Being God's Holy People
2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 – 2 Corinthians: A Testimony to Suffering in the Power of God
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 14, 2019 (am)
There are two truths that we want to see in our passage today – (1) that God promises to bring His people into His Presence, and (2) our pursuit of holiness, our being God’s holy people who are separate from the world.
These two principles were noted by Elmer Martens, Mennonite scholar; who wrote: One of the Bible’s chief claims is that God is shaping a people for Himself… seen in the oft-repeated covenant formula, “I will be your God & you shall be My people.” – AND “the people of God are to be distinguished from other peoples… being a certain kind of people, a God-kind of people, whose foremost quality is holiness.” There you have it; God’s welcomes His holy, separated people into His Presence.
OK, up to this point in 2Cor; Paul has taught us the following
1. Christians rely not on themselves, but on God who raises the dead
2. All the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God
3. We are the aroma of Christ to God among people; the fragrance of death to death to the lost and the fragrance of life to life to the saved
4. We are competent ministers of the glorious New Covenant
5. We do not lose heart (2x)
6. We are new creations in Christ Jesus, ambassadors of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation
We have a God-given lively life; and in view of this lively life that God has given to us, let’s ask two questions: (1) what’s our primary motivation to live this God-given lively life? And (2) how are we to actually live this life?
I. God’s promises to bring His people into His Presence
God states this promise of His presence with us more than 25x throughout the Scriptures, from Gen 17:7 – Rev 21:7; in Ex, Lev, 2Sam, Jer, Ezek, Zech -> and it is the promise of God’s direct & immediate Presence with His people. And being in the very presence of God is the greatest blessing & joy for God’s people – it is the essence of our eternal life, which is our hope. Note what the psalmists say about being in God’s presence;
Ps 16:9-11; Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your Holy One see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Ps 73:24-28; You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on Earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from You shall perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
SO we see that being near to God, both now and for eternity, is the greatest of all blessings. Being in God’s direct & immediate presence is the hope of the Christian.
#1, what’s the source of our desire & motivation, what’s provides the power & energy to live in a way that is pleasing to God (v5:9 – “we make it our aim to please Him”). Answer: being in the direct & immediate presence of God.
Paul gives us some instruction in our passage-> vv16b,18,7:1a:
For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people… v18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty." v7:1; Since we have these promises, beloved…
There it is – “since we have these promises, beloved” – our greatest motivation and greatest source of encouragement to please God is the fact that God (1) will make us His people and (2) He will welcome us into His Presence – look, look, look at v17c -> “then I will welcome you. God welcomes us into His presence!
Imagine that -- you being near to the Living God, the God who is the Creator & Sustainer of all Creation, the God who keeps you in your life, the God who saved you from that sinful lifestyle that was killing you; you being close to the only Living God, that God who dwells in unapproachable light, that God who reveals thru Isaiah that He is God and there is no other Rock -> that God welcomes you into His direct & immediate Presence!
For any human being – there can be no greater joy, no greater experience, no greater relationship, no greater privilege, no greater….. [help me, help me] than to belong to God and to be in His very presence. And yet this is God’s promise to every believer, every one of His children.
And these promises of being God’s people and being near Him is not just the believer’s hope in some distant future, that’s now being put on “hold” until the New Creation – oh, no; we can be near God in this lively life that God gives to us on Planet Earth, because notice what Paul says in v16a – “we are the temple of the Living God, as God said…”
The verb is in the present tense; these promises are our present reality!
You can, and you should, be near to the Living God in your mundane, routine, daily life. Example -> I’m counseling with a guy at Wayside Cross Mission in Aurora. JR is in his mid-50s, he’s done mission work in India, he has a Master’s degree in counseling, with various state certifications – he even had his own private counseling practice – and he only needs to write his thesis to get his PhD in counseling. Why is he at WCM, you ask? Because with all that he’s done, he’s also done heroin.
