True holiness stems from the presence of God, his words, living within our hearts

Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, for I am with you,” says the LORD.

Jeremiah 46:28

The one thing that set ancient Israel apart from their neighboring tribes and countries was that their God was present. While other kingdoms and countries had their gods, their idols, and their temples, Israel actually had the God of the universe with them.

God allowed himself to be present within their Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that traveled with them. His presence resided in the Most Holy Place, by all accounts hovering above and within the ark of the covenant, which contained the tablets of the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments.

This covenant, these Ten Words, are what separated Israel from their neighbors. This is what made them holy; they were to abide by the actual commands of God, written with his own finger, etched eternally into stone.

There was no fanciful prophetic vision or private revelation; these words had been conveyed to the entire assembly of Israel at once as he himself spoke these words from Sinai. Everyone heard his voice, everyone felt the weight of his presence and struggled with the fear, real fear, at hearing the resounding and penetrating voice of God.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled.

Exodus 19:16

For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.”

Hebrews 12:19-21

Israel was born of revelation, a revelation to an entire people at once. This is what set them apart, and this was the heart of their most sacred place and artifacts that they carried with them throughout their wilderness journeys and into the land promised to them.

To this day, what sets God’s people apart is this covenant, the Ten Words. There is no equal among the religious communities of the world,

The illustration for us through what is pictured in the wilderness journeys of Israel is that just as God resided within that Most Holy Place above the ark of the covenant, God’s very presence resides within these Ten Words, the Ten Commandments. As we seek to fulfill these commands, then we are truly following in the footsteps of our Lord, the Messiah Yeshua.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19

This is the everlasting covenant that remains forever. The “new” covenant ushered in through Yeshua is a martyr’s covenant of dying to self so that the words of the everlasting covenant can be lived through us. It places this covenant in the hearts of those who would receive them, those who are called by his Name and who live and abide by its precepts because it makes up the very essence of who they are.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33

This is holiness, being set apart for the purposes of God. He is present within the words of his covenant, and as the covenanted words are in our heart, he is present within us.

God is present. This sets us apart. This makes us whole. This is the essence of his kingdom on the earth.

Becoming more set apart for God’s purposes by being more intentional with his instruction

Blessed is the person who does not follow the advice of wicked people, take the path of sinners, or join the company of mockers. Rather, he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2

A life that is set apart in holiness has its roots in the torah, or the instruction, of Yahweh. This constant input of God’s teachings is what generates within us a desire to do what honors him and directs us to deal fairly with others.

Since we are commanded to be holy, a practical understanding of what it means to “meditate” or “reflect on” his teachings can benefit our spiritual growth and nourishment.

Firstly, if our review of God’s instruction is to be constant, it must be comprehensive. We should be reviewing all of God’s word on a regular basis, not just cherry-picking our favorite verses. At a minimum we should be reviewing all of the Bible at least once a year.

Secondly, our review should be intentional. We have to set apart time each day to be successful. Like any relationship, there has to be constant interaction in order for the relationship to grow. The psalmist uses the language of “day and night” to convey the constancy of this meditation in God’s word.

Thirdly, this review should be meaningful. We need to be critically engaged with God’s instruction, not just passing popular scripture memes on social media.

While there are different learning styles, we can have various levels of meaningful engagement depending on how we choose to interact with the word. Reading or listening to an audio version engages one level of our critical insight. By reading while listening to an audio version, our comprehension grows on multiple levels. We can also read the word out loud, interacting through sight, speech and hearing. By committing meaningful passages to memory and reciting them over and over (i.e., “hiding God’s word in our heart,” Psalm 119:11), we have our most intimate and meaningful application of this engagement.

In our day and culture here in America, we have a large variety of versions and translations to choose from. We also have many different media options from print, to online, to apps for our mobile devices. We have audio versions and video versions that can be listened to and viewed regularly. If any generation has the ability to be steeped in God’s word, it is our current information-rich society.

In what ways can you be more engaged with God’s instruction? Perhaps experimenting with different levels of interacting with his word through the media options available to us can provide fresh perspective and renewed insight. The more intentional we are in learning from his guidance, the more set apart and available for his purposes we become.

Contemplating the Source of all holiness sets believers apart

Give to Yahweh the glory his name deserves. Worship Yahweh in [his] holy splendor.

