Last week, the city of Portland was all but shut down due to several inches of snow…followed by freezing rain.
This, of course, seems silly to folks who live in places where real winter comes every year. But here, we typically only get one or two pathetic dustings of that cold, white stuff per year. When this happens, everyone desperately hopes it will stick long enough for school and work to be cancelled for the day.
And if we get a half inch to stay on the ground for an hour or so, those snow-day dreams will likely come true. In this event, we all stay home, dress like we’re on expedition at the north pole, and make dirty snowmen, which consist of as much grass and debris as they do snow. Those few souls who feel compelled to get in their cars and drive somewhere, creep along at 3 mph, slide all over the road, and get into wrecks with other people who are doing the same thing—because here in the Pacific Northwest, none of us has any idea how to drive in the snow. It’s great fun, and we eagerly look forward to the next year when we can do it all again!
As sad as this reality may seem, I like it. Having spent many of my growing up years on a mountain in north-central Washington, and several more of those years in Alaska, I know that the novelty of snow, real snow, lasts for a couple of weeks, tops. After that, the freezing temperatures and useless, crusty snow inconveniently hang around for another five or six months, serving no other purpose than to remind us that spring is really a much more pleasant season than winter.
So, our mild, wet, indistinct seasons suit me just fine.
But however inimical my attitude toward distinctions in the weather may be, I have been reminded of late that as far as spirituality is concerned, distinctions are good, necessary, even vital.
Isn’t that how God describes himself? Holy. Different. Other. Set apart. Distinct.
And isn’t that how he expects us to be?
My Jesse preached a sermon a few weeks ago, demonstrating how much more seriously God takes the use or misuse of something once it has been made holy. He pointed out how the message of the gospel is often spun as though the cross cured God of his holiness problem, giving him Jesus-colored glasses so that our sins don’t bother him as much anymore. As he talked about it, I realized just how appropriate that assessment is. This is often our evangelistic message, and this is how we like to comfort ourselves concerning our often utterly indistinct and unholy lives. How on earth did we get there from a gospel that clearly invites us into holiness?
In his message, Jesse used the example of the articles in the tabernacle. A pot, or a perfume might be used any way one pleased if they were simply every day, household items. But if that pot or that type of perfume was dedicated and set apart for God’s special purposes, it must be used exactly and only in the manner prescribed by God. And if it wasn’t, the punishment was either death (sometimes rather instant and dramatic) or permanent banishment from God’s people. Contrast that with the comparatively mild restitutionary consequences of various felonies under the Mosaic law, and you get an idea of how seriously God takes the profaning of something he has declared holy.
Delve and I have moved on in our Prophets Project reading from Isaiah to Ezekiel. This concept of how offended God is by the profaning of something he has made holy is shouted in the first few chapters in Ezekiel.
Considering Leviticus 20:26, “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine,” listen to what God says through Ezekiel:
“Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘This is Jerusalem ; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her. ‘But she has rebelled against My ordinances more wickedly than the nations and against My statutes more than the lands which surround her…you have not walked in My statutes, nor observed My ordinances, nor observed the ordinances of the nations which surround you…therefore…I, even I, am against you, and I will execute judgments among you in the sight of the nations. And because of all your abominations, I will do among you what I have not done, and the like of which I will never do again…I will make you a desolation and a reproach among the nations which surround you, in the sight of all who pass by. ‘So it will be a reproach, a reviling, a warning and an object of horror to the nations who surround you when I execute judgments against you in anger, wrath and raging rebukes.” 4:5-15
The people whom God has set his name upon and made his dwelling place among have horribly misrepresented him. There is no distinction between them and the Godless nations around them—except that Israel is even more wicked than they are.
Fast forward to us.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
God did not offer us mercy so we could rest comfortably in our “humanity” (by which we usually mean our sins and compromises). Redemption does not mean God cares less about what we do with our lives and with ourselves. It means he cares more. We now wear his name and he now dwells within us. We have now been set apart as a special representation of him. This means we can live holy and it means we must live holy.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” Matt 5:13
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Cor. 6:19-20
“…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:15
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Eph 5:1
“…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord ; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth ), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;” Eph 5:8-11
Obviously this is all over the NT as well as the OT. It’s not a one side of coin pet topic of some particular author. It is pervasive, throughout the whole of scripture.
I noticed in Chapters 7-9 of Ezekiel, God repeatedly reveals his motive for the manner in which he will judge Israel. That they (Israel, as well as the surrounding nations) will know that I am the Lord. He will correct the gross misrepresentation of himself.
Understanding this part of God’s character (and how plainly it is spelled out to us) and our relationship to him, how/why do you think we have managed to make the Christian life into almost the opposite of a passionate, dedicated, unceasing effort to love him and be like him in every particular? How has it become the reason “sin is no big deal”?
One final observation in regard to Ezekiel and holiness: In chapter 9, when a special mark is to be put on those who will be spared massacre, it is interesting that the individuals chosen are those who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its [the city’s] midst, not simply those who refuse to participate. Is this a distinction between those who don’t participate but have grown comfortable with wickeness, and those who recognize and grieve over the evil being done around them?