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Personal Holiness

Mark 7:1-23

Holiness is something that people in other times understood. Today, we seldom use this word.
Holiness is an ancient concept for most people.

But for us Christians, we should keep holiness at the forefront of our minds. We are called to be
holy, a people set apart for God and a nation of kings and priests. You are called to live holy
lives.

Think about the words consecrated and sanctified. These words are used of people or things that
have been devoted to God. So, in the Old Testament, God set apart the seventh day and made it
holy, Moses had to remove his sandals when he stood in front of the burning bush because the
ground was holy, and the nation of Israel was set apart to be God’s chosen people.

What was different about the seventh day? Nothing. It has the same number of hours, the same
night and day. But it was set apart to be a day of rest. What was different about the ground where
the burning bush was? Nothing, except that it was the place where God chose to manifest
Himself. What was different about the nation of Israel? Were they stronger or more numerous
than other nations? No! When God called them to be His people and constituted them as a
nation, they had just been slaves in Egypt.

Now, God wants to sanctify, or make holy, His people today—you and me. We are to be set
apart for a divine purpose, just like a sacred vessel in the temple. In my house, we have some
cups that we use for drinking, others that we use to hold pens or brushes, and others that we use
for cleaning things. In the same way, God wants us to be consecrated and set apart for His
special purposes. We are to be holy for Him.

Mark 7:1-23 (use NKJV for accuracy of v. 17)

Here, the discussion is about purity that makes someone holy. God had called the Israelites to be
holy and to set themselves apart from other people by observing certain practices and
regulations, such as dietary laws so that they could not eat shellfish or pork, circumcision, and
the Sabbath rest. There were also laws governing social and personal conduct. However, Jesus
criticized the Pharisees for adding more regulations and traditions—some of which even went
against God’s commandments!

Instead of focusing on rituals, Jesus taught the people that they should seek purity and holiness in
their hearts. Things on the outside of us do not make us impure—what you eat or touch—but
rather what is in your heart that manifests as evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly.

Today, I want to talk about how to keep our hearts pure and holy before God. Jesus agreed that
holiness was important, but that it came by watching our hearts and keeping our hearts pure.
All the different laws and regulations served to remind the Jews that they were set apart for God.
Peter would not have gone into the house of Cornelius unless God had shown him not to call any
man unclean. He was a devout Jew. When God showed him the vision of all the different
animals and told him to eat, Peter replied, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything unclean
or impure.” The dietary laws, the circumcision, the Sabbath observance, the daily prayers—all
these things served as constant, daily reminders for the Jews that they were set apart and special
to God.

Today, we need to be reminded that we should live holy lives. We should not try to be holy by
observing outward ceremony, but we should seek holiness in our hearts. We should be very
careful about our observance, just as Jews such as Peter were very careful about their outward
observance of the law.

Romans 2:28-29
28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and
physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the
heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but
from God.

Paul was a Pharisee. He understood what Jesus had taught and tried to explain it to a Jewish
audience using terms they would understand. He said that true Judaism required circumcision of
the heart, where God fulfills His promise to write His law on people’s hearts instead of on stone
tablets, as He did when He gave the Law to Moses.

In this case, the Holy Spirit teaches us the law of God on a daily, even hourly basis. Instead of us
trying to follow rules by our own strength, God speaks to us and helps us to understand His will.
That is why it is so important to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit! He teaches us to avoid greed,
malice, envy, sexual immorality, and all the rest, and to seek justice, mercy, and faithfulness—in
other words, to perfectly fulfill the requirements of the law.

In other words, the Holy Spirit is the gardener of our hearts. He removes the weeds and thorns
and cultivates beautiful plants so that our hearts are beautiful for God.

Unlike with outward observances, these measures of holiness are not visible to others. No one
knows whether you are refusing to think lustfully or praying for your enemies. Only God, who
sees the heart, knows what your heart looks like. Others can see whether you go to church or do
things, but only God knows your inner practice to cultivate holiness and gives you praise.
The Pharisees were a bad example of how to be holy because they focused on receiving praise
from people, but the Jews’ desire to follow God’s law was a good one. If you read the Psalms,
you see a delight in the law of God. Consider these verses from Psalm 119:

14 I rejoice in following your statutes 46 I will speak of your statutes before kings
as one rejoices in great riches. and will not be put to shame,
15 I meditate on your precepts 47 for I delight in your commands
and consider your ways. because I love them.
16 I delight in your decrees; 48 I reach out for your commands, which I love,
I will not neglect your word. that I may meditate on your decrees.

18 Open my eyes that I may see 59 I have considered my ways
wonderful things in your law. and have turned my steps to your statutes.
19 I am a stranger on earth; 60 I will hasten and not delay
do not hide your commands from me. to obey your commands.
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times. 72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
24 Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors. 96 To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.
34 Give me understanding, so that I may keep your 97 Oh, how I love your law!
law I meditate on it all day long.
and obey it with all my heart.
35 Direct me in the path of your commands, 103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
for there I find delight. sweeter than honey to my mouth!

If this man rejoiced in the written law, how much more should we
rejoice who have the law of God written on our hearts! Today, we are
called to be no less holy than were the Jews. We are already holy
because of what Jesus did, but we are also called to live holy lives.
But we should not seek holiness outwardly to be seen by people, but
in here [in the heart] where only God can see.

Examine and filter your thoughts. Stay away from impure thoughts! If
an impure or unholy thought comes across your mind, refuse to dwell
on it any longer. This includes lust, greed, envy, pride, malice, and
deceit. Give those thoughts no room in your heart.

Instead, you should be able to pray with King David, “May the words of my mouth and the
meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord.”

Let’s pray.

Father God, help make us holy. Your word is written on our hearts. Your Spirit is in us to guide
us. Keep us from evil. Sanctify us by Your Word and Your Spirit.