Please, Not a Holy Life
PLEASE, NOT A HOLY LIFE
Pastor Jeff Wood
Sept. 20, 2015
I know a man who was hired by a company right out of college. After a few years he was called into the office of his supervisor’s supervisor. There he was asked if he would do an MBA on the company’s dime. But that was not all. After the degree the idea was that he would go to one company plant in this one state. After eighteen months, another plant in another state. Following these two stints, be VP at one small division of the company. Then VP of the medium division. As he walked out of that office he realized he hadn’t been saved from unemployment with this business but he had been selected to a place and a role. The passage we read today says we were not just saved but were selected to a place and a role. It bears the name holy, a holy life. We pray.
Paul is writing to Timothy from prison. These are perhaps his last recorded words before dying. So they are flavored with that kind of heart.
II Tim. 1:1, 7-12. 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
And vs. 8, there are different translations but the message gets to us if we read, ‘A holy God has issued to us a holy call to a holy life.
I know I am supposed to, because I’m a church guy, be excited about a holy life. But the truth be told, I don’t know that a holy life sounds that exciting … at least, to me. It’s in league with the boy who said he didn’t want to go to heaven. Why? It’s eternal and that means long therefore heaven was sounding to him like a, really, really long church service. I get that. I love you and I love church but a kajillion years of 10 am to 11 am on Sunday morning?? No, I don’t think so. Holiness sometimes come to me like that.
If we did a man on the street interview over at Country Ham and Eggs or at the Sebastian High School and asked for quick word associations with “holy,” I’m guessing we’d get, “Holy cow!” But eventually someone would say, “Holier than thou,” or moralistic. This makes the case that we have appetites for chicken wings, fast cars, happy families, and European vacations, … but holiness?
What has happened to our sense about holiness is not unlike what has happened in san Antonio where I used to live. The town grew up around the Spanish mission on the San Antonio River that we know as the Alamo. There is it is today in downtown. We think of downtown as the center but actually the way the city has grown and developed, lopsidedly to the north, the true geographic center today is miles north of downtown. There’s been a shift. Words and their meanings do the same. But I want to go back to origins of the word holy in the Bible so we can capture its goodness and not be leery of a holy life, the one we are made for and called to by God.
We’re going to zero in on four words or phrases in this passage and the first is promise. Right at the beginning of our passage we read of “the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.” The life we are called to is a promising life. A promising dinner is not a sticky clump of a few grains of cold rice. It’s thick chili with sharp cheese and onions along with hot cornbread covered with real butter. We’re talking sumptuous.
The great paradigm of saving and calling in the Bible is in Exodus. God saves the Hebrew people from slavery and calls them out Egypt … calling them out of slavery and into freedom (mark that word) in the _____ land. What kind of land? the promised land. Joshua and Caleb spy it out and say of it what? That it is – boring and puritanical? No, a land flowing with milk and honey. That sounds full (flowing) and almost sensuous.
I can still remember Dr. Gerry Hawthorne, my first Greek professor, there on the 2nd floor of Blanchard Hall. He could give the best 60 second devotional. One day he talked about how he loved the word, “Yes.” He loved hearing his girlfriend say yes to his proposal of marriage, his wife say yes that they were pregnant, his examiners say yes to his dissertation’s success, his interviewers say yes to him having a job at the college. And, then, he said, “Guess what? I Corinthians 1:20, all the promises of God are yes in Christ Jesus.” Whatever else holy is it is wholly promising.
The next word or phrase is set apart. In verse 8 and 9 the actual word “holy” is used. Holy at its root actually means separate like a separate category. And the verb separate means to cut. Think of It as in “a cut above.” A fine garment we say is a cut above the rest. With the butcher we talk about a fine cut. It means different, special. We’re called to something that is a cut above.
