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Monday, September 11, 2006

Separation - Perfecting Holiness In The Fear Of God

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 - Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

The passage before us establishes a good foundation for examining the issue of “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” It brings to our attention several key areas that are worthy of our contemplation and understanding. This passage lends itself to introducing some thoughts concerning the topic at hand.

My son, before he left home, apparently made a copy of my notes on my previous series concerning separation. He reminded me that it had been ten years since I had preached that series. Obviously over the last ten years I have addressed different areas of separation or the process of perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Because most of my preaching and teaching is expositional these issues arise on occasion as we are dealing with different passages on a verse-by-verse basis. Nevertheless it has been ten years since I have devoted my full attention to this matter and it is long over due.

I trust you might find the following thoughts that I presented in church yesterday evening thought provoking and helpful.

PERSONAL CLEANSING
The Motivation For The Cleansing – Having therefore these promises

The word “therefore” requires that we go back and examine the end of the previous chapter – 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.

Vs: 14a – The premise – be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
Believers are to be very cautious about their interaction with unbelievers. We must guard our connections with them. We must be careful about being yoked together with them. This would be considered an unequal yoke.

Vs: 14b-16a – The logic
What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?
What communion hath light with darkness?
What concord hath Christ with Belial?
What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?

In a series of five questions Paul sets forth the logic that believers are to not be yoked together with unbelievers. Obviously the intent here is fellowship, oneness, and sameness. Believers are not to be like unbelievers.

What Paul has done in these five questions is created conflict.
Fellowship in the context of righteousness and unrighteousness.
Communion in the context of light and darkness.
Concord in the context of Christ and Belial.
Part (participation) in the context of believers and infidels.
Agreement in the context of the temple of God and idols.

The tension created here is designed to cause us to see the absurdity of believers being yoked with unbelievers. That would be like righteousness having fellowship with unrighteousness. It would be like light having communion with darkness. It would be like Christ having concord with Belial. It would be like believers having participation with infidels. It would be like the temple of God having agreement with idols. The very though of these relationships is absurd. Likewise believers should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.

Vs: 16b – The reality
Ye are the temple of the living God. This is our reality. God lives in us. The very thought of this truth should overwhelm us.

1 Corinthians 6:19,20 - What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

Here again we are reminded that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost. What we do, where we go, how we behave, matters. We are using God’s temple, the dwelling place of God. That is why the Scripture says in Ephesians 4:30 - And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. We can grieve the Spirit by the things we do, the attitudes we express, the clothes we wear, the places we go. This body is His temple and should be managed as such.

He says I will dwell in them making us the temple of God.

He says I will walk in them indicating fellowship. Amos 3:3 - Can two walk together, except they be agreed? The question is rhetorical. If we are not agreed we cannot walk together. If we are going to enjoy walking with God then we must agree with God. We must search out the will and mind of God in all matters of life and death.

He says I will be their God and they shall be my people, indicating participation. We participate in the life and will of God and God participates in our life. The fact is God intends to have fellowship with His people. This is what He desires. This is the reason He gave His son on our behalf. He wants fellowship with us. But we must come to his terms. We cannot entertain worldliness and expect to have fellowship with the God of heaven. We cannot make allowances for the flesh and expect to be in sweet communion with the Father.

Vs: 17 – The requirement
Wherefore, because all the aforementioned things are true. What are we to do? What is to be our course of action? We are to come out from among them and be ye separate. Separating ourselves requires that we come out from among them. Come out from among whom?

Unbelievers
Those who participate in unrighteousness
Those who walk in darkness
Those who serve Belial
Infidels (unbelievers)
Those who engage in idolatry

We are to be separate. The word “separate” means to set off by boundary. We need some boundaries in our lives. We need to establish a perimeter. Erect a wall across which the world cannot come. It needs to be sufficiently out so that the enemy is held at bay. It needs to be far enough out that our flesh is not able to reach over and play in the world while claiming we are maintaining boundaries. Many times our boundaries are so close to the world that they are not effective.

It is the Lord that says we are to do this. It is not a matter of whether we should be separate or not. We should be. The Lord has declared it so. It is not a matter of whether we should be perfecting holiness in the fear of God or not. We should be. The Lord has declared it so.

He says to touch not the unclean thing. The best way to touch not the unclean thing is to separate our self from that which is unrighteous. If we go where the worldly go, if we put ourselves into close proximity to that which is unclean we will be more likely to touch that which is unclean. Consequently we will be defiled. The boundary needs to be established far enough out that we cannot touch the unclean thing and thereby be defiled.

He says that if we do these things then He will receive us. This is not in the context of salvation but in the context of fellowship. It is reasonable to expect that if the Lord is going to fellowship with us we will have to separate ourselves and not touch that which will defile us. If you are embracing the world and believe you are fellowshipping with God you are sadly mistaken. If you allow the world to set your standards instead of the Word of God you are not walking in communion with the holy God of heaven. You may flatter yourself that you are, but you are not. You cannot be. God receives those into fellowship who are separating themselves and not touching the unclean thing.

What is the promise? I will be a Father unto you. A believer cannot touch the evil thing and be contaminated by the world’s view of things and be Fathered by God.

He will be made dull to the things of God.
He will be rendered insensitive to the will of God.
He will be found despising the love of God.

Having had six children I know that there are times when I cannot Father them because fellowship has been broken. If we want to be Fathered by God we must be separating ourselves from the world.

He says that we will be his sons and daughters. That is we will have sweet fellowship with him. We will know the joys of being his children led by his strong hand and wise voice.

The Need For Cleansing – filthiness

The word “filthiness” involves the idea of a stain or defilement. It is taken for granted that we all have defilement. We are exhorted to deal with the defilement in our lives. To the degree that we are yoked with unbelievers we will be stained. We can be yoked with them in a number of ways.

By holding close communion with them.
By embracing their view of the world.
By enjoying their kinds of entertainment.
Music
Television
Movies
Video games

We often times feel the defiling influence but refuse to address the issue. Our conscience becomes defiled and eventually seared and we become willing to accept ever-increasing amounts of defilement. Herein lies the danger of entertainment. The boundaries keep getting moved in. We become less separated. We have the unclean thing within reaching distance. We are not perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

The Responsibility For Cleansing

The word “cleanse” means to purge, to purify. The direction should be growth in holiness. Let us cleanse ourselves is the admonition of Scripture. We must take some responsibility here.

Our priority should be the pursuit of piety.
Our hearts should be hungering for holiness.
Our souls should be seeking separation.



PERVASIVE ATTENTION
Filthiness Of The Flesh

The word “flesh” has reference to the body as opposed to the soul or the spirit. It is a term that is used as a symbol of what is external. What we learn from this is that the outside matters. Inevitably when one begins to address the importance of modesty and gender distinctive dress or hair lengths, or nakedness the argument is always presented that it is the heart that matters. I do not know anyone who argues that what is in the heart does not matter. Any one I have ever had any association with would resolutely proclaim the heart matters. But to argue that because the heart matters the outside does not is absurd. If the outside did not matter then there would not be so much material in the Bible that addresses the outside. The outside matters.

Our attitudes matters. Attitudes are manifested on the outside and they matter. Our personality matters. Personality is revealed on the outside and it matters. It is not enough to say, “That’s just the way I am”. Our speech matters. We would probably be surprised at how much of our daily speech is derived from the world’s music, the world’s sitcoms, the world’s movies. Our spending habits matter. Our hair length matters. If it didn’t God would not have addressed it. He would not have told us that a woman’s hair is her glory and it is given to her for a covering. He would not have told us that even nature teaches us that it is a shame for a man to have long hair. I know that when I was growing up in the 70’s that the rage was long hair on boys. It made them look effeminate. Shorter hairstyles have once again captured the men and boys of our nation. Now the problem is women cutting their hair like a boy. It matters. God addresses it. Our clothing matters. If it did not God would not say so much in the Bible about nakedness, modesty and the like. Both by precept and example God addresses the issue of clothing. Our entertainment choices matter. Do we really want to be identified with the things that we watch? Do we want to be identified with the video store or the movie house? Would we want to take Jesus into the video store to browse for something to provide entertainment for the evening? The devil has used the entertainment industry to desensitize us to sin. For me this is not even arguable. Take it somewhere else!

In all of these areas there is the potential to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. There is the potential to reflect the culture in which we live instead of the God whom we serve. There is the potential to pacify the flesh and hinder discernment. There is the potential to grieve the Spirit and embolden the devil. God help us? Far too many have surrendered ground and no longer see perfecting holiness in the fear of God as a needful thing.

Filthiness Of The Spirit

The word “spirit” actually means current of air. Figuratively it has reference to the rational soul (spirit). The point is it has reference to the inside. Let me say it clearly and distinctly. The inside matters. Our motivation matters. Our thoughts matter. Our imaginations matter. Our desires matter. Our longings matter. Our character matters. In all of these areas there is the danger of hypocrisy.

I am so far from believing that the inside does not matter that I do believe the inside is reflected on the outside. You cannot tell me you are filthy on the outside but clean on the inside??? You cannot be worldly on the outside and spiritual on the inside!! You cannot be carnal on the outside and godly on the inside. It does not work that way. There are those that would have us believe that you can be controlled by the flesh on the outside and led by the Spirit on the inside. I believe it would take a great deal of simplicity to believe that. Sound judgment and discretion would not allow for such a dichotomy. Judging righteously would not permit such reasoning.

