Devotional Spirituality

shadowcross-300x201The following is excerpted from an article. The link to the complete article is at the end.

A common word used to refer to God in the Bible is "holiness." We sing the song, "Holy, Holy, Holy"-to express what the Bible says of God in Isaiah 6:3. God expects His people to reflect His holiness, for He says, "Be ye holy, even as I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16).


Holiness means "separation." It comes from the Greek and Hebrew words that mean "to separate or cut off." When the Bible says that God is holy, it means that He is altogether separate from the common and the sinful. This holiness makes it impossible for God to commit or even look upon sin. He is untouched and unstained by the evil in the world.

To Isaiah, God was revealed as the "Holy One of Israel." Isaiah had a frightening encounter with God (Isaiah 6:1-7), and this helped him to realize the absolute holiness of God, and his own unworthiness to stand before God. In the New Testament, we see Simon Peter's reaction to the Lord Jesus in Luke 5:1-8, where Peter recognized his own sinfulness in Jesus' presence, by saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"

The common thread of both accounts is that God overwhelmed each man. Each was penetrated to the very core of his being. Every sin, every wrong attitude, every secret motive was laid open before the God of the universe. Hebrews 4:13 (NASB) says, "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."

When we realize our sinfulness before God, we cry with Isaiah, "Woe is me, for I am undone!"-and we see that our only hope is to run to the Savior, Jesus Christ, who confers His righteousness to us when we accept Him.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, that those whom God has called to be His own, are to separate themselves from the evil and unclean things of this world.. And not only are individual believers to be holy, but the corporate body, the church is to be holy as well: "That He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27).

Our readers are encouraged to read the message featured in this issue of the Witness and note examples from the Bible and history of people who exemplified holiness in their daily lives.

The word "holy" speaks of moral perfection. Holiness is one of the elements of God's nature, which also is to characterize the lives of God's people. The first use of the word "holy" in the Bible is found in Exodus 3:5, when God told Moses that he is standing on "holy ground." The second use of the word is found in Exodus 16:23, referring to "the holy Sabbath." Elisha was called "a holy man of God" (2 Kings 4:9), and Herod feared John the Baptist because "he was a just and holy man" (Mark 6:20).

In the Old Testament, the primary use of the word "holy" is to describe the righteous nature of God. Holiness comes from being associated with the presence of Jehovah God. In the New Testament, the main use of the word "holy" is to describe the righteousness of God's children. In the Gospels, the stress is placed upon Jesus as "the Holy One."

A common New Testament synonym for holiness is the word "sanctification." Sanctification is growing into God's likeness. We are told to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). And in Hebrews 12:14 we are told to "follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord."

Holiness is hating what God hates and loving what God loves. Holiness is bearing with others in patience. Holiness is laboring to mortify the evil desires of the body. Holiness is measuring everything that crosses our pathway by the standards of God's Word. Genuine holiness, according to G. Campbell Morgan, is not inability to sin, but ability not to sin; it is not freedom from temptation,
but power to overcome temptation; it is not the end of progress in the Christian life, but deliverance from standing still.

The early Brethren not only aimed to be correct in doctrinal beliefs, but also to be intense about living a Christlike, holy life. Our goal is to balance belief with upright and holy behavior.

1. Examples of Holiness in the Lives of Old Testament Persons

There were, in Old Testament times, those whose affections were, brought into harmony with the mind of God. Their lives were lived on a higher plane, than was evident in other persons around them.

a. The life of Ruth

The time of the Judges was one of the lowest points in Israel's history. The era was marked by cruelty and lust and greed. People did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). There was gross violence and awful immorality. In the book of Judges, there are accounts of stealing idols, of grisly murders, and of tribal civil wars. The people of Israel were worshiping the gods of the Canaanite tribes.

But in the book of Ruth, we read about a different side of the dark period of the Judges. There were, in the time of the Judges, some individuals with wholesome convictions. There was a faithful remnant-a minority of people who were living godly lives.

A man named Elimelech (along with Naomi his wife and his two sons) had migrated to Moab to escape a famine in the land of Israel. When Elimelech and both of his sons died, they left three widows-Naomi (the mother), and Ruth and Orpah (the wives of the two sons).

Some years later, when Naomi (the mother) decided to return home to Bethlehem, Ruth (the Moabite daughter-in-law) chose to go along back with her. Ruth loved and respected her mother-in-law-and in one of the most touching passages in all of human literature, Ruth said to Naomi, "Entreat me not to leave you...for where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God" (Ruth 1:16).

Ruth's decision to accompany her mother-in-law was not only a decision to go with Naomi; it was also a decision to live for the true God of Israel. She said, "Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God." The Moabites worshiped the chief god Chemosh. Worshiping Chemosh included burning children in sacrifice to their god, and performing rituals for the dead. Ruth turned her back on all of that pagan Moabite ancestry, and became a faithful worshiper of the Lord God of Israel.

