God purposed us to be His. He loves you! Nothing terribly unpopular here (everyone likes to be loved), but for everyone who has believed in Jesus for their justification before God, by the blood of Christ, He desires you to now be set apart. This is where the rubber meets the road. You are His now. You are dead to sin, alive in Christ. What does this even mean? You live differently. It’s like we are engaged to Him. He sets Himself apart for us (in the New Covenant) and we are set apart for Him alone. He has the right to be jealous for our attention, for our love, for our loyalty. Here are five unpopular (uncomfortable) teachings of Jesus that will wreck your life and lead you to life all at once.
The entry point into life with Christ. It was the message of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), the message that prepared the way for Christ’s coming. And it was the first message Jesus preached (Matthew 4:17). A simple word which declares both our guilt, the coming judgment, and the opportunity for forgiveness. Repent. If it was good enough for John the Baptist and Jesus, is it not still good for us? We admit that God defines right and wrong and that it is clearly given in scripture—we do not need to define sin or redefine it and nor do we have the right to—not us, not our culture.
Jesus did not come to judge the world but to save it (John 3:17). And yet, it will be judged. We work in a harvest about to be reaped, where good and evil dwell together, but it will not always be that way. The Day of the Lord will be terrible. He will send angels to harvest the earth and separate wheat from chaff, goats from sheep, and there will be some who think they are safe and ready for Jesus, but are not. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but only those who do the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21). That should make us think.
Repentance was a continual cry of the prophets. It was not a pronouncement of judgment. That was something separate. It was a cry of a merciful God who was waiting for us to come close again so the relationship could be fixed. It was a warning and a plea from the heart of God to not force Him to judgment. Come back. Turn around before it’s too late. And those who return have always found mercy from God, not judgment. Harshness is not what you will find. You have to face your fear of punishment and believe Christ covers you, then you can return because what waits for you is mercy and acceptance. But you have to leave your sin behind you. Choose sin or God. They cannot coexist.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Ritual washing for the Jews, in a baptism of repentance (mikvah), was a sign that a person had renounced and rejected their sin and were returning to God. It was also an an outward prophetic act of the purity that was to come, the baptism of fire and the Living Water, the Holy Spirit, who would write Gods law on our hearts. Same law, just deeper, new motivation (genuine, compassionate love for God and others, not fear of punishment). The fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom, not the end goal. God desires you to come close to Him (in reverence, but also in confidence), and to experience Him as a tender, loving, approachable father.
You must be perfect as your Father is perfect (Matthew 5:45), so says the Word of God. But perfect does not mean holy. We are called to be perfect in the sense of completeness and integrity. To be perfect means our heart and our outer actions are consistently and honestly aligned, and aligned with God’s. We are not Pharisees. We are clean to the core, not only on the outside. His law is written on our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit and we are softhearted toward God and people.
Being perfect means we can be mature/complete in love and purity as our Father is mature/complete in love and purity. Specifically, Jesus is referring to our hearts, filled with the Spirit, will motivate our obedient behavior as shown in how we love others, even in how we greet our enemies. If God allows rain to fall on those who love Him and those who don’t, can we not extend greeting and love to those who are our enemies? We are loving not only in our actions, but in our heart. In fact, it is the heart of the Father that allows His love to be given to the righteous and evil, so He can draw those outside the family to repentance and inclusion in our joint obedience and submission to Christ
Holy does not mean “sinless,” holiness means means “set apart.” Am I saying sin is ok? No. But I am saying holiness goes deeper than sinful behavior. Holiness is a continual posture of purity and single-mindedness in the heart and mind that makes sin obvious, disgusting, and unattractive. Read these verses with that in mind.
