Pastor Steve Wellman, New Hope Church, 200 E. New Hope Road, Goldsboro,
I Thessalonians 5:23
“Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground” was a command spoken to Moses at the burning bush. Stephen repeats it in his sermon preached in Acts 7. Throughout Scripture, there were specific places God ordained as sacred territory. What immediately comes to mind is the inner sanctum of the temple. Only the priest was appointed to enter into this designated dimension. Even then, the priest wore bells on their feet so those standing outside could hear whether the priest was still alive. If the bells stopped ringing, it was confirmed the priest had done something unholy in the most sacred place. Attendants had a long crook with which they reached behind the curtain and then pulled the deceased priest from the room. The stunning turn throughout the New Testament is that God’s people are now embodied temples. We are the desired place God intends to dwell. Our hearts become the inner sanctum where glory resides. The temptation is to make too much division between law and grace. Some will say, now that Christ has come, we no longer need to worry about the sacred. Jesus fulfills it, and we stand before God on Christ’s merit rather than our own. While Jesus fulfills our redemption, this does not exempt us from the call to live in Christ’s power and become holy just as He is.
Paul had a unique task placed upon him by God to minister to Roman pagans. If Jews found the message of holiness radical, imagine thoroughly secular people who had no exposure to the moral expectations of Leviticus. Paul proclaims to the Thessalonians God calls us to nothing less than “Entire Sanctification.” Observe the word sanctification is the expanded version of “sanctity.” Something sacred is set apart for God’s pleasure and purpose. Things set apart as sacred were treated with the highest respect. Imprinted upon the devout Jewish mind was a keen awareness of sacred space. The temple was viewed as set apart. Paul’s message is that God’s ultimate intention wasn’t to dwell in houses built with stone. Now, we are the embodied temples God intends to make a residence. Our hearts will be His established dominion. Therefore, we will align our lives with the same level of sensitive awareness to conduct ourselves according to God’s expectations. The completed work of the cross does not exempt us from the sacred. Instead, it empowers us for the sacred. The temptation is to approach life as a balance sheet. On one side, we have debits, and on the other, we have credits. We hope that when the calculation is complete, we have more good things in our favor than bad things. Like a weighted scale, we envision our lives tilted toward the side, which counts for reward. As long as 51% counts for good, we can call it success.
Paul is clear our lives are not defined by a scale but by the cross. Jesus’ gift of self-giving does not remove us from the sacred but it inspires and equips us to align our lives with sanctity. Ultimately, we don’t calculate our actions and draw the line at 99.99%. We are to aim for nothing less than total sanctity, complete sacredness. Much of the secular world is all about seeking loopholes wherever they are found. When tax season rolls around, we seek the expert who will enable us to scour the law for the ways we can exploit the advantage. Help us follow the letter of the law, but bend it as far as we can without breaking. The call of entire sanctity demonstrates the extent of God’s love. There is no area of life overlooked, minimized, or underappreciated. God desires the totality for His pleasure and purpose. When Jews read through the expectations of Leviticus, God showed concern over the most meticulous details. As Paul proclaims to thoroughly secular mindsets, his message lifts high the privilege of living as a kingdom of witnesses. Our sanctity testifies to the amazing love of God. We are promised heaven as our eternal home, but God makes His home the sacred human heart.