Ruth demonstrated holiness in her life, by her deep respect for her mother-in-law (1:14), by her willingness to glean grain in the fields (2:2), and by trusting the God of Israel, knowing that she was safely abiding under His wings (2:12). After Ruth married Boaz, the Lord gave conception to her and she bore a son (4:13). His name was Obed, and he was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David-who was the noted king in Israel, and was a forebear of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In our society there are lots of unfair negative jokes about mothers-in-law. It's true that sometimes mothers find it difficult to see the affection of their sons or daughters being transferred to someone else (at the time of their marriage)- and they tend to poke their noses into the affairs of their married children. That can lead to difficulties. But for the most, part, mothers-in-law are great persons
who want to do all they can to see their children's marriages succeed. If you have a living mother-in-law, you should be saying, "This is the person who gave life to the one I love."

Ruth's love for the God of Israel, and for her mother-in-law is not only a model for all of us, but is an evidence of genuine holiness in the life of a girl who came out of a rigid pagan society to serve the true God.

b. The life of Daniel

Daniel was a teenager when he was taken from Jerusalem into captivity by the Babylonians in 605 B.C. His commitment to God was strong. He was a person of deep piety. Daniel is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:20 as being one of the godliest of men, and in Ezekiel 28:3 as being one of the wisest of men.

Daniel and his three friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) were taken captive in one of the Babylonian raids against Judah, and were placed in special training as servants in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. Their names and their diets were changed to reflect Babylonian culture. They were given a daily portion "of the king's meat" (1:5). The Hebrew word for "meat" carries with it the concept of "an offering"-implying that the food was first presented before the pagan gods of Babylon.

There were other teenagers in the training sessions. Chapter 1:6 says that Daniel and his friends were chosen from "among these" other youths. But the four Hebrew boys refused to eat the food which had been, offered to idols, and meat from which the blood had not been properly drained.

The other young men are gone and forgotten. The corrupting influences of Babylon were too much for them, and they were useless in God's hands. By way of contrast, Daniel and his three friends still bear a testimony--because they were faithful to the laws of God. The lives that really count in this world, and in the next world are not those who go along With the crowd, but those who are determined to stand for the Lord regardless of what the crowd does!

Daniel 1:8 is one of the truly great verses of the Bible. The text says, "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank"-therefore he requested (he didn't demand) that he might be given a special diet. Daniel didn't take the. attitude, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." He remembered the revival under Josiah in his boyhood days. He had heard Jeremiah preach on the street corners. He even had a book of Jeremiah's prophecies with him (9:2). Daniel knew the Scriptures; he was aware of the restrictions concerning the various kinds of foods; he purposed to live by the Word of God.

Daniel knew that God was looking down, and that he would have to give an account someday-and so Daniel purposed to obey God, and in the end he received a special blessing. Years later, when Daniel became a kind of prime minister in the Persian Empire (chapter 6), he performed blamelessly. His coworkers became envious, and they tried to find some flaw in his character. When they could find nothing for which to accuse him, they decided to find some complaint regarding his religious life. When they saw that he was praying to a God other than the king, they arranged to have him thrown into the den of lions (6:16).

Daniel was a man whose life was marked by holiness, and not once is anything negative said about his life. If we want to live a life marked by holiness, it must begin with a purpose of heart. There must be "a previous determination" that we are going to seek to obey God at any cost!

2. Examples of Holiness in the Lives of New Testament Persons

The New Testament clearly states that we are to "Pursue...holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). Does this mean that we must be perfect to go to Heaven? Is it a denial of salvation by grace through faith, as taught in Ephesians 2:8-9? The answer to both questions is "no." None of us is perfect (as we use the term), on this side of Heaven; and no, we do not deny the doctrine of salvation by the grace of God. But over and over again, the New Testament speaks of a daily walk that flows from God's work in us.

a. The life of Stephen

Stephen was one of the, seven deacons chosen in the early church (Acts 6:1-7), and later became the first Christian martyr. Of the seven men chosen to "serve tables," Stephen alone is described as a man "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (6:5). The term "full of faith" means that he was willing to "empty himself" for Christ's sake. And to be "full of the Holy Spirit" means that he was controlled by the Holy Spirit. Stephen went about preaching the Gospel, and verse 8 says that he was "full of grace and power"-doing "great wonders and signs among the people." When he was tried before the Sanhedrin, his face glowed "as it had been the face of an angel" (6:15). And even though Stephen's speech was interrupted by the hostile crowd (during the trial), and his stoning was pursued with a vengeance-in the final moments of life, he committed his spirit to Jesus (7:59), and he died, asking forgiveness for those who persecuted him (7:60).

