Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chapter 4: The Trauma of Holiness

This chapter begins with a review of the gospel's account of Jesus commanding the storm on the Sea of Galilee with the words "Quiet! Be still!" During this wild and dangerous tempest, the frightened disciples had come to Jesus for help. But when Jesus effortlessly and successfully made the storm calm to a complete still, the disciples were even more frightened, and they wondered what type of man He was that He could command nature.

In addition to fear in response to Christ, there was also tendency to shy away from His holiness; the desire to be distanced from it. The example is given of Simon Peter, immediately after Jesus calmed the storm, falling to his knees before Jesus, saying, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Lk. 5:8) Sproul discusses how this display by Simon Peter is indicitive of the discomfort one feels when, compared to pure holiness, their own deep sinfulness is exposed. Such discomfort is demonstrated even further in the Pharisees, who fancied themselves very holy, but when the Holy Messiah Himself came among them with an honest rebuke regarding the falseness and putrescence of their so-called holiness they felt threatened and angry to the point of seeking to rid themselves of His presence by means of murder. Their pride would not be humbled, and, though they claimed to love holiness, they were proven to hate it with a passionate hatred when it faced them directly and exposed them as frauds. This is the way all of us feel about Christ's holiness, apart from reconcilliation to Him. It holds us to a standard which we know, deep down, we don't measure up to. For the unbeliever, God's holiness is so repulsive that, for many, even the nearness of one of His children unbearable. For some this manifests itself as a discomfort around believers- a feeling that one must walk on eggshells so as to not offend the Christian (e.g. apologizing embarrassedly if a swear word slips out). And for others, their discomfort with the idea of holiness is evident by their bold hatred, sometimes even a violent hatred, of Christians and Bible truth.

For instance, I recall my Dad sharing with me his own view of Christians before his salvation took place. As a college student in the late 1960's, he would often see young people from the "Jesus Movement" standing around on campus handing out pamphlets and speaking with the students about the gospel. At the sight of this, my Dad says he would become so angry to the point of hatred of those people, and had a vehement desire to hollar and curse at them (which, I think he actually did do...) In his mind, these folks were self-righteous and ignorant- but the crux of the matter was that because he was still lost in his own sinful state, the very idea of Christians attempting to share with him a holy gospel made him cringe bitterly. The truth which they spoke of came way too close to exposing his sin to him, and he hated them for that. Hard to believe that someone as angry as my dad would wind up both saved and working fervently for the cause of Christ's Kingdom just a few years after that; but, such is God's grace. Dad was at a friend's house for a drug deal in the early 70's. In the next room, the sister of his friend and some others were reading the Bible aloud. The passage was John 8, regarding the woman caught in adultery. When the Pharisees wanted to stone an adulterous woman to death, our Lord's words were, " He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone. " The Pharisees walked away, none of them being qualified. Christ then addresses the woman: "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you either, go. From now on sin no more." As my dad heard these verses, the Lord began to open his heart to receive His Word, right there in the middle of a drug deal. He came face to face with the fact that he was a sinner, yet that God is merciful and could grant him pardon in spite of his own undeservedness. He went home that night weeping, humbled, and repenting of his sins. He placed his faith in Christ and gained eternal life.

Holiness is, indeed, traumatic. Scripture tells us plainly that Jesus is the Light, but that darkness does not know the Light and tries to hide from it. This is why the Word also tells believers to expect trials and persecutions, because we live in a dark world that disdains and cringes at the Light they've been given (just as every believer, him/herself once did before being saved). The good news is that God does offer mercy, even though the smallest seeming sin against Holy God Almighty is enough to merit us an eternal punishment in Hell (God is infinitely holy, therefore even the slightest sin is infinitely sinful against Him and must be responded to with His holy justice). Yet, God has made a way to satisfy the need for His holy justice, through His only Son, Jesus Christ, Who took the wrath of God upon Himself, dying on the cross to pay for the sins of those who will repent and place their trust in Him. Those who do so are saved from God's wrath and given eternal life with Him. They are also adopted, being given the right to be called sons and daughters of the Holy God whom they once despised. "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you to Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach." (Col. 1:21-22)

I realize I've digressed a bit from the main topic of the chapter, but the gospel was on my heart and at my fingertips tonight. Reader, my fervent prayer for you is that, if you are not yet reconciled to your Creator, that you will become aware of how desperately you need to be. Yes, your life depends upon it. In the deepest love I tell you urgently that you're on a course heading straight to eternal death and punishment, just as I was myself, but for the grace and mercy of God who opened my heart to receive His Light. He has made a way out. He offers you mercy with a great, pardoning love. Confess your need of a Savior, repent of your sins, and run to Him for life full and everlasting. You will not be sorry if you do.

