I wanted to share some thoughts about a message we just added to our video archive at NCMI, called The Holiness of God.
We have a growing archive of sermons at our website. They are all wonderful messages that Ward has given communicating the beauty of the kingdom and grace of God. This one in particular, though, is probably one of the two or three most significant, and impactful to me personally. It is foundational to what our ministry is all about, because it so clearly defines God's radical mercy which He has lavished upon us. Indeed, it took an act of infinite mercy to bring us into the presence of an infinitely holy God.
Since I started seeing Christ in the Old Testament, this has become one of my favorite passages:
Isaiah 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
It seems to come up a lot in our podcast studies in the prophets, and it's often my "go to" passage when I am writing about the kindgom of heaven--its character and substance, how it was fulfilled, and how we experience it. In this sermon, Ward talks about this passage in conjunction with one of his bullet points: "The Holiness of God does not allow Him to dwell with evil." That statement should cause us all to pause and consider just what it took to make us the "many mansions--or dwelling places--in our Father's house." No less than this was required: that we be made holy as He is holy. Nothing less would ever do.
Ward also makes a rather provocative, yet entirely Biblical statement:
If you are saying in your heart, "God will never save that guy, he's too wicked," then God probably hasn't saved you.
When you consider it, in light of Isaiah 57:15, you will understand my heart's passion toward the ministry of NCMI. It's only in humbling ourselves before God's holiness, and seeing who we really are apart from Him, that we can know the incalculable riches of His mercy, and share it with others. So that we can truly experience the joy of forgiveness and presence with God. And rest in His completed work. For me, it's all right there in that passage.
There are so many Christians who have trusted Christ as their Savior, and yet are still burdened with feelings of guilt and shame. And that guilt and shame tends to come out toward others as self-righteousness and condemnation. And I think it's what mainly keeps people away from "churches." That is why this message is so needed.
I am personally so thankful for the technology of video and the internet, which allows us to share these messages with a wide audience. And I know there are all kinds of things competing for your time and attention. But I just wanted to encourage you all to listen to this one message even if you typically don't get a chance to listen regularly. I can't tell you how many times I had to pause it while editing through tears (as I need a clear view to insert text at the appropriate places). And also, I was thinking of so many applications of this message to current preterist "in-house" debates on the forums, including the unbiblical concept known as "progressive sanctification" which is being argued for and against. It occurred to me as I was listening to this message and as I considered the cross, the most awesome display of God's power there ever was, and what it accomplished: my holiness in His sight--that this "progressive sanctification" notion is a particularly blatant offense to God. And it must grieve Him to know that His children still see themselves as lacking something, when He's already given them Himself.
This series of four sermons is without a doubt the clearest and most beautiful presentation of the gospel and grace of God that I have heard in my life:
Total Depravity and the Gift of Faith
And I grew up in church. And heard "the gospel" preached practically from infancy. Or I should say, that I heard many adulterated versions of it. The thing about the truth of God, is that it pierces my heart to its core. And the way that I have learned to recognize the truth of God, is that it alone tells me the truth about myself. It tells me who I really am. Which is really not who I most often think I am, or who others tell me I am. One might suppose it would be hard to sort through all of this other, to find the truth. But it's not hard to find, because it's in the Bible. Every other version of "truth," even within the context of "Christianity" and "church," and in the context of "Scripture" selectively presented, stops short of piercing through our hearts to show us who we really are. And it seems that is not by accident. There is purposeful attention given, great care taken, to change the truth of God into a lie. The lie tells us we are something more than we are (apart from Him), and that He is something less than He is. And the result is that there are relatively few in "Christianity" who know and understand to worship Him both for who He is and for what He has done. And by extension, there are so few who know how to treat others in Him, according to the new creation that they are, and the very righteousness of God which they have become.
Having said that, there really is such a thing as false humility. It's the flip-side of the pride coin for a Christian. Because while it's true that we must be confronted with who we are in God's eyes, by dropping every other comparison to see ourselves naked before Him, in order to recieve His mercy; having received it, we are now righteous--holy, unblameable, unreprovable--in His sight. The only view that matters. But as soon as we start comparing ourselves outwardly to others, we tend toward one of two extremes--"better than" or "worse than" --but both are equally prideful because they both effectually diminish the glory, and despise the victory, of the cross.
Well the messages may offend. I am actually hard pressed to name anyone in my own Christian community, with whom I regularly fellowship, who would not find them offensive to some degree. The truth does offend. It offends our very nature apart from Christ. But the amazing thing about that is that this same truth is the only place we can find rest. Real rest for our souls, every day. In His "mercies new every morning."
"Oh, Lord in the morning, will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up"..."You are my glory, and the lifter of my head."
The thing about all of those other versions of the gospel? There is no rest in any of them. That is why I love the real one so much.
I hope some of you will check out that series, and may it be a blessing.
Comfort My People: Isaiah 40 and the Exaltation of the Valleys, part 3
by Ward Fenley
This is a completely wonderful article; I would just like to interact a bit with a few specific things that especially intrigued and stirred me. One thing you do often when discussing redemption in light of these Old Testament passages, is to identify the “problem” that redemption was ordained and accomplished by God to solve. While we “evangelicals” may think we have a handle on that (who can’t quote Romans 3:23 from memory?); I think there has been somewhat of a disconnect between how the Gospel is traditionally presented and the full extent of the hopelessness of our condition apart from Christ. Studying these Old Testament prophets brings that into focus. Because they got it. They understood the impact of their guilt, they felt the fear and shame and fully recognized their complete helplessness and hopelessness and total dependence upon God’s mercy--the mercy Christ performed. It is only to the extent that we appreciate the impact of what it means to be lost, that we will begin to see and experience the impact of being saved….and truly appreciate and celebrate the miracle of our redemption. The prophets help us see these things; they help us see as you have said, how “eternal life is contrasted with that which every Old Testament believer feared under the Mosaic Covenant: death,” and the “magnitude” of that contrast.
You wrote: “…it is when we connect righteousness with the abrogation of shame and the fear of death that we become amazed at what Christ has actually fulfilled in reference to Old Testament prophecies.” Truly. Amazed and in awe.
I also appreciate the way you have shown that it is the righteousness of Christ (and nothing short of that, and most certainly not any ‘righteousness’ that we could perform) that is the complete and permanent remedy for shame. And since righteousness is all the work of God, there is nothing we could do by outwardly performing to add to it, or take away from it. Our righteousness will never be our own and will always and only be in Christ, Whom Jeremiah calls “The Lord Our Righteousness.” This will remain true of course, even after we physically die. Which I think is very important because it seems that sometimes even “Preterists” present the idea that after we shed the physical body, something will change with regard to our human nature. I even heard one say recently that after we physically die, we will “finally be free from sin,” as if that has not already been accomplished in Christ. And to me, to attach such significance to our physical death and in so doing claim we are now lacking, is to take away from what HE HAS DONE. And it is to fail to give Him the glory that all and only belongs to Him.
I was intrigued by what you said about ‘idols’ and how the idolatry of the Pharisees was to worship the law over the One the law pointed to, or the “creature” over the Creator (awesome connection between Jeremiah 2 and Romans 1); and more specifically to look for salvation in their own ‘righteousness’ under the law, thereby rejecting the salvation of Christ, and rejecting Him. They exalted the shadow over the substance, the copy over the true…they sought to make themselves righteous in that which “could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” And in so doing they rejected Christ, who came “an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us”(cf. Hebrews 9). I guess if there was ever a definition of ‘idolatry’ that would be it.
Thank you again for this article Ward, as it has truly caused my spirit to rejoice in God my Savior.
I have been married to my loving husband Keith for 26 years. We have three beautiful and brilliant children, ages 24, 22 and 20. Nothing cheers my heart more than having them all at home, yet nothing is more satisfying to my mind than watching them grow from afar. My personal passion is theology: the knowledge and experience of the Truth and Mercy found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and displayed in the lives and communion of His people. My husband and I love to travel, and because our children are often out and about in the world, we get lots of opportunities to see it! And we also love to fill our home with friends who love us, and love our wine collection.