Editors note: Jeremy Sanders returns to In His Image for a one off article. The author’s views are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer.
In modern life, the Christian is often beset by a host of worldly influences. Everything from movies, to music, to education, to social media, can act as a distraction from living a holy life. Even within the church, where the Christian should be able to find strength and renewed commitment, there is often a lack of holiness. It has been a slow fade; the culture has slowly seeped into the church and influenced the actions of Christians. There now is hardly any difference between many churches and the world. The sanctuary of the church, once the place where Christians knelt in reverent obedience to God, has become a multipurpose gymnasium, fully equipped with basketball hoops, rock climbing walls, smoke dispensers, and strobe lights. Where people once wore their best clothes out of respect for a holy God, now is full of people wearing pajamas, t-shirts, and blue jeans. Where boys would once never consider, let alone dare to worship while wearing ballcaps and beanies, now they pray and sing without fear. Where the music, once directed and concerned with the adoration of God, is now man-centered, emotional, and concerned with self-help. Where preaching, once focused solely on rightly dividing the whole Word of Truth, is now seeker-sensitive pragmatism that is focused on tickling men’s ears and avoiding any semblance of offense. Where our love, once focused On the person of Christ, is now on the things Christ can do for us.
How did it come to this? There are many answers to this question, but there is one that stands out quite clear; the church has not practiced appropriate Biblical separation. It has mixed the Holy with the profane and is now paying the price for its lackadaisical attitude.
Now, some people might assume from the preceding paragraphs that I am harkening back to the “good old days”, that I am against anything new. Such an ad-hominem charge is far from the truth. Just because a song is new does not mean it is bad. A dress or suit styled in a modern fashion does not make it profane. However, there are timeless principles that we have abandoned, yet can be observed clearly in Scripture. As we will see, God is quite particular about our manner of worship. We must approach Him with the appropriate level of reverence and respect, lest we dishonor His name. In this article, we will examine Scripture to determine God’s call to Biblical separation between the Holy and the profane. The seriousness of the subject might shock you.
Let’s begin in Leviticus 10:1-3
“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.”
And continue down to verses 8-10.
“And the LORD spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;” (Emphasis Added)
Here we have a very somber tail from Scripture. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, were priests serving the Lord in the tabernacle. Part of their job was to take incense and offer it to the Lord. God placed clear guidelines around this task in Exodus 30:8-9 when God commanded Aaron to offer no strange incense on the altar of God. Strange incense likely means incense that was not consecrated to God. The strange fire was a fire that was likewise brought from a source not consecrated to God.
We are told that these two men too incense and offered strange fire to the Lord. Why they did so is not clear, however, from verse 9, we can gather that these two men were likely influenced by alcohol. What we know for certain is that they determined to worship according to their ideas, and not follow God’s commands concerning worship. And because of their rebellion, God strikes them dead with His holy fire, utterly obliterating both the rebellious priests and the strange fire they created.
Why does God do this? We are told in verse 3 “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified”. The Lord is quite clear, He demands to be sanctified/ or set apart in the manner He is worshiped. He is unlike all other deities, all pagan gods; Our God is holy. And He will be glorified in how He is worshiped. In fact, our entire reason for existence and the entire reason God has chosen to save man is for His own glory. The Apostle Paul tells us this in Ephesians 1:11-12. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” (Emphasis added) Our God Sovereignly accomplishes His will for the purpose of His glory and demands obedience in our worship of Him. As Exodus 20:5 tells us, “…I the Lord thy God am a jealous God…”
Because God is supremely Holy, he demands to be worshiped in holiness. Verse 10 of Leviticus chapter 10 explains why God institutes rules for how we are to worship. “And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;” God is quite clear in what He expects from His children. God is Holy, He demands holiness.
We are going to look at three points concerning the holiness of God today. First, we will examine the natural response of man when confronted with God’s holiness. We have already seen part of that in the actions of Aaron’s sons. Next, we will examine the only way for man to obtain such holiness. Thirdly, we will examine how we as Christians are to apply God’s holiness in our lives today, both in our worship and in other areas of our life.
