Summary: God calls all His children to a life of holy living by His grace, and this call is not optional but imperative. This sermon was originally prepared as my farewell message to the people of Decatur Central United Methodist Church.
Leviticus 20:6 - 9 (NRSV), “If any turn to mediums and wizards, prostituting themselves to them, I will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people. 7Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the LORD your God. 8Keep my statutes, and observe them; I am the LORD; I sanctify you. 9All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them.”
I Peter 1:13-16 (NRSV), “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; £ discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14Like obedient children do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
“One day a young minister was being escorted through a coal mine. At the entrance of one of the dim passageways, he spied a beautiful white flower growing out of the black earth. ‘How can it blossom in such purity and radiance in this dirty mine?’ the preached asked. ‘Throw some coal dust on it and see for yourself,’ his guide replied. When he did, he was surprised that the fine, sooty particles slid right off the snowy petals, leaving the plant just a lovely and unstained as before. Its surface was so smooth that the grit and grime could not adhere to it.” [--Bible Illustrator Deluxe 3.0, CD-ROM, “Clean in a Dirty Place.” Omaha, Nebraska (Omaha: Quick Verse, July, 1986, number 23.].
Such is the picture of a Disciple of Jesus who lives a holy life. He or she is empowered by the Holy Spirit to live as pure a life in this sinful, corrupt, immoral, vile, evil, wicked world just as the flower could “blossom in such purity and radiance in that dirty mine.” In multiple places of the Old and New Testaments, the Lord commands us, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Besides our texts from I Peter 1:16 and Leviticus 20:7, the Lord issues this same commandment twice in Leviticus 11: 44-45 and once again in Leviticus 19:2.
Those of us who have gone through the Alpha ministry may remember Nicky Gumble’s personal desire and prayer during a ministry at Holy Trinity Brompton by the late John Wimber was for “power.” Certainly power is one of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of His people, and God answered that desire and prayer for Nicky in a convincing way. The most persuasive evidence of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, however, is a life lived in holiness. My personal prayer for my own life and for the continued ministry of our Church is that we all may “be holy as God is holy.”
God calls all His children to a life of holy living, and this call is not optional but imperative, for we are reminded in Hebrews 12:14 that disciples must “Pursue, or follow, peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” One who is holy is perfectly good and righteousness, morally and ethically pure. God is the root of all holiness, and God alone is by nature holy. Because God is holy, He is morally perfect, His totally separated from all evil. God is the only perfectly good, righteous, and pure Being. The prophet Habakkuk recognizes the holiness of God so well in Habakkuk 1:12-13:
“Are you not from of old,
O LORD my God, my Holy One? . . .
“Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,
and you cannot look on wrongdoing. . .”
God is absolutely holy so that His eyes are “too pure to behold evil.” He cannot look on, cannot accept, and cannot approve any form of evil. In contrast to the absolute, pure, holiness of God, we are, by nature, sinful creatures; but our Holy God, King of the Universe, expects us to be holy too, but how can we ever “be holy as God is holy?”
We can never do so through our own efforts and works or in our own strength and power. Holiness is a gift of grace. Our holiness is derived from His holiness. Our Holy God is more than able to make His people holy, as He clearly promises us in both our passages of Scripture this morning. Look again at Leviticus 20:7-8, “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes, and observe them; I am the LORD; I sanctify you.” God asks us to “consecrate ourselves” and then promises “I sanctify you.” I Peter 1:14-15 charges us, “Like obedient children do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct. . .” The words “consecrate” and “sanctify” in the Leviticus passage are the same Hebrew term. God promises “I sanctify you.” To sanctify is “to make holy.” God makes us holy where we are powerless to do so ourselves.