Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Holiness: an impossible dream? 1 Peter 1:14-16

My old Jaguar S type is getting a bit long in the tooth. I enjoy driving it still, but it has 80k miles on the clock and a few car park fatalities. Both my rear lamps have holes in them and there is a dent in the rear wing and a scrape on the offside rear door. I really ought to fork out for the car doctor (and contrary to the propaganda he does not come on the NHS)to come and repair them.

But supposing someone said to me, "As an obedient child I am giving you a brand new Jaguar XJ." Hey! What a gift!

Imagine I took the gift and then started taking bits off it to try an upgrade my old S type. My son has bought an old VW camper which he is slowly restoring, so he could give me a hand.

Crazy idea, what? Yet that's exactly what some people are doing with their lives. They know they mucked up their old lives, but they are not willing to give up on them. I've mentioned it before but it's like the TV advert for Peugeot. An Indian driving an old Simca taxi spots the new Peugeot 306 and so falls for its looks he decides to change his old Simca. First he gets an elephant to sit on the hood then he takes a hammer to his bodywork.

Some of us imagine that we can change our old lives so that they are acceptable to God. A bit of hammering here a hacksaw there and an elephant to sit on the front. In the advert we see the Indian eyeing the girls out of what he imagines is a pseudo-Peugeot, but what we see and the girls see, is a young man making a fool of himself out of a battered old Simca.

For we have been given new lives when we were born again. A new XJ not a battered old S type. No hammering or scraping or painting or refit is going to turn my S type into an XJ. It sometimes seems hard work, holiness. An impossible dream. But that's because we are working on the old model. With the new model and with the Holy Spirit as driver, we just have to be sure we don't take it where it is likely to be damaged. I'm not taking the XJ into the hospital car park again. We should not conform to the evil desires that we had when we were in ignorance. We know what God wants. We must put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed and rid ourselves of anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language (Colossians ch 3). We shouldn't lie to each other, because we have taken off the old self and put on the new self which is being renewed in the image of its creator.

A story is told of an open air preacher who was preaching in a farmyard. "Don't smoke, don't drink, don't lust after young women, don't go dancing, don't watch them cinema films..."

One of the farm workers called out, "Hey, Preacher! Come an see my holy horse!"

"There's no such thing as a holy horse," scoffed the preacher.

"Well, he don't do any of those things that you says he shouldn't. So he must be holy."

Being holy is not a negative thing. A friend of mine was rung up by a minister who had been accused of allowing wickedness into his church. His accuser was complaining about the length of the ladies' skirts in his congregation. He seriously suggested that the following week the elders should wait outside the church with a tape measure, measuring how far above the ground were the skirts and to deny admittance to anyone who exceeded four inches.

You can't measure holiness with a ruler, whether it is the length of hair or the length of skirt. You need a stethoscope to examine the heart.

We are to be Holy because he who called us is Holy. Be Holy because I am Holy. Who called us? The Lord Jesus Christ. If we are to be Holy we must be like him.

What as he like? The Bible tells us that he went about doing good. Go thou and do likewise. He was patient and kind to the afflicted. Go thou and do likewise. He allowed little children to come to him and he blessed them. Go thou and do likewise.
He was not afraid to mingle with the outcast: lepers, a Samaritan woman with a terrible reputation, a woman taken in adultery, tax collectors and sinners, a woman with a discharge of blood; he even ate with the self righteous. Go thou and do likewise. He taught those in ignorance with beautiful stories not dry doctrine. He fed the hungry. He healed the sick. Go thou and do likewise.

We will certainly fall short. This side of heaven we will not be perfect. But he will pick us up when we stumble, guide us back when we stray and correct us when we err. He will never forsake us. He will always uphold us. He will never lose us. He has bought us with a price and is unwilling to relinquish us.

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