Holiness belongs in a museum. Truly it does – right alongside purity, virtue, integrity, honor, and repentance. Rarely do we hear these words anymore, unless they make their way into a late night punch line. Holiness and its accompanying relics sound tinny and out of tune to our new millennium ears. They feel suffocating. Holiness conjures up sepia images of Victorian women tied into their own clothes and choking on their own social mores. Many believe holiness to be an old relic of a bygone era and should be mothballed to an archive someplace.
I don’t. Holiness is ageless, and its presence is needed in every age.
The minute someone uses the word holiness, however, we are forced into comparison – to distinction. Using the word “holy” feels impolite in our pluralistic culture that abhors any suggestion of absolutes. By calling one thing holy, the immediate implication is that something else is not. Prohibition. Regulation. Legalism. Micro-management. Nobody wants to enter into a relationship with a stern, micro-managing God, nobody; but that’s exactly what holiness feels like to many people.
The challenge becomes viewing holiness as an asset intended to enrich our lives instead of as a liability intent on sucking the fun out of life, and it is a challenge. I realize that. Holiness is one of those words so laden with presumption, assumption, and prejudice, that it is difficult to discover any good in it unless we have a face to face encounter with the One who personifies holiness: God Himself. Isaiah had one, and it wrecked him!
“Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5 (NASB)
Isaiah had a profound encounter with the God of the universe and was never the same. As Isaiah entered the spiritual realm, he immediately recognized his own limitation before God. Isaiah didn’t just feel weak and inadequate before God’s perfection, he recognized his position as a sinner before a holy God. Sinner is another one of those words we’d like to relegate to the archives.
God mercifully intervened to restore Isaiah and forever redirect his life.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me.’” Isaiah 6:8 (NASB)
Last Sunday, Pastor Jerry spoke from Isaiah 6 and said this, “When we encounter the holiness of God, it will lead to a commission by God.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop a minute,” I wanted to say in the middle of his message. “Let me understand what you just said.”
Jerry’s statement burned through my head and heart all afternoon and opened the door to a fresh encounter with God about the importance of personal holiness. If what Jerry said is true, understanding holiness will have a strategic impact on my future.
“When we encounter the holiness of God, it will lead to a commission by God.”
A commission by God…
What’s a commission?
Military officers are commissioned into service after completing all of the necessary education and training. Higher-ranking officials delegate their authority to the new officers setting them apart for leadership, responsibility, and a lifetime of service to their country.
Moses commissioned Joshua into leadership in Numbers 27:18-20. “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight. You shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him.’”
Believers were commissioned by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 when he said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NASB)
“When we encounter the holiness of God, it will lead to a commission by God,” Jerry said.
Why does holiness lead to a commission from God?
- Encountering God’s holiness reveals his majestic position as King of Kings and Lord of Lords – I will see there is no one else like Him
- Encountering God’s holiness reveals my need – I will never be like God, therefore, I desperately must rely on Him
- Encountering God’s holiness makes me sensitive to the needs of others – If others understand God’s love for them, they can have access to Him
- Encountering God’s holiness reveals his assignment for me to meet the needs of others – I want others to experience God for themselves, so I will go
Being commissioned, or set apart by God for service, is the exciting part; that’s where the fun is in the Christian life. When we are called by God and given an assignment that fits our abilities and our passions; who doesn’t love that?! If only we didn’t have to contend with that bothersome, picayune, holiness part of the equation.
Holiness matters to God and it matters to those he’s called into His service. There are plenty of people serving in the church today whose personal lives are ravaged by addiction, excess, distortion, and deceit. This, to me, is the gut-wrenching tragedy of our age. Many brothers and sisters in the body of Christ are infested by spiritual termites and are being eaten away by sin and a culture that invades every portal of entry.
God desires for us to be holy. He even commands it in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (NASB)
Wow, that’s a tough one. Can we really be holy? With all the seedy stuff spewing across television screens, cell phones, and the Internet, is holiness even possible in this day and age? It seems a bit much for God to ask, let alone command of his followers. No, it’s not too much to ask, and yes, it is possible, but the key to being holy is one of motivation.
If my energy and effort is focused on my external behavior, I may never be able to fulfill God’s desire for me to live a holy life. Psychological behavior modification techniques couched in Christian verbiage is the fast track to legalism. I know; I’ve done it. I’ve even taught others to do it. Conformity works from the outside in and may change behavior, but it can never change the heart. Only God can change my heart, and only God can heal my heart.
Transformation is just the opposite; it works from the inside out. When I fix my eyes on the Holy One who called me and allow his Spirit free reign in my life, his holiness will naturally emerge through my activities and expressions. I won’t have to try harder, jump higher, be better, or act more spiritual. God’s holiness will automatically permeate my life and sneak out to affect others even when I’m not aware of it.
Years ago, we used to sing a song at our church about God’s glory touching down and covering us. It is a powerful song filled with the ebb and flow of anticipation. After a haunting minor key introduction, the last line of the refrain crescendos with, “Let the weight of Your glory, let the weight of Your glory fall…” Then, quite often the worship leader would allow a dramatic pause for silence as we waited for the glory of God to tangibly manifest in the room.
It always scared me to sing that song. Despite the beauty of the lyric and the power in the song’s presentation, it seemed a bit cavalier to sing, “Come on, God; show us what you’ve got. Let us see your glory,” even though Moses did it in Exodus 33:18. I had read Isaiah 6 and knew that Isaiah had been “ruined” by the glory of God. I’d also read Revelation 1:17 which says that the Apostle John fell at Jesus’ feet like “a dead man” when he saw Jesus in his full glory. Scripture is loaded with people who were overcome by God’s glory and responded in debilitating fear. Some became lifeless, blind, and mute, so I wasn’t at all eager to have God’s glory fall in a room where I was standing.
But Jesus. But Jesus!
Jesus wants us to experience his glory and to catch a glimpse of his holiness. Jesus wants us to see him as he is, not as who we’ve limited him to being. “When we encounter the holiness of God, it will lead to a commission by God,” the pastor had said. Embracing Jesus’ holiness allows us to be set apart for a specific and strategic call from God himself.
If you have been waiting for God to use you but there has been an unrelenting delay of his assignment for you, stop and ask him to
show you his glory. Get a glimpse of his holiness and let that reality transform your heart from within, and then you’ll be ready for his assignment.
Experiencing his glory first hand means we run the risk of being totally wrecked by his purity, but hey; what a way to go!
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.