Online Text Sermon - Perfecting Holiness, 2 Corinthians ch.7 v.1
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Perfecting Holiness|
|Text||2 Corinthians ch.7 v.1 |
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"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7, 1).
One of the questions which we are bound to ask ourselves when we come to a communion is what are we aiming at with communion services? Indeed what are we aiming at with the weekly services and prayer meetings, and fellowships, and occasions for stirring one another up in prayer and preaching? What exactly are we doing? I don't think it's the work of supererogation to put that question because we are all so inclined to become victims of routine, and we do things out of habit without really asking ourselves "Why do we do these things?" I can imagine that some people would challenge us with this question: "Why do you hold communion services and preparatory services? Why do you do these things?" And of course there are always some in this age of change who would like to spoil and change all that. They would like to relegate communion services and other things to a very inferior and lesser position. So we need to just take stock and consider: how are we to respond to that challenge? What are we aiming at? What do we desire to accomplish and to see done by these communion preparatory services, the Lord's Supper and all the other means of grace, as we call them?
Well the answer is, of course, that we are aiming to make progress in the things of God. We are aiming always at advancement in grace and in personal sanctification. We are aiming at perfection, and striving to come to that condition in which we shall be wholly sanctified, sinless and with the image of God perfectly renewed within us. This is what happens. Little by little, week by week and year by year, those who exercise their souls, by faith, in these means of grace - the Word, the sacraments and prayer and fellowship - they are making progress. Little by little, stage by stage and step by step, they are travelling towards absolute holiness, total sinlessness and conformity to the glorious image of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Himself.
Those who rather sneer at our communion arrangements, preparatory services and thanksgiving, and the multiplicity of our fellowships and prayer meetings, they must be answered in those terms. They may regard these things as old fashioned if they wish, and traditionalist if they prefer, but our position is: we love these things because little by little, through faith, by the means of the Word of God, we are coming to heaven more sanctified, more perfectly informed in knowledge and understanding.
I think this is what the apostle is referring to here: "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (text). Let me draw attention on this occasion to three things in the text; first of all the promises, secondly the duty to cleanse ourselves, and thirdly the long term view, "perfecting holiness in the fear of God". That is, the promises; the duty of cleansing ourselves; and the long-term view, which in the end will result in total and perfect holiness and happiness, in Christ, with God and in heaven. The communion season is one of the means whereby, through grace, we are travelling that happy and blessed road to eternal glory.
He begins with the promises, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved"(text). The only way, of course, we are to know what these promises are, is to consider what he has just been saying. Where are these promises? "And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people..." (2 Corinthians 6, 16). These are the promises to which he is making reference. The promises of God are all the good and all the blessings which the Lord is delighted to confer upon His people in time and in eternity. The promises are all those glorious gifts of grace which He is delighted to pour upon the lives and hearts of those who seek Him. That's what is meant by the promises. These promises flow out of the unmerited goodness of God Himself, God the Father, and Son, and Spirit. These promises are absolutely reliable. The Bible says about them that they are 'yea and amen in Christ'; promises which cannot fail because God cannot lie. The promises are given to whet our appetite, to quicken our step, to sharpen our hunger for the blessings which He offers to us.
These promises, I should go on to say, are called in scripture "exceeding great and precious" (2 Peter 1, 4). They are promises which far exceed anything which men of this world have ever understood; the promise, for instance, which He gives to us here when He says to us in verse 16, "You are the temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6, 16). He means the body of the Christian, and the soul and mind of the Christian; God lives in our very body. That of course is why we must never defile the body. The body is for the Lord; we are married to Him, and misuse of our body is a kind of spiritual harlotry or fornication, as we are told in the first letter to the Corinthians. So God dwells in our body. My dear friends, He dwells in the body of a Christian, as in a house or temple. It is His home. Where does God dwell? Well in two places; He has two addresses: He dwells in highest heaven, and in the humble heart. He dwells with those who are His people here below, those who love Jesus Christ, those who love Bibles and prayer meetings, those who love one another; He dwells in their hearts as in a temple because that is His home.
