages will not mean to compromise truth.

The wheat grows in the same field with the tares, but shall the two cross-pollinate? The sheep graze near the goats, but shall they seek to interbreed? And so, our desire to reduce damages must not mean to compromise with the world.

Friends, contrary to popular belief, the danger to the visible church at this time is not legalism. The thing that is shaking the church to its foundation these days is worldliness. History teaches us that worldliness has always been the greatest threat to the purity of the church. We could save ourselves a lot of trouble if we could just catch on to what the Old Testament teaches about God.

I said that we could have saved ourselves trouble if we could have just understood what the Old Testament teaches about God. A person who doesn't have the Old Testament picture of God clear will probably miss the point of what the New Testament is all about--or as we would say these days--where the New Testament is coming from.

The message about God in the Old Testament is that He is holy. Even the attributes of God--such as His goodness, His love, His justice, His grace, His omnipresence, His omnipotence--all come from and are founded in the fact that He is holy. If there was only one word allowed that we could use to describe Him, that word would be holy. Holiness is the very essence and nature of His being.

By the way, this is why, when He has shown Himself unveiled to fallen man, the response was that the persons usually fell down on their faces or nearly passed out, as in the case of Daniel or the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.

When Isaiah saw the Lord, he said, "Woe is me;" when Job comprehended something of the holiness of God, he said, "I'm ruined."

In one place, Revelation describes the throne of God. It says that there are beings there, in that awesome and thrillingly dreadful presence, who say,"Holy! Holy! Holy!" 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. God's holiness is so awesome that, when the angels come into His presence, they have to cover their faces.

You may be thinking, "But Jesus is God, and none of that happened when He was here." Watch out now! Here is where we can take the wrong road if we are not careful.

When Jesus said, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father," it didn't mean that God was essentially a young man, 33 years old with a beard, who smelled sweaty on hot summer days and shivered on cold winter nights.

In His essence, Jesus was not 33 years old; He was from eternity. He was the holy One who never had slept and who had eternally dwelt in light unapproachable.

But when He came here, He laid His essence aside. Just as we must protect our eyes when we watch an eclipse of the sun, so to reveal His character to us, He had to veil Himself by becoming one of us. When He said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father," He was not saying that the Father looked like Him, but He was saying, "In spite of what you see, I am the Son of God."

The point that we must grasp once and for all is that God is first holy, and then He is everything else.

We like to focus on the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, and His love for us. But mercy, forgiveness, and love don't have any significance unless we have a clear understanding that the essential essence of the person of God is His holiness. Scripture even refers to the holiness of God as a consuming fire.

By the way, speaking of the mercy of God, we can make a huge mistake if we confuse the mercy of God for sinners and take it to mean that God is tolerant of sin. This can't be, because holiness and sin are opposites. I believe that we will not be able to understand what salvation is and what it is for until we begin to understand holiness. When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, the first thing that He began to teach them was the meaning of holiness.

The holiness of God is the foundation on which the whole plan of salvation sets. If we don't understand what holiness is, we can never know what sin is and how God relates to it. On the flip side, unless we understand the true awfulness of even the so-called smallest sin, we will not be able to appreciate the majesty and glory of God's holiness.

These days we hear a lot about the fact that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. This is true, but the trouble is we often rush over the first part of the statement to get to the second. In order to be able to appreciate the fact that God loves a sinner, we've got to understand how much He hates sin. Unfortunately, our attitude toward sin usually tends to be soft. Our tendency is to play with sin, to rationalize it or discount it.

We must understand that every time we sin we are doing something that God hates. We've got to understand that! He hates our lustful thoughts, our pride and jealousy. He hates our outburst of temper and our situation ethics mentality.

The trouble is that we have basically learned to co-exist with sin, but in the final analysis God and sin cannot co-exist. We've got to pray, then, that God will put into our hearts the same hatred for sin that He has. Hatred for sin then is the secret and the condition of all true holiness.

We will never allow Jesus to be our complete and total Savior until we put sin in its true light. Jesus' very name shows how God relates to sin. The angel said, "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins."

I have entitled this series of sermons "The Pursuit of Holiness." The theme texts are Hebrews 12:14: "Follow peace with all men and holiness without which no man may see the Lord." and 1 Peter 1:15, 16: "Just as He who has called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, be holy because I am holy."

As we understand and appreciate what holiness means, we will see that the whole purpose of the plan of salvation is not to bring God down to our level, but to bring us up to His. Friends, our destiny is to be restored to holiness.

A text in Hebrews says, "Follow peace with all men and holiness without which no man can see the Lord." Someone is probably going to say about now, "Does this verse mean that we are saved by works, or that it is holiness that saves us?"

Come on now...give me a break! It seems like whenever we start talking about holy living, obedience, victory over sin, or things that have to do with practical godliness, there always seems to be someone who hits the "salvation by works" button, and we all go sailing off into a never-never land where we can continue to eat, drink and be merry because they tell us that salvation is a free gift.

Whenever we start talking about salvation, there are always those who confuse the "how" of salvation from the "what" of salvation. In other words, HOW we are saved is one thing; WHAT salvation does for a person is another thing!

Basically, we mostly agree on how to be saved. We all agree that only Jesus saves. Jesus is the HOW of salvation. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the A and the Z; the beginning and the end.

The real problem that needs to be resolved is: What does it mean to have salvation? In other words, what happens to a person who has received salvation?

Most people understand that a person who gives their heart to Jesus has his or her sins forgiven and receives the assurance of eternal life.

That much about what salvation is seems clear and most people agree. But friends, this is only part of what salvation is all about. The part about salvation that is not mentioned too often or that is hotly debated is the part that has to do with what salvation in Christ does for a person on a day by day basis.

This is very important, because all of us live in the here and now on a day by day basis. It seems to me that, if salvation is going to be real, it has got to have something to do with my everyday life.

Let me illustrate. A disease is real. Because the disease is real, the cure for that disease must be real also. A cure for a person who is dying today is not one that they will discover ten years from now; it's got to be available today! Therefore, salvation (if it's going to do us any good) has got to have something to do with my everyday life--or it's not salvation at all!

I don't know how many of us are aware of it, but if salvation is going to do us any good it has got to restore obedience and holiness in this life. This is because sin is a real fact of life. If salvation is going to do any good it has to be able to break up sin. Just like a cure for a disease is not a cure unless it works.

The great block to our becoming obedient and holy is sin. This is why a person can't get on with the pursuit of holiness as long as they are getting on with sin.

Unfortunately, most people want to be saved on their own terms. Most people want to save their hides, so to speak. That is why the emphasis these days is on forgiveness. We are like a person who is caught going 80 mph and doesn't want to pay the speeding ticket.

Many people are fascinated with the idea of going to heaven; however, only few people understand what heaven is all about. The average person wants to stay out of hell more than they want to go to heaven. That is because the average person in the street sees heaven as a place where you float around on a cloud playing a harp and go to church seven days a week, 24 hours a day. That is a boring prospect, but it's better than going to hell!

It is probably a fact that more people are interested in cashing in on salvation at a future time than they are in letting it impact their everyday lives. This is because people tend to be "hung up" on what I call the flesh and its support groups. I believe this because, if I were to ask those of us who are here if there are any special requests for prayer today, experience has taught me that the majority of the prayer requests would have to do with the flesh and its support groups; that is, the requests usually have to do with the physical or material problems we may have at a particular time. The average person worries more about how they will make the next house payment than they do about how they are treating their wife and children.

Now, I realize that when Jesus was here He was concerned with physical and material problems, but He did this as a means to an end. Believe it or not, the real purpose for Christ's ministry on this earth was to heal the people from sin and to restore them to holy living.

You might say, "But didn't He care about their material problems and their physical suffering?" Of course, he did! But a person who knows that the state is going to bulldoze his house to put in a freeway doesn't remodel his kitchen this week. Let's not forget that all of the people that Jesus healed later got sick and died, and those who He resurrected died again. Even the people He fed got hungry the next day!

What I am saying is that the purpose of Christ's healing ministry was to try to get across to the people that He was the Savior of the world and that He had the power to forgive their sins and restore them to a holy life. You remember that when the sick were brought to Him, He would often say, "Your sins are forgiven," or "Now, don't sin anymore."

When Jesus was here, the masses of people then, like the majority of us now, wanted to be healed of their physical illnesses. They loved the free food and drink that His miracles made possible.

But remember, when He finally stood up that day and said, "You must eat my flesh and drink my blood," the majority of the crowd that was following Him said, "We're outta here!" Friends, when He said "eat my flesh" and "drink my blood," He was talking about forsaking sin and living a holy life.

It has been said that in certain cases a man will love for sex, and that a woman will have sex for love. I am afraid that in too many instances many people these days are putting up with the spiritual aspects of salvation only so that they can somehow enhance the flesh and its support groups; that is, so they can hopefully improve their physical and material well-being.

When are we going to understand what scripture means when it said, "Flesh and blood shall not see the Kingdom of God," (and that includes the new house, the car, the body beautiful or the promotion at work). When will we understand that pride, selfishness, lust, greed, bitterness and all the rest are our real enemy? When will we see that our greatest need is not a facelift or a new job or money in the bank, but our greatest need is to have love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control in our hearts. Ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about the holy life.

