Monday, December 30, 2013

From the Newsletter: Holiness and Resolutions

For a long time, I have been a fan of the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. At a young age, he committed himself to live for God. He starts his list of resolutions with the words, “Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of man-kind in general. Resolved, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever. The list includes 70 resolutions that he makes, and taken as a whole, it’s a commitment to personal holiness, to living for God and the furthering of God’s kingdom with his face turned away from sin.


Time and again, scripture calls us to holiness. Paul writes, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:3-4). Peter says, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil de-sires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy (1Peter 1:14-16)”. Most importantly, all the way back at the exodus, God declares, 'Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2).


From start to finish, the holy creator of the universe says, “I am holy, and you are to reflect My holiness”. This goes way beyond clean television and keeping our noses clean. It goes beyond being nice and kind. It is those things, but it’s way more. It’s a call to live lives that are turned away from sin, and to God. Its living lives that are marked by a deep de-sire to reflect the goodness and perfection, the rightness of the heart of our creator. This is the call that lays before us. This realization led Jonathan Edwards to write “As God delights in His own beauty, He must necessarily delight in the creature’s holiness which is a conformity to and participation of it”


Unfortunately, our lives are not marked by this kind of commitment to the things of God. I found myself thinking about the contrast between Edwards’s resolutions to live as one holy and commit-ted to God with a heart saturated in the gospel, and the observation that writer and theologian Os Guinness made in passing during his recent trip to Med-way. He commented that one of the main problems that the American church has is that “we are worldly”. We should be holy. But we are worldly. It’s a hard and true word. Unfortunately, there’s all kinds of evidence to back that up. That’s another article.


But why is that the case? I think in part, it’s because we often expect that things of faith, and the life of faith will come easy, and holiness is hard. We tend to like the path of least resistance, and the comfortable path. But you don’t just end up holy. Theologian D.A. Carson observes in his book, “The God of Promise and the Life of Faith” that “People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” (D.A. Carson. The God of Promise and the Life of Faith. Crossway Books, 2001, p. 99.)


So what does this mean for us? As people who seek to live for the glory of God in this world, and to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). It means that the resolution of our hearts must be to delight in God’s beauty, and seek to conform our nature to the nature of the God we love and serve, remembering the words of 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. It means that we must seek to continue the struggle for holiness, looking to the cross, and remembering that our deepest motivation for holiness come from seeing what God has done for us in Christ. And, it means that as we gaze upon the cross, we must continue to see the invitation of the cross to live holy before the Lord. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, the writer of Hebrews says, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Holiness requires great effort. You don’t drift into holiness; you don’t drift into living for God. You drift into worldliness. We must be resolute in our commitment to being people who are holy to the Lord.


Every year, millions of Americans make resolutions. “I will do this, or that. Lose weight, read that book, accomplish that mission. Be a better parent, husband, wife, employee… this is the year I will…” As you face the coming year, and think about what you hope to see happen, and make your own resolutions, my invitation to you is, take stock of your life and resolve to live a life committed to living a life of holiness, a life that seeks first the kingdom of God and the things of God, and runs from the things that don’t honor God. Look at your life, look at scripture, and say, how, in 2014, can my life reflect a heart for the things that God loves, and an abhorrence for the things he hates? How can I be seeking His kingdom and His righteousness, and living for His glory? How can I be furthering the kingdom of God, and not living for the fading pleasures of this world, but for “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4)”? How can I be living such a good life here in this post-Christian culture that they may see my “good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12)? How can my life be marked by a commitment to live holy to the Lord? Be pondering these and many other questions.


In this season of resolutions in the face of a new year, my call to you is be holy. Make that your resolution. Live holy to the Lord. Seek to honor him with your all. As you do, remember that you cannot do this without God’s strength. Don’t forget that Ed-wards starts the resolutions by writing, “being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help.” But as you ponder the great salvation God has provided in Christ, may you hear the words of scripture  calling you to holiness, and resolve to live holy to the Lord. And when you stumble, as we are all often prone to do, may these words by America’s greatest theologian echo in your mind. “Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” Pastor Jonathan

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