Not only does He tell us here in this promise at verse 16 that He will dwell in them - but a surprise: He will walk in them. I suppose the illustration we are looking for is this: when a person lives in a house or home, they always arrange everything in the house or home in the way that suits them. We all are different in the way we arrange our homes, aren't we, the way we arrange our houses? I suppose if we were psychologists, we could read people's complexes by the way they organise their homes and their houses. Well, be that as it may, what we do know is that the great and holy God dwells in His people, and of course He walks about in them, as it were. It's His house, His dwelling place, and so He organises things within the lives of people. The closer we walk with Him, and the more of His influence there is in our lives, the more certain things become clearer - I mention one or two.
First of all, those who have His indwelling become more pure in heart. Progressively He removes all the dirt from the house. Isn't that what a good householder does? A good householder cleans all the dirt out of the house. We don't allow dirt in our homes; we know dirt is out of place in the house. Well, so the Lord, as He walks in His own home, in the souls of His people, He draws attention to this sin and that sin, and His intention is to do that, that we might put out of our lives these evil habits and evil practices. What else do we do when we walk in our homes? Well we order and organise things; we have everything in the best order. So it is in the life of a Christian: the more God fills our life, the more order there will be. That is to say, our lives will be well ordered in the ways of the Lord. Our footsteps will be ordered in His paths because God is dwelling within us, and walking within us, and influencing the way our lives are lived. There is order in the Christian life. But as the worldly man lives entirely to suit himself, the Lord's people - not perfectly, but they endeavour to - organise their lives so as to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. It is an evidence of God living and walking within their souls.
What else do we do when we have our homes? We don't simply clean them and order them but we beautify them: we hang things on the walls, and we have ornate and decorative features which beautify the home. That is natural to man to do so, natural to a woman, especially, in her own home. How much more the beloved and beautiful Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, how much more He, dwelling within the Christian, not only gives cleanliness but also He gives spiritual beauty, the beauty of the Lord, beauty of character, "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price" (1 Peter 3, 4); the virtues and excellences of His own indwelling, the fruitfulness which come from the indwelling of the Spirit of God. You may think, if you like, of a man like Stephen, of whom it is said - O happy man, of whom it is said - "Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost..." (Acts 7, 55). What a description! Would to God we were more like him - a dear, good man who was stoned to death - the first martyr. Listen to that as God was dwelling in his soul and transforming his life, "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost". That is because God was fulfilling His promise to the one that sought Him, and conferring upon him these favours. "I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (2 Corinthians 6, 16).
So, my dearly beloved friends, let us take heed to the promises of God and strive to make God a welcome guest, within our homes certainly, but above all within our hearts. Oh happy the Christian whose soul is overflowing with the love of God! Happy the Christian who is not living for temporary things but whose eye is upon heaven and glory! That is the first thing, the promises. "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved..." What do we do with them? "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit."
Secondly is the duty relating to the having of these exceeding great and precious promises. We are to cleanse ourselves. We can't of course do this in the energy of the flesh. This is the great error of the monastery and of the nunnery. I feel profoundly sorry for monks and nuns because they spend their entire life, many of them, trying to make themselves holy. The endeavour of course is most praiseworthy, but the great mistake is that their churches do not teach them that before anyone can begin to cleanse themselves in this way they must experience, as must all sinners, this new birth. We must become men and women in whom God dwells, and the indwelling only commences with the new birth. It is the devil who indwells the soul of the wicked. That, sadly, too sadly for words, is why we hear of some priests and others who are found to be doing things which are criminally wicked. How can it happen? Those who spend, or claim to spend, the whole of their life serving God in the priesthood as they call it, how can they be caught out in these violent and vicious sins of the flesh?
The answer is - four things: We cannot begin to begin to be holy until the Spirit of the Lord dwells in our heart. Christ must be in us as the hope of glory. We must be new creatures in Him and that is what He assumes when He says to us we are to "cleanse our souls". That teaches us that in sanctification there are two persons at work, it is a co-operative work: it is first of all the work of God working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure; but it is secondly the work of the Christian who must work out his own salvation with fear and trembling - a very similar verse to this one. Before the new birth no one can cleanse himself from filthiness of anything, but once the new birth has taken place our duty, often repeated in scripture, is to co-operate with God the Holy Spirit. And in co-operating, there are two persons working together: God is cleansing us by His Word and Spirit; but also we are to yield ourselves to God and to obey every command of scripture to the uttermost of our powers in order that this work may be successful and progressive, and may take place within us, with the utmost expedition possible, to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness - of two kinds, notice: filthiness of the flesh, and of the spirit. What is the difference?
Well, filthiness of the flesh refers to sensuality, carnality, everything which refers to the defiling of the body which, tragically, is so widespread. The way in which we are to cleanse ourselves is by walking carefully in the commandments and ordinances of God. But what then is filthiness of the spirit? Filthiness of the spirit means idolatry, religious filthiness such as, for instance, the having of a false view of God, having idolatrous ideas about God or treating God in a manner which is not consistent with the Bible. That is idolatry. Or, the observing of rituals which God has not commanded, whether it be the mass, which our forefathers used to call "a dangerous blasphemy", or whether it be any superstition - the worship of the virgin Mary. All of this is filthiness of the spirit, it is idolatrous. All false doctrine, when we receive it into our souls, is defiling to the soul and it weakens the soul and it destroys true conviction of the things of God. If you and I therefore are to make progress in holiness, we must never admit superstition into our soul. We must not admit anything into our soul but what the Word of God teaches. The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible is the religion which we are told to cultivate and to observe. So we are to cleanse ourselves, secondly, from all forms of physical defilement. Not only the defilement of superstition, idolatry, false views of God, false doctrine, false practices - but anything which is removed from the true teaching of the Word of God.
So then, it is most important for us that we watch ourselves and take heed to the way we live, the way we speak, to our walk and talk and conversation in the world, and it is extremely important that we do not receive into our minds any teaching, from any source, which is inconsistent with holy and sacred and infallible scripture.
What is the long term end in view? Well He says, we have the promises first, and the duty next to cleanse ourselves. The third and final point we have time for this evening is that we are to perfect holiness in the fear of God. That is to say we are not to rest in our present attainments. No matter how advanced a Christian may be, no matter how much he may have been on the journey towards heaven, insofar as he is still imperfect he must not rest in the past and in the achievements and the attainments up to this time, but he must go on. How true it is that we are all inclined to rest on our laurels, and to rest on our attainments. It is so true of us, whether we put it into words or not, but we are inclined to have the secret thought at the back of our mind: I have done enough to coast along quietly for the rest of life. That is a temptation which we all have. I know my Bible reasonably well; I am fairly sound in doctrine; I am pretty consistent in the way I live, so I can coast along and I'll be all right in the end. Well, indeed you will be, but my dear friends, a little more is desirable, and that is that we should stir ourselves and one another up to perfect holiness. If there are practices in our life which we know to be less than biblical, then, especially at a communion time, let us strive to find grace to put these things more and more out of our life. If there are superstitious thoughts and ideas and practices, because of the infirmities of our flesh, then let us seek grace more and more to put them out of our lives in order that we may perfect holiness in the fear of God.
And so the apostle here gives these exhortations to all the people of God. As I close, I want to say: Don't be discouraged. If you feel that you have not really started in the life of grace, if you feel discouraged because you are so backward in the life of grace, that very thought may be the best indication that you have made more progress than many others who have a high opinion of their attainment. Those who have attained most always have the lowest opinion of themselves, and none of us has attained to anything comparable to the apostle Paul; but remember he, in referring to himself, said, "I am less than the least of all saints; I am not worthy to be called an apostle. I am the chief of sinners." But now, notwithstanding that, he was the greatest of saints, and the most useful Christian the world has ever seen. So my dear friends, it is a communion time, the shadow of which falls across our mind and spirit once again. So let us be of good cheer, and let us seek to perfect this holiness in the fear of God. Amen.
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