Living Holy Lives
SABBATH SCHOOL INSIGHT #7
"Living Holy Lives"
August 18, 2012
Living Holy Lives (NKJV unless stated otherwise)
“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:12, 13).
This week’s lesson involves a topic that is close to my heart, as I imagine it is with most other Christians. “Living holy lives,” as seen in Paul’s writings, is a topic surrounded by much confusion. The intent of this article is to shed light upon and create a foundation for understanding the theme of “living holy lives,” particularly as presented by Paul to the Thessalonians. I pray that the Holy Spirit will shed light and truth on this subject, and that it may be a blessing to others in their walk with God.
1 Thessalonians 3:12 and 13 are of the utmost importance. These two verses provide the foundation for chapter 4, which is where holy living is expounded upon. Paul longs for the believers to see and know God, that He may establish their hearts blameless in holiness through Christ. Paul’s fixation on this desire is also shown in the opening of his letter to the Ephesians:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)
This text will help build the foundation for this week’s Insight. First, the holy life which God desires for us, is something He has willed for, planned for, and desired “before the foundation of the world”. Second, God has already accomplished certain things for the purpose of achieving this “life” of which we speak. “Every spiritual blessing” Paul speaks of are actual, real blessings, for the spiritual world is the real world, and we are spiritual beings. The third idea is that this life is a life for all. Since adoption into this life as sons and daughters is by Jesus Christ, and since Christ is the Savior of all men (1 Timothy 4:10, Titus 2:11), we know that this life has been prepared for all mankind. Lastly - what is most amazing to me - is that this life wherein I am holy and without blame, guilt, and blemish before the almighty God in love, is something that gives Him extreme pleasure.
The final result of Paul’s pronouncement in 1 Thessalonians and Ephesians is the Commencement Song sung by God Himself when he has gathered his sons and daughters home (Zephaniah 3:17). It is not just according to his will, but the good pleasure of his will.
In order to fully understand the significance of 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 13 let’s examine them in more detail. Paul wants his believers to increase and abound in love “so that” when Christ returns, they may be found without fault (be holy) in God’s sight. This state of “holy living” is the result, or byproduct, of their abounding love, genuinely manifested towards one another and others. Two things come to mind: 1) what does Paul means when he says to “abound in love”? and 2) if we come to embrace what it means to “abound in love,” might we also achieve what Paul denotes as living a “holy” life? Is this possible? Let us not forget a third factor in these verses, perhaps the most important of all: Paul indicates that the work of making sinners holy saints is the Lord’s work!
The verb “abound” used by Paul in these verses is pleonaz in the Greek. This word means to super-abound. A definition for holiness we are used to hearing is, “set apart for sacred use,” but the kind of love and holiness Paul is attempting to convey is of such a superior quality we have difficulty putting it into human language. The reason for such superiority and loftiness is directly linked to its source. God is love, God is holy (1 John 4:8, Lev. 19:2). Genuine love is ONLY of/from, God (1 John 4:7).
This love is the one aspect of God which we can truly come to understand, and which God so desperately wishes for us to comprehend in an ever superabounding and dynamically enlightening manner. The result is us being filled with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19 It involves an invitation to encounter the love of God. The result of that encounter is a transformation of man into the holiness for which he was intended.
John the Beloved understood that we need the revelation of God to portray this love to us. He knew that our whole image of deity and ultimate reality was marred by sin, lies, deceit, guilt, and iniquity. God did what in human eyes appears utterly wreckless and nonsensical. God did the most amazing act ever since time began. John wrote words that scream in vibrant tones across the universe:
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).
Christ and Him Crucified
God became man, the Creator a creature, the righteous accounted as a transgressor, and showed us love. Not that we loved God, but that we saw a God that “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). A Son that would live life in our world, in our flesh, as our brother and that He would die for me, a rebellious, angry, unworthy, unrepentant sinner. It is with this truth, that living a holy life begins. John said it so plainly, “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). It is only by the comprehension of God’s love towards us as seen in the self-abandoning, other-centered life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that living a holy life has any possibility of occurring; for living a holy life is the result of beholding the love of God. That love has in itself the only power to transform. Focusing on anything else results in religious and spiritual frustration, disappointment, and failure. Paul continued this truth in his letter to the Corinthians:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:17, 18; 2:1, 2)
This truth is not to be forgotten, and all other truths are to be seen in the light of this cornerstone and foundation. All of our ideas of holiness are embodied in the comprehension of this love as seen in Jesus Christ. On our own, we cannot conjure up this love, nor can we create or duplicate it. As we behold Christ and his love for us sinners, it heals our wounded souls, and the lawgiver Himself places his law in our hearts.
“Each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” (1Thessalonians 4:4)
This thought helps summarize the result of the influence of Christ. The consequence of abounding in such a love is that all should know how to possess their own vessel. How can we possess our own vessel when we don’t even know our own hearts? (Jeremiah 17:9) We possess it by giving it to the one who bought it. The more we encounter the crucified savior, the more our hearts will be melted by His love. The more we actively engage in beholding his character and love, his agony in temptation, and his persistence in putting us first, the more loving him will appear as it is in all truth; as the one thing we truly desire. (Psalm 42). In the light of God’s love we will offer up our hearts as David did (Psalm 139:23, 24) and as Paul did daily (Galatians 2:20).
Every weary heart, broken home, homeless man, molested child, horrid war, and political injustice is the result of trying to make life work apart from the love that comes from God (Isaiah 45:22). The Great Controversy will prove that man’s happiness and fulfillment is found in embracing the love that God has for him, and returning that same love to God and towards others. This is what living a holy live is essentially all about. It is something beautiful, something all creation has been dying to see, and something that God promises to all who believe on him. (Romans 8:19, John 1:12, 1 John 3:1, 2).
Some EGW quotes:
“By the revelation of the attractive loveliness of Christ, by the knowledge of His love expressed to us while we were yet sinners, the stubborn heart is melted and subdued, and the sinner is transformed and becomes a child of heaven. God does not employ compulsory measures; love is the agent which He uses to expel sin from the heart. By it He changes pride into humility, and enmity and unbelief into love and faith.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 77
“In the light of the Saviour's life, the hearts of all, even from the Creator to the prince of darkness, are revealed. Satan has represented God as selfish and oppressive, as claiming all, and giving nothing, as requiring the service of His creatures for His own glory, and making no sacrifice for their good. But the gift of Christ reveals the Father's heart. It testifies that the thoughts of God toward us are "thoughts of peace, and not of evil." Jer. 29:11. It declares that while God's hatred of sin is as strong as death, His love for the sinner is stronger than death. Having undertaken our redemption, He will spare nothing, however dear, which is necessary to the completion of His work. No truth essential to our salvation is withheld, no miracle of mercy is neglected, no divine agency is left unemployed. Favor is heaped upon favor, gift upon gift. The whole treasury of heaven is open to those He seeks to save.” The Desire of Ages, p. 57
It is impossible for us, of ourselves, to escape from the pit of sin in which we are sunken. Our hearts are evil, and we cannot change them….Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ. His grace alone can quicken the lifeless faculties of the soul, and attract it to God, to holiness. Steps to Christ p. 18.
The grace of Christ must mold the entire being, and its triumph will not be complete until the heavenly universe shall witness habitual tenderness of feeling, Christlike love, and holy deeds in the deportment of the children of God. God’s Amazing Grace,p. 235.