Haggai 2: 10 - 14
“Dear Lord, so far today I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, over-indulgent, coveted my neighbor’s spouse or taken your name in vain. I’m very thankful for that…but, in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed. And from then on, everyone that I encounter will probably need a lot of help from you. Amen.”
The Christian life would be easier if we could sleep all day. It’s all the stuff that happens after we get up that gives us problems. How do we keep clean in a dirty world? How can we grow in holiness when we’re hammered by our flesh, the world and Satan?
Last weekend we saw that God works His way and His will for His glory. Here’s the main idea for today: Becoming holy requires intentional effort; being unholy requires no effort.
This message was preached 2 months after the previous sermon and 3 months after the people had started working again on the temple. This becomes a teachable moment. The foundation is finished but they needed to have their faith fortified before going any further. While God stirred them to get to work on the physical aspects of the temple, He’s now concerned about how each of them are doing spiritually.
To say it another way, it’s easy to focus on the external while ignoring the internal. The people may have thought that since they were serving they must be OK spiritually. However, as they worked on rebuilding a house for God, they needed to consider God’s call for holiness for His people.
The people were constructing the temple but not much had changed in their circumstances. Since they were doing what God wanted them to do they expected their problems to go away. They were starting to wonder if it was worth it to obey God.
In v. 11 God first reminds them who He is: Yahweh is the self-existent God who is personal, present, powerful, and the ultimate promise-keeper. He is the commander of all the armies of heaven. It’s used 14 times alone in this brief book!
After reminding them who He is, He gives them an assignment: “Ask the priests about the law.” There’s a sense of urgency. This was one of the purposes of the priesthood. The priests were to help the people learn how to live holy lives.
With this in mind, God tells the people to go to the priests with 2 questions. These are a bit foreign to our ears so I’ll try to explain what’s going on. These questions made perfect sense to the Jews as they had hundreds of laws governing their lives. Many of these regulations had to do with what was holy and what was not.
1. 1st Question v. 12
Meat that was “holy” was consecrated or set apart for offerings. It was common for people to wrap this meat in the fabric of their garments to keep it separate from ordinary food like bread, stew, wine and oil. We do it for hygiene reasons but in Jewish culture it was done for holiness.
2. 2nd Question v. 13
God is using these 2 questions to make the point. Hanging out with a holy person does not make you holy but hanging out with an unholy person can make you unholy. Good things do not automatically make other things good, but bad things make other things bad. We could say it like this: Becoming holy requires intentional effort; being unholy requires no effort.
Imagine that you have 2l of milk in the back of your fridge that expired a week ago. It looks all curdled. When you take the top off the sour smell almost takes your breath away. Then you have a brilliant idea. Since you just bought a fresh 2l of milk, you decide to pour some of the good milk into the gross milk in the hopes that it will make it all better. It doesn’t work that way because the good can’t turn the bad good. But the bad can turn the good bad.
After asking two questions and hearing their answers, God makes –
3. Important Application v. 14
Here are 3 truths from this verse -
• Sin leads to a ruptured relationship. Note that God calls them, “this people” and “this nation” because they’re not acting like His people.
• One sin can lead to an avalanche of disobedience. This affected “every work of their hands.” Sin spreads more easily than sanctification. A few worthy acts will never make up for their neglect of God because their refusal to honour Him by holy living contaminated everything else they did.
• God wants holy hearts more than sacrificial service. The people brought offerings but because they had become cozy with compromise and stained by sin what they did bring was like an “unclean offering.” Your secret sins can keep you from blessings, even though you’re involved in serving.
God longs for our obedience more than something material we might give Him.
The Pursuit of Holiness - Jerry Bridges. “Too often, we say we are defeated by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated. We are simply disobedient. It might be good if we stop using the terms victory and defeat to describe our progress in holiness. Rather, we should use the terms obedience and disobedience. When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me. We may in fact be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey.”
Friend, God wants your heart because if He has your heart, He’ll have every part of your life. Holiness begins in the heart. Outward acts of ritual are never enough because God is all about the relationship that stems from revering Him. We often think, “Look what I’m doing for you, God.” It’s easy to think that religious activity makes us acceptable to God. But God looks at the heart. It’s not enough to build the temple. They were called to build holiness into their lives.
Years ago churches emphasized Christian standards of behaviour and while this veered into legalism at times, it seems that believers were aware of the expectations of holy living. Today, the pendulum has swung the other way. Now, most believers are all about license, thinking they can do whatever they want.