Point #1: The Natural response of Man is to rebel when confronted with God’s Holiness.
Because man has a sinful nature that is in a permanent state of rebellion unless it has been redeemed by the sovereign grace of God, man will always revolt again God’s law. Mankind has always sought to come to God on our own terms, rather than on God’s terms. We want to dictate how we will worship God, how we can obtain eternal life. And it always revolves around our works. We wrongly view ourselves as good and righteous and believe that our works are good enough to appease God. Indeed, the very first instance of man worshipping God demonstrates this fact.
Turn with me to Genesis 4:3-5, “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” The first time recorded in the history of man worshiping God demonstrates that fallen man will always seek to supplant true worship with a false substitute. Unlike Abel, who followed God’s standard by sacrificing the blood of innocent animals, Cain offered the fruit of his own works. Just like the sons of Aaron, Cain rebelled against God’s standard of worship, choosing instead of trust in his own method to worship God. And just like in Leviticus 10, God rejected such worship because it was not according to His will and His plan. Cain is very angry over this rejection, and of course, we know the story; he goes out and kills his brother. Thus, the first murder in history stems from the rebellious heart of false worship.
Of course, it is man’s natural inclination to rebel against God. All of us have a sinful nature. None of us would choose to seek after God on our own accord. Paul tells us in Romans 3:11-12 “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Emphasis Added) Further on in verse 23, Paul writes, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” We all have sinned and come short of God’s glory, which is, of course, Jesus Christ. His holiness is so great, we cannot hope to attain it on our own. So instead, we all choose rebellion against God.
It is for this reason that God has put in place rules concerning our worship of Him. Leviticus 22:31-33 made clear the purpose of these rules after laying out the various duties of the Mosaic priesthood. “Therefore shall ye keep my commandments, and do them: I am the LORD. Neither shall ye profane my holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the LORD which hallow you, That brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD.” (Emphasis Added)
Notice, that we are not to profane God’s holiness. It is the Lord’s purpose to consecrate us to himself. Furthermore, what is the reason God brought out the children of Israel from Egypt? Was it for their own benefit? Was it to free them from slavery? No! It is so that the Lord could be their God! It is for His glory and praise that He accomplished this feat, not our own. This verse takes us back to the verse we read in Ephesians chapter one. With such knowledge, the act of false worship takes a much more serious light. All men worship a god, whether it be a pagan god, a god of their own creation, or indeed their own being, as do atheists since in their worldview, mankind has replaced God. Some people attempt to worship Jehovah but do so in a manner that violates Scripture. No, we are not bound by Old Testament ceremonial law today, we do not offer incense upon the altar of the tabernacle. But God still demands we worship Him appropriately.
Remember the words of Jesus to the Samaritan women at the well. If we look in John 4:23-24.Jesus says,“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” We see hear that God demands we worship Him in truth. Since Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life” we are to worship Christ per His guidelines, not our own. Any other form of worship is an act of rebellion.
Point # 2: Holiness is unattainable, apart from Christ.
In the first point, we saw the bad news. We are all rebellious creatures that have no hope of obtaining holiness on our own. The good news is that we have a redeemer in Christ Jesus. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and bought us with His precious blood. In Ephesians 1:7, Paul speaking of Christ, writes, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”.
Peter echoes these sentiments in 1st Peter 1:18-21, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.” (Emphasis Added)
We see that we are not redeemed from our sin by earthly things. No amount of money or tradition can save us. Only the “precious blood of Christ,” the perfect, spotless lamb of God, could save us from our sins. We see that Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary was foreordained before the world was even formed. Before man was even created God knew we would rebel, and prepared a way for our redemption. Verse 21 tells us that it is only through God’s grace that we can believe in God at all! Remember Paul in Romans 3:11, “there is none that seeketh after God.”
The conclusion to 1st Peter 1:21 is the foundation for our hope. Christ has been raised from the dead so that our faith and hope might be in God. We serve a risen Savior! And if you have been redeemed from your sin by Christ, you can be counted holy and righteous before God.
