Holiness for Pleasant Places

I am conducting my ninth funeral service tomorrow. Here is the sermon which I will preach.

Psalm 16

Eugene Peterson once said this, “In out kind of culture, anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sin up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” The great theologian Jonathan Edwards said it this way, “Resolved, never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”

Our Psalm has a great deal to say about pleasant things. There is rejoicing, having the Lord be our right hand, not being shaken, pleasant places, a beautiful inheritance, pleasures forevermore, and fullness of joy. All of these beautiful things are in this Psalm. However, there is also holiness. Verse 2 says “I have no good thing apart from you.” Verse 3 says that the saints of the land are those in whom is all the writer’s delight. Of course, the reason why the writer takes delight in God’s people is because he takes delight in God. You cannot have the one without having the other. Verse 4 describes the writer’s avoidance of idolatry. The Lord is his chosen portion, not anything else. So, just as much as there is good to which we can look forward, there is the corresponding warning: we don’t get there without holiness.

There is this absolutely hideous notion out there that it is possible to believe God and believe in Jesus Christ, and yet live whatever life you want to live. There are very few people who see personal holiness as a necessity in life. They think that, since they are free from the law’s demands, that they can therefore do what they want. This is one of the world’s great delusions. It is one of Satan’s favorite tricks. There are going to be an enormous number of people who come the judgment seat of Christ, and Jesus will say to them, “Why should I let you into heaven? You said that you were a Christian. But your surely didn’t act like it. Instead, you did whatever you wanted. You hated my church, and hated my people. You cut yourself off from the church. The church is my bride,” says Jesus Christ. How can you love God in Jesus Christ without loving the church, who is the bride of Christ? See, in verse 2, David says that he loves his Lord. In verse 3, David says that he loves the Lord’s people.

There is a great contrast between those who love God and love God’s people, on the one hand; and those who run after other gods, on the other hand. David describes these people as being very religious: they even make offerings to their gods. However, though they think they will find happiness in those gods, they will only find sorrows multiplied. They will multiply and multiply, those sorrows, until hell itself multiplies them beyond reckoning. What gods are you running after? There are any number of gods. Most of today’s idols don’t look like gods. That is, they don’t have a physical shape. They aren’t like a statue or something like that. Most idols today are not something you could touch. Consider money, pleasure, and power. Most of the today’s idols fall into those three categories. Money idols include greed, envy, jealousy, theft, and even neglecting to take care of the property of your neighbor. Pleasure idols include pornography, drugs, and alcoholism. Power idols include gossip, violence of any kind, deceit, and verbal abuse. So just in case any of us here think that we are exempt from sin, and that we are pretty good people, think again. No one is. We are all sinners, justly deserving the wrath of God in the punishment of hell. The result of sin is death. Sin is the great world problem, not hunger, or lack of world peace, or anything like that. Sin is the root problem. Sin is the reason that Cat Dornbush lies before us in a casket. Sin is the reason why we will all die. Consider your own mortality. Do not try to escape thinking about it. Face it right now! Face the fact that you are going to die. The question them becomes this: is there any hope at all?

The world has no answer to the problem of sin. In fact, the world usually denies that there is such a problem. That goes to show you just how blind the world is. The world will try to redefine sin as a chemical imbalance in the brain. Or it will say that our behavior is determined by our circumstances. Or it will say that how we were treated as children by our parents is the reason for our behavior. All of these things can be factors. But none of them are the real explanation for our behavior. The real explanation is pure and simple: we sin against the law of God. We have a sin nature in us, and we actually sin. This is the deep problem of human existence. None are exempt from this problem, or the result of this problem, death.

