How Does It Work for Holiness?

Session 6 – Part 2

The Pursuit of Holiness in Life and Ministry

All these texts I’m giving you are simply illustrations of how hope, faith, confidence, satisfaction, and future grace liberates love. That’s the point of all these texts. I hope that when we’re done with this unit, there is just ringing in your mind: “My goodness, there are a lot of places in the Bible that say the main battle to be fought in the quest for love is the battle to trust God for future grace.” That’s what I hope will be left ringing.

Superior Possession

Let’s walk through Hebrews 10:32–34.

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings . . .

That’s what happens when you become a Christian. In most places of the world, being a Christian costs; it costs something. I get these stream of emails from a missionary in Uzbekistan, just documenting, month by month, the cost for him and all of his converts.

You endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, . . .

Now this is when they were first converted. They made some choices here to identify with those who were in trouble.

. . . and sometimes being partners with those so treated.

What’d that look like?

For you had compassion on those in prison, . . . (Hebrews 10:32–34)

So persecution came. Some is just reproach, and some is just tribulation, but some went to jail. Now what do the people outside jail do when some of them, new converts, are in jail? And the jails in those days were not like our jails. Prisoners depended on outsiders bringing them food. It’s like the prisons said, “If you’re going to live in here, friends will bring you food. We’ll slide it under the door, but we don’t pay for prisoners.” So, if you take them food, you get identified with their faith, and you might wind up in the prison. That’s why he highlights how wonderful this is.

For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property

It’s not easy to know whether plundering is an official or a mob action. It’s just not clear. Maybe it was official, but it might have been vandalism. So I picture them having a prayer meeting and saying, “Lord, they’re in prison and they need us. We love Christ, but if we go — Lord, we’ve got kids. We’ve got kids. We’ve got houses. We don’t have any idea what this might hold for our future.” And then somebody says, “‘Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still.’ Let’s go.” And they go.

As they’re walking to the prison, somebody sets their house on fire, or breaks the windows, goes in, throws all the furniture out in the street, something like that — seizure of your property, plundering of your property. This is not just a command now; this is an actual documentation of the crazy, ridiculous, unbelievable Matthew 5:12 response to persecution: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” They joyfully accepted this, and here’s the ground:

Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

What could be clearer as the key to radical Christian living than to say, “Help me, O God, see the superiority and the eternal duration of your reward.” But American Christians, by and large, just live on the horizontal and expect payoff now. And therefore, we don’t rejoice. What do we do when we are plundered? We murmur. We sue people. We go on the radio and bellyache: “This is our country, liberals! Get out of our lives!” It’s just a tone that is so different than: “My possession that I really care about is in heaven, and it’s better and it’s eternal.”

When you know that, it liberates this joy, which liberates this love. Do you see the sequence? Faith in future grace producing absolutely counterintuitive joy, releasing visitation at the prison, which may cost you your life. I don’t know any other way to get people there than to preach on the superiority of the treasure.

Joy Set Before Us

Here’s the next text. This runs right through to the end of Hebrews. This is a theme. This is not an isolated way of thinking; this is the whole way of Hebrews thought. This is the structure of the author of Hebrews and how he understands the way love or holiness is produced.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24–26)

Yes, he rejected a kind of joy. But who wants fleeting pleasures? Who wants pleasures that only last eighty years? That’s stupid. The reproaches themselves are riches than the treasures. It couldn’t be clearer. This is not rocket science. Moses looked to the reward, and so he was willing to count reproach for the Messiah as riches. He weighed certain joys. He looked at the joy that Egypt could offer, and he looked at the joy that this reward could offer, and he said, “No comparison. No comparison. I’m embracing long-term, high-yield, blue-chip investment of my life. None of this low-yield, two-bit, short-term, vulnerable investment on this life. I’m going for broke.” And when he goes for broke, he’s a free man — absolutely free. Oh, that the church of Jesus Christ would break free from its bondage to materialism and living in this world.

Here’s the most powerful, amazing illustration in Hebrews of this point: Jesus.

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, 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. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

I do believe it’s right to think, here just the way Hebrews 10:34 and 11:26 set up the pattern — namely, Jesus, as he contemplated the agony of the cross; this would be like not going to prison. If Jesus didn’t go to the cross, it would be like the people saying, “We’re not going to the prison. We’re not going to love.” And it would be like Moses saying, “I’m not going with these people. They’re too cranky. I’ll stay right here and enjoy myself in Egypt.” And this would be Jesus saying, “I’m not going to the cross. I’m going to Arabia and getting a little house on the lake.”

Instead, for the superior possession (10:32), for the reward (11:26) for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2), he endured the cross. Jesus was sustained by the confidence, the hope, that on the other side of these days, “I will rise from the dead. I will have a resurrection body that won’t be bloody and in pain anymore. I will have all authority in heaven and on earth. I will be exalted to my Father’s right hand. I will gather, over the next couple thousand, years a people for my name, whom I will bless with unspeakable joy for all eternity. And for that, for that, I’ll endure the cross. For that joy, I’ll endure the cross.”

