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My turn

An awesome sense of belonging

By Ed Tedeschi

Gathered for worship in the sanctuary, hundreds of voices join in singing out the song, “You are holy, holy!” The words repeat; their meaning broader than our minds can grasp. Holy!

In the throne room of the Almighty, the seraphim continually call out, “Holy!” (Isaiah 6:2,3). Ultimate reverence, unspeakable awe, the overwhelming otherness of our God is being expressed. Our minds reel under the weight of the truth the word conveys. Only God is holy.

Only God is holy; yet anything associated with Him is holy, because He is. The explicit details of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple illustrate this truth. To approach our awesome God is a fearful endeavor. A way had to be provided for the people of God to draw near to Him. The place of meeting was a holy place, because God was there. The altars, the tools and implements used in offering the sacrifices, the sacrifices themselves — all of these were holy, because they belonged to God.

Blood and anointing oil were applied to the tabernacle and its furnishings, consecrating them to the Lord. Anything holy must not be used for ordinary chores. What belonged to God had to be regarded as His always and treated as such.

In Christ Jesus the symbols and pictures of ancient sacred ceremony come to fulfillment. The way to the Holy One is through His Holy Son. The precious blood of Jesus purifies and consecrates. Those who receive Him become God’s own special people. In the New Testament those who have accepted Jesus are referred to as the “holy ones” (or “saints”). Sixty-one times the word (Greek Hagioi — holy ones) is used of all believers. The meaning is there for us to clearly see. Only God is holy. We are holy because He is holy; and we belong to Him.

Because we are holy, our lives must be wholly consecrated to God’s service. The standard is much higher than a few do’s and don’ts. Everything we say or do or think must be a suitable offering to God for His pleasure. Yet, holiness is not about condemnation; holiness is an awesome sense of belonging.

Human religion always gets this backwards — believing works will bring us to God, when it is grace that brings God to us. We emphasize what we do now; the gospel takes us back to what Christ has already done at the cross. We think that because we act a certain way, we are holy. God says, because in Christ’s love we are holy, we will live His way. Our way is a graceless struggle leading to repulsive self-righteousness and shameful failure. God’s way is to mercifully, lovingly embrace us as His own and give us the grace to live it.

In Christ Jesus the profound and wonderful reality of our new, holy identity progressively transforms us into His likeness. The power of the truth sets us free. The Blood that redeems us as His also keeps cleansing us as we daily walk with Him. The freedom, the cleansing, the progressive transformation, may all be referred to as sanctification. The verb “to sanctify” describes that deep, life-changing action as truth works its way out from our inner being into our choices and behavior. Jesus gives His holy ones the grace to live as holy ones.

“You are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26, NASB).

Ed Tedeschi is pastor of Summit Church in Saint Paul, Minn.

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