Is there a solution? Yes, there is! The solution is in verse 10: “Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see corruption.” We are to understand Jesus Christ as the ultimate singer of this Psalm, you see. David sung it many centuries before Christ. But he was talking about Jesus. Jesus Himself tells us that the entire Old Testament is about Himself. So the solution goes like this: God the Father sent God the Son to earth in order that He might become a human being. That Son, who was Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, experienced everything human except sin. Jesus is the solution to sin largely because He Himself was not subject to it. It is a bit like a person in quicksand. The person in quicksand cannot rescue himself, nor can anyone who is also in the quicksand rescue him. The only person who can rescue the person in the quicksand is someone who is standing on firm ground. All humanity is caught in the quicksand of sin and death. Only Jesus Christ stands on the firm ground of His own perfect holiness, His own perfect keeping of the law. This is firm ground indeed. Verse 5 then comes into play: The Lord is my chosen portion. If the Lord is your portion, then you have the righteousness of Christ. His law-keeping becomes yours by faith. Take refuge in Christ. In Him alone can you find the answer to the world’s problem as it is manifest in you. The Lord will then be at your right hand, standing before God the Father and saying, “This person is innocent, because my blood covers him.”

But Jesus, in dying on the cross would have been defeated if He had stayed there. That is why verse 10 provides our hope. Jesus was not allowed to see decay. The sacrifice was enough. His body did not need to see decay. Since Jesus had never sinned, and yet was the perfect sacrifice, then death itself would start working backwards. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, said it this way: “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in the traitor’s stead, then the table would crack, and death itself would start working backwards.” “Working backwards” is another way of describing resurrection. Peter, in Acts 2, uses this text to describe what happened to Jesus Christ: “For David says concerning him (Jesus)…’You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption’… Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and o that we all are witnesses.” After Peter’s speech had ended, the people were cut to the heart. Is your heart cut open? Have you seen that your end is death, and that your only hope for anything good beyond the grave is in Jesus Christ? That your hope must be in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? Paul says that if Christ is not risen, then you are still in your sins, there is no hope. You must take refuge in the Lord, you must find your portion in the Lord, and you must trust in Christ.

But trusting in Christ is not the end of the story at all. For it says in verse 10, “or let your HOLY one see decay.” It is only the holy ones who can expect resurrection, you see. Now, it is vital to point out that our holiness is not the solution to the problem of sin, but the RESULT of the solution to the problem. Our holiness is part of the ongoing application of the solution. The solution to the problem of sin is Jesus Christ, and nothing and no one else. But, if you have the solution by the grace of God, then you will be holy. You will become more and more holy. Death is the seal of your holiness, then. If you are thinking to yourself that you can believe in Jesus, and have the world as well, then you simply delude yourself. You cannot have God and your own sin. That is not possible. You have to give it up. But you cannot give it up, can you? How many times have you tried? I mean, really tried? The fact is that only God can work in you to give it up. But the call is still there: give up your sin. Holiness means that you are different from the world. It means that you don’t follow the world’s way of doing things, but you follow Christ.

Does that mean that you must always look gloomy, and never enjoy anything in life? That is many people’s perception of holiness. Holiness does mean that we should take pleasure in anything that is sinful, nor should we indulge in sin at all. But look at this Psalm. Is David sad because he is holy? On the contrary, the boundaries have fallen for him in pleasant places. He has a beautiful inheritance. He has the promise of fullness of joy in the presence of the Lord. Only holiness can bring happiness. Everyone on earth has a hole in their heart. That hole can only be filled by one thing, and isn’t what %99 of the world thinks it is. It isn’t money, pleasure, or power. Those things cannot and will not ever satisfy the true longings of the human heart. The only thing that will fill that hole is God Himself. Idols are empty, and they have no power. God can save, and God alone, and God will fill your life with godly happiness. There is a deep and abiding pleasure in the things of God. To study God’s Word is a treasure beyond price. To be with the people of God is a treasure beyond price. To be in prayer to God is a treasure beyond price.

To hear God speaking to you in a sermon is a treasure beyond price. If I speak the Word of God, then it is not I who speaks, but God. Many people wish to have God speak to them in some silly way, like horoscopes, or dreams, or by talking with the dead. God is speaking to you right now. And what He is saying is this: “Stop filling your life with idols, and come to My Son, and trust in Him. If you would have true happiness, you must have true holiness. My Holy Spirit will work in you.” That is what God is saying to you. That is what Cat would say, were she here now. If you would have fullness of joy in all eternity, and the love of all things holy right now, then you must have the Lord as your portion, and not anything else. You will find that the trade is worth it. Jim Elliott once said this about being a Christian, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what cannot lose.” If you give up money, pleasure, and power, which you cannot keep going into the next world, and if you gain the Pearl of Great Price, you will have treasure indeed. Indeed, that is true wealth, true pleasure, and true power. All of the things in this life that we think are those things really are not. Only in Christ can you find what will last. Come to Christ and be healed.

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9 Comments

  1. October 12, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    [...] I am specifically asking for comments on this post. I have important personal reasons for asking for comments. I am not divulging those reasons for now, but I would ask for unbiased reaction to that sermon. Thank you to anyone who comments. [...]

  2. battlemtnpastor said,

    October 12, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Lane,

    My first reaction, brother, is that this is too “thick” for people who are suffering. Don’t get me wrong, the content is solidly biblical, very informative, applicable even, but for people who are suffering, they need something that is a little bit more digestible. When people are suffering, they have a hard time concentrating, they have a difficult time listening for a long period of time. Simplicity is the name of the game!

    My second thought is that this sermon, other than your reference, could have just as easily been a sermon you preached on Sunday. Except for the reference to Dorothy, I believe it was, it didn’t seem occasional at all.

    With all that said, I don’t know the situation and so please take these observations with a grain of salt. This was a sermon, it was God’s Word, and so I hesitate to speak publically about it, but you asked so I thought I would oblige.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    October 12, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks, Danny, this is helpful. It is confirming other ideas about this sermon which I have formed.

  4. Susan said,

    October 12, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    First off, I think it’s an excellent sermon. I thought so when I first read it some days ago and when I reread it just now. Very solid and Biblically-based. But I do remember reading it first and thinking it was a bit “deep” for a funeral sermon and almost void of references to the “dearly departed,” as Danny said. I’ve been to few funerals, mind you (yes, I’ve led a charmed life), and most of them have been a bit overly emphasizing of the person’s life and his many perfections, rather than God’s work in his life, but there is of course that balance beam. Summary? Great sermon, perhaps not perfectly fitted for a funeral service. Who am I to decide this, since I don’t know the circumstances? – but you begged for comments :).

  5. John Dekker said,

    October 13, 2006 at 2:38 am

    If I had been listening to this preached, I might well have struggled to get past this statement:
    There are very few people who see personal holiness as a necessity in life.
    I find such generalisations odious.

    I think Psalm 16 is a very appropriate funeral text, by the way.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    October 13, 2006 at 9:58 am

    Thanks, Susan and John. It is very reassuring in many ways what you are saying, your criticisms being justified, of course. I try to be careful about the generalizations, although every now and then one slips through! :-) However, I would ask whether or not there is *some* truth to this generalization. What I see in the Christian world is a lot of people who call Jesus “Lord,” but do not live as Christians ought to live. Holiness is not emphasized in your average megachurch. Instead, it’s “reaching your full potential,” or something like that. Holiness does seem to me to be very unpopular.

  7. Susan said,

    October 13, 2006 at 10:08 am

    I would certainly say there is some truth to that generalization. “Very few” may be a bit strong, though, but even then I’m not sure. There are a great number of non-Christians in this world, and I would say that statement describes them, although they may strive for “works-salvation.” That is not the same thing as holiness. And even many (I would submit most) modern American Christians downplay holiness. The gospel is a gospel of grace, yes, but it should result in holiness. Reaching your potential (or finding your purpose. . . ) is too often the stress. I personally don’t find a major problem with that statement, although I would change the statement to “far too few” or something along those lines?

  8. greenbaggins said,

    October 13, 2006 at 10:16 am

    I would agree with that, Susan. Great point about works-salvation not being the same thing as holiness. Holiness is true sanctification, acquired as result of being already justified, not in order to be justified.

  9. