“I am Adonai, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. Therefore you are to be holy, because I am holy.” ~ Leviticus 11:45
“Following the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in your entire way of life; since the Tanakh says, ‘You are to be holy because I am holy.’” ~ 1 Kefa 1:15-16
In my last post, we focused on holiness in our physical bodies. In this post we will look at holiness in our spirit.
Holiness in Our Spirit
“Therefore, my dear friends, since we have these promises, let us purify ourselves from everything that can defile either body or spirit, and strive to be completely holy, out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)
Yeshua taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that God’s commands are intended not only to regulate outward conduct, but inner disposition as well. It is not enough that we do not kill; we must also not hate. It is not enough that we do not commit adultery; we must not even entertain lustful looks and thoughts. Our thoughts are just as important to God as our actions, and are known to God as clearly as our actions (see Psalm 139:1-4; 1 Samuel 16:7).
Just as we must learn to bring the appetites of our bodies under control, so we must also learn to bring our thought lives under obedience to Yeshua. In fact, Sha’ul warns us against misguided and wrongly motivated attempts to control the body that leave our thought lives unrestrained (see Colossians 2:23). It is possible to curb the natural appetites of the body outwardly and yet be filled with all manner of inner defilement. The Bible indicates that our thought lives ultimately determine our character. Solomon said, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” (Proverbs 23:7, NASB)
It is because of the importance of our thought lives that Sha’ul said, “In conclusion, brothers, focus your thoughts on what is true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy.” (Philippians 4:8)
As Believers we are no longer to be conformed to the pattern of this world but we are to be renewed in our minds (see Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23; I Peter 1:14). Holiness begins in our minds and works out in our actions. What we allow to enter our minds is critically important.
The world around us constantly seeks to conform our minds to its sinful ways. The television programs we watch, the movies we may attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these avenues honestly, using Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these various avenues true? Are they noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy?
Too many Believers, instead of resisting, are more and more giving ground to a world view and not God’s clear instructions.
Perhaps it should go without saying that Believers are to abstain from indulging in or listening to suggestive stories and jokes. But Sha’ul could not take this for granted among the early churches, and neither can we in this century. Listen to Sha’ul’s clear warning on the subject: “Among you there should not even be mentioned sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or greed; these are utterly inappropriate for God’s holy people. Also out of place are obscenity and stupid talk or coarse language; instead, you should be giving thanks.” (Ephesians 5:3-4).
Another stimulus to impure thoughts we must be alert for is what our eyes see. Yeshua warned against the lustful look (see Matthew 5:28). Job made a covenant with his eyes (see Job 31:1). David’s wanton look was almost fatal to his spiritual life (2 Samuel 11:2). Not only must we guard our own eyes; we must be careful that we are not the source of temptation to others. For this reason, modesty of dress and actions is required among both men and women (see I Timothy 2:9; 5:2).
But Philippians 4:8 speaks to more than just immoral and unclean thoughts. Our thoughts must not only be pure – they must also be true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable and praiseworthy. Just as we can commit adultery in our hearts (see Matthew 5:28), so we can also commit murder in our hearts (see Matthew 5:21-22).
Immediately preceding the fruit of the Spirt in Galatians 5:22-23, Sha’ul listed some acts of the sinful nature, including: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Others in the list defile the spirit: hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and so on. We must purify ourselves not only from the gross sins of the body, but also from the more “acceptable” sins of the spirit.
As Believers we frequently fail miserably. While focusing on a list of do’s and don’ts, we neglect the inner life where envy, pride, bitterness, and a critical, unforgiving spirit may reign unchecked.
The elder brother in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) is a classic example of one who led an exemplary outward life but who was consumed by a spirit of envy and self-righteousness. He could claim never to have disobeyed his father’s commandments, yet his jealousy and anger over his father’s joy in the return of his prodigal brother marks him to this day as an example to be shunned rather than followed. The cure for the sin of envy and jealousy is to find our contentment in God.
Another defilement of spirit that has shipwrecked many Believers is bitterness. Bitterness arises in our hearts when we do not trust in the sovereign rule of God in our lives. If ever anyone had a reason to be bitter it was Joseph. Sold by his jealous brothers into slavery, falsely accused by his master’s immoral wife, and forgotten by one he had helped in prison, Joseph never lost sight of the fact that God was in control of all that happened to him. In the end he was able to say to his brothers, “You meant to do me harm, but God meant it for good – so that it would come about as it is today, with many people’s lives being saved.” (Genesis 50:20)
Bitterness toward people is the result of an unforgiving spirit. Someone has wronged us, either apparently or actually, and we refuse to forgive that person. Instead, we harbor thoughts of bitterness toward the person. We refuse to forgive because we will not recognize that God has forgiven us of far, far greater wrongs. We are like the servant who, having just been forgiven a debt of several million dollars, had a fellow servant thrown into prison over a debt of a few dollars (see Matthew 18:21-35).
Similar to bitterness is the spirit of retaliation. When we are wronged, the tendency is to retaliate – often in our minds if not in actions. Sha’ul wrote, “Never seek revenge, my friends; instead, leave that to God’s anger; for in the Tanakh it is written, ‘Adonai says, ‘Vengeance is my responsibility; I will repay.’” (Romans 12:19) Kefa said of our Lord, “When He was insulted, He didn’t retaliate with insults; when He suffered, He didn’t threaten, but handed them over to Him who judges justly.” (I Kefa 2:23) To cleanse ourselves from the defiling spirit of retaliation we are to entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly and who said, “Vengeance is my responsibility; I will repay.”
One of the most difficult defilements of spirit to deal with is the critical spirit. A critical spirit has its root in pride. Because of the “plank” of pride in our own eye we are not capable of dealing with the “speck” of need in someone else. We are quick to see – and to speak of – the faults of others, but slow to see our own needs. We forget that “There are six things Adonai hates, seven which he detests:” (see Proverbs 6:16-19).
All of these attitudes – envy, jealousy, bitterness, an unforgiving and retaliatory spirit, and a critical and gossiping spirit – defile us and keep us from being holy before God. They are just as evil as immorality, drunkenness, and debauchery. Therefore, we must work diligently at rooting out these sinful attitudes from our minds. Often we are not even aware our attitudes are sinful. We cloak these defiling thoughts under the guise of justice and righteous indignation. But we need to pray daily for humility and honesty to see these sinful attitudes for what they really are, and then for grace and discipline to root them out of our minds and replace them with thoughts pleasing to God.
In my next post, we will look at holiness in our wills.