A famous preacher once asked his congregation, “What is the greatest need of our church at this time?”
I wonder what you would answer. The greatest need of our church at this time? More people? Youth work? More prayer? More rooms? An outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
The preacher then answered his own question like this. “The greatest need of our church is … my personal holiness.”
Robert Murray McCheyne lived in Dundee early in 19th century. He died at the age of 30, but at age of 29 had an encounter with God which changed him so much that in his final year of ministry multitudes came to Christ and revival broke out. And it all started when he asked his congregation that very question one morning. And after many had spoken he gave his answer. “The greatest need of our church is … my personal holiness.”
It was McCheyne’s famous prayer, “Make me as holy as a saved sinner can be.” Personal holiness is not just for super-keen Christians .We are ALL called to be saints – to be holy people!
A. W. Tozer “The true Christian ideal is not to be happy but to be holy.”
Oswald Chambers. “The destined end of man is not happiness, nor health, but holiness. God’s one aim is the production of saints. He is not an eternal blessing machine for men; he did not come to save men out of pity; he came to save men because he had created them to be holy.”
If each of us was more holy in our own lives then everything else we might feel the church needs would fall into place. And our personal holiness is the power behind all effective Christian service. Our holiness is our witness to the world.
4th century St John Chrysostom (C. 347–407)
“If only ten among us be righteous, the ten will become twenty, the twenty fifty, the fifty a hundred, the hundred a thousand, and the thousand will become the entire city. As when ten lamps are kindled, a whole house may easily be filled with light; so it is with the progress of spiritual things. If but ten among us lead a holy life, we shall kindle a fire which shall light up the entire city.”
What does holiness mean?
OT Hebrew qados root = “apartness” – separated, cut off from
So to be holy means to be consecrated – set apart for God, dedicated to God, sold out for God.
2 Timothy 2:19 “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” 20 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. 21 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.
Being dedicated to God is not some optional extra – it is simply obedience to the First and Greatest Commandment: Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Mk 12:30
Loving God with all your heart:
• Is fully centering all our thoughts and feelings on God;
• Is having an intense inner passion for God;
• Is making God the core value in your life.
Loving God with all your soul
• Is finding your personal identity in God;
• Is finding your uniqueness, fulfilment and distinctiveness in God;
• Is finding satisfaction and significance in your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Loving God with all your mind:
• Is living life continually conscious of God’s presence;
• Is loving God in a reflective, reasoned and rational manner;
• Is the discipline of thinking and planning with God at the centre.
Loving God with all your strength:
• Is serving God enthusiastically and energetically;
• Is living enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit;
• Is focussing all our faculties in worshipping God.
Blue Book 519 Frances Ridley Havergal.
TAKE MY LIFE, AND LET IT BE Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days, Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, Take my feet, Take my voice, Take my lips,
Take my silver and my gold, Take my intellect, Take my love;
Take my will, and make it Thine; It shall be no longer mine:
Take my heart, it is Thine own; It shall be Thy royal throne.
Take myself, and I will be Ever, only, all for Thee.
Living a life separated from the world implies having a transformed character – being freed from sin.
1 Peter 1:14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Heb 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord.
Holiness is the heart of Christian living. Hear what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount!
5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Chua Wee Hian (IFES) at Keswick 1992.
“There is in many parts of the evangelical church a self-centred godliness, a piety that stresses self-fulfilment – how God can meet my need, how God can satisfy my desires; instead of how can I please the Lining God. We just want to feel good, we’re not concerned with God’s honour, God’s glory or God’s holiness. Today’s piety is self-absorption, it’s not God-centred. Like Narcissus we look at our own reflection, we glory in our own image, we do not give praise and glory to God; we are self-centred and we wish that God would bless and prosper us. But Biblical holiness means godliness. And true godliness is always rooted in God-centredness. Be holy: Why? “Because I the Lord am holy.” Today in many of our churches we have inverted the true spiritual values. We rate skills over sanctity, dynamism over deep devotion, programmes over prayer. (So often we forget) “It is not great talents God blesses, so much as great likeness to Jesus.” We do not take time to be holy.
Another great writer: “Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called `holiness`.”
How can we become holy? We become holy by communion with the Holy God! Spending time with God. Andrew Murray wrote “The secret of true obedience is the clear and close personal relationship to God. All our attempts after full obedience will be failures until we get access to his abiding fellowship. It is God’s holy presence consciously abiding with us that keeps us from disobeying Him. I must consciously include the Lord in every thought, activity, and conversation until the habit is established.”
In Isaiah 6:1-8 it was an encounter with God which transformed Isaiah’s relationship with God and gave him his calling as a prophet.
Seeing God as he really is
1 ¶ In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.
2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
Seeing ourselves as we really are
5 ¶ “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
5 x in chapter 5 God has spoken, pronouncing his judgement on all kinds of sinners.
Isaiah 5:8 ¶ Woe to those who are greedy and woe to those those who spend all day drinking, who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks. 18 ¶ Woe to those who are doomed, who are unable to break free from their sins. 20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. 22 Woe to those who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.
All these woes! But when he sees God Isaiah realises his own personal sinfulness – God’s judgement applies to HIM just as much as to everybody else. So Isaiah says “Woe is ME!”
Forgiven v 6-7
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Responding to God’s call v 8
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
We respond – And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah’s personal holiness and dedicating his life to God’s service came from this one encounter with God. And it must be the same for us. If we really want to meet with God the invitation is there. It is up to each one of us how holy we are. Every Christian is as holy as he or she wants to be. We may not be as holy as we would like to be, or as we pretend to be to other people or even to ourselves. None of us is as holy as God longs for us to become. But every Christian is as holy as he or she wants to be.
The church can’t make us holy. Home Groups can’t make us holy. Fellowship with other Christians can’t make us holy. The church can help! Home Groups can help! Fellowship with other Christians can help! But only GOD can make us holy. We need to meet with God. We need to spend time with God. Even coming to both services every Sunday and belonging to a Home Group only gives us four or five hours a week to help us become holy. Half an hour in prayer and Bible Study alone with God each day is almost as much. An hour a day of quiet time in God’s presence every day would be more time in a week than any of us spend together with other Christians in worship and prayer and learning. If we are serious about becoming more holy, an hour a day is not much to ask!
When I was at University the college chapel organised silent retreats lasting four days. These for me were the highlight of my early years growing as a Christian. The great privilege of my sabbatical was being able to devote whole uninterrupted days to Bible study and prayer. But retreats and days of prayer are not just for ministers. Have you set apart a whole day to spend with God recently?
Of course, in all of this, active involvement in the local church is not an optional extra for the Christian life. It’s not a question of EITHER personal holiness OR activity in the church. It’s BOTH, AND. A balanced Christian life means BOTH commitment to the church AND commitment to personal holiness.
But holiness is not something the church can give us – or any other Christians can give us. It is not something which is either taught OR caught. Holiness is something only God can give us. And personal holiness is something we need to work at individually. For each one of us, “my” holiness is something which comes from “my” own relationship with God. And I can’t look to the church to give me a deep relationship with God served up on a plate! If I am not close to God that isn’t the church’s fault, or the minister’s fault or the Elders’ fault or the home group’s fault. My relationship with God and my holiness are my personal responsibility – with nobody else to blame! If I don’t make time to read the Bible, that’s my fault. I can’t blame other people. It takes time to be holy! If I don’t make time to pray, that’s down to me! Robert Murray McCheyne also wrote, “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.”
I once heard a preacher say something very telling. They said, “A fanatic is only somebody who loves God more than you do.” Somebody whose love and commitment seem too much – as if anybody could ever have too much love for God or too much commitment to God. A fanatic is only somebody who loves God more than you do.
If I want to become more holy – that’s up to me and God! Up to me to put God first, before my employment, before my hobbies, before my relaxation, even before my family. God first! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength! And the starting point for loving God is spending time in His presence – in prayer and with an open Bible! Spending lots of time with God! It takes time to be holy. There are no short cuts! And this IS the greatest need of every church at ANY time – personal holiness.