The final day in the life of Stephen-how he lived, what he said, how he died-revealed him to be a man whose heart beat with sincere faith in God, and with a great level of holiness in his life. Any man who dies forgiving those who were stoning him to death, is displaying a mark of holiness.

b. The life of Onesiphorus

Onesiphorus was an upright Christian man from Ephesus who befriended the Apostle Paul. His name is mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:16-18. Onesiphorus ministered to Paul while he was working in Ephesus-and also during Paul's imprisonment in Rome. The passage in 2 Timothy 1 says: "The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the
Lord in that day."

Some of Paul's helpers were fair-weather friends, but it was not so with Onesiphorus. This man was a true Christian whose cheerful spirit "refreshed" Paul, and whose love for the truth was so intense, that he Was not ashamed to be identified with Paul, even though the Apostle was in jail.

In fact, verse 17 says that Onesiphorus was so determined to find and help Paul, that he traveled all the way from Ephesus to Rome- and went all over the city diligently searching for Paul. I try and picture this dedicated, concerned brother: He traveled to Rome and threaded his way over unfamiliar streets in the big city. He knocked on doors and tried^ to learn where Paul was located.
He followed up on every clue until finally he discovered Paul (chained to a soldier) in some unknown prison house in Rome.

No wonder Paul felt such a profound sense of gratitude for this brother in the Lord! Just exactly what Onesiphorus did to cheer Paul, we are not told. Maybe he brought news about individuals and churches that had been established by the Apostle. Maybe he read Scripture passages to the aging brother Paul. Maybe he brought food and drink to help supply Paul's needs. Anyhow, Paul invoked a special blessing upon this dear friend (and upon his family)-because of the kindnesses he had shown to Paul.

Paul was facing martyrdom, and so he could never repay Onesiphorus, but he asks the Lord to repay him on that future Judgment Day when the rewards are handed out.

c. The life of Tychicus

Tychicus was a faithful friend, a fellow work-er, and a trusted messenger who helped the Apostle Paul. Tychicus traveled on ahead of Paul from Macedonia to Troas, and there waited for the Apostle's arrival (Acts 20:4). He was also sent to Ephesus and to Colosse, to deliver and read the epistles Paul sent to the Christians in those cities.

The one clue which speaks of the holiness that characterized the life of Tychicus is found in Ephesians 6, and repeated in Colossians 4. In Colossians 4:7 Paul speaks of him as "a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord."

Tychicus was "beloved" and "faithful." Those two words describe wonderful combination of qualities. "Beloved" means to be kind and courteous, sensitive to people's feelings. "Faithful" means to be loyal and uncompromising in one's stand for the truth. Some are faithful, but not beloved-clear as ice when it comes to sound doctrine, but cold as ice when relating to people. Others are beloved, but not faithful-they pat everybody on the back; want to be nice to all, but they have no,strong biblical convictions. They seem to fall, for any new fad that comes along.

Tychicus had a healthy combination of doctrinal faithfulness, and at the same time, he possessed a warm loving spirit when dealing with people. That combination of qualities is a mark of true holiness.

Devotional Audio & Video

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Reflections to Consider

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Devotional Publications

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Devotional Music

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  • River of Love

    There's a river of love that runs through all timeBut there's a river of grief that floods through our livesIt Read More
  • I Am Nothing

    I stutter when I tryTo speak the language of lifeI want to shout out loudBut I just cry insideSometimes it Read More
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Devotional Reflection

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Audio & Video

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  • Transforming this World: The Hope of Glory by NT Wright +

    Wright confronts the perspective that this world doesn’t matter, and that we live only to be in heaven. He shows Read More
  • What is Good in a World that Defies Hope: a talk by NT Wright +

    This is the second part of three talks by NT Wright at Harvard University in November, 2008 on the topic Read More
  • The Stream, the Lake and the River: NT Wright +

      Acts 2.1-21; John 7.37-39; a sermon at the Eucharist on the Feast of Pentecost, 11 May 2008, by the Read More
  • Jesus in the Perfect Storm by NT Wright +

    Zechariah 9.9-17; Luke 19.28-48; A sermon for Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011, In the University Chapel of St Salvator, St Read More
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Hidden Blessings

  • Christ is a Great Savior: a review of the movie Amazing Grace +

    Amazing Grace is a historical drama about William Wilberforce who was elected to British Parliament at the age of 21 Read More
  • Wilberforce, Hollywood's Amazing Grace, Charlotte Allen +

    William Wilberforce's relentless campaign eventually led the British Parliament to ban the slave trade, in 1807, and to pass a Read More
  • Making Beauty out of Ugly Things: Grace by U2 +

    Grace, she takes the blame She covers the shame Removes the stain It could be her name Grace, she carries Read More
  • The True Nature of Grace and Love: a movie review of the Soloist +

    The 2009 movie The Soloist is based on a book by the same name, written by Los Angeles Times columnist Read More
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