We see this glorious truth in Romans 10:9-13, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
All you must do is confess that Jesus is Lord, meaning submit to His rule over your life. Surrender your desires to him, and believe that God raised Him from the dead. If you call upon the Lord to save you and to lead your life, He promises you will not be ashamed. You will be His child. Notice, there is no difference between Jew and Greek, meaning no matter your race, no matter your situation, if you surrender your life to Him, committing to obey His Word, you will be saved. That is how we can access the holiness of God. Unless you have submitted to Christ, your worship is in vain. You are like Cain, trusting in your own efforts to worship God, and thus in open rebellion against Him.
Point #3: Christians are commanded to live holy lives, set apart from the World
As Christians, we are to live holy lives. This applies not just to our worship of God, but in all facets of life. Yes, God takes his worship seriously, but if we worship appropriately on Sunday and live the rest of the week in open rebellion, then we are living as hypocrites. God commands His children to be holy, it is not a choice. 1st Peter 1:15-16 “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” Peter is quoting Leviticus 11:44 when he instructs Christians to be holy. Notice, we are to be holy in “all manner of conversation”, meaning in every aspect of life. We are to be holy because God is holy and we are to follow His example.
Too often, Christians believe that once they are justified in God’s eyes, they can live any way they choose. They forget that salvation does not end with justification, but continues through our sanctification and our eventual glorification once we die. Too often, we stop at Justification and think we can go on and live whatever sort of life we want. However, such belief is not Scriptural. If you are saved, your life will display the fruits of your sanctification. Speaking of the sanctification of Christ, Paul writes in Philippians 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Emphasis Added)
You see, if we are saved, it is Christ who is accomplishing the good works in our lives. We cannot take the credit. Furthermore, it is not a question of “IF” we will live a sanctified life of good works. We are told Christ “will perform it”. It is not a choice, but the natural outgrowth of our faith if we are saved.
Because of this fact, we as Christians must live holy lives, set apart for God’s service. We remember God’s charge in Leviticus 10:10, “that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;” This is not just something applied to the Old Testament, as we have already seen in 1st Peter 1:15-16. We see other examples of such a command in Scripture. Paul writes to us in 2nd Corinthians 6:14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”
Further on in verse 17, he writes “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” As Christians, we are to be separate from all ungodly organizations and practices. The term “unequally yoked” means to be bound together as two oxen, both pulling in the same direction. We should not be linked with ungodly organizations, no matter their affiliation, or stated intent. To do so violates Scripture.
This point is especially true for those who claim to be Christians, but who are preaching doctrines contrary to God’s Word. 2nd John 1:9-10 “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:” We are not to bless those who preach contrary doctrines, we are not even to receive them into our homes as guests. Considering the church is the “house of God” we must likewise apply this principle to the church.
So, what is the purpose of living a holy life, separate from the profane? Why must we worship in holiness? In 1st Peter 2:9, we find, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” We have been chosen by God as royal priests. Peter is referencing Deuteronomy 14:2 and applying this doctrine to the church. God chooses Israel to be separate and holy, a peculiar people chosen specifically by God to bring Him glory. Thus, the purpose of living a holy life is to bring God glory. We are to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness”. By doing so, we not only glorify God, but we act as witnesses to the world. Our testimony should be marked by that of separation from profane and worldly influences. We are new creatures in Christ, and our lives should demonstrate such a calling.
Conclusion: Are you worshiping in Holiness?
In closing, may I ask if you have submitted to the holiness of God in your life? If you have never repented of your sins and asked Jesus to save you, know He will do so if you simply call upon Him. Like Cain, like the sons of Aaron, your own attempts at worship cannot meet His standards. You must repent of your sin, trust that Christ died for you, and desire to submit to Him as your Savior and Lord. Your eternal future depends upon it.
And for the Christians reading this today, may these verses stir us to live holy, sanctified lives. May we realize that spiritual separation from the world is not a choice. It is a command from God. May we realize that we are to live in holiness in all areas of life, whether it is how we dress, the music we sing, or the movies we watch. Let us truly live according to 1st Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” I urge us all today to live with a renewed sense of commitment to Christ. That we would shun worldly influences, and do everything to draw closer to God and to bring Him glory.
For the glory of God and the Gospel!
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