Psalm 29:2

Within this psalm is a description of God’s awe-inspiring power displayed in the majestic outworking of his Creation. He is extolled in the demonstration of the power of a mighty storm, in which echoes of the all-consuming Flood of Noah are hinted at.

Our own holiness, or separation from the world, is derived from our perspective and meditation of God as the Creator of all. Amidst a people who have no recognition of any God, or who are self-absorbed in the creations of their own making, believers stand apart in our honoring of the one true God of the universe. In so doing, we ourselves become set apart.

We must recognize that our holiness is derived from his holiness and majesty. If we lose sight of who he is, we become less set apart. Conversely, as we honor him and ascribe to him the glory that his name deserves, then we are elevated into a position of strength and purpose that rises far above our mundane existence.

But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:15-16

Remaining in the Way

And there will be a highway called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel it—only those who walk in the Way—and fools will not stray onto it.

Isaiah 35:8

In the time that these words were written, what was called a highway was what we would consider today a well-trodden trail. It was a definitive path that left no doubt as to the right way to go. Being on this trail brought with it a sense of confidence: all one had to do was to follow the trail to reach their destination.

The path of holiness is here called the Way. When one is on this path, one is separated from the rest of humanity that is choosing to follow its own desires.

Depending on which version of the Bible you may read, the last part of the verse can be viewed in a couple of meaningful ways. In some versions, like the Berean Study Bible quoted here, it gives the impressions that the fool will not accidentally stray onto it. This would imply that the Way is intentional; one chooses to be on it and does not fall upon it by whim or chance.

There are also versions that provide a different shade of meaning, such as “even a fool will not stray from it.” This gives the meaning that the Way is so clearly defined that even if one is foolish they have the ability to remain on the path.

In either view, the Way is something that is distinct from where the rest of the world travels. Being on the Way of holiness means one is traveling within a way of life that is intentionally set apart for God’s purposes, and this Way can keep even our foolish inclinations in check.

Intentionally bound to holiness

Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to escalating wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.

Romans 6:19

In the biblical sense, a slave is someone who does not have any ownership rights of their own; they belong to another. In a primary respect, the life of a believer is simply an honest recognition that the life they are living is not their own. Everyone serves a master, whether sin or God; we are simply choosing to follow God.

The life we are living should be voluntarily offered back to the One who provides it to us in the first place. This is so simplistic, it is almost inconceivable. Unfortunately, we are so used to viewing our lives as belonging to ourselves that we easily fall back into old practices of doing whatever we want with them. We many times unwittingly go back to serving impurity and wickedness out of habit.

However, a believer, in the process of being freed from sinfulness, accepts another intentional yoke upon themselves, a yoke that is bearable and easy. This is because it is a life being lived as the Designer has created it to be: a life separated to Him. We recognize that all life flows from God and we are simply yielding ourselves to live within the parameters of the life that he has given us.

A life that is set apart in holiness is separated because it is constantly being renewed in the image of the One who made it. Our mindfulness in remaining intentionally and purposefully bound to this life is what causes us to become holy and set apart for use by God.

Having a single focus

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Matthew 6:22-23

The lamp of the body is its gaze; with clear vision, your whole being will shine brightly.

We have clear vision when we have a single purpose. There is nothing that can distract us from our primary objective. A person who is consistent and true stands out from a crowd because they have a definitive purpose and role. Standing out creates a separate-ness, a holiness, that can positively influence others.

Interestingly, Yeshua here contrasts the person who is single-minded with someone whose eye is considered “bad” or “wicked.” When we don’t have clear purpose, we tend to have divided interests among many other things that may not be in our best interest and lead us into wickedness. These secondary objectives cloud our vision and create a darkness that envelops our judgment.

The larger context of this saying is that it is joined directly to Yeshua’s admonition that we cannot serve two masters: God and worldly wealth. In this respect, focusing primarily on worldly gain will divide up our interests more, taking us further from singleness of purpose.

When we constantly look upon the things of God and his kingdom, our lives of unified purpose and godly intentionality become shining examples to others.

Holiness and Purity of Heart

Core of the Bible Podcast Episode 5: Holiness and Purity of Heart

Holiness, in its essence, is “apartness” or “separateness.” Purity of heart is definitely something that is different than the rest of the world, and is a primary aspect of this state of being set apart. When we are kept from disobedience, or sin, then we are in a state of apartness or being separate. Purity of heart then is a root, a foundation, of  holiness.

In the sense being discussed here, the heart is the wellspring of who you are physically and ethically.

