Man’s holiness is now his greatest happiness, and in heaven man’s greatest happiness will be his perfect holiness. Assurance is the daughter of holiness; and he who shall more highly prize, and more earnestly press after the enjoyment of the daughter than the mother, it is not a wonder if God shuts the door upon him, and crosses him in the thing he most desires. The surest and the shortest way to assurance is to wrestle and contend with God for holiness… When the stream and cream of a man’s spirit runs after holiness, it will not be long night with that man; the Sun of righteousness will shine forth upon that man, and turn his winter into summer, and crown him with the diadem of assurance. —Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth
“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).
The God of Israel is the God of all, and His majesty exceeds His domain, for His domain is finite, but His glory infinite. And thus the question,
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3).
Does the answer of the psalmist distress you?
“He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 23:4).
What of grace and justification by faith alone? Note that the question is not how, but who—same three letters, very different meanings. The grounds upon which the saints come before the Holy One ever remains Christ and Christ alone. But here we do not have an explanation of how we come before God, but of who comes before God.
The hill of Yahweh is Jerusalem and His holy place is the Tabernacle. God dwelt in the midst of His covenant people who He had redeemed by the blood of the lamb. Before bringing them into the promised land He brought them to Sinai to receive His law so that they might be holy as He is holy. The people of God are a holy people because the God of their salvation is a holy God. The saved are saints. We are not fit for His presence, but He is making us so.
Make no mistake about this, if you would see God, you must be holy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:3). Elsewhere we are instructed to “strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). J.C. Ryle warns,
“Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.”
“The favorite idea of many, that dying men need nothing except absolution and forgiveness of sins to fit them for their great change, is a profound delusion. We need the work of the Holy Spirit as well as the work of Christ; we need renewal of the heart as well as the atoning blood; we need to be sanctified as well as to be justified. …What could an unsanctified man do in heaven, if by any chance he got there? Let that question be fairly looked in the face, and fairly answered. No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character. When an eagle is happy in an iron cage, when a sheep is happy in the water, when an owl is happy in the blaze of noonday sun, when a fish is happy on the dry land—then, and not till then, will I admit that the unsanctified man could be happy in heaven.”
God saves none but sinners, but every sinner saved is a saint being sanctified. Sinners who come with open hands, claiming no righteousness of their own, will find those hands cleansed by the God they come to in the blood of the Lamb who is their righteousness.
Fill in the blank.
The pastor announces, “Hey church, Jesus has given us everything we need for ____________!”
So what’s rattling in your noggin? I bet most Evangelicals would have answers related to either evangelism and growth or finances and buildings. Jesus has given us everything we need to be BIG. I think many responses would indicate just how deeply the prosperity heresy has infiltrated the ranks. Of course, she is dressed up as a sexy spy rather than gaudily made up—prosperity soft rather than prosperity over-the-top. That said, how few would answer godliness?
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 2:3–4).
All we need for life and godliness, Christ has granted us by His divine power. If you’re checking the Scriptures for an exchange policy, hoping for some measurable bigness instead, I’m afraid you’ll find you don’t have an authentic receipt. You’ve received no grant from Christ at all. You don’t have to make godliness attractive to the saints.
Still, though the saints rejoice at this promise, godliness remains one of those words we throw around but seldom pause to define. Our text speaks of “life and godliness.” The pairing links them together as one. Godliness is a way of life. Godliness is life. As sin is death, so godliness is life. In this way we see that godliness is akin to holiness and righteousness. It is a way of looking at the same thing from a different angle.
What particular aspect is brought to the fore by speaking of godliness? The original could be translated as “piety” or “devotion.” The reason godliness is such a good translation is that these are the words used to define what godliness means. Unfortunately, we think of a pious person as one who puts on a show of religious devotion. Though the hypocrite is devoted, it is only to the religion of self. But true piety is godliness—a life devoted to God. The only alternative to piety then is idolatry. Calvin defined true piety in this way:
“I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.”
The verity of Calvin’s definition is born out by this text. True piety is the result of God’s goodness, not the cause of it. This motive distinguishes true piety from false. Godliness is a gift, not an attempt to garner God’s gifts. Here we have gospel-godliness—a godliness that flows from the grace of God in Christ our Savior.
You can never be more devoted to Jesus than Jesus is to you. Any devotion you demonstrate to God is a gift. You can never out give Jesus, for all your giving is a gift. We are like toddlers trying to splash our dad more than he splashes us. Our hands are so tiny and his are so large. God gives oceans and we return thimbles which we have filled from His oceans.
Jesus gives us everything needed for life and godliness. An earthly and benevolent king may desire to give his subjects many things, peace and safety chiefly, but no matter how great his power, he is limited. There are always threats. Jesus divine power grants and there are no threats nor thresholds. A good father may promise a good thing to his daughter that is well within his ability, yet a thousand evil may prevent him still. But the one who gives what is requisite for godliness is God incarnate. Limitless power grants you limitless resources—everything you need for life and godliness.
This promise thrills the saints and outs the ain’ts. If this promise doesn’t thrill you, then the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, everything true and beautiful you are seeking in your prosperity-soft harlot minus the lies, is not for you. As J.C. Ryle so clearly put it:
“Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.”
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” —1 Peter 2:13 (ESV)
What kind of earthy citizens should we exiles be? Keeping our conduct among the Gentiles honorable means submitting to the authorities we are under. It means paying taxes, driving the speed limit, and not ripping those tags off of sofas until we’ve bought them. You cannot proclaim submission to one authority while displaying a disregard for another. Don’t deny Jesus’ Lordship by rebelling against the powers He’s established. We who have a higher citizenship should be the best citizens of the low countries.
Yet, it should be clear that we obey “for the Lord’s sake.” When you are subject to the state, do so knowing that the state is subject to Christ. Obey as free men. This means obeying in fear of God (2:17), and not of men (3:14).
But if the saints are the best of citizens, the salt of the earth, the light of the world and such, abounding in good deeds, why are they persecuted so? Because their obedience is done in such a way that the state is not seen as supreme. Be we as wise a counselor as Daniel, should we insist on worshipping our God, to the lions we go. If we don’t bow to the god of the state, they ready the furnace. The state would rather have disobedient slaves who bow in fear when caught, than righteous free men who stand in confidence. What the rulers of this world really want is not free men who obey, but slaves who fear. If you don’t think such tyranny exists in our democracy, may I propose to you that a dependent woman is a more secure vote than a free man. The state isn’t trying to act as “father” and “husband” purely out of benevolence.
Submit, but do so declaring, “Jesus is Lord.” This was a radical political statement in the ancient world. The Romans were cool with you worshipping your gods, as long as you said, “Caesar is Lord.” The saints replied something like “We will be your best citizens, but we will not say that.”
The only reason to disobey a lesser authority is obedience to a higher one. At the top, every time, is God. We never have permission to be rebels in the absolute. All our acts are to be acts of submission in the ultimate sense. Live are free men who are slaves of God (2:16). Every righteous rebellion is first an act of obedience to Christ as Lord.
When the state calls evil good, do not submit. When the state calls a homosexual relationship “marriage,” do not submit. When the state says gender isn’t biological, don’t submit. When the state calls for you to bow in fear to them and disobey your Lord, stand in confidence before men, bowing in heart to Christ.
Some laws are good. Obey them gladly.
Other laws are dumb, but not immoral. Mock them, then obey with a jolly heart. Laugh at such rules as though you are a foreigner from a country where there is no such folly—for you are. Laugh like you have a King who makes such laws appear petty and go along unflustered, for you know that your King is Lord even over such nonsense. When the speed limit is 60 mph in New Mexico on a stretch of highway where you can see the only other car on said highway approximately two counties away, drive the speed limit joyfully obeying your Lord and labor to end such stupidity as a way of honoring others (2:7). But until the law is undone, submit.
