1) Strange schedules during the month of December. I don’t do well without a routine, so finding time slots that work was a challenge last month.
2) Being led to write about other things than my 2014 Spring decision to begin a trip through the Bible.
3) Landing on Exodus 19 and every time I consider going further, being halted by verses 5 and 6 and feeling blocked from going any further beyond this chapter.
Adding to this last point have been:
a) Appearances on my social media profile newsfeeds relating to verses found in 2 Peter and Titus.
b)Seemingly random discussions centered around the truth of Scripture, holiness, sin versus grace, the role of the Church toward God, etc.
c)Even a sermon delivered on New Year’s Eve brought up the word “Peculiar” again, defining it as “special”, “unique”, and . . . “set apart”.
Exodus 19:5-6 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
Psalms 135:1-4 Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the name of the LORD; praise him, O ye servants of the LORD. 2 Ye that stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God, 3 Praise the LORD; for the LORD is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant. 4 For the LORD hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure.
Titus 2:11-15 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. 15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.
1 Peter 2:9-12 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. 11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Several thoughts are all fighting for dominance as these Scriptures come to mind.
- Praise is comely for the upright
- Those who are set apart minister before the Lord day and night
- Sanctification to honour and dishonour in the same House of God
- Holiness being both an act of surrender and a choice involving one’s thoughts, words and actions/behaviours
- A holy nation is mentioned separately in the same sentence as that of a peculiar people.
- God says He is looking for those who will worship in spirit and in truth
- Can’t be peculiar or set apart without being holy, which is also related to being set apart.
- Call to holiness is not reserved just for those in leadership, although that is where we read about stipulations for serving in the temple and leadership in the church.
These points are merely added to a small list already created when the verse first stood out to me this morning all over again which included two other points: chosen by God, and obedience to His commands.
That last point can’t be discussed without including the fact that Christ Himself said in John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. Hold that thought while we begin looking at the verses quoted above.
What are the points contained in the verses that I began quoting at the beginning? What themes did God put His thumbprint on that I couldn’t get past for the last while?
- obey my voice
- keep my covenant
- THEN you’ll be a peculiar TREASURE
- Kingdom of priests
- holy nation
- Praise the Lord
- Servants of the Lord who stand in His house
- God chose Israel as His peculiar TREASURE
- Grace of God
- Grace teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly ways
- Grace teaching us how to live righteously and godly IN the world
- Looking toward the blessed hope of Christ’s appearing
- Christ through His sacrifice on the Cross, redeemed us from sin, seeking to purify to Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.
- chosen generation
- royal priesthood
- holy nation
- peculiar people
- show forth God’s praises
- mercy obtained through Christ
- Strangers and pilgrims in the land
- abstain from fleshly lusts
- live honestly toward others so they see your good works and glorify God
Do you see the themes presenting themselves in these verses? These are just samples of similar verses that also appear in both the Old and New Testament in various wordings and expressions. For the sake of argument, I only picked a couple from each covenant, but could have chosen three or more from both covenants for this discussion.
The first thing that stands out to me from these passages, is that of obedience first being stressed in Exodus, then again by Christ in John 14. The verse in John 14 was mentioned earlier because the popular teaching these days is that obedience to God’s commands is nothing more than a suggestion and that if you don’t engage in obedience to Christ, He’ll love you anyway. Wherever Scripture gives conditions such as in Exodus where if we obey God’s voice, these blessings will be poured out upon us, we need to take heed. Most of the time in Scripture, blessings follow obedience.
The second thing to stand out in these passages, is the number of times that service and praise are mentioned in relation to God’s people. We know from Romans 12:1,2 that presenting our bodies as living sacrifices is not only pleasing to God, but is our sincere act of worship. This lines up with Mark when he wrote the rich man’s response to Christ by saying we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and. . . strength! Worshipping God is an attitude toward Him that is displayed in our choice to spend time with God. That choice involves a bodily action to move into that quiet place, posture ourselves to open God’s Word or to pray, and then to block out distractions and engage in that intimate moment with Him. Conversely, we can go through the motions physically and not mean a single bit of it because our heart is not in it, we let our mind wander, and we’d honestly rather be doing something else. God longs for our obedience to His ways, His commands, His directives as outlined not merely in the Old Covenant, but in particular, the New Covenant. One cannot fully get a grasp of how we are asked to live under the New Covenant if we don’t seek to understand the Old.
Praise too is not merely an act of the will, but an act of the heart, mind, and body! You can’t praise God without even a mere thought entering your head to do so! God says He inhabits the praises of HIs people. Praise is the act of showing someone how much they mean to us, and showing others how much a person means to us. Telling others how much God means to us involves the use of our mouths, we have to physically move our mouth and force air through our vocal chords to get words out to those around us. The more involved we get in the telling, the tendency grows to include our hands and arms as we further emphasize our words by our actions. This takes place toward God too. Our bodies are very much a part of our overall expression of both praise and worship, even where no music is present.
That second point leads squarely into the third point, which brings up an ugly word in the modern church: holiness! But over and over again in the four passages chosen for today’s discussion, we see words such as holy, set apart, chosen, stranger, pilgrim passing through, etcetera. Christ ate with sinners, but He drew them to Himself precisely because He was not a sinner Himself. He drank with Pharisees, but they were secretly drawn to Him because He was not a drunkard. He stood out from the crowd because He did not follow the crowd in debasing women. Too many today believe that if they do as the world does, they will be accepted and have a better chance of sharing the Gospel. Christ was in the world but not of it and He prays to this end for His disciples in John 17.
Holiness takes place in two parts. First, we become set apart unto God the moment we are accepted into God’s family. But as Paul writes in Romans 9, some are set apart unto honour and some are set apart unto dishonour!
Romans 9:20-25 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? 25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.
The deciding factor regarding which status we fall into, is in our hands, not God’s. Three of the four passages we began with put the onus squarely on the head of those who will follow God, to make choices that will set them apart unto honour.
Yes, these are choices, and yes, once a choice has been made, it needs to be acted on. Failure to act on a given choice shows others that the decision-maker merely gave mental ascent to it but never actually intended to put that decision into action. It is said that you can tell a person’s beliefs by how they act or don’t act, by what they say or don’t say, basically by how they live their lives. If a person claims to believe one thing but lives another, most people won’t believe their claims. We show God we mean business by obeying His directives. The directives given in Titus and 1 Peter are just samples of the commands given to us in the New Testament. Paul writes several extensive lists of what the modern church would label “do’s and don’ts” in his letters to the early church. These lists would seem very legalistic if it weren’t for the understanding of holiness in light of God’s love.
We need to understand that sin drove a wedge between us and God, and God hates sin with a passion and anything that tempts us to fall into sin. God’s love therefore, seeks to rid us of anything to do with sin so that we can have an unadulterated relationship with Him for all eternity. This results in us being peculiar, not merely in the definition of “special”, which we are to God, but also in the worldly definition of being a bit strange, different, even perhaps weird and off the wall. Christ went so far as to say the world would hate us for following after Him, but that we shouldn’t be dismayed at this because the world hated Him first.
In today’s “blend in with society” seeker-sensitive, cheap grace version of Christianity, the world has a better idea of how the church should be living than the church itself, and it’s the nominal or lukewarm Christians shooting down those who seek to live an obedient life for Christ. According to Christ’s own words, who loves Him more? The person who shrugs off His directives as mere suggestions and does their own thing because it’s more friendly to the world? Or the person who shows Him their love by their obedience? Oooo I think I heard some angry grimaces of pain there. A few toes just got stomped on.
When we choose to set ourselves apart from the ways of the world and put our entire being into showing God we love Him, God shows up even more in our lives and the world begins to take an aversion to us. Christ said it would happen. Paul gave even starker terms to this:
2 Timothy 2:19-21 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
Christ said that He knows His sheep and they hear His voice. He gave several sheep-related parables to illustrate this in the Gospels. How do we go about setting ourselves apart? How do we engage in the purging mentioned in 2 Timothy? Several things need to be engaged in:
1) Repentance – first and foremost, we need to not only be sorrowful for the sin we’ve allowed in our lives, seeking God’s forgiveness, but we need to turn away from that sin and toward God’s ways. That’s a 180degree turn around. True repentance involves choosing to walk away from one’s known sin. This step is necessary for those believers who felt they did not need to leave a certain sin behind at the Cross. God can’t entertain ANY sin! Period!
2) Once that sin has been turned over to God, we need to let Him wash us clean. Sometimes that washing feels more like burning, as the Fire of the Holy Spirit burns through any remaining vestiges to sweep it out of our lives. Opening ourselves up to this purging on a periodic basis helps to keep the momentary stains of sin that set in as we travel through this world, from becoming permanent marks on our Robes of Righteousness.
3) Once we have allowed God to purge the sin from our hearts and minds, we need to choose not to deliberately engage in such sin again. We need to make the choice not to go near that location, entertain that thought, speak those words, or do that activity so that we put feet to our earlier expressions toward God and show Him we mean business. We won’t be like the dog in Proverbs, returning to his vomit. We will choose to live lives pure and holy before God.
Paul says in 2 Timothy that when we choose to behave in this manner, we become vessels set apart unto honour.
As Titus amply points out, it is only by the Grace of God that we are even able to engage in those three steps at all! It is through the grace of God that we are granted the ability to learn what pleases Him and then engage in it. The grace of God does not teach an anything-goes attitude, rather, according to Titus, teaches us how to live righteously IN this world instead. There are attitudes to choose, actions to choose, words to choose, and thoughts to choose that define what we will engage in, where we will go, and what we’ll entertain in any manner.
The last thing to observe among these passages, is that what Christ did in the New Testament, was the exact same thing God began in the Old Testament. What God began in Exodus was completed by Christ on the Cross of Calvary. Through Christ, as Paul puts it in Romans, we are now grafted into the Fig Tree, and the promise to become a peculiar people in Exodus becomes our promise in Titus and 1 Peter. The difference now, is that Christ has paid the substitutionary sacrifice once and for all. Our choices no longer include the yearly run to the altar, instead, it now includes a frequent running to the crimson flow for yet another dip to do the spiritual laundry. We just need to remember that it’s pointless to wash clean only to get just as dirty if not worse the next time we go out to engage in life in the world. We must live as the citizens we are of a different country, a different city. Our eternal home is not of this present world, but of the world to come.
The day is dawning when the Wrath of God will be poured out during the Days of Awe according to the book of Joel. Christ got after the legalistic Pharisees for trying to live in ways that hinted they might be spared the Days of Awe, and He chastised them for it. Christ’s Bride will not go through the Wrath of God during the Days of Awe. God’s wrath is reserved for those who have chosen not to follow Him and rejected His efforts to reconcile them to Himself. Are you rejecting His efforts through your choices in your daily life, or are you embracing Him? What does your obedience or lack thereof, say about your relationship with Christ?