Monday, May 2, 2016

Sermon: Purity of the Heart & Holiness

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12 (ESV)

It's amazing how God lines things up. Because I've been thinking about this topic endlessly in the past 6 months. Purity. The further and further I get down the road of following Jesus, the more thoroughly do I become aware of my own failings. That's a good sign actually. In fact it was Charles Spurgeon who said that a sign of a growing Christian is an increasing sense of our own sinfulness, matched with an increasing comprehension of Christ's ultimate sufficiency. 

I wonder at some of the thoughts that fly through my mind. I struggle and fight those thoughts, desperate for the meditation of my heart to be pleasing before God almighty.

Last time I preached I spoke on conduct. We talked about how our conduct is so vital, especially in the culture in which we live. Good Christian conduct is the external practice of our Christianity. In the same way, purity is the internal representation of our Christian faith. This internal expression will inevitably generate the outflow of everything we do. 

According to Proverb 23:7 KJV "As a man thinks, so is he." 

And again Proverb 27:19 NIV, "As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart." 

That's what we're going to be inspecting today: purity in the context of the heart. 

But before we can even begin to talk about purity, we have to talk about faith. There is no way to be pure, no hope of living in a pure manner, not a single hope in the universe of living a holy life aside from faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is what it’s all about. We live in a world where God is veiled from us. We live in a world where man has turned from God. God sent Jesus Christ, the son of God, to offer himself as a sacrifice, as an inversion to the problem of sin and death. Jesus turned the maw of death into a fountain of life. A positive, a perfect positive, became sin for us, became the negative for us to conquer the negative of death. What happens when you multiple two negatives? You get a positive. God died, to defeat death. God entered death, conquered death, resurrected from the dead as a message to us today: If you will believe in Jesus Christ, in your heart, that he truly was God come to Earth, and he died and rose from the dead to claim you, then you are a Christian. And as a Christian you are called to firm, unshakeable faith. You trust that Jesus really paid it all, for you. 

I’ve been declared holy in the eyes of God. The apostle Paul describes it as wearing a garment of righteousness. That Jesus Christ himself gave us a perfect coat of righteousness to wear every day. God then sees us through the perfection of Christ. 

When we talk about purity, every single time, we’re talking about our response to the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

If we were to ever talk about purity as somehow paving our own way to heaven, then we’d be in serious, serious trouble. God forbid any of us think that we can get to heaven by “doing the best we can.” Or by living a “pretty good life.” 

We have eternal life, we will go to heaven, to the eternal city of New Jerusalem because of thing: the free gift of eternal life given by Jesus Christ. If we’ve received the gift of the cross, the resurrection, then we are heaven bound. In Revelation the holy city is described as a gorgeous golden city, of transparent gold, and a river flows through the center of the city, leading directly to the tree of life, this massive fruit tree, representing eternal life. Do you know what the river is? The river is Jesus. And we’re traveling on the river. Sometimes the river is smooth and gentle, sometimes it gets tough and rocky.

This painting is from a series by Thomas Cole, created in 1841. He depicts the journey of life along this river in four paintings, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult, and old age. For most of us, we’re here in the rough parts of the river. And you see what the journeyer is doing, he’s praying desperately as he prepares to ride the rapids. Ahead of us it looks brutal, desperate, uncertain, but above is God almighty guiding our way, shrouded, but accessible by faith.

It’s vital to remember that purity in our context is our response to the free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus. We’re so pleased, so honored, so humbled to be part of the family of God, we’re so awe struck by God our loving father we’re just desperate to respond to his gift with a life pleasing to Him.

Can we believe these things? Is there evidence to support our faith? And even more so, is our faith blind? Or is it reasonable faith, based on a reasonable God? As many of you know, I believe we carry a reasonable faith. 

Apologetics are absolutely vital in our modern society.  I really think it’s crucial, as young people are trained to disbelieve in God in public schools, that we be that much more vigilant about sharing logical defenses of the faith. 

Astronomy: “The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way (evolution) is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.” -Fred Hoyle, Hoyle on evolution, Nature, Vol. 294, No. 5837 (November 12, 1981), p. 105

Biology: “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced that any software we've ever created.” –Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

History: “Today there survives more than 25,0000 partial and complete, ancient handwritten manuscript copies of the New Testament. These hand written manuscripts have allowed scholars and textual critics to go back and verify that the Bible we have in our possession today is the same Bible that the early church possessed 2,000 years ago.” –Charlie H. Campbell

Psychology: "Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them.”
–E. Paul Hovey

Great mind, after great mind witnesses to the fact that faith in Jesus is reasonable. We worship a God who is real, and active, and is present with us at all times.

Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Time and again, the greatest souls in human history have chosen to trust in God despite what the world said: Noah, Moses, Gideon, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Elijah, Daniel, David, Solomon, John, Paul, Mark, Timothy, Peter, Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Mother Teresa, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, William Booth, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, presidents, scientists, Nobel prize winners, and everyday, average people like you and me.

We believe it is the believer’s privilege to be fully sanctified before God. Purity as a lifestyle. Purity can mean many things. It can mean our outward actions. It can mean our inward thoughts and attitudes. 

We believe that our actions and our attitudes ought to be good and pleasing to God.  We believe in holiness. Who is the greatest writer regarding holiness? Within the Salvation Army, it is Samuel Logan Brengle. 

Just as I was contemplating holiness about 2 months ago, my commanding officers got back from councils, and they'd each received a set of Brengle's books. Major, reasoning that they didn't need two sets of copies, gave one of the sets to me. And I began reading "Helps to Holiness" by Samuel Brengle. 

In regard to the very core of purity, the core of holiness he wrote this: "The last thing the soul has to give up is "an evil heart of unbelief" (Heb. 3:12). This is Satan's stronghold. You may drive him from all of his outposts and he does not care much, but when you assail this citadel he will resist with all the lies and cunning he can command."

Purity relates to our actions. And to our thoughts. And to our emotions and attitudes. But the very source and center of purity is the stronghold, the citadel of the heart. Our actions come from our thoughts, our thoughts are driven by our emotions and attitudes, and these are guided by our heart. 

The default position of the human heart is an inclination toward sin. I know this first hand. I lived that life, as a drug addict, as someone who lived very selfishly, as someone always wanting satisfaction, to “feel good.” I followed my heart. 

What do people always say? "trust your heart."

And as I began following Jesus I asked myself... trust your heart. Is that right? 


Jeremiah 17:9 says in regard to the heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

The unregenerate heart is an unhappy aspect. It lives for pleasure, glorifies in whatever feels good, and leads us off cliffs. 

That’s the problem. The broken heart. The Bible has a great deal to say about the heart. Just in my Bible, the Reformation Study Bible there are over 50 references to the heart in the index.

In the Old Testament… 

 The Psalmist cries, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. –Proverb 4:23

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11

 I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. –Ezekiel 36:26

And in the New Testament… 

These words from Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” –Matthew 5:8.

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Tim 1:5

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22

Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed Romans 6:17

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10

At some point as we attended church, as we studied the scriptures and listened to sermons, Jesus got ahold of us. We were transformed. God the Father drew us to his son Jesus. We fled to him, ran to him, and he met us along the way with outstretched arms. True, fatherly love. 

Within the package of salvation in Jesus Christ we received many gifts:

1. The list of sins building against us, recorded in heaven is cancelled and we are declared innocent in the eyes of God almighty.

2. We are reborn. Our old self utterly dies and passes away, and a sort of hybrid self is born up. A new spiritual being is born with new desires, new hungers, yet still beset by the flesh and temptations of this life.

3. We receive the promise of eternal life. Our names are added to the book of life. 

4. We receive the Holy Spirit, and He guides us into all truth. The Holy Spirit promises to be with us, just as Jesus was with his disciples on Earth. The Holy Spirit is our companion through life.

