We make our choices and then our choices make us. Some of our good choices have resulted in a happy marriage, a great job, and deep personal satisfaction. Some of our poor choices have resulted in destroying a marriage, losing a job, and suffering shame and reproach.
Few things will determine the quality and the fulfillment of your life more than the choices you make for better or for worse.
I have heard someone say that when you boil it all down, you will probably make a half a dozen very major, important choices about God, about future, about relationships, and about how to deal with some difficult things in your life that will determine all of your life. You just basically play out the rest.
In fact, let me give you some time with yourself. I would like you to think as fast as you can about the two best choices you have ever made. Two choices that you say, Some of the richest, deepest blessing; when I look at my life from where I am now, backwards, I think about I made a couple of choices. These were good choices.
Some of you are sitting next to one of your good choices. Right? Some of you are sitting in a place that you are here because of a choice that you made about your response to God and His offer through Christ.
And some of you think back to a window of time and you chose to make a decision that was counter-culture and you ended up in a world and in a job that you were made for, and you look back, I can’t believe I got to do that. Right?
So I just want you to mentally think about, What are maybe the top two or three choices you have made? And some of you just need to remember you have made some good choices. Some of your faces, earlier, as we were teaching was like, you’re pretty down on yourself.
Okay, now, I want to go to the other side. Just what is one choice that you have made that, if you could take this one back, you would take it back? One choice you made in the past that you just thought, Oh my. That was dumb. In fact, that was worse than dumb. That was biblically unwise. In fact, that choice cost me a lot.
And it could be a choice that cost you a lot of money, it could be a choice that cost you a relationship, it could be a choice that, in just a quick moment of time and it was like, it promised a lot of pleasure but it really delivered a lot of pain. Can you think of any?
Now, here is why I want you to get your emotions around that instead of just your head and your heart. In like manner, there are few gifts that you will give to those that are coming behind you, okay? This whole series is about passing on the things that matter most.
And when you think about that person you’re wanting to help grow spiritually, or that child of yours, or that grandchild, or someone in church, or someone who is looking to you and you want to pass on what matters most, few things could be a greater gift than you giving them the skill and the ability to make wise choices.
In fact, I would go out on a limb and say: To give people wealth without wisdom is to sentence them to a life of folly and failure in their future. And yet, the research is in, almost all followers of Christ have spent much more time thinking very carefully about how to transfer their wealth to their kids and grandkids, than they have their wisdom.
And so it’s not too late, but if you take time to make an estate plan and to make a will, to think about how important it is to give them your stuff, what you want to do is translate your soul, what are your values? Teach them how to make great, great decisions.
Great decisions about God, great decisions about relationships, great decisions about money, great decisions about how to respond to adversity, great decisions about how to resolve conflict. Make wise, wise decisions about opportunities that seem too good to be true, because they are.
Wise, wise decisions about how to discover who God made them to be, wise decisions about – if they are parents – how to parent well. Wise decisions about how to take care of their bodies. One of the greatest gifts you could ever impart to those that you care about the most is the skill and the knowledge and the ability to make excellent, wise decisions.
And so our transferable concept is: Teach them to make wise choices. And what I would like to do now is say, I believe there is a place to start and if I was going to just open the Bible in the middle here and it opened to Proverbs like it did, let me read one verse as a launching point.
It’s not in your notes, here is the wisest man in the world. Past, present, future. And he says, verse 7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Only fools despise wisdom and discipline.” The fear of the Lord.
And the fear of the Lord is reverential awe, for sure. The fear of the Lord is an emotional, He is awesome and powerful and all-knowing and pure and you are actually afraid. You are afraid not to do life His way. The fear of the Lord, both positively and negatively, part out of admiration and part out of just actual fear, is to say to God, I want to do life Your way, because You have designed it in a way for my good. And, by the way, You are God. Whether it’s for my good or not, You are God and You created me, and You say these things. And I am afraid to do anything other than what the One who created me, and deserves to have rightfully anything He wants, He can have. He made me.
And so the fear of the Lord. And what I would like to suggest is if we are going to learn to make wise decisions, we need to walk through a theology of holiness.
And I have summarized, I didn’t put all the verses there but I have summarized a theology of holiness. Now, when you hear this word, please do not go to black robes, lit candles, prune-faced people chanting in the dark. Or people who don’t wear makeup ever or don’t play cards. Okay? I’m not talking about external holiness.
Right next to this in your notes, a theology of holiness, put a dash and write the word wholeness. W-H-O-L-E-N-E-S-S. The root word of holiness comes from wholeness. It comes from health.
The prerequisite for the universe that a perfect, holy God has made, for it to be whole and to be healthy, is it must be holy. And the fall is like cancer. And it’s like eating away at the environment, at the world, at the structure that God created.
And so His holiness is His standard that provides health. When we live a holy life, when we follow God’s holiness, it not only is what He expects because of who He is, but it’s also His way of helping us get health in our relationships with Him and with others, and what makes us whole and complete.
And they didn’t know all the scientific stuff that we know. And when He gave multiple commands and it looked like just ceremonial holiness, they didn’t know about bacteria and they are washing their hands all the time. They didn’t know that the platelets clot at, what is it, when you circumcise a child, Purdue did a study that the platelets clot the most on that very day.
But all these standards and all these laws that God gave His people to be this holy nation were for their health and for their good and so they would reflect Him.
And so what does it mean? What is holiness? Let’s walk through it. First, God is high and holy and the idea of holy means He is totally other. He is not a bigger, better category. He is completely different. We are creation and He is Creator. When we look at our little Milky Way, that couple billion stars, and then try to imagine behind it, maybe, two hundred billion other galaxies, we are speaking of One who spoke a word and it came into existence.
He is a God that, when people ever get even near His presence, they fall on their face. He is a God who is unapproachable light. He is absolute purity. Absolute holiness. He is the source of all life. And so He is other.
He is not the old man with the beard who nods at His children and He is not a divine Santa Claus or He is not a cosmic vending machine. He is holy.
God is absolute truth, John 14:6. Jesus came and He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” God is truth.
God’s Word defines absolute truth. You might jot John 17:17, the last prayer of Jesus. “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth.” And sanctify. That’s our same root Word for holy. Set them apart, is the idea. Something special. Not something regular.
A theology of holiness includes God’s Law, or morals, that is for our protection. When God lays out these commands, these guardrails, this is not from a prudish God that is against sex or someone that has all these rules to frustrate us and anything that we like to do, He comes up with a command to say, “Don’t do that.” They are for our protection; they are for our boundaries.
Imagine, if you will, this is a little word picture. For me, sometimes these things are abstract. I have this picture, because I have struggled with all of this a lot, and I didn’t grow up as a Christian and I never read the Bible growing up.
And all I knew was, even when I was a young Christian, if I liked to do it, I could find a command that said I’m not supposed to. And I spent probably the first five years of my Christian life with, I’m on this side and God is on this side. And there is this big fence, and all the time, He was telling me, Ingram, you can’t do that. You can’t do that. I thought He was against me.
And I had a warped view of God. And what I came to understand is, actually, He is on the same side with me, and this fence or this barrier of some laws that He gives me are that He is all wise and all knowing and loving and He cares about me.
And I began to see those as guardrails. And so here is the word picture that I came up with that really helped me want to obey. Is, imagine if you will, this little chalet at the top of a mountain, kind of like where we’re at. All right?
And there is this windy, windy, windy road to get up to it. But when you get up to it, the refrigerator is stocked, there is a workout room, the view is absolutely glorious. All your closest friends are there and they can stay forever and ever and ever. It is life at its very best.
And that is the trail, this “abundant life” that God has for us. But you need to go on this trail and it’s windy and it’s dangerous. And so all along the trail you get near the edge and there is a thousand foot drop off. So He puts these guardrails.
And the guardrails are His laws and His decrees so that when you bump into them, you realize, Oh, oh, oh, don’t do that or you could go over the edge. But if you stay inside those guardrails of His moral decrees and laws, He wants you to get to that chalet. He wants to enjoy you. He wants you to have the very best. He cares about you. You are the object of His affection.
So they are for you. And so, especially in those college years and those post-college years, I didn’t grow up as a Christian and I learned for eighteen years how to relate to girls. And then I become a Christian right before I leave for college and there are four girls for every guy. I mean, ugly guys were getting good girls where I went to school. You didn’t even have to try and you could get a girlfriend.
And this is the early seventies so everybody is sleeping with everybody. I remember the co-ed dorm thing was starting to come in and I would walk out of the bathroom and a girl is, whoa, you know? This is wild!
And now I’ve got this new Bible and God telling me, Now, you need to be sexually pure. And I’m thinking, Boy, You must be very powerful if You think that can happen. And I made a commitment to be. But it was always like, God, I’m missing out. God, I’m missing out.
And then it’s really interesting. A few years later we have, now, let’s see. That was the seventies. We now have thirty years behind us. And I have done a lot of research in this area. And I have learned the most sexually fulfilled people in all the planet are highly religious, monogamously married people that have no other partners, that believe in God, and that He created marriage. And they have thirty-one percent, how they measure this, don’t ask me, but they have thirty-one better sex than all the rest of the people. I dare not ask how that happens.
Those people who live together, prior to marriage, have a fifty percent higher divorce rate. They have about a seventy-five percent more likelihood of adultery. Sexually transmitted diseases can lie dormant for over ten years before they pop up to let you know that what you did on a fling back then can come back and visit you, or you can pass it on to your partner or other people.
Now, God knows all that. And so when God says, “The marriage bed is holy,” and when He says, “Don’t have sex outside of marriage,” I didn’t even get to the spiritual implications. I didn’t get to any of the issues emotionally. I didn’t get to the baggage in the back of your mind when you are making love with your wife and the pictures of the past can come up or vice versa.
And so all I’m saying is when God says things like, “Don’t have sex before marriage,” this isn’t a prudish God that doesn’t understand that we have hormones.
This is an all-wise, all-loving God going, “You don’t want that second-rate stuff with all the baggage emotionally, physically, right? I got chalet sex for you. Okay? I want you to be completely committed, without guilt, free of shame. You’ll still have your struggles.”
But you know what? When He has a command about money, you ought to give here, save here, do it this way. Same reasoning. When He has a command about telling the truth and speaking the truth in love rather than gossiping, it’s the same. Every one of His moral commands, because He is holy, is for your health.
And when you can ever get your arms around, His commands are for my good. Read Psalm 119. David, despite His struggles and His failures, “His commands are my delight, I rise in the middle of the night, like someone waiting for the dawn, like a watchman ready to get up, I love His Word.” Why? Because he got it. They weren’t prohibitions. They were the pathway, they were the guardrails to get the highest and the best.
That’s what holiness is about. It’s about wholeness and it’s about health. And it reflects God’s character.
God’s ultimate aim is to make us holy. We quote Romans 8:28 quickly when life is bad, right? “For we know that God works all things together for the good,” the car wreck and the down economy and the struggle with one of our kids and the tension in our marriage and circumstances, He works it all for the good. And we quote 28. Well, verse 29 is the purpose behind how He takes every situation, every person, every circumstance, every difficulty that you will ever face and – what?
Verse 29 says that, “In order that He might conform us to the image of His Son.” The game plan is to make you like Jesus. That’s what holiness really is. Christlikeness.
In Ephesians chapter 4 we get the picture of what the Church is all about. And in verse 11 through 13, we are told why God gives leaders in the Church. “He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers,” – why? “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
And then why is the body of Christ supposed to be built up? “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, of the standard of the measure of the fullness of Christ.” Maturity. Paul said, “My goal in life is to present every man perfect.”
It’s the same word: teleos or mature. You know what that is? That’s called being holy. That’s called being Christlike. That’s His aim for you.
Now, a byproduct is, as you walk that way, you will have great joy. But happiness has to do with circumstance. Joy is the byproduct of relationships.
And you know what? Your happiness can go up with the stock market and it can go down with the stock market. Up with you in love; down with your heart broken. God’s aim is to make us holy and reflect His Son. It’s a winsome, pure, not weird religious, out there, you people are, where are you coming from? holiness. It is a holiness that is loving and winsome and pure and approachable and Christlike.
When you are holy, you are like Jesus. And that is God’s agenda.
The Old Testament roots are we get Exodus chapter 3, verses 5 and 6. Moses sees the bush. God says, “Don’t come any closer; take off your sandals for the place where you’re standing is,” – remember? “holy ground.” Then He said, “‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.”
We have lost a generation of people that are afraid to look at God. We are casual with God. We think God is going to wink at stuff. I’ve got a lot of friends in churches all around the country and as we compare notes, I will tell you, the average single person in the average evangelical church, and I’m just going to throw a statistic out, it’s probably higher than this, but the average single person in evangelical churches is sleeping around, about eighty percent of the time.
And these are great churches, the Bible is taught. And people will just look you in the eye and say, “Well, you know, I don’t think God really expects that anymore. Like, eight out of ten commandments, that’s pretty good. Isn’t that an eighty on a test?”
And we have really lost the sense of the awesome holiness and purity of God. Here we have a situation with Moses, God says, “Take off your,” – why? “Nothing artificial, man. Wherever I am, it is holy.” You find John meets Jesus, right? Revelation chapter 1? Bam! He’s on his face!
Joshua meets the angel of the Lord. We have lost the sense of God’s transcendence. He is not our buddy. He is approachable, He is immanent, He is loving, He is kind. But He is unapproachable light and purity and holiness.
Isaiah caught it in Isaiah chapter 6. Listen to the verse, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord,” – what was He like? “high and exalted; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim,” special angels, “each with six wings: With two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling out to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.’”
This is the only time you ever find God addressed as three different things. In Hebrew, they don’t have, I can’t even remember what you call them in English. We say “very good,” or “best,” or “better.” They don’t have that in Hebrew. The way you make a stronger statement, it’s, “Holy,” or you go, “Holy, holy,” or if you want to make it, “Holy, holy, holy,” it’s a majestic, exponential, it’s, whoo.
And that’s what the angels were doing then and, according to the book of Revelation, that’s what they are doing now. And there’s going to come a day where they are going to keep doing it and we are going to get in on it.
But that’s who God is. And these are perfect angelic beings that are of the higher ups. I don’t understand all the cherubim and seraphim and who knows how all that works. But I’ll tell you what, they are in the very presence of God, night and day.
Later we find out they have eyes all over them and there is all this wisdom and they are innocent and they are pure. And yet, in the presence of God, they hide their face and they cover their feet and they declare who He is. I will tell you, when you get a glimpse of who God really is, it changes everything.
Everyone throws around that, “It’s not about us, it’s not about us.” It’s not about us. And it’s not about being in control. And it’s not about making your little life work out or my little life work out and our plans work out and what other people think. When you see God for who He is, it’s just like, whoo. All that stuff goes away.
“And then at the sound of their voices,” the text goes on, “the doorposts and the thresholds, they shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.” And this is what happens when you see God afresh. ‘Woe is me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined!’”
This is a prophet. This is the statesman of the day. This is a man who heard from God. This is a guy that, his righteousness, I’m sure, compared to most of ours, his is here and we are here. But he sees God, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
And then we get this powerful picture of the seraphim who flies with the coal, takes it from the altar, touches his lips, and you have this process that I think needs to happen. The old word for it is, repentance and renewal. But it’s this process where we get into the Scriptures, and in community and in worship, where we, again, get a glimpse of who God really is, which leads to an accurate view of ourselves, which leads to a realignment of our agenda with His.
And that process is over and over and over in Scripture. And that has to happen with us. And it’s painful. Sitting quietly before God, worshipping God for who He is, versus just asking and telling and whining and complaining. We can do all that. But we need to come before God and worship Him for who He is and remember who He is and then ask Him to, by His searching light, pray the prayer that David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me, examine me, see if there is anything in me.”
And you know what? Then sit quietly and unless you’re living on a different planet than I am, He will show you stuff.
And for some of you that are very mature and walked with the Lord far longer than me, it probably won’t be outward, external stuff. It’ll be that little self-righteous attitude. It’ll be that little judgmental thing of how you think about so-and-so. It’ll be about issues like motive. When everyone looks to you and yet what you know is, you’re playing to the crowd just a little bit too much. You’re liking the praise of men just a little bit too much. You become a little bit of a people pleaser a little too much. You have allowed your faith and how you live to be a little badge. And you’re human.
And you just need to get the fiery flame of the holiness of God to purge you and purge me and allow Him to do that and then we recognize with a new level, how unworthy we are. And guess what that does? The work of Jesus then becomes very precious because you realize, without Him, you’re in big trouble. And so the cross takes on new meaning.