Proverbs 4:23-27 – Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

When the heart is right, then our speech, our focus, and our walk will be in line and keep us from disobedience. How many times can you recall saying the wrong thing, or taking your eyes off of God, or walking where you shouldn’t be walking?  My own personal list would be extensive.

According to this proverb, we need to keep our heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. What is in our heart is what we express.

Luke 6:45 – The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. 

What is in the abundance of your heart? You know it by the things you say. If your heart is pure, then your speech will be pure.

Additionally, the Bible tells us that the heart doesn’t just need to be pure, it needs to be continually purified. This is similar to the cleansing effect of fire on precious metals, refining them until they have no contrary elements left.

Psalm 66:10 – For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

Proverbs 25:4 – Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel;

Isaiah 48:10 – Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

Daniel 12:10 – Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.

Refinement is the state of being free from a mixture of false and true until only what is sincere and genuine remains. This is a process, not an instant occurrence. As you can tell from these passages, some of this refining takes place through affliction, some is self-induced by those who are wise. The implication is that if it is not done voluntarily, God can make it happen by outside means.

Another example of ongoing refinement is that it is like a vine that is pruned of dead, unproductive branches so that the plant has the energy and room to bear more fruit.

John 15:1-2 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

1 John 3:6 – No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

3 John 1:11 – Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

Hebrews 12:14 – Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Living in this way with a pure heart is what sets you apart from the rest of humanity; this is what holiness is.

Grieving and Growing

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4

Grieve for unrighteousness, and you will be blessed, as God will be near to comfort you.

Many times this verse is used to comfort those who are grieving the loss of a recently departed loved one. However, the intent of this wisdom goes beyond the general aspect of mourning for death. Instead, it is a promise of God’s comforting presence with those who have a deep and sincere grief over unrighteousness, whether personal or within their shared experience.

This type of mourning takes place when one realizes their wayward actions are an affront to a holy God. This can result in personal repentance and a recommitment to do what’s right.

It is also a type of deep grief when one recognizes a state of unrighteousness among those around them, A godly heart is offended at the things that offend God. This can result in fervent prayer and intercession on the behalf of others.

If we are growing in our understanding of God and his desires for the ideals of his kingdom to be present here and now, then we are likely to also be demonstrating a sincere and passionate dissatisfaction with the unrighteousness that is exhibited within our experience each day. We grow to want what God wants, both for us and for others.

This holy grieving over lack from the ideal is spiritually healthy, and helps to keep our focus on what is truly of eternal importance. This is growing in holiness,

“Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.”

Leviticus 20:7

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 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.'”

1 Peter 1:14-16

Keeping Our Eyes on God

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. … “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Matthew 5:27-28, 31-32

Never forsake your commitment to your spouse. Do not even think about others lustfully in your heart. When our eyes stray from the things of God to the things of this world, we can lose our perspective and make harmful choices.

The most intimate of human relationships contains an indication of our relationship with our Creator. The act of adultery is an affront to the holiness of God, as it is a violation of one of the base commandments. Yeshua carries this base commandment even further into the realm of its origin, in our thoughts. The wrong thoughts lead to wrong actions, and wrong actions are sin.

In the Bible, adultery, while wrong in and of itself, is a metaphor for idolatry. Time and again, Israel’s unfaithfulness with the gods of the surrounding nations is compared to adultery with God.

We are urged to maintain our holiness, being set apart for the purpose of God, by keeping ourselves from being swept away by the lure of the created things that would distract us from our true purpose. Keeping our thoughts pure keeps us from sin.

Intimacy with God

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites [do,] for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:16-18

When you fast, take measures to be certain it is not obvious to others.

Our private works of humility and worship in the service of, and communion with, the one true God should remain private. If we are sincere in preparing our hearts and bodies to be receptive to the leading of God, we must maintain that intimacy.

When our inner convictions become just an outward show, we have denied ourselves and create a mockery of God. Self-adulation and false humility demonstrate a shallow understanding of our spiritual condition for the simple purpose of bettering ourselves in the eyes of others.

Denying body and soul is a personal discipline that is meant to take our eyes off of ourselves and our own needs. Making a display of it contradicts everything it is intended to accomplish.

However, maintaining a vital and dynamic intimacy with God through our heart understanding working in concert with our actions provides great personal reward. This is an unseen way in which we are strengthened to visibly serve others effectively in his name.