Other laws are are evil. Say they are such. Disobey them. Work against them. Subvert them. But do this in glad-hearted obedience to God.
Submit as far as you can, so that when you do disobey, it is clear that it is not for selfish reasons. The state is used to selfish disobedience. Obey when it costs you and disobey when it costs you even more. If you go to jail, may it be not for tax evasion, but for sharing the gospel at an abortion mill. If the state ever punishes you, may if be for your obedience to Christ.
“ …in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord…” —Psalm 15:4 (ESV)
Nowadays there is fresh emphasis on Jesus as a friend of sinners. This is a welcome reprieve from the kind of legalism and fundamentalism that withdrew into a “holy huddle” refusing even a brother who enjoyed a beer in moderation. But just as fundamentalism could go to one extreme, there are many sinner-friendly folk veering off the other shoulder.
There is a problem if your theology is reactionary. We shouldn’t determine truth by seeing the consequences of folly on the other side. Republicans who set their policies based upon Democrat stupidities are only prepping to be a different kind of ninny head. Trying to stay far away from the extreme left means veering towards the alt-right. We should not react, but be principled people who act upon the truth of God. If we’re only reacting, someone else is determining the agenda; we’re not driving, we’re being driven.
I’m afraid that when many say “Jesus was a friend of sinners,” they’re looking for a Biblical text to support their reaction, rather than having digested Biblical truth and then acting upon it. The evidence in support of this is that often only one thing is being said.
Our relationships to people should reflect God’s relationships people. God both hates sinners and graciously determines to save sinners. God’s wrath abides on man and yet he is long suffering and benevolent to humanity. You should both love your neighbor as yourself and despise the vile person. This isn’t easy. The Spirit must give wisdom based on Biblical principles.
If we start with how to relate to some extremes I think it’ll help make sense of the middle. We honor the apostle Paul, missionary Adoniram Judson, and orphanage founder George Muller. We despise Nero, Hitler, and Kim Jong-un. We do this knowing that Paul was once detestable and hoping that all whom we despise might be so transformed. In Genesis 14 Abraham receives a blessing from Melchizedek but refuses rights to the spoils from the King of Sodom. This is the kind of discretion that is called for in this world. In-between is where most people are and in-between is how we need to relate to most people.
Now, back to a general dichotomy. Douglas Wilson offers a helpful paradigm. We must learn to distinguish apostles of the world and refugees of the world. The Israelite spies treat Rahab differently than Phinehas deals with the Midianite woman. Elisha speaks to Naaman one way; Moses speaks to Pharaoh another. While Paul was preaching the gospel to Sergius Paulus he turned to Elymas the magician and called him a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of deceit and villainy. Likewise, we should speak one way to the woman broken after an abortion and another concerning Cecil Richards and Kermit Gosnell. When the forbidden woman of Proverbs tries to entice us, we flee, and when the prostitute wishes to fall prostrate at Jesus’ feet washing them with her tears, we welcome her.
This kind of wisdom comes from the Word. Marinate in Proverbs for some time and you’ll find yourself honoring the wise, faithful, diligent, righteous and just while despising the fool, liar, slothful, wicked, and evil. You will value an excellent wife over an alluring adulteress. Spurgeon said Bunyan’s blood was bibline. Prick him and he’d bleed Bible. This is why Bunyan could write honorable characters like Hopeful, Faithful, and Old Honest and despicable ones like Hypocrisy, Talkative, and Formalist.
If we soak in the Psalms, we’ll not only think and talk this way, we will sing this way. If you are fearful this will curb a gracious spirit, can you think of many figures more merciful and magnanimous than David? David forgave as big as he fought and fought as big as he forgave. Ingest the Bible and you’ll learn to read the characters of this world and you’ll read them hoping that God will rewrite them just as He has you.