One extreme describes those who believe they have “arrived” spiritually. This can lead to self-deception and pride. The other extreme includes those who have just given up. Instead of pursuing holy living, they live disobedient lives because they believe they can never change.
God’s mission in the world is to save a people and sanctify his people. My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and rediscover, all that Christ saved us from, we will give little thought and make little effort concerning all that Christ saved us to.
The pursuit of holiness does not occupy the place in our hearts that it should.
Reasons for the neglect of personal holiness -
1. It was too common in the past to equate holiness with abstaining from a few taboo practices like drinking, smoking and dancing. In a previous generation, godliness meant you didn’t do these things. Younger generations have little patience for these sorts of rules. They either don’t agree with the rules, or they think they’ve got those bases covered so there’s not much else to worry about.
2. The fear that a passion for holiness makes you some kind of weird hangover from a bygone era. As soon as you talk about swearing or movies or music or modesty or sexual purity or self-control or just plain godliness, people get nervous that others will call them legalistic...
3. We live in a culture of cool, and to be cool means you differentiate yourself from others. That has often meant pushing the boundaries with language, with entertainment, with alcohol, and with fashion. Of course, holiness is much more than these things, but in an effort to be hip, many Christians have figured holiness has nothing to do with these things. They’ve willingly embraced Christian freedom, but they’ve not earnestly pursued Christian virtue.
4. A radical pursuit of holiness is often suspect because any talk of right and wrong behaviour feels judgmental and intolerant. If we are to be “without spot or blemish,” it necessitates we distinguish between what sort of attitudes, actions, and habits are pure and what sort are impure.
5. There is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered, we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or exhort Christians to moral exertion. To be sure, there is a rash of moralistic teaching out there, but sometimes we go to the other extreme and act as if the Bible shouldn’t advise our morals at all…We’ve been afraid of words like diligence, effort, and obedience. We’ve downplayed verses that call us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling or command us to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit or warn against even a hint of immorality among the saints.
You can find plenty of young Christians today who are really excited about justice and serving in their communities…But where are the Christians known for their zeal for holiness? Where is the corresponding passion for honouring Christ with Christlike obedience?
I believe God would have us be much more careful with our eyes, our ears, and our mouth. It’s not pietism, legalism or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It’s the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.
Our challenge is to live in liberty without going over the cliffs of legalism or license -
• Legalism. Legalism can be defined as a strict adherence to the law. A legalist is one who believes that performance is the way to gain favour with God. Legalism emphasizes rules without relationship, standards without the Savior, and laws more than love. It’s often characterized by joyless judgmentalism. Legalism is the human attempt to gain salvation or prove our spirituality by outward conformity to a list of religious “do’s” and “don’ts.” In a nutshell, I am walking in legalism when what I DO supersedes what Christ has already done for me.
Many Christians run from the dangerous clutches of legalism and fall into the deadly ditch of license where they cater to their carnality rather than crucifying it.
• License. This refers to undisciplined and unrestrained behavior, especially a flagrant disregard of sexual restraints. It has to do with “outrageous conduct” that includes a disregard for what is right. The idea is that I can do whatever I want because I’ll be forgiven for whatever I do. Listen. Pornography, premarital, homosexual and extramarital sex is sinful, no matter what our culture says or what your heart tells you.
• Liberty. When we recognize that it’s not a matter of what we do or don’t do, but what Christ has already done, we understand our freedom to obey the Lord out of love for Him. 1 John 5: 3 “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” Christ has freed us to be faithful to Him as stated in Romans 8: 2 “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” We are free to not sin. We could say it like this:
• Legalism is faith in my works
• License is faith without works
• Liberty is faith that results in works
Many of us think that holiness is nice but not necessary, that obedience is somehow optional.
1 Peter 1: 15, 16 “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” We’re to be separate from sin and separated to the Saviour. Our bodies belong to Him, not to ourselves.
The pursuit of holiness must guide my morals and my ethics. Holiness is all about submitting and setting apart my life for His purposes. Holiness is the idea of being distinct, of being set apart from the common or ordinary. While there is certainly an individual aspect to this, it is fully fleshed out in community with other believers. That’s why it’s important for our faith family to be marked by holy living. The Bible says that the pursuit of holiness will involve avoiding certain activities while embracing others. Morality matters. Biblical ethics are expected for the Christian. The 10 Commandments are commands, not archaic suggestions.
This all leads to some questions. Is there a part of my life that I’ve not yet set apart? In what areas of my life have I been rationalizing rebellion or excusing my behaviour? It’s time to stop trivializing our transgressions and to deal drastically with our sins.
Becoming holy requires intentional effort; being unholy requires no effort.