How’d that happen?! He got lazy, and became discontent; his marriage ended in divorce, then he was living with an unbelieving woman with whom he had a son, then that relationship started going south -> then he becomes depressed. And since he had previously been in prison and had counseled drug addicts, he knew just where to go to get illicit drugs… so then he’s wasted & strung out for days on end.
But God!! Our God is gracious & merciful & forgiving and calls us to live a lively life that is pleasing to Him, resulting in our flourishing & thriving. And so, God brought JR to Wayside 4 months ago – where’s he’s been studying God’s word, seeking God’s face in earnest prayer, serving God and his brothers in love and in the Spirit, and he’s had occasional visits to spend time with his 6 yr-old son. But he has “bad days” days when he is plagued by shame, how could he disappoint God & others to such a degree, and he cries out to God, “God, what are You doing, why has all this happened to me, how did I get myself here?” Well, several days ago, in the midst of his prayer and seeking God, crying out to Him – God gave him Isa 54:4-8 ->
"Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth He is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you," says the LORD, your Redeemer.
This passage brought a stream of tears, tears of joy, God had spoken to JR out of the Scriptures. And this past Wednesday he said to me, “Ya know, right now, I know that I am exactly where God wants me to be – God is so good.”
JR is close to the Living God. JR humbled himself, he repented, and he sought God, to draw close to Him -> and God drew close to JR.
James 4:6-10: But [God] gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
That’s the 1st truth; God promises to welcome His people into His Presence
And this example leads us into the 2nd truth we see in our passage;
II. Our pursuit of holiness, our being God’s holy people requires that we be separate from the world.
Notice that there’s a condition for being close to God;
2Cor 6:14 – 7:1 -> Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God… onto v17, Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you… onto v7:1, Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
God promises to welcome His people into His Presence, but please please please notice that God makes this promise is to His separated, holy people.
Paul starts this passage with a command -> Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. And to give the reasons why Christians must not be unequally yoked to unbelievers, Paul asks five rhetorical questions; vv14-16 For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?
And of course the answer to all these question is -> NONE!
So, in the context of true religion, true spirituality, the knowledge of the true & Living God -> the Church, God’s people, have nothing in common, no agreement, no harmony, no accord, no fellowship or partnership with the world. In 2Cor 4:4 – who is the god of this world? Satan, who blinds the minds of the unbelievers and keeps them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ…
Therefore, we are not to please the world, nor should we engage with the unbelieving world in any kind of partnership, fellowship, or sharing a portion with this world, but as we noted previously, we are to please God (v5:9). We don’t take our marching orders from the world, and we certainly don’t kowtow to the world’s assessment of the Gospel or the Church – we don’t submit ourselves to the morals or philosophy of the world. Do not fear man, fear God -> v7:1b
Paul continues this exhortation to speak about spiritual holiness in v17 -> “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you…”
Now, what does it mean to be God’s people who are separate from the world, and are separated unto God? We have in the GCD Constitution; Article XV, Sec 1; Worldly Separation Policy states, “All believers have a responsibility to remain a people separated from the world and consecrated to God, regardless of the worldly conditions of the day…” and it then states, “Grace Church leadership is expected to set a godly example in all areas of Christian living.” This section of our constitution ends by quoting Rom 12:1,2 -> I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good & acceptable & perfect.
Here we see God’s call for His people to NOT be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by a renewal of our minds, separated from the world, and consecrated to God.
So we ask again; what exactly must a Christian separate from in this world? Which worldly involvements must we repent and turn away from? I believe Paul had answered this in 1Cor 6:9-11 -> Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God; such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ & by the Spirit of our God.
Here’s a list of sinful lifestyles that were present in Corinth, which Paul clearly states as being unrighteous, the pursuit of which will lead only to eternal condemnation. And note that sinners have been transformed into God’s people; God has saved these people from their sins -> such “were” some of you. These sinful pursuits are not now part of their current life – those new Christians are sinners who have been washed & sanctified & justified in the Lord Jesus Christ!