In Exodus 19 the Holy God comes down; the transcendent becomes immanent. But when God comes down the ladder He isn’t less up. When Israel draws night to the One who is altogether separate, He does not become less separate. God is both holy and present; transcendent an immanent. Between God and Israel, there must be a mediator, and further, boundaries are set with threat of blood for trespassers.
God’s transcendent holiness is of such magnitude, not that it renders His presence impossible, but unavoidable. God isn’t big like Jupiter. God isn’t big out there. God is so big that He is big everywhere. J. Todd Billings has written, “While God is holy and transcendent, he is not at a convenient distance.” YHWH isn’t like the deist’s God, transcendent and forever beyond us. He’s more transcendent than that. He’s so beyond us that He’s beyond our evasion. “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! (Psalm 139:8)”
Yet, although God was there, He remained Holy. He remains other. The holy God is unavoidably present. You have to deal with the Holy. You do so either as a fool outside of Christ, or as those beloved in Christ.
This is not a fire for roasting marshmallows. After Moses ascends, God’s first command is for Moses to immediately descend and warn the people again. We quickly think we can climb without a harness. How soon we are desensitized by sin and behave flippantly in regards to the Holy. Let none presume to be a Prometheus able to steal the fire of YHWH. This is not a fire one can domesticate, harness, or contain. This is a fire beyond the one Nebuchadnezzar had heated seven times hotter than normal that consumed those who threw in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. This is a fire, that like those three Hebrews, one can only survive by means of the presence of a fourth, of the Mediator, the Son of God. Let none presume to survive the fire without the Mediator.
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. —1 Timothy 6:11–12 (ESV)
Timothy is told to flee and pursue. These two always go together, they must. If you don’t do both, you don’t do either. If you only flee sin, and don’t pursue Christ, then you’re only fleeing from one sin to another. If you only “pursue” Christ, but don’t leave your sin, you’ll find a judge instead of a Savior. These are inseparable twins. They often go by different names in Scripture. In Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 they go by “put off” and “put on,” as well as “old man” and “new man.” Romans 6 speaks of us dying to sin and being raised in Christ. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and follow him. Most familiar to us is the language of repentance and faith.
Timothy is to flee the things of the false teachers and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness; which basically means that Timothy is to flee sin and pursue Christ. The righteousness Timothy is to pursue is a righteousness before God and for God. Godliness, by definition, means devotion or piety towards God. The faith Timothy is to pursue, is faith in God. Love may mean love toward man (I don’t think that’s Paul’s intent), but if so, it must mean love toward man as an expression of love toward God. Steadfastness is faithfulness to God and His Word. And then there is gentleness. Gentleness seems like that odd cousin at the family reunion. Where did he come from? But he’s actually the one who brings everything back into contextual focus.
Gentleness is the cousin that relates the family of v. 11 to the family of v. 12. From gentleness we go into fighting. How does gentleness relate to fighting? Perfectly. Biblically. Gentleness is coupled with fighting so that the fighting is godly and righteous. Fighting is coupled with gentleness so that the gentleness isn’t compromising, and thus ungodly and unrighteous. There is a time to call wolves wolves, but there is also a time to plead with them. 1 Timothy 6:11–14 has a twin in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The resemblance is enlightening.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will [emphasis mine]. —2 Timothy 2:22–26 (ESV)
Wisely Spurgeon taught his Timothys,
Try to avoid debating with people. State your opinion and let them state theirs. If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.
Jesus called the Pharisees serpents, but at times he also pleaded with them both as a group and as individuals. Wisdom is called for. Here are two helpful principles. First, determine if the heart is hardening or softening. Lets your words match the heart. Second, love should always be the chief motive. If sheep are involved, love demands we yell, “Wolf!” Otherwise, be gentle, but firm; fighting for the faith. The faith that declares Jesus saves sinners.