“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy (set apart), for I the Lord your God am holy (set apart). Leviticus 19:2
Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy (set apart), for I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 20:7
You shall be holy (set apart) to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. Leviticus 20:26
You shall sanctify him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy (set apart) to you, for I, the Lord, who sanctify you, am holy (set apart). Leviticus 21:8
‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy (set apart) nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:6
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy (set apart), so be holy (set apart) in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy (set apart), because I am holy (set apart).” 1 Peter 1:16
For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness (set apart). 1 Thessalonians 4:7
One is made holy when they make the decision to come out from the world and be separate and they keep making that decision day after day. Sanctification is not a process of being more sinless as you go; it is a lifestyle of repentance. We are set apart now for the work of God that requires the Holy Spirit’s power. His power in us is enough to stand firm against sin. If not, then Christ died in vain and we make Him a liar. We don’t stop sinning just because something has happened “to us.” We stop sinning because we choose to live by what is “in us”–we genuinely love God and our neighbors and choose love over our own desires by the power of His Spirit.
What most people call “sanctification” is simply a lifestyle of repentance and complete integrity. I have found the idea of continuing sanctification which ends up in some idea of “sinlessness” largely unhelpful and inaccurate. For one to say they have reached a state where they have no ability or temptation to sin is not only arrogant, but dangerous because it causes “holy” people to let down their guard and then feel the need to hide or deny when they do fall or struggle. But understood simply as a “setting apart,” the concept of sanctification is helpful. We are asked to set ourselves apart for Christ–to consider ourselves righteous and to act accordingly. And that should happen upon our repentance and turning to Christ. To say that one believes in Christ but is sanctified at a later date leads us to be complacent with sin in our lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters.
Oh, that person is not yet sanctified, they are still not free from sin, but that’s ok. Just come to church and you’ll get better eventually. Ridiculous. Be honest with people. If you are sinning as a Christian, you need to stop. Repent. And if you are an addict, beg for help until someone helps you. It’s that important. Do not be patient with sin.
Someone who has really chosen Christ has set themselves apart and they have also been set apart by God in covenant with Jesus (like a bride and groom). The renouncing of sin is not just a one time decision, but a new lifestyle. They may still have sinful tendencies and may face great temptation, but they are not tolerant of it anymore, nor do they expect anyone else to be. They separate themselves from sin by their will, because they want to, and as they do, trust and obedience opens their ears to hear the Holy Spirit, and God takes them through a longer process in which they willingly yield everything God tells them to give up (which will probably be more than they knew at first), as He makes it clear to them, for the rest of their lives—from personality, to dreams, to fear of mean, to loss of reputation, to money, to loss of life for the sake of the gospel. And all of this they yield with a willing heart of greater and quicker obedience. This is not the process of being set apart. It is the setting apart that gives the strength to say no to sin. We are tempted, but we respond out of our identity as a set apart, holy, righteous person in Christ. It is out of this identity of righteous sons and daughters that we respond this way:
I am not that person who sins. I love God. I must say no, because I have sold everything to buy the kingdom. I have counted the cost. And the cost of choosing sin in this moment is too high. I would not hurt Jesus and I would not hurt the people I love. I put this desire to death in the name of Jesus and renounce the enemy.
COUNT THE COST
No one who has counted the cost (Luke 14:28) and fully chosen Christ can knowingly stay in recurring sin. Not that we are perfect, or sinless, because we will fail, but we will be discontent with anything less than full commitment to Christ. Jesus requires our obedience, our allegiance, our money, our attention, our service. For those who have issues being told by brothers and sisters that they must obey Christ and renounce sin, I would wager they never truthfully and fully surrendered their lives to Him in the first place; either that or something has come in to take Christ’s place, usually selfish desires. But here’s the simple fact. No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of the kingdom. And that is why we need our brothers and sisters in Christ. Because when something replaces Christ we open the door to the enemy in our hearts and minds and we cannot trust our conscience anymore. We cannot even trust that we are hearing from the Holy Spirit if we have allowed sin into our lives.
We need brothers and sisters to say, “Look, friend, that is not obedience to Christ. Repent and return. Be perfect (complete). Be holy (set apart). Keep your hand to this plow and don’t look back. Don’t trust the voice of temptation of the enemy. He is a liar.”
And this is not judgment. This is an invitation to mercy, given in mercy…before the judgment.
This is Christianity. You are filled with the Spirit to empower you to obey Christ and do the Father’s work in the world in unity with others who are empowered in the same way. So we do not expect perfection from ourselves or from our brothers and sisters, but we do expect radical obedience to Christ and His teachings out of love for Him and we do expect a lifestyle of repentance, because anyone who loves God more than sin has the power within them (the Holy Spirit) to choose not to sin. And anything less than this is not really Christianity.
You are to be set free from addiction and sinful patterns. Would you insult the Holy Spirit by disagreeing? This is something you renounce when you count the cost and come to Christ and then you learn to fight, with the help of the Spirit and your brothers and sisters in the Lord. In this life, you will sin occasionally, and even unintentionally, but you don’t have to. In moments of weakness, you may fail, but you do not have to. You stay low to the ground in honesty, humility, and service (but with great power), asking God to see you and show you your heart often, so the enemy will not have a foothold, and sin will not master you ever again.
But if you make ONLY sinlessness your goal, your righteousness has not surpassed the Pharisees. You have simply made behavior modification your goal. But God is looking for righteously MOTIVATED set apart people, knowing their identity as sons and daughters of God, mature and complete in the love of Christ, resting in the justification that comes from the cross, recognizing the power of the Holy Spirit to help us obey the law of God that He has written on our hearts.
We are the ones who are set apart and yielded in love-driven obedience to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yielded, in love—to warn, encourage, and love one another as brothers and sisters in this fight.
Being set apart, sanctified, is not some magical thing that happens when you are a Christian for a long time. It is an immediate status you enter into in covenant with Christ in which you set yourself apart for Him and He sets you apart for Himself. Everything flows from that place of being in covenant. We promised ourselves to Him in love, and He promised Himself to us in love, and empowers us right away to learn and align with righteous living by the Holy Spirit.
If you resist this truth, you will have lost the battle against sin before it even knocks on your door. If the Holy Spirit is not strong enough to help you fight your sin, then you have not really repented in your heart; you have only pretended to repent as Jeremiah spoke about (Jeremiah 1-6). Your desires still master you, rather than being mastered by your love for Christ and His love for you. God says, if you really wanted to repent, you could. If Christians have a problem with telling others this, I would wager they have not yet become ok with being hated, which leads us to our last point.
YOU WILL BE HATED
Yes, Jesus said you will be hated by people, by family, by religious leaders, and by all nations for doing what He asked you to do (Matthew 24, John 14-16). This will be the defining separating characteristic of the true followers of Jesus in the last days. Will you accept this hard word? Because it means instead of seeking the approval of people, you now seek the approval of Christ. You may live at peace with all men, being all things to all people as long as they will tolerate you, but when they ask something of you that requires you to lose your moral integrity, be quiet about your faith, or build their kingdoms instead of God’s, who will you choose? Will you choose to preserve your own life of relative peacefulness and comfort, doing anything to keep the peace, your friends, jobs, or will you choose to be different and hated and follow Jesus in that moment?
“Lord, we have given up everything to follow you.” We repent and consider ourselves holy and perfect by the blood of Christ, filled with power to renounce sin by walking like He did. Add to that the surrendering of homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions. (Mark 10:25-31) That’s the cost and the joy set before us. Choose this day who you will serve. But remember this, you cannot serve both man and God.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
And these choices to choose sin and idolatry will be offered to you by people who claim to love and know Jesus. Do not be deceived. Those who know Jesus will be repentant, perfect (complete), holy (set apart), surrendered, and hated, even as we radically love. That’s how you will know the true followers of Jesus in the last days. They accept and cling to these “old school” hard teachings of Jesus because they were meant to be life to us. We cling to these things not because we are religious fanatics, but because we belong to Jesus at our core level and anything less would not be who we are.