The Battle for Personal Holiness
Today we're going to look at holiness.
According to Jerry Bridges, holiness refers to being morally blameless.
This is what God commands and expects.
We pursue holiness not only because Scripture commands it,
but more importantly, because God Himself is holy.
And we are to reflect that holiness in our lives.
But we concluded by noting that GOD makes us holy, and as we allow Him to work in our lives, He enables us to reflect that work in our everyday living.
Today we look at where that work begins. My purpose this morning is to identify, first of all, the battle GROUND of holiness, and then the battle PLAN of holiness. This should dovetail nicely into our next two times together when we discuss holiness in our actions, and holiness in our speech.
But now, let’s turn our attention to today’s topic.
II. The Battle Ground
A. The Heart.
I had originally intended to focus on our thought life, but as I began to work on this message, I became convinced that the issue goes much deeper than just our thought life, though it certainly includes it.
It starts in the heart. YOUR heart. And our mind – our thought life – and yes, everything else is a reflection of our heart.
Turn with me to Mark 7:21-23
21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,
22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.’"
You see? It doesn’t get much clearer than that. But Paul adds another dimension when he describes the struggle for holiness in our hearts in Romans chapter 7, starting in verse 14. Please turn with me there.
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Let me take a moment to smash a real popular misconception: that if it feels right, it must be okay.
WRONG! Listen to Jeremiah 17:9-10.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."
The current trend in our society to live lives that our parents and grandparents would find shocking is based on the question, “How can something that feels so right be so wrong?"”
The error comes from the fact that this the wrong question entirely. It misses the point that we make decisions based on objective standards of right and wrong, not fickle emotions.
Folks, we are foolish to think that our feelings and emotions are reliable guides to distinguish wrong from right. Our emotions are about as stable as a leaf blowing in the wind. A number of things affect our emotions, such as a bad day at the office, illness, hormonal changes, or news that your mother-in-law is coming to stay for the holidays – all of them – Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Labor Day – all of them.
See? Some of you got into a bad mood just thinking about some of that stuff.
When I was a sophomore at SDSU, I had a situation regarding my involvement in the music program. I had missed a critical rehearsal for the jazz band the night before a performance. I was ostracized and ridiculed by fellow students, and staff. This ripped me up. I went over to the house of the guy who was discipling me telling him I was going to quit SDSU and move to Bartlesville. Joe cautioned me that although moving to Bartlesville in and of itself is probably not a bad thing, it was wrong to make those kind of decisions when I was crying harder than I had in many years.
He proved to be correct, of course. I stayed at SDSU, changing my major, but God allowed me to have an impact for Him there, for which I am grateful.
Let me ask you a question: if you can’t control the fluctuation of your emotions, do you really think you can depend on them to make rational judgements of right and wrong, truth and error?
As I mentioned just moments ago, we need something outside ourselves – something that doesn’t fluctuate with the moods in our personal life or the trends of society.
That something is the Word of God. God’s Word doesn’t change like shifting sand, or the direction of the wind. It doesn’t depend on national opinion polls of what is acceptable and what is not. It is stable an dependable from cover to cover.
So we see that the heart is one part of the battleground. The other part is our mind.
B. The Mind
What we allow into our minds is picked up by the desires of our heart. And we have already discussed the dangerous ground we tread when we depend on our heart for trustworthy decisions.
If our desires are evil, then our minds are quick to latch on to evil things, which in turn feed our evil desires. It is a vicious circle.
Let me read from James 1:13-15:
When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Let me ask you a question: where do temptations come from? Various sources, but if we were totally honest with ourselves, I think all of us would have to admit that we can place ourselves in the way of temptation sometimes.
We somehow think we are above it all, but know deep down that we are NOT above it, and we end up doing that very thing we vowed to never do again.
My point? Avoid temptation, don’t flirt with it! Run from it! That’s not cowardice, it’s wisdom!
Identify those areas of temptation and PURPOSE to keep from them. Sometimes that might mean taking a different route to work to avoid passing a particular bar or smoke joint. It might even mean changing some of your acquaintances who delight in getting you into sticky situations. I don’t know what that is for you, but YOU do, and GOD does.
By the way, before we leave this, I’d like to point out that being confronted with temptation is not itself sin. For example, Jesus was tempted, but did not sin. Temptation is the OPPORTUNITY to sin. And God promises in Ephesians that He will provide an escape if we will only take it.
Well, we have established the battle ground on two fronts: the heart and the mind. Now let us take a look at the battle PLAN.
III. The Battle Plan
God has outlined a plan for us as we seek to reflect His holiness. And while I am not sure that these have to be in any particular order, after the first one, they are, I believe essential to getting a grip on the holiness that escapes our grasp.
Now keep in mind our discussion last week that pointed out that we can focus on victory instead of focusing on the fact that sin grieves the heart of God. I think that these elements, or weapons if you will, will help us keep the right perspective.
A. Salvation – the first, and by far the most important. Aside from bringing us eternal life through the cleansing of our sin, it is the only avenue to getting the other parts of this plan. Taking Christ as Savior is the first step to holiness.
B. Fill your mind with God’s Word.
Hearing, reading, studying, memorizing. Fill your mind with the Word of God, and you will find it easier to flee temptation. 2 Cor. 10:5 says to take every thought captive to Christ. Time in the Word helps us to do that.
C. Fill your heart with God’s Word.
Meditating on what you get from the hearing, reading, etc., helps you avoid being the man described by James who looks at himself in a mirror and then steps away and forgets what he looks like, because he is not a doer of the Word, but a hearer only. Don’t make that mistake. Meditate on His Word. For those of you who don’t know what I mean, let me explain.
It is NOT the emptying of your mind that the New Age people talk about when they discuss meditation. That’s dangerous, if you ask me. To meditate on the Word of God means to do just the opposite. Fill your mind with it – think it over, asking questions, thinking of how you can apply it to your life and situations.
Psalm 119:9-11 says,
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Meditation brings the Word from our head to our heart.
One great way to help the Word get into your heart is to pray as you read, praying in response
to what you are reading, asking God to open your mind to what He has for you in that passage.
D. Worship in a Bible-believing, Christ-centered church.
E. Fellowship with like-minded believers who encourage you and hold you accountable.
F. The bottom line – OBEDIENCE.
1 John 5:3 says this:
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,
Obedience is not an option. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background. You are required to be obedient.
But recognize God’s part in all this: He gives us some help!
First, He gives us His Holy Spirit to guide and nurture us. He gives us His Word to instruct us. And He gives us the desire to obey (Phil 2:13). And He gives us forgiveness when we stumble (1 John 1:9).
I stand before you today as someone who struggles with holiness. But I also stand before you as someone ready to renew my desire for holiness. I know the battle ground and I know the battle plan. And I intend to put up the fight of my life, with God’s help.
Before we pray, I would like every head bowed and every eye closed. I want to give you a chance to stand before God today and declare to Him that you have the same intention. If you want to do that, I want you to quietly slip your hand into the air, so I can pray for you. No one will see you but me.
Now I am going to take a step I have not taken here before. If you would like to rededicate yourself to a life of holiness in a public manner, I invite you to the alter for a special time of prayer. You feel free to come up here now as I make these last remarks, and we will close in prayer.
You are not alone – I am already here! And as we pray, we will be lifting up not just ourselves, but each other as well. Don’t come to impress anybody, or because you think somebody expects you to, including myself, but come if GOD is nudging you.