It Will Cost You Everything from I'll Be Honest on Vimeo.

"Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."

~John 8:12

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chapter 3: The Fearful Mystery

It's difficult to adequately define the word "holy", as this chapter points out. Many people, myself included, have tended to think of holiness as purity, sinlessness, and perfection. However, Sproul explains the definition of holiness as something more than just those aspects. To be sure, holiness encompasses purity and sinless perfection, but is not completed by those things alone. He points out that the word "holy" comes from an ancient word meaning "to cut", "to separate", or even "a cut above something". God's holiness is separate, and it's also transcendant- God is "a cut above" all creation, and He rules over all creation. Because of His holiness, or His "otherness" as the author puts it, He is entirely foreign to us. Because of His foreigness, we're fearful of, yet intrigued by, His holiness.

"Our fear is not the healthy fear that the Bible encourages us to have. Our fear is a servile fear, a fear born of dread. God is too great for us; He is too awesome. He makes difficult demands on us. He is the Mysterious Stranger who threatens our security. In His presence we quake and tremble. Meeting Him personally may be our greatest trauma." (pg. 56) This closing paragraph made me so curious about and eager to read next week's chapter, "The Trauma of Holiness".

Does God's mystery comfort or frighten you? May you ponder the mystery of our Almighty God in this coming week, and be blessed as you seek to uncover just a little bit more of His holiness. Here's a joyous view from my end of the couch...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chapter 2: Holy, Holy, Holy

I don't know about you, but I really enjoyed Chapter 3, as it covered what to me is one of the most awe-inspiring passages in Scripture: the record of the prophet Isaiah's direct encounter with God in the temple (Isaiah 6). The author begins his discussion of Isaiah chapter 6 by looking back to the passage in Exodus 33, where Moses encountered God on the mountain. God permitted Moses to view just His back, which was enough to leave Moses' face brilliantly shining with God's radiance. Looking at the Isaiah passage, Sproul points out that even the angels the were flying above God in the temple hid their eyes from the glorious face of their Creator, and covered their feet in reverence and humility. These angels were calling out, "holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory." The use of the word holy three times in a row is a special Hebrew literary device that demonstrated the maximum exclaimation of the word "holy". It is pointed out that no other attribute of God is elevated to this third degree in the Bible; Scripture never says that "God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory." (pg. 32) This seems to point to holiness as the ultimate defining characteristic of God.
Meeting with the bare glory of God in all His radiant holiness in the temple exposed plainly to Isaiah his own sinful humanity and unholiness. And this brought Isaiah to a deep and sorrowful conviction, crying "Woe is me! ... for I am a man of unclean lips...and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."(vs. 5) As Sproul puts it, "relentless guilt screamed from his every pore." Isaiah would have despaired indefinitely, but God intervened, sending a seraph to cleanse his lips with a burning coal, taking away his guilt and atoning for his sin. This atonement seems to paralell what happened to us at the time of our salvation, because of Christ's work on the cross, yes? Then, not only did God cleanse Isaiah from sin, He sent him on a mission. He asked the question, "Whom shall I send?" and Isaiah readily responded, "Here am I! Send me!" Thus, Isaiah then and there became a prophet of the Most High God.
Sproul closes by making the statement that "It's dangerous to assume that just because a man is drawn to holiness in his study that he is thereby a holy man... the reason I have a deep hunger to learn of the holiness of God is precisely because I am not holy...But I have had just enough of a taste of the majesty of God to want more. I know what it means to be a forgiven man and I know what it means to be sent on a mission. My soul cries for more." God reveals our sin to us in the brilliant light of His holiness revealed in our hearts, yet He graciously forgives us and bids us to work for His Kingdom. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! My desire is to have a heart that mimics Isaiah's words: Here am I! Send me!
Isaiah's response to God's revelation was "Woe is me!" What is your response? As you have read this book so far, how have you been caused to worship Him more fully? Comment below if you desire, and have a blessed week, Sisters.

