In the final sermon of the “Stand-Out Church” series, I preached through Ephesians 1:3-14. In verses 3, 4, Paul tells us that God is blessed or ought to be praised for choosing the faithful in Christ “to be holy and blameless in his sight” (NIV 1984). In other words, God is blessed when we are made holy. When God calls his faithful people to be holy as he is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 1 Peter 1:15, 16), he makes us holy and God is blessed. So we ought to take the time to let him make us holy.
This reminds me of the hymn, “Take Time to Be Holy,” by William Longstaff (1822-1894). In this hymn we find great instruction through which the church can encourage one another to let God make us holy as he is holy. Consider these words of the first verse:
Take time to be holy,/ Speak oft with thy Lord;/ Abide in Him always,/ And feed on His Word./ Make friends of God’s children;/ Help those who are weak;/ Forgetting in nothing/ His blessing to seek.
We need to put effort into being holy. Certainly, it’s God who makes us holy, but he’s not going to do that against our will. When Paul tells us that it is God’s plan to make the faithful “holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4, NIV 1984) he reminds us that we receive this blessing because we are “in Christ,” which he reminds us happens when we hear the Gospel and believe it and respond to it (Ephesians 1:13, 14). So, our efforts to be holy begin when we respond to the Gospel in faith. From that time on, we continue to grow in our faith, pursuing holiness, allowing God to make us holy, and again, the song gives us guidance in how we can do that throughout our lives.
It tells us, “Speak oft with thy Lord,” reminding us that we need to spend time in prayer. How much time? How often? Paul encourages us to “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NIV 1984). Since it’s God who makes us holy, we need to keep in constant communication with God. He speaks to us through his Word, and we speak to him through prayer.
The song also tells us, “Abide in him always.” We learn what it means to abide in the Lord through Jesus’ teaching in John 15, where Jesus refers to himself as the vine and to his followers as branches who abide or remain in him. Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4, NIV 1984). To abide in Christ means to stay in him, to remain attached to him for strength and sustenance. As we remain in Christ, we become more like him, and he enables us to bear fruit, to develop the blessings he will grow in us, namely holiness.
As the song continues, it tells us to “feed on his Word,” reminding us to read the Bible, to study it and internalize it, that is to know it and to make it part of our everyday thinking, speaking, and acting. In Psalm 119:101-103 we read:
I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (NIV 1984)
This shows us that God’s Word has always sustained and transformed those who trust God and “feed on his Word.”
In addition to pursuing God’s holiness for our own sake, we do so for the sake of those around us, both inside and outside the church. The song goes on: “Make friends of God’s children; Help those who are weak.” As we abide in Christ and feed on his Word, we understand that the two greatest commandments – “Love God” and “Love others” – are foundational to our identity and activity as God’s children, the church. We cannot seek God and his holiness without loving and serving others.
When we focus in these ways on seeking God’s blessing to make us holy as he is holy, we will find many opportunities to live in holiness, and he will help us. Take the time to pursue God and he will bless you with his holiness.