In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
We think holiness is about being clean, about scrubbing yourself up, gettin’ presentable, being worthwhile, etc. We think it is something we do. And this misunderstanding leads us to all manner of unholy ways of thinking. It leads us to think that the Church is for those squeaky clean folks, the bootstrap pulling ones who by force of own righteousness, by miraculous ability to walk without their legs on the ground have bought a place in the pew. We think holiness is something we do, that either earns us our place or keeps our spot in heaven. And when it is said like that you all know that is way of thinking is wrong. For it is Jesus whose blood has purchased a place for you, whose suffering has paid the price of your sin, and whose blood has blotted out your sin, imparting His righteousness to you. But we get caught up in this idea that holiness is about actions, or at least that it is about OUR actions. And if holiness is really about our actions then the world is right to say Christians are hypocrites! We are nothing but actors playing a silly game. For we are no less sinful than anyone else in the world. Some of us may not do the overt, obviously stupid sins that so many people get entangled in, but as actors, all we have accomplished is learning how to cover up our own sins a bit. We have gotten good enough at it to pull the wool over some people’s eyes, especially our own.
Holiness is not about your actions. Holiness is a state of being. It is not related to actions. To be “holy” means to be “set apart”. When the angels in heaven say, “Holy holy holy is the Lord God of hosts,” they are saying He is thrice holy. Completely set apart. Set apart so that no one can approach Him, except those who are just as set apart as He is.
Now if you were a great king, set apart by your position, set apart from the common man by the burden of responsibility that rests on you, set apart by body guards, by your entourage, and by the staff who attend you everywhere you go, so that no one can come near you, your set-apart-ness really has nothing to do with your actions at all. It has everything to do with your status or position. There are, of course, actions that are consistent with being set apart like that. For instance, is it wise for the President of the United States to abandon his secret service agents and rush headlong into a crowd to shake hands with everyone around him? No! It is foolhardy. It is not consistent with his set-apart-ness.
So when someone is holy, set apart, there is behaviour that just makes sense for such a one. But their behaviour does not make them holy. Their position does. All behaviour can do is make you unholy by acting in a way that invalidates you from your position, or causes you to lose position.
God is holy. He is set apart. He does not change. He acts consistently with that holiness. He is high and exalted. In His power and glory which set Him apart He can not come near to sinful man. He is above us. But He wants to draw near to us. He wants us to draw near to Him. Our sinful status, our birthrite given us by our first parents, cuts us off from God’s holiness. Our first parents walked in the Garden with God. They were holy. They set apart unto to God. They were created holy and righteous, to be His companions and rulers on earth. That was their status. It set them apart. It made them holy like God and able to approach Him. But their actions, their rebellion against Him disqualified them from that holy status. It cast out of the Garden. They became unholy. No longer able to be in God’s presence.
God still wants to draw near to us. But doing so violates His holiness. More than that, His power and glory is such that it obliterates all that is unholy as soon as it comes into contact with it. God loves you. He doesn’t want that for you. So He draws near to you in the person of His Son, in the form and flesh of a man. He hides Himself, and sets aside His full power, and His need to be utterly set-apart so that He can draw near to us. He is still present. But He is present with you in a way which is helpful to you, not destructive of us poor sinners.
Abraham saw the Son of God in the form of a man, in the Angel of the Lord who called out to him from heaven. That angel, that messenger of God came to save Abraham, to give him his son back from the dead. The holy God came to Him in the form of a man, an angel who gives a ram as a sacrifice. This same Angel of the Lord would later come in human flesh to be the Lamb of God who takes away sins of world.
This Lamb is holy. Set-apart to a purpose. He is God. When He came in our Flesh He looked like an average man. But is unique. For He is the Saviour of the world. That is His job. He acted entirely consistently with that role. He acted in keeping with that set apart purpose. His coming into the world means that we can draw near to God who hid Himself in the flesh of that Man.
And this Man came to the earth to bring holiness, a set-apart status, to the people of the earth. Through faith in Him He calls you out from the world. He sets you apart. He makes you holy by His declaration of the forgiveness of your sins. Your holiness does not consist of the righteousness of your actions. It has nothing to do with that. It consists of being called to be a child of God instead of a child of wrath.
There are actions that are consistent with this status and actions that are inconsistent with it. As Christians we long to live as God commands. We use His Commandments as a guide for our behaviour. And if you consistently violate His commandments it makes it look to the world that you despise this status and don’t want it, that you want to be common, just like everyone else. Such actions make it look like you don’t want to be set apart. By your actions you can say the opposite of your status. By your actions you can teach weak people to do the same and destroy their faith, sending them to hell. Repent of such behaviour. Let not your sinful behaviour,but your humble repentance be the example you set. For you holiness consists not of your own righteous actions but in the fact that God has come in the flesh, has taken your sin on Himself, and has made you holy by coming into your life.
What happens shortly after we sing Sanctus? We come to altar. We draw near to the Holy God who came in our flesh. We kneel down in worship of our king. We eat and drink His flesh and blood and it sets you apart. He forgives you your unholy behaviours. He restores your status as His child. He assures you of His love. For when the Holy God comes to you through the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God you become holy. He comes into your mouth and takes up residence in your heart through faith. He declares you His. Holy. Set apart to Him as His beloved child.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON