Pillars of Christian Character: An Introduction
I would like to ask you a couple of questions this morning:
- "How is your holiness coming along?"
- "How well are you wearing your sainthood in the secular society of our day?"
We live in an era and a culture where the church has lost much of its ability to be on the cutting edge of societal change. We simply do not have the influence upon our culture that we once did. If you look at American history, the church has almost always been in the vanguard of significant social change:
- Without Christianity and the Church there would have been no government of the people, for the people and by the people.
- Without Christianity and the Church there would have no Bill of Rights or Civil Rights.
- Without Christianity and the Church there would have been no Abolition movement and the abolishment of slavery.
- Without Christianity and the Church there would be no modern Scientific method.
- Without Christianity and the Church there would be no hospitals and companionate care of the sick.
- Without Christianity and the Church there would have been no prison reform and just treatment of the incarcerated.
- Without Christianity and the Church the worlds of art and music, and architecture would be greatly diminished.
In this first half of the 21st century, however, the institutionalized church is looked down upon. A secularized cultural elite—the power brokers of our society—insist that we would be better off altogether without Christianity and the Church period—or at least we’d be better off without all those conservative, God-loving, gun-toting, bible-believing evangelical Christians.
If the church of the early 21st century has one great sin it’s this: We have forsaken our God-given responsibility to be ‘salt and light’ in a perverse culture. We have forgotten that we are the light of the world. We must shine out in this world of darkness and demonstrate to it a better way to live. We have neglected to be the salt of the earth. We must preserve the Christian traditions of our forefathers and give our community a Godly flavor. God's people must accept the responsibility of being the conscience of a sick society.
We have been told that one's religion or faith has no place in the public sectors of society and that religion should be—must be—a personal matter. To a large degree many of God's people have swallowed that line.
Never in the Scriptures do we see that our faith is to be a strictly personal matter. Every area of life and culture falls under Christ’s Lordship. God calls us to be light, and salt and soldiers willing to bear the banner of the cross.
God has called us to live holy lives not only here in the sanctuary, but also in the open market of society. Holy men and holy women are needed not only in the worship of the church, but in the market places of the community. Holy men and holy women are needed not only in the Sunday School room, but in the public class rooms of our schools and universities. Holy men and women are needed not only in the fellowship of the Body of Christ. They are also needed in the fraternities and clubs of our communities.
When God says, "Be ye holy, because I am holy," He doesn't mean just be holy in church, but be holy in all the activities of life. The most important activity in church is not how you responded in a worship service, or what you think about the preaching or singing. The most important Christian event that takes place in your life is after the benediction.
The bible says, "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." If there is one thing that all of us should be deeply concerned about this morning it is our practical holiness of heart and life and our sanctification of character and conduct. Other things may have their due and relative importance, but according to the repeated word of Scripture this is priority #1 for the believer. God has called us to and insists upon holiness.
I. WHY SHOULD WE BE HOLY?
- ILLUS. To some, any "Holiness talk" sounds archaic. The very word "Holiness" brings graphic images of being old fashioned, back ward and fossilized. To others, the idea is associated with a bigotry-like "holier than thou" attitude. Yet Holiness is very much a Scriptural demand upon the people of God. But what is Holiness? Why should we pursue it anyway?
- “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14, NIV84)
- why should we strive to be holy?
- because it was for this cause that God chose us in Christ
- “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love”(Ephesians 1:4, NIV84)
- He then irresistibly drew us to Himself through the Spirit
- He gave us the gifts of repentance and faith and caused to be born again
- simply put, holiness is demonstrating the character of God in your life
- over the next ten weeks we will examine together the 10 pillars of Christian Character
- talk like our Heavenly Father
- walk like our Heavenly Father
- act like our Heavenly Father
A. HOLINESS IS A WAY OF LIFE
- the word essentially mean to be separate and has a two-fold meaning in the believer’s life
- 1st, it means the God has set us aside for His exclusive use
- the theological term for this is positional holiness
- God the Father sees us as holy because of Christ in us
- He has consecrated us for His exclusive use in this world
- this idea is seen at the dedication of the Temple when God consecrated the Temple in Jerusalem for His worship
- “For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there forever.” (2 Chron. 7:16, NIV)
- ILLUS. Wives, suppose you called your husband from work and you told him that you would be getting home late. You ask him to feed the kids and the dog. Your loving husband agrees to do so. You come home and discover that you forgot to run the dishwasher that morning before you left for work, and you husband has fed the kids and even the dog off of the good china. After he regains conscienceless, you carefully explain to him that the China is for exclusive use for only very special occasions.
- “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20–21, NIV84)
- “Abstain from all appearance of evil and the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 5:22-23, KJV)
- “For God did not call us to be impure, but to be holy.” (1 Thess. 4:7)
- the theological term for this is practical holiness
- in Christ, we are a new creation and as such we ought not to be the same today as we were this time last year
- ILLUS. An old Negro spiritual goes: I went to the valley, but didn’t go to stay, but my soul got happy and I stayed all day. I looked at my feet and they were new, looked at my hands and they were, too.”
- ILLUS. I got saved one day. I looked at my hands and they were still white—I looked at my feet and they were still the same—but I was changed because now I had Jesus in my heart. My heart doesn’t let my feet take me to the places I used to go and my soul won’t let my hands do some of the things they used to do. God changed me all over!
- this means that the moment that someone flies to Christ for refuge, they suddenly resolve to fight sin to the bitter end, until they breathe their last
- to be holy, then, is to be separated from sin and, therefore, consecrated to God
II. HOW CAN WE BE HOLY?
- ILLUS. Griffith John was a life-long missionary to China at the end of the 19th century. Though appointed by the London Missionary Society, he was a contemporary of Southern Baptist’s Lottie Moon. Speaking at a Bible Conference in England, Griffith told his audience to “Take time and be holy.” William Longstaff was an active member of his church at New Brighton, England head those words, changed the phrase just a little bit to form a personalized command: “Take time to be holy” and wrote the text to a hymn based on that theme. The hymn first appeared in a Southern Baptist Hymnal in 1904, and it’s been in every one ever since. In the first stanza, we learn everything we need to know about becoming holy.
A. 1st—TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY
- holiness takes time
- for the believer it is literally a life-long pursuit
- we live in a society that keeps most of us on the move and always rushing
- most of you here this morning meet yourselves coming and going on most days
- because we are a culture on the go we've manufactured all kinds of goods and items to meet the needs of our activity-laden lives
- we zap our instant coffee in microwave ovens
- our waffles go from the freezer to the toaster to our plate
- need information on a client? Who goes to the file cabinet? We just punch a few buttons on our computer keyboard
- because we are so busy we've become a service-oriented culture
- we have drive up restaurants, drive up banks, drive up dry cleaning and, believe it or not, in Pensacola Florida there is even a drive up mortuary!
- this attitude carries over into our spiritual lives
- we want to be holy in a hurry
- if we can just find the right bible course . . .
- if we can go to a dynamic church . . .
- if we can sit under a powerful preacher . . .
- if we read the right "How to" book . . .
- but holiness takes time
- ILLUS. Time is such an important factor in practical holiness of heart and life and our sanctification of character and conduct that the hymn begins all four of its stanzas with the theme: Take TIME to be holy. Have you ever seen an old building being renovated? All the old rotten material is removed and new material is put in its place. It’s a slow, time-consuming process. That is the picture of what becoming holy is all about. It is a renovation process. The old comes out and the new is put in its place. Hence, with us, all uncleanness and all sinful thoughts and behaviors must be removed; then new thoughts and behaviors will take their place.
B. 2nd—SPEAK OFT WITH THE LORD
- “… pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:16, NIV)
- ILLUS. John Welch was considered one of the most remarkable and godly men in the Scottish church. What was the secret to his deeply spiritual character and life? Welch regularly spent seven or eight hours a day alone in prayer. The famous Baptist theologian and historian, R.A. Torry observed: "Jesus Christ had stamped the impress of His character on John Welch. When had Jesus Christ done it? In those seven or eight hours of daily communion with himself. I do not suppose that God has called many of us, if any of us, to put seven or eight hours a day into prayer, but I am confident God has called most of us, if not every one of us, to put more time into prayer than we now do. That is one of the great secrets of holiness; indeed the only way in which we can become really holy and continue holy."
C. 3rd—ABIDE IN HIM ALWAYS
- the secret of abiding in Christ is found in our Lord's statement to his disciples
- “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, NIV84)
- the first is self-denial
- biblical self-denial means that all our activities and commitments and relationships are subject to the lordship of Christ
- it means a mortification of the flesh—some activities, and some commitments and some relationship are simply not good for spiritual growth and well-being and must be cast aside
- the secondly commitment is cross-bearing
- self-denial emphasized turning from commitment to self to commitment to Christ
- cross-bearing involves turning with Christ to the world in need
- it includes sacrificial, loving service to others
- the third commitment is following Christ
- we follow him for fellowship, instruction and guidance
D. 4th—AND FEED ON HIS WORD
- “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1–2, NIV84)
- what more can be said?
- holiness comes when we immerse ourselves in the Word of God
- ILLUS. Someone has calculated that to read the Bible from cover to cover at "pulpit speed"—slow enough to be heard and understood—that it would take 71 hours to go though the Scriptures. If you divide that by 365 days a year it take only 12 minutes a day to read through the entire Bible!
- Holy People Love God’s word
- they can’t get enough of it
- they base their lives on it. It is a part of them
- they know that it has the power to protect them from all kinds of junk in life
E. 5th—MAKE FRIENDS WITH GOD'S CHILDREN
- if you want to know fish and how to fish you hang around with ... fishermen
- if you want to be a good farmer, you hang around with other ... farmers
- if you want to be holy you've got to hang around with holy people i.e. other Christians
- you'll never become sanctified in character and conduct if you do not spend time with the people of God
- ILLUS. Joel S. McCraw, preacher and author, has suggested that if you are one of those who "gets their religion by watching religious broadcasts on the TV, or listening to the gospel via radio, you might want to step up to the set after a service and "Give your TV a great big hug." That sounds foolish, doesn't it? An yet that's how untold tens of thousands of believers now get their religion. I call it "Convenient Christianity" because you never have to worry about someone getting your pew. You never have to worry about a fellow worshiper hurting your feelings. You never have to listen to a not-so-great-soloist sing off key. You never have to sit through a dull worship service. And you'll never become the Christian you're supposed to be!
- if you drop off your associations with other Christians and disassociate yourself from them in worship and service, you'll run out of spiritual fervor and dedication in a short time
- there is no substitute for going to church and worshiping with others of like precious faith
F. 6th—HELP THOSE WHO ARE WEAK
- Jesus says that the measure of life is in our service, the good we do for others.
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:10–16, NIV84)
- ILLUS. George W. Truitt, was the long-time pastor of the 1st Baptist Church of Dallas, Tx, and one of the most significant Southern Baptist preachers of his era. He once said, "It is not the talents one has that makes him great, however many and brilliant they may be; it is not the vast amount of study that gives mental enrichment to the mind and life; it is not in shining social qualities; it is not the large accumulation of wealth that secures peace and honor. In none of these measured by God's standards does greatness reside. The true greatness consists in the use of all the talents one has in unselfish ministry to others."
G. 7th—FORGETTING IN NOTHING HIS BLESSINGS TO SEEK
- “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14, NIV84)
- Hebrews 12:14 is a verse I’ve already quoted once this morning
- in the KJV, instead of saying ‘make every effort’ it renders that phrase with one word—pursue
- it’s a verb that is a present active imperative in the second person
- it means that you personally, must right now, without hesitation, must start the process of striving toward holiness
- it’s a process that involves intense effort and has a definite purpose or goal
- striving toward holiness must become a passion in our lives
- ILLUS. In the 32nd chapter of Genesis we find Jacob wrestling with an angel. It is an all night struggle. As morning approaches the angel demands to be turned loose. Jacob responds, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
Will you make this your plea to God this morning? “I will not let thee go?”
Many trees in the forest appear to be healthy when we see them in summer. But, in the winter, after their leaves have all fallen off, we sometimes find that hidden underneath the lush green of the summer foliage is a parasitic plant called mistletoe, which has been slowly sucking away some of the tree’s vitality. Given enough time, it will kill the tree.
We as Christians sometimes have hidden sins—which like the mistletoe—slowly suck away our spiritual vitality. Although not always evident in times of outward spiritual health and fruitfulness, we must always examine ourselves for those small, often unseen, parasites of sinful habits that will sap our vitality.