Here’s a way to think of it. Vacations are not ordinary days they are special or a cut above. Holidays … holy days are not same ol, same ol, … they are special. One day that is said to be holy is the Sabbath as in keep the Sabbath for it is holy. Holy in what sense? The Sabbath is patterned after God resting on the 7th day having just made the world. He saw it was good, good, good, good, … good. Then he finished and he rested. Was he tired? No. Did he not like working? Seems like he did like it. But if you have been building a boat for six days and finally finish it, what do you do on the 7th – rest in the sense of napping? No, you stop working on it and go out and play with it! Holy is a cut above and delightful.
Some Hebrew and Greek dictionaries define holy and what I have been saying as “awesome.” Like, “This is awesome.” The seraphs in the Bible, these flying creatures, full of eyes, around God’s throne, … sing forever, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The Bible says something twice for emphasis as in “Verily, verily.” Here it is thrice, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m all ears”? It means they are focused and ready to listen. The seraphs are literally all eyes. All these eyes, many of them, big and full and they cannot get their fill, enough. They are saying of the one who is holy – “Awesome, awesome, awesome.” And implied is “More, more, more.” Whatever else holy is it is wholly a cut above and awesome where we want more.
Next word – “unearned.” Vs. 9 and 10. “… a holy life -- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” Holiness involves our decisions but it is not something we earn or achieve. If we do work at it and earn it and achieve it at some successful level, do you know what happens? We end up holier-than-thou. Sanctus is Latin for holy. It is related to sanctimonious. If you try and try and try and try to be holy … and you succeed, you end up being sanctimonious.
If this holiness was gotten by trying, we would have to keep trying, trying, and trying to keep it going. If we don’t succeed, our life is worried. How am I doing? How am I going to get it? Am I going to lose it? Redouble your efforts. And whether you are successful or not, you are exhausted. You end up sanctimonious or sorry, sanctimonious or sucking wind. But this called-to-life isn’t gotten by effort.
Somebody gave me a Kindle once. It was so cool. I could have saved for one. I could have bought one. I could have bartered for one. I could have performed for one. But one of the delights about it, one of the surprises about it, one of the gifts about it … was that I didn’t save, exert, barter, or perform for it. One of the gifts about it that makes it so special is that it was a gift. A paycheck is great. But I earned it. A gift is awesome. Whatever else holy is it is wholly unearned, wholly gift.
The final word is “unending.” Vs. 10. “Jesus who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” I do have an appetite for living forever. I hate us getting old. I hate us having a hard time getting out. I hate us moving away to be nearer to family because it is difficult to manage. I hate saying good bye to loved ones at a funeral.
The Bible says the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life. We’ve just talked about wages and gifts. And what’s the opposite of sin? Holy. What is the opposite of death? Life. So the wages of sin is death but the gift of God or the gift of holiness is life.
CS Lewis put is so superbly when in his Chronicles of Narnia stories he spoke of Narnia as a land which had been, under the white witch’s rule, always winter and never Christmas. This life, forever life, good life … just out of reach. Always winter, never Christmas. Until Christ comes. Then it is CHRISTmas. On that day we tuck our children into bed and they are happy but a little sad it is over. What do we say? All good things must come to an end. Here is the good news in Jesus Christ – the truly good things do not come to an end ever. Always Christmas in Christ. The holy life, whatever else it is, is wholly that, wholly Christmas, wholly unending.
Scott Wesley Brown has a song, “Please don’t send me to Africa, I don’t think I have what it takes. I’m a man and not a Tarzan. I don’t like lions or tigers or snakes.” That’s a call to be missionary that he doesn’t want. We do not need to sing any like song about the call to holiness. It isn’t like caster oil good for you. It is a call to a promising life, an awesome life, a gift full life, an unending life.
My friend who was hired by the company out of college. Did go on and do all that he and the company laid out for him. He didn’t stop at VP however. Today he is the president and CEO of Hon Industries. What a destiny! And guess what, believer, eye has not seen or ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him!
If you would like to talk with someone about this message or your spiritual life, or to have someone pray with you, the pastors and elders of the church would welcome your call.
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Pastor Jeff Wood has been a pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Sebastian since 2014.