August 18, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Therefore, since we have these promises [of the full presence of God with those who sincerely believe in Him so as to be different from the world], dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates the body and spirit; in so doing we perfect our holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7.1)
Following up on the impetus of yesterday’s reflection, let’s “take the bull by the horns” shall we. As Jesus presented His teachings on the reality, identity and purpose of righteousness, in what Matthew called “The Sermon on the Mount” and Luke’s similar presentation entitled “The Sermon on the Plain,” He declared one of our purposes as His disciples as followers of God was to “be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect.” Paul shares that same mode of operation in his letter to the Christian community of faith in Corinth “…in so doing we perfect our holiness out of reverence for God.” Wait, how do we “perfect our holiness”? Isn’t holiness the condition of perfection? I think we have been given a false sense of holiness as the end state of being. We see holiness with an eye to God who is the completed being of spirit and truth. There is nothing greater nor more authentic than God, right. So, how can we, as mortal beings, be holy? Aren’t we a work in progress? Aren’t we actually talking about sanctification instead when it comes to human beings. We are sanctified; meaning we are set apart from all else to be and to do righteousness. We are purified by the gift of salvation which Jesus the Christ has given to us on the cross. His shed blood which anointed the literal ground of His being for our welfare and benefit both physically and spiritually, emotionally and psychologically has made our salvation a reality. It only truly becomes real to us when we accept the gift, internalize the gift, become transformed by the gift and thus become the gift. It is a process of “becoming” by what we are doing in gratitude to and out of reverence for God. We have been made the righteousness of God by the righteousness of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only begotten Son, who is the Christ, the Messiah. The question is for us, then, what are we becoming?
We are becoming “perfect.” We are not perfect but we are being perfected. It can be a difficult process which Adam and Eve learned in that “fierce conversation” between God, them and Satan-the serpent. Let there be no mistake, their sojourn in the wilderness beyond Eden was never intended to be works righteousness. There never was an intent in God’s mind of Adam and Eve working their way back into the place of perfection and holiness. There is, however, a drive of will that leads them to deal with the truth about obedience and purifying both their motives and their works so that they reflect the righteousness of God by being the righteousness of God. That doesn’t happen by our opinion of what is right and good. Nor does it happen by our decision to determine that what we do is good enough to be called “perfect.” Being the righteousness of God may mean, in its simplest presentation, that we have the mind, heart, will and spirit of being God’s people. God’s people are far from perfect. They are flawed. They still sin. They still fall short. However, they continue to honestly confront the failure and pursue success in the ways of being obedient to God. It may seem a bit of trial and error, but we are not without guidance.
We have God’s Word which becomes “inspired” within us by the presence of God’s Holy Spirit which Jesus asked be shared with us. As we become followers of the Way of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the resurrected Lord and Savior of God’s people, we are baptized by spiritual immersion. Our water baptism, via immersion, symbolizes not only our following the “life, death and resurrection of Christ” in obedience to the Word but by being surrendered to the same willing acceptance of who we become in Christ Jesus. We are not baptized “to be saved from sin,” which we are and not that baptism is what saves us because it doesn’t. We are baptized to profess to the world that we admit and accept the Word of God which says “we are saved.” That which had become lost has become found. That which was used for wrong purposes has been repurposed for the good works we were always meant to do. That which was bound to a life ending in death as “from dust we came and to dust we shall return” is transformed into a life that ends in life without end as “from the heart, mind, soul and spirit of God we were born so to the eternal presence of God we shall remain.” This is the work of the Word which God has spoken. The Word speaks to us of how we can be “perfect, holy, righteous and immersed in the blessing of God’s mercy and love.”
We, also, have God’s promise sealed in the covenant of His love for us, all of us. Let there be no mistaken identity here: God loves us all, God desires the best for us all and Jesus died for us all so that we all may be God’s people- the works of His hands and the sheep of His pasture. We belong in His sheep pen and we receive blessings from His hand. Are there other sheep pens? Are there other blessings? Wouldn’t life in this world be easier if there weren’t? But, that is not the world we live in. It’s not because disobedience was given a life of its own to roam and manifest it’s dire presence to turn paradise into wasteland and make a mockery of God and His will. We may be able to look at the Church as an oasis in that Wilderness of Sin. David writes a song we call “42” in which he declares “as a deer pants for water, so my soul pants for You, Yahweh Elohim. My soul thirsts for my God, the living God! When can I go and meet with God? Do not be disquieted within me, o my soul, for I will yet again praise Him, my Savior and my God.” David remembers when he had been in the tabernacle of God, in the temple of His presence, in the land where sojourn had ended and life was its fullest. But, disobedience to God’s Word and the following of his own pursuits of pride and lust drove him out into the wilderness of sin. Sounds like that “scapegoat” we reflected on a few weeks past used by the priests to symbolize the ridding of Israel as a nation of her sins; at least for another year because they had to keep on doing it. Why did they repeat the process of separating the sheep, those who are made righteous in God, and the goats, those who have made themselves unrighteous without God? Because, the pursuit of righteousness is a process of being holy and without blemish. We will never be truly spotless in this world but we can become less spotted. (Remember the focus of that illustration is more internal in the spirit and not determined by the external body. But, the day will come when we will receive our doxa soma, our glory body, and be truly whole in our holiness through and through. That is the promise of God to all those who would be his people.) It was the promise David held on to because he knew of the righteousness of God. He confessed his sin and he owned the consequences of it. He professed God’s promise and pursued the blessing of it. He declared, “I will yet again praise Him, my Savior and my God.”
Now David’s words concerning that walk through the valley of the shadow of death might seem more real in our mind’s eye and our heart’s ear. It was a walk of purpose to pass through the wilderness of sin in order to gain the House of the Lord. It is the passage of “being perfected of our imperfections” by choosing to be “clothed in the righteousness of God.” It is about being sanctified and set apart for the purposes of God to be done in and through us into all the world, so that the holiness of God may be alive in us and bring glory, doxa, to God. Growing up in the church singing the Doxology was a part of every worship service. Literally, -ology means “the science or knowledge of” whatever the prefix attached to it is. We know of geology, the study of the earth; sociology, the study of communities; theology, the study of God and so we have “doxology.” What is it the study, science and study of? What else but the “glory of God.” Hear the words of the Doxology: Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above, you heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. That’s right, it is a praise song to direct our unified and unifying identity as those who put God, God’s Word and God’s promise first in all we say and do. We may not be able to explain everything, define in detail every process or know what is coming around every corner. But, we do know this: we have been made holy (free from the stain of sin), righteous (knowledgeable of the ways of God’s plan for authentic living) and saved (redeemed from the valley of the shadow of death as our eternal home and delivered to the doorstep of the House of the Lord.) How do we become “perfect”? I suggest we start with praising God for all He has done for us, is doing in us, will do with us and what He has promised to us. As Jesus said in that same Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and the rest will be taken care of.” Praise God!
OUR CALL TO PRAYER:
We do praise You, God, our Heavenly Father, for all You have done that You said You would do. We are blessed in so many ways and we will not take that for granted. Forgive us when we do and when we claim selfishly that it is by the works of our hands that our lives are made better. Such thinking directs our steps into the wilderness of sin where our souls become parched and beg for death to release us from this world. How much better it is to praise You with all heaven and earth and find fountains of living water, green pastures and the company of others who share in the faith, hope and love that is ours in Jesus Christ. It is in His name that we shall live a life of being perfected until the Perfect comes again. AMEN.