The Scrolls is a weekly Bible study written by pastors and other leaders at Central Bible Church, based on that week’s sermon topic. Use The Scrolls as a personal Bible study tool, for family devotions, and for small group discussions. You can read part of it below. The downloadable PDF also includes discussion questions, more in-depth commentary, end notes, and a kids’ page designed for families to study the topic together. This lesson goes with the sermon "The Pursuit of Holiness."
Holiness. Unfortunately this has never been popular in modern or even ancient cultures. Rarely does holiness win awards, inspire films or make the bestseller list. Many skeptics ridicule holiness as something prudish, strange or awkward. A frequent and favorite insult used against people of faith is the slur “holier than thou.” People trying to live upright lives are often accused of being judgmental or hypocritical for holding to standards or convictions.
Even Christians can find it hard to embrace holiness. Churches today often strive to be more relevant or “hip” rather than more righteous. Good luck finding a recently published book about holiness on Amazon or in your local Christian bookstore. Even our own 31 Core Competencies curiously do not mention holiness. There are competencies that point to holiness, like single-mindedness, self-control and kindness/goodness, but nothing specifically calls believers to holiness.
Holiness is hard to live and often so easy to mess up with hypocrisy. We can easily gravitate to the extremes of licentiousness or legalism when considering holiness. Some might say, “We are saved by grace so it does not matter how we live.” Others might counter with “We must dress different, speak different, eat different and even smell different so the world will know that we obey a holy God.” Both extremes are less than helpful and often are harmful.
Holiness should be an expression of our attempt at following the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10:27). Loving God and loving our neighbor as our self can keep us from the extremes of misapplied holiness.
One aspect of holiness involves the idea of purity, cleanness or righteousness. If we claim that a book, a church or a practice is “holy” we consider those things sacred and special. Holy things should not be profaned or soiled with deceit, corruption or defilement. Marriage is considered holy (Heb. 13:4) and should not be polluted with lewd disregard, adulterous liaisons, or casual carnality. We often consider “dirty” things to be the antithesis of holiness. We often describe unholiness as including “dirty jokes,” dirty thoughts,” or as hip-hop describes lawlessness – “riding dirty.” The opposite of “dirty” is “clean.” Living “clean” can be seen as living holy. Sinfulness is at its core the corruption of good. Finding the good that sin has corrupted and redeeming that good is the art of holiness. Throwing out the bad and polishing up the good can lead to a more holy life.
Another way to think about holiness is “wholeness.” When we say that God is holy, we are saying God is more than sinless. Holiness is more than a statement of negation. There is a sense that “holiness” includes God being “wholly other” or “entirely complete.” Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). The perfection of God means that he is complete. We as humans will never be perfect in the same way God is. But we can be more holy in the way we approach life by being more like our perfect heavenly Father.
Sin is often the “halving” or “reduction” of God’s whole. Take for example food. God has created all foods for us to enjoy (Acts 10; Mk. 7). By God’s design, food is for nutrition, celebration and enjoyment. Yet our interaction with food can be corrupted when we reduce food to just one of these aspects. If food is rigidly seen as only for nutrition or religious identity, we can become heartless legalists, whom Jesus considered unholy (Mt. 23:25-27). If we see food as only for enjoyment, we can become gluttons. But if we can incorporate the wholeness of God’s purpose for food, we can then handle food in a holy manner. This “wholeness” idea of holiness can help keep things like money, sex, and power in check. Instead of settling for just half of God’s design or exalting just one aspect of God’s arrangement, embrace the entirety of God’s plan for the things he has created. Adam and Eve ignored all the provisional variety of Eden for just one bite of their imagined bliss. Holiness is embracing the wholeness of God’s perfection.
Central Message of the Text:
With all your inner faculties, trust completely in the grace that Jesus offers to you to live a radically transformed life of godly obedience and holiness.
Almost every parent comes home with their first child wondering where the manual is. “Am I doing this right?” plays on a constant loop in our minds. Recently, a parent stopped me to ask for guidance in a specific situation with their preschooler. After explaining things, with tears brimming in their eyes they quietly said, “I’m afraid I’m messing up. I’m afraid I’ll break her.” Parenting brings joy and hope but it also brings a strong element of insecurity and a battle on all fronts. We’re not only fighting for safety and protection from this world, but we’re also advocating in every setting and even experiencing struggles with our little darling as we strive to shape them into the person God created them to be. Then there’s the ongoing battle in our minds. We wonder why they’re not hitting a particular milestone, why they’re so strong-willed, and why they won’t stop misbehaving. The war wages as we think to ourselves, “What am I doing wrong?” Part of loving the Lord is turning our mind over to Him. Second Corinthians 10:5 encourages us to take captive our thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. This means we do the hard work of wrestling with our insecurities and denying the lies of the enemy as we train our mind to trust our faithful God to do what He does better than we ever could — fight for us. If you’re waging war in your mind, can I encourage you to pray, asking God to help you take every thought captive and train your mind to focus on Him. We’re praying for you!