The physical healings that Jesus did were to make the point that His whole mission on this planet was to set us free from the dominion of sin and restore us to holiness in this life. Immortality (and all the rest) has always been future. Breaking up selfishness and ingrafting the fruit of the Spirit is for NOW!

We try to find a cure for life-threatening diseases. We even go to the finest hospitals in the world to save our bodies. Yet, when will we understand that pride, selfishness, lust, evil temper and our lack of self-control, if untreated, will cause us to be lost permanently? We need to be reminded of the words of Jesus when He said, "Fear not him which is able to destroy the body; yea, rather fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell."

You might be saying about now, "Pastor, please don't preach about sin--that makes me feel depressed and guilty. It is not positive and affirming."

My friends, Jesus didn't come to save people who feel good about themselves. He said that people who feel well don't need a doctor. He said, "I have come to seek and to save that which is lost."

If you and I don't feel hopeless and helpless--if we don't have the dread that selfishness, pride, lust, criticism and the lack of self-control are going to destroy us--then we will have little incentive to do as the blind man did in Jericho who wouldn't stop crying out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me."

It is not until we see and understand the holiness of God, and until we see our wretched and miserable state, that we confess our sins and say with Jacob, who wrestled with the angel, "I will not let you go until you bless me."

In a country of central Africa a few years ago, 20,000 people were being treated for leprosy. They told me that another 20,000 people were estimated to have the disease, but this group was not acknowledging it. They would even wear long sleeve shirts to hide the symptoms. So in the denial group, the disease continued its deadly destruction of their nervous system.

Unfortunately, to talk about sin these days seems to be out of fashion. We have reclassified sin; we try to play it down or cover it up. Yet, you don't have to be a genius to see that something terrible is happening to us.

There is not a cure for leprosy, but there is a medicine that arrests it. However, the medicine will not restore the damage that has already been done.

But listen, the salvation that Jesus supplies for us is the real thing. If we will admit our sinfulness, He will forgive us. But the best part of it all is that He will cleanse us in an ongoing way from all unrighteousness. I'm not talking about when He comes in the clouds. I'm talking about now! This marvelous work of the Holy Spirit in living, moving people is the rest of the story of what salvation is all about. It is about the restoration of holiness in our present lives.

Friends, a holy life is our destiny. But we must not forget that sin will keep it from happening.

People these days want assurance that they are saved. People ask, "If you died tonight, would you be saved?" To me, that is not nearly so important as the question, "If you are alive tomorrow, will you allow the Holy Spirit to continue to break up pride, selfishness, lust, bitterness, and all the rest--and will you allow the Holy Spirit to engraft into the warp and woof of your life love, joy, peace, mercy, compassion, and self-control?"

Our destiny is the pursuit of holiness. Let me ask you, "What is the burden of your prayers?" What we are praying about indicates what our priorities are.

We pray, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." What good does it do to pray that God's will be done on earth, in Heaven, in the lives of our children, or the life of our spouse, if His will is not being done in our own lives?

His will for your life and mine is the same--that we be conformed to the image of His Son; in other words, that we lead holy lives. He said, "Be holy, for I am holy." In order to cooperate with His will in our pursuit of holiness, we must be allowing the Holy Spirit to root out, dig up, all that is sin in our lives. Cherished sin in the life keeps a holy life from happening. Repentance, then, is the foundation of the holy life.

In summary, then:

  • A person can never appreciate what mercy, forgiveness, grace, and even the love of God are until they understand what holiness is.
  • We can never understand how terrible sin is until we catch a glimpse of holiness. The flip side of this is that a person who continues to wallow in sin won't have a clue of what holiness is.
  • When someone starts talking about obedience, victory, and holy living, please...let's not talk about salvation by works. Obedience, victory over sin, and holy living are not about HOW we are saved, but rather WHAT being saved is all about.
  • A person shouldn't waste their time talking about the assurance of salvation unless they are seeing the power of sin broken up in their lives, and beginning to experience the fruit of the Spirit.
  • Salvation will resurrect dead people, but if you happen to still be alive, it breaks the dominion of sin and leads us to a holy life.
  • Some people are more interested in God helping them with their net worth or physical health than they are in His call to us to a holy life.
  • If Jesus could heal physical problems, don't you think He can break the power of selfishness, pride, bitterness, lust, etc.?
  • If He could give Lazarus back his life, don't you think He can give us the fruit of the Spirit?
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