Frankly, I get bent out of shape when people suggest by way of criticism that the pursuit of joy as a foundation for love is sub-moral. And you can see why I get bent out of shape. Because the implications for Jesus are blasphemous. He was sustained by his expectation of resurrection joy through his suffering — and it did not minimize his love for us. Don’t presume to have a motive higher than Jesus at the cross. That would be dangerous.

Seek the Everlasting City

The last text is Hebrews 13:12–14.

Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

So this is a call to suffer. Jesus suffered outside the gate. Now, you, join him outside the camp. What would that be, I wonder? The people he was writing to, they didn’t live in camps. They were scattered through the Roman world. This is a picture: going outside the comfortable place, the secure place, the Golgotha place. “Let’s go outside the camp. Let’s go knock on a few doors in Mounds View.” We’re in the city of Mounds View right here. And two or three Sundays ago, we knocked on every house in Mounds View — or tried to anyway. And the stories that came back were mixed.

My wife and Talitha and I, knocked on sixteen doors on our block. Three of them opened to us, even though I think some of the others were home. (Nobody likes to go to their door when three people are standing there that look religious.) Of the three that opened, one had a big dog, who said that’s why she wouldn’t open the door. But she was courteous, and we left our little bag hanging on the knob. The other two were the first two we knocked on. And the first guy, as soon as he heard the word church said, “Get off my porch, and don’t ever come back here.” And the second guy did exactly the same thing. So three out of sixteen efforts were negative. That’s outside the camp. Now that’s not a big sacrifice. I promise you, that’s not a big sacrifice.

And my little girl, Talitha, who is nine, was totally taken aback by this response. I mean, she did not know that’s what we’d signed up for. We’re just going to go meet people and invite them to church. And the first guy said words she’d never heard before and was mad at us, at a little nine-year-old girl trying to obey Jesus. And as we walked to the next house, which was going to be just as bad, I said to her, “Talitha, in Bangkok, our missionaries have to plant a church with people like this. They don’t just invite people and then go back to 3,000 people who love them. They have to start it by knocking on doors. Isn’t it wonderful to share with some of the experience of a missionary?” Here’s the ground for that kind of willingness to go outside the camp. We ought to be doing that kind of thing a lot.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

There it is again. So when you contemplate the feeling,” I don’t like reproach, I don’t like to be made fun of, I don’t like it when people roll their eyes, I don’t like it when they call me names, I don’t like it when they slam doors, I don’t like it when they whisper in the office, I don’t like this” — Jesus didn’t like getting crucified. But what sustains you is remembering this city, called world, earth, Minneapolis, America, is not going to last.

I just read this morning in my devotions Isaiah 40:15: “The nations are like a drop from a bucket.” When the judgment arrives on planet earth, someday it will make Katrina look like a thimble compared to the Pacific Ocean of terror. It’s not going to last. It’s coming down. Every catastrophe is a symbol of what’s coming. Wake up New Orleans, wake up Minneapolis, wake up Bethlehem Baptist Church. Everything’s coming down but one thing: the kingdom of God. So if you put your eggs here in this basket, they’re going to break. Rather, seek a city to come. Rest in that city. Delight in that city.

Superior Promises

So this unit has been to show texts (and there are many more) that when you ask, What lifestyle or what dynamic of living the Christian life will yield holiness or love — radical, risk-taking, counter-cultural, counterintuitive, free, sacrificial love that lays down your life on the mission field or in the Phillips neighborhood or in Mounds View, what is it? Every one of these texts has said, to use my language: faith in future grace — or being satisfied, more satisfied, way more satisfied, in all that God promises to be for us now and forever. That is the liberation for love. That’s the pathway to holiness. That’s where the battle is to be fought.

When I think about my whole parenting role, my husbanding role, my pastoral role, my on-the-street witnessing role, the thing that drives me most is: What can I say that will accomplish the negative and the positive to make people tremble with the insecurity that this world offers, and to help people see the magnificence of what has been bought by Jesus Christ, forever-lasting joy for all who will receive him? That’s the whole goal: how to help people see the superior pleasures in God.

You make known to me the path of life;
     in your presence there is fullness of joy;
     at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Fullness, forever; fullness forever. My whole life is devoted to trying to figure out ways to handle the Bible so that people will fall out of love with the word. One old Puritan said that the goal of a pastor is to put people’s mouths out of taste for the bait of Satan. It’s not: How do you get your jaw off the hook? That’s important once you’re there. But the main goal of the ministry is: don’t let the bait be attractive. And how do you put people out of taste for the bait of the devil? And the answer is: spread a table that is superior.