We know from the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, that our sin starts way before our actions, sin begins in the desires of our hearts, any desire we have for any of these sins is itself sinful. The washing & sanctifying & justifying & transforming that we have in Christ Jesus changes us even to the depths of our hearts. God saves His people from their sins so that will be His holy people, welcomed into His presence.
Notice again the exhortation in 7:1 -> beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. Cleanse yourself from every defilement of body & spirit!! Bring your holiness to completion.
Now I would hope that most everyone in this sanctuary this morning would look at that list and say, “I’m not involved in any of those gross sexual sins.” And praise God for that. But let’s not fool ourselves – remember several years ago we hosted a Purity Weekend with Pure Life Ministries from Kentucky. As a result of that Bible conference we had 6 men in a Bible study/accountability group helping these men repent from pornography. Who here this morning has illicit sexual desires?
How many people here today regularly drink until they’re inebriated? Or who here is involved in dishonest business dealings, swindling people – or who here cheats their employers with their lousy work ethic?
Paul says that to be close to God, to be in His blessed presence, we’re to cleanse ourselves from “every defilement of body and spirit” v7:1
Years ago, I visited our missionary in Kazakhstan Kevin Heinz, I asked him what books he’s been reading, and he recommended that I read the book Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges – about confronting the sins we tolerate, sins we so easily make excuses for. Here’s some of Mr. Bridges’ list:
Anxiety & Frustration
Lack of Self-Control
Impatience & Irritability
Envy & Jealousy
Do any of these “respectable sins” strike a chord in your heart this morning? For me – it’s Impatience & Irritability -> example of my flight in April 2019 from Warsaw to Armenia; pinned a guy trying to get past me against the wall with my elbow, only to find out he worked for the Polish Airlines. I apologized profusely – even in Russian, and we shook hands.
We cannot and must not go easy on ourselves regarding the sin that’s in our hearts; we cannot control sin – by the grace of God, we must kill sin. Now, I consistently ask God to help me have a good attitude.
But going back to Paul’s list of sins in 1Cor 6 (also Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5-12; 1Tim 1:8-10) – do we want people who are guilty of such gross sins in our sanctuary on Sunday mornings? We all know the answer; Yes. And why? So that they can be washed & sanctified & justified in our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul gives us an example in 1Cor 14:24,25 -> But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
When God’s Church gathers for worship, and God’s word is preached & taught – unbelievers that are present in our worship can be convicted of their sins, leading them to repenting from sin & placing their faith in God. Does this really happen?
Armenia -> (show the pic) Martin & Marinay; Martin was a bad man with a good job making good money – meaning that he was spending his money on booze, gambling & prostitutes. Finally, Marinay couldn’t take it anymore, and she left Martin and she took their children. Martin was a distraught, no matter what he did, he could not win her back. He became desperate, and began to attend Central Baptist Church, and after several Sundays, on the Sunday of Feb 17, 2019 - Martin responded to God’s call to repent and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. As a new creation in Christ Jesus – he went again to Marinay, and this time she could see that he was truly a new man, and she moved back. She then began to attend church in March – and on Palm Sunday, April 14, Marinay repented and believed in Jesus as her Savior & Lord.
Do we want sinful unbelieving men like Martin in our church for Sunday worship? Absolutely! OK, so that means that we who are the aroma of Christ to God among people; the fragrance of death to death to the lost and the fragrance of life to life to the saved; we who are competent ministers of the glorious New Covenant, we who do not lose heart, we who are new creations in Christ Jesus and ambassadors of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation – we must pray them in and bring them in.
And if you are here this morning, and you have not yet repented and called upon God to save you from your sins – I would plead with you even now, do not walk out of this sanctuary in your sins. Cry out to God for the salvation that He gives in Jesus Christ, and God promises to answer that prayer. Rom 10:13 -> For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
This is our passage today – (1) God’s promises to make sinners into His holy people; and to then welcome us into His presence; and (2) our own pursuit of holiness, to be separate from the world, and to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of the body & spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.