*For next week, please read Chapter 4: The Fearful Mystery

Monday, January 31, 2011

Chapter One: The Holy Grail

I'm very excited to delve into our first read, "The Holiness of God" by R.C. Sproul. If you'd like to learn more about this book or about R.C. Sproul, click on the book cover in the right column of this blog under "Our Current Read", and you'll be taken to his ministry's website. I hope we all benefit from this book, and I pray that it will assist us in digging towards a richer understanding of our Almighty Father's majestic holiness. Without further adieu, let's get to it.

Much of chapter one summons us to try to imagine what existed before God created the heavens and the earth- which is nothing. (Only the triune God existed from "eternity past", and was created by no one.) Sproul points out that, no matter how you try, it is impossible to imagine "nothing", because you will invariably wind up imagining something, such as a dark, empty space, which technically is still something. One of the girls in our home based BBG group pointed out that our inability to comprehend "nothing" points to the fact that we're finite beings, as opposed to our infinite Creator who knows all, sees all, created all. The writer continues on with the point that God, who has always existed even before creation, is the only one Who holds "the power of being"; only He can create an entire universe and all the life therein from nothing, simply by the power of His spoken word. Pages 11 & 12 paint beautifully with words what the act of creation by God's voice must have looked like. As God made commands into nothingness, things instantaneously began to exist. "He spoke...and the earth began to fill with orchards in full bloom...the roar of the lion and the bleating of the sheep were heard. Four-footed animals, eight-legged spiders, and winged insects appeared." Later, he points out that if God is the Creator of the entire universe, then it inevitably follows that He is also Lord of the entire universe-which means that we are unable to hide from Him. No aspect of the universe, right down to the minute detail of our day to day lives, is outside of Him.

After sharing a personal event from his life that caused him to be overcome by the holiness of God, Sproul says that he became keenly curious about and attracted to it. He craved to know more about Him as God the Father, and to delve into a deeper understanding of His holiness. He points out that, in Scripture, even the very name of the Lord is holy (Luke 1:49), that it should be hallowed by us (Matt. 6:9), and that we are commanded to be holy, because He is holy (Lev. 11:44). Sproul beckons us to crave to know more and more of God's holiness, saying, "Today I am still absorbed with the question of the holiness of God. I am convinced that it is one of the most important ideas that a Christian can ever grapple with. It is basic to our whole understanding of God and of Christianity." This is quite a statement. Such a statement may imply that, of all His attributes and of all the truths in His written Word, His holiness is the one aspect of Truth on which all others hinge.

In my own mind and heart, I know God's holiness as the only source of everything good and pure, and I thirst after it in this barren world full of sin (the sin of all humanity and my own personal sin, alike.) Are you attracted to God's holiness? When you think of God as holy, what comes to your mind? Please feel free (but not obligated) to comment with your answer, or to share something else that you've observed or gained from reading this chapter. God bless, and may you ponder His holiness this week.

*For next week, please read Chapter Two: Holy, Holy, Holy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Welcome!

Grace to you and peace in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Berean Book Girls began about two years ago in my home, and is a small group of young women (currently there are just three of us) who gather to discuss a particular book. We've continued the group, off and on, as our lives and schedules have allowed. Just recently I began considering what a blessing it could be to share our little group with cyberspace. From observing my mom's blog, Theology for Girls, I've learned that technology, inspite of it's downfalls, can be a powerful tool by which God's children are able to edify and encourage eachother from across the country and around the globe.

That said, I'm excited to announce the first read along of this blog: "The Holiness of God" by R.C. Sproul. Our group here at home continues to meet once a week; likewise I'll post on here weekly a brief chapter review with a couple of discussion questions. Our first chapter review will begin next Monday, January 31. Sisters out there of all ages and from all locations, feel free to read along and discuss via the post comments.

Why "Berean" Book Girls? The Bereans are mentioned in Acts 17:11- "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessolonica, in that they recieved the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." Sisters, when reading any book or hearing any teaching, no matter how much we trust and respect the source, God's people must match it against His Word, the only and infallible source of Truth. There are many great books out there, written by saints both now and in ages past, that point to and draw out the truths of Scripture. Let's glean the benefits together! At the same time, it is our imperitive and unnegotiable responsibility to always keep a discerning eye, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things truly are so. "From your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way." (Psalm 119:104)

Let's stand on the shoulders of those who've gone ahead of us in the faith. Let's spur each other on along the narrow road. Let's be like the Bereans, as we seek to give honor and glory to no one but our gracious Father, who not only saved but also adopted us, even though we were "dead in our transgressions and sins... indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind". (Ephesians 2:1,3 emphasis added). Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Sola Scriptura.