Filthiness Of The Flesh And Spirit

I think there is a common misconception that one must be convicted in their heart before they are compelled to change their outward behaviour. By “convicted” they seem to mean they have to understand it, they have to desire the change. I realize I run the risk of being misunderstood here, but I will venture the case anyhow because I believe it is an important point to be made. I believe we should be convicted in our heart. I do not believe conviction is necessarily accompanied by understanding. Conviction is the result of being exposed to the Word of God. I can be convicted about something that is wrong in my life without understanding why God says it is wrong. I just know He says it is. Knowing that is enough to bring conviction. For many this is not enough. They have to understand. If they don’t understand they do not feel obligated to obey. I question this reasoning.

Here we are instructed to cleanse the flesh and the spirit, not the spirit and the flesh. The order is not accidental. Could it be that if we cleaned up the flesh simply because God said to then we would in time understand the “whys” and “wherefores”. Could it be that the reason some people are never dislodged from their worldly lifestyles is because they refuse to do anything they do not understand. Where may I ask is the spirit of faith and obedience in such reasoning?

Psalms 111:10 - The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.

Could it be that the understanding comes with the doing?? If we do not do his commandments we will not have the understanding on which we are waiting. Sometimes I think people are waiting on something they will never have. “I just don’t see it that way”, they say. Well, that might change if you would just obey. We do it not because we understand why, but because we fear the Lord. It is as though we often stand as defiant children screaming, “Why Lord”? Every command is followed by a “why”.

Is this not the way it is with the Lord? He reveals a truth to us from His word. We understand what He is saying but we do not understand why He is saying it. We are then faced with a choice. We dismiss what we understand (what He said) because of what we don’t understand (why He said it). Or we could exercise some faith and obedience and think to ourselves, “you know I don’t know why God would expect that but I know what he says so I am going to do it.” As we do it and it becomes a part of our lives we begin to understand why God said do it. The understanding comes with the doing. I think it is hardly ever the other way around.

If we insist that the flesh conform then we may find that the spirit is enlightened. I do not need to understand to obey. If I will obey then I will likely understand in time.



PERFECTING HOLINESS
Holiness

Holiness has to do with sacredness, moral purity, and the absence of sin. Holiness is what we achieve when we come out from among them and are separate. Holiness is an attribute of God. It is a communicable attribute meaning God can communicate the attribute to man. Man has the capacity to share in God’s holiness. In God holiness is absolutely perfect it has no blemish. Men are only capable of holiness in degrees. The more separated we are the more holy we will be. Holiness and separation go hand in hand.


Perfecting

The word “perfecting” means to fulfill further, to execute. Perfecting holiness is something that is done on purpose. We cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. We come out from among the unbelievers, the world. We separate ourselves from the world. We do not yoke ourselves to the world. In doing these things we are perfecting holiness. In us holiness always needs perfecting.

Is holiness being perfected in you?
Are you stagnating?
Are you moving toward the word instead of away from it?
Are you compromising standards?
Are you engaged in things that would make you more likely to compromise standards?

In The Fear Of God

This is the context in which we should live our lives. Our fear of the Lord will have a direct impact on our desire and ability to perfect holiness. We perfect holiness because we fear God. It is in the fear of God that we pitch our tent toward piety. Others may pitch them toward the well-watered plains of Sodom. Those that do so do so at their own peril. I would simply remind you of the Lord’s warning. It is short, brief, and sobering. Remember Lot’s wife.

Proverbs 1:7 - The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 8:13 - The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.
Proverbs 15:33 - The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility.
Proverbs 16:6 - By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.
Proverbs 23:17 - Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long.


At our church over the next several months, on Sunday evenings, we are going to be considering what it means to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God. As I have the time and ability I will be posting the content of those messages here for others to either rejoice in them or recoil at them.

I will be examining this issue thoroughly on the behalf of my people. I will be instructing them in righteousness. We are told that the Word of God is profitable to that end. If we are to have convictions that are to stand the test of time and hold them with a vigor that we can pass them on to our children then we must be well instructed in the whole structure of personal separation. In order to do this we will be addressing the following issues.

God – The Origin of Holiness
Justification – Imputed Holiness
Sanctification – Growth in Holiness
The Word of God – The Standard of Holiness
The World – The Antipathy of Holiness
The Flesh – The Difficulty of Holiness
The Heart – The Focus of Holiness
The Behaviour – The Manifestation of Holiness
Separation – The Effect of Holiness
Our Entertainment – The Cultivating of Holiness
Our Speech – Communicating in Holiness
Our Appearance – The Aesthetics of Holiness
Joy and Grace – The Adorning of Holiness
Discipleship – The Communicating of Holiness
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