5. And finally, we receive the gift of sanctification. Included in this package deal is the gift of a new heart. (I will give you a new heart of flesh).

The gifts of Christ are many. The Holy Spirit begins to lead us, coming into our heart. He begins to change us. 

I tend to see sanctification as a process of lifelong growth. That is the reformed view of sanctification. That is certainly true. I’ve grown out of sin after sin in my life, over time. 

But within the Wesleyan view is the idea of the transformed heart, which is entered by the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of glorifying Christ.

Listen to how Samuel Brengle describes the purity of heart, matched with the Holy Spirit in sanctification:

“Remember, you not only gave yourself to God, but God gave Himself to you. You did receive the Holy Spirit. When He came in, self went out. You abhorred – loathed – yourself, and sank into nothingness while Jesus became all and in all. 

That is the first thing the Holy Spirit does when He comes into the heart in all His fullness – He glorifies Jesus. We see Jesus as we never saw him before. We love Him.  We adore Him. 

We ascribe all honor and glory and power to Him, and we realize, as we never did before, that through His precious blood we are saved and sanctified.”

-Samuel Brengle, Helps to Holiness, pg. 44

Have Jesus saved you? Amen? Are your sins gone? Amen. Are you reborn? Amen. Are you going to live forever? Amen. 

And now, since we have all these promises, let us also have a fully sanctified heart. No longer wicked, no longer desperately evil, but a new heart of flesh, soft, gentle, desiring to please God, a heart of purity. 

We will always struggle in this life with the temptations of the flesh. That is certain. But we may have from God, a heart of peace and purity. 

So then we must ask the question: How? Remember from Hebrews 12:3 We must: “Keep our eyes on Jesus.” My gut instinct when growing in the Spirit is to look down at my soul, and grab the wrench and the screwdriver and make some adjustments. I get into my soul. And no, that isn’t how we do it. 

At times God will call us to do the footwork, prayerfully taking action steps, but the primary force of holiness, of purity is found by focusing our eyes on Jesus. Set Christ before your eyes. When I stare at my Facebook news feed, or Twitter, I can become just distraught with how the world is. I need to look upon Jesus.

Or as Brengle wrote:

“Having received Him into your hearts, continually acknowledge His presence, obey Him, glory in Him, and He will abide with you forever, and His presence will be powerful to you.” –Samuel Brengle, Helps to Holiness pg. 47

Now, the Lord is challenging all of us to put aside ourselves. And our ways. God is challenging us to be His people, through the assemblage of a pure heart. 

Finally we have some applications...

-Realize that now is just the right time!
-Be willing to have God show us all the depravity of our souls.
-Acknowledge all the evil within us, and take God’s side against that part of ourselves
-Let our souls die to sin
-Renounce all unbelief & Give up all doubts
-Freely consent to be “crucified with Christ”

A prayer to God for the Heart of Purity: “Give me a heart like Yours, by Your wonderful power, by Your grace every hour, give me a heart like Yours. A humble, lowly, contrite heart, believing, true, and clean.
A heart in every thought renewed, and full of love Divine,
Perfect and right and pure and good, A copy, Lord, of thine.”

We expect things quickly. Even more so today than in Brengle’s time. Many, many Christians depart from the churches, depart from the faith, because they are in a period of waiting for God. God doesn’t work in hours or weeks often, like we’d like Him to. He often works over months, years, and decades. 

"If I were dying and had the privilege of delivering a last exhortation to all the Christians of the world, and that message had to be condensed into three words, I would say, "Wait on God!" –Samuel Brengle, Helps to Holiness, Chapter 8, pg. 61.

Wait on God! Wait, and wait longer on God. He is at work. The present is not our eternity. Wait on God. And wait on God for this gift of the sanctified, pure heart. Maybe this is just the beginning. Wait on God. And wait on God. Keep waiting, patiently, petitioning him. Wait on God. 

This is the text of a sermon originally preached at the Salvation Army of Escanaba on May 1st 2016, by Justin Steckbauer. Thank you for reading!

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