Phil Congdon, NBBC, April 3, 2019
Phil Congdon, NBBC, March 1, 2019
Recently in my study, I was reading Hebrews 12.14, which exhorts Christians to “pursue…holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” The author’s idea is this: One day we will stand holy in God’s presence – not because of our own merit, but because of Christ’s sacrifice for us; this motivates us to pursue holiness now, so that our awareness of God will be greater every day.
Holiness. I know that word seems almost like a relic of a bygone age, or a pious title – a la ‘His Holiness, the Pope.’ We carry a ‘Holy’ Bible, and the church observes ‘holy days,’ yet beyond this, we don’t give holiness much thought. But if we distill the word down to common vernacular, it means something like ‘set apart.’ To be “holy” in Scripture is to be ‘set apart’ from sin and the world, and ‘set apart’ to God. And that ‘set-apart-ness’ is what enables us to “see the Lord” more vividly in our daily lives.
I’m afraid that if I were to ask average Christians what it means to ‘pursue holiness,’ they’d probably camp on a bunch of do’s (do go to church, do give to the poor, do live a moral life) and don’ts (don’t commit sin, don’t fall to temptation, don’t do drugs). I’m not suggesting such things aren’t important – but I think to ‘pursue holiness’ is more of a heart thing. It’s taking – or perhaps better, making – time for the Lord in our busy lives.
An old hymn captures, I think, some of the essence of this ‘heart-pursuit’ of intimacy with God:
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak, forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on; Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be; Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide; And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord; And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul; Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love; Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.
If you ask me, those words penned by William Longstaff well over a century ago capture timeless truth for our walk with the Lord. The repeated line “Take time to be holy” reminds us that to be ‘set apart’ from the world and ‘set apart’ to God involves time. Irwin Lutzer writes, ‘There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. It takes time to be holy.” We spend time ‘with Jesus alone in secret.’ We desire the ‘bread’ of God’s Word, and meditate on it. In a world that is fighting God, we know His love and calming presence. And we serve the Lord each day in anticipation of serving Him forever in glory.
Pursuing holiness doesn’t happen by chance, or easily. It is always intentional. But ‘seeing God’ more clearly in your daily life is the reward. And that’s worth it. Take time to be holy. Make that your goal, this month.
Phil Congdon, NBBC, February 1, 2019
As I write this article, I’m bouncing along at 32,000 feet above the north Pacific Ocean on my way to Tokyo, and from there on to the Philippines. The pilot warned us before departure that we would have turbulence, and he wasn’t wrong. It can be unsettling at times. But then, that’s a fairly apt representation of life these days: We are encountering ever-increasing turbulence in our world.
The whole world lies in the power of the evil one. So wrote the Apostle John, the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved,’ in his epistle to the Christian church in the first century. The power of sin has infected the world since the day Eve took the forbidden fruit, and even after Jesus came to earth, the apostle closest to Him recognized its power had not diminished, but continued to spread.
The first half of the verse in which John wrote those words, however, must not be overlooked. The verse reads: We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5.19). The fact of the ‘new life’ that resides in every believer makes us ‘aliens’ here (see 1 Peter 2.11); like foreigners whose citizenship is another world (see Philippians 3.20), we are called ‘ambassadors for Christ’ (2 Cor. 5.20). We are of God.
But while we are ‘new creations’ in Christ, and know that the ‘war’ against sin was won by Jesus in His death and resurrection, we also recognize that the ‘battle’ against sin still rages in our lives. We live in the world, and the world lies in Satan’s power, remember? So what’s a Christian to do?
Paul exhorts us, by the power of the Spirit working in us (and He is in us!), to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed (Rom. 12.2). He also exhorts us:
Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret (Eph. 5.11-12).
I submit to you that those two things go together. Sin is like a slippery slope. Start down it, and nothing will break your descent. If we casually ignore its deepening impact in our society, we are implicitly participating in sin, instead of exposing it. The battle against the infestation of sin in our Christian lives includes standing against it in our world.
I need to do that right now. In the last couple of weeks, evil has brazenly raised its head in America. Politicians in New York celebrated – with enthusiastic applause – the passing of a law giving a mother the right to snuff out a baby’s life seconds before he or she is born. The governor of Virginia went further, defending the practice of delivering a new baby, then the mother and her doctors casually deciding whether to end his or her life or not. This is egregious evil, heinous wickedness…and evidence of the slippery slope. Did we really think Satan would be satisfied with abortion being ‘safe, legal, and rare’? We must not stand by without exposing this.
Also last week, a member of the House of Representatives had the temerity to equate Israel with the violent and repressive regime in Iran. This came on the heels of other politicians, and leaders of a women’s march, making similar antisemitic remarks. Three quarters of a century after the Nazi Holocaust, we see the same sentiments rising again. Every Christian should recognize the fingerprints of Satan in this. Israel is God’s chosen people still (see Romans 11), and if for no other reason (and there are many other reasons) we should defend them, pray for them, and share the good news of Jesus with them.
The slippery slope of sin is all around us. Beware of it. Don’t participate in it, but instead expose it.