Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Salt and Light - A Lesson in Holiness

This is a transcription of a message I presented at my Church, Sunday the 3rd May. It is based on Jesus' preaching on Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16).

Enjoy!

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Ever been cooking and had to frantically search through your cupboards to find an ingredient or suitable substitute? It happens all the time to me, I'll start making something and then realise I don't have all the ingredients. It's very frustrating and it doesn't get better when you find out that your chosen substitute just doesn't stand up to the job.

In order to be effective as Salt of the Earth or Light of the World, we must first of all be the genuine article. How do we know whether we are or not?

Salvation Comes First!

Let's just recap this, although I'm sure you all know this bit already, I think it's important that we're all starting from the same place.

I'd like to introduce you to something called the 4 points, it's a great summary of the gospel of salvation. [Find out more at the4points.com]
  1. God Loves You - This love is summed perfectly in one verse of the bible: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." (1 John 3:16)
  2. I have sinned - The bible says "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) Sin is the part of our nature which makes us continually fall short of God's ideal for us, sin leads to wrong actions, wrong thoughts, wrong words. The bible says "The wages of Sin is death" (Romans 6:23)
  3. Jesus died for me - "For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only son, so that whoever believes in Him shall be saved" (John 3:16)
  4. I need to decide - Do you want to accept the gift of life, life to the full, life eternal? Romans 10v9-10 says "...if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Now what?

There are ways to help salt keep it's saltiness and to prevent a light being hidden. They all involve a third party, an outside entity distinct from the salt or source of light.

In the case of spiritual salt and light this third party or external agent, however you would prefer to think of it, is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit comes after Salvation. It is not the blessing of a few, but the right of the many. If you are a Christian, you can have the Holy Spirit to help and empower you.

Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit and described it as the New Baptism. After His death and resurrection, Jesus says to them: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5) When Paul met some believers who had only received the water baptism, he was quite troubled that they should be missing out like that (Acts 19:1-7).

The Holiness movement of the Methodist church (out of which The Salvation Army was born) knew this baptism of the Holy Spirit and knew it well. The Salvation Army called this baptism, and the resulting holiness, "Full Salvation" - not that the initial Salvation wasn't enough, rather that this is the full extent of what we were promised.

Being fully effective and protected from losing our saltiness or our light requires Holiness.

What Holiness is not

Holiness is not pious perfection. Holiness is not following rules. Holiness isn't your Sunday School teacher telling you off for eating a sweet in Church! Holiness is the infilling and completion of your holy nature (as verses your human or sinful natures).

Holiness in some ways is quite simple, but the moment you start to delve into it you can start to get overwhelmed. There's too much to explore in a single sermon, even a 2 hour one like this... seriously, though, I encourage you to read into this subject a little bit and to discuss it with people.

Wholeness

Let's look at some aspects of holiness. The first is "Wholeness". Holiness takes us from "Holey-ness" to "Wholeness". Cheesy, I know, but it'll help you to remember! When we come to Christ we become a "new creation". Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Our 'God shaped hole' that people are keen to talk about, becomes filled.

The Holy Spirit fills us, if we allow it, and this allows us to push aside our sinful nature and all the worst parts of our human nature.

Another way of understanding wholeness is "purity" - hopefully that's something that you'll all understand. Purity is more than cleanliness, rather it's completeness - nothing added or taken away. For instance if you add anything to gold or silver it becomes impure, if you take anything away from an alloy it becomes impure or incomplete.

Have you all seen that advert for Smirnoff? Because Smirnoff is apparently so pure, when a bottle is dropped in the sea, all of the rubbish in the sea is thrown out. The purity of the Smirnoff rejects all impurity around it.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is like that. Such a degree of holiness and purity within us casts away all impurity.

Salt will lose it's saltiness if it is impure. A candle won't burn as bright if it is impure.

Righteousness

What does righteousness mean? The easiest way to look at it is "right-ness", or being right with God and in accordance to His law and will. Literally, Righteousness means: "adhering to
moral principles".

Rightness with God means coming before Him with a clean slate and balanced accounts. This is not something we can do on our own!

This starts with Jesus, when we become saved and is continued through the wholeness of the Holy Spirit. Righteousness isn't the path to Holiness, but is definitely a result of it!

When Jesus came, we believe He fulfilled the Old Law to which we were slaves. Immediately after the parable of Salt and Light, Jesus says "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17) Paul says that the law still has the power to convict us of our sin and convince us of our need for a Saviour, but not to hold us prisoner. Having fulfilled the Old Law, Jesus then reinterprets the law for us (see the rest of the Sermon on the Mount for examples) He also makes particular mention of two laws: 'Love the Lord your God' and 'Love your neighbour as yourself'.

If you can keep those laws, you will maintain your spotless record or perfectly balanced account (however you prefer to look at it) without the need to come back to the Cross for forgiveness.

Don't believe that you can stay pure? Do you remember the promise made by the Junior Soldiers a few weeks ago? This perfectly encompasses the whole gospel of Salvation and Full Salvation. They promised to "live a life clean in thought, word and deed" made possibly by His help now that they had asked for forgiveness. That is righteousness!

The promise of Holiness is that we never need to fall captive to sins again!

Holiness

OK, so I'll be honest, I am being a bit naughty defining a word in terms of itself, but you could look at the other two qualities as being the result of holiness.

The Holiness that we might call Full Salvation is characterised by holiness, the concept of something being holy. This is the concept that most people are confused by! What does holy really mean? As well as being whole and pure, something that is holy is set apart.

God is the most holy, and He is the most set apart, different from all of creation. There truly is none like Him! God is, in fact, so holy that His holiness is dangerous! High Priests had to enter the holy of holies with a rope tied around them, in case they died whilst meeting with God. When Moses wanted to see God he was told "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."(Exodus 33:20)

Holiness means that we will be set apart for a purpose, set apart for God. If I use the word sanctification, that may make the distinction a little easier for some of you.

Items in the Temple were sanctified, that is set apart (or consecrated) and made clean for the use in Worship to God. The gift of Holiness means that we too become sanctified, fit to be used in His service and for His worship!

If the temple is no longer the dwelling place of God and we have become the Temple, then surely we should also be made holy?

Being sanctified means we have a purpose, we have a task to which we are appointed. Our purpose is God's worship and service! Our purpose is to live out our holiness and invite other people into it's liberating power.

Challenge

This power, this purpose, this Holiness and all that come with it are going to affect things around us. Just like Salt and Light have an impact on the things around us. In this illustration Jesus is not only saying "don't stop being affective, don't hide your light," He's also saying you need to be salt and light in the first place! You need to have an impact in the world, you need to be pure, you need to be set aside for a specific purpose.

This Church is growing in many ways, more Holiness amongst us would push us on to be even more like Jesus and have even more impact in this community.

As always, the option is entirely yours. You have the mercy seat and the Holiness table here. Back in the day, people would come and stand at the Holiness table to ask for the gift of Holiness. If you don't want to come forward, or you can't, stand where you are. I you don't want to do that, or can't, call someone over to pray with you. Or pray on your own. Pray silently if you want, or loud. [You can do this at home, or anywhere else too]

If God moves you now and says "this is what I want for you", don't shy away from it. Yes, it can be a scary concept sometimes, and yes it might mean you have to give up things you think are good now, but sharing the heart of God - having His desires and His passions - surely can't be a bad thing?

In the Old Testament God said "Be holy, for I am Holy". In the New Testament Jesus says "Be salt, but don't lose your saltiness. Be light, but don't ever be hidden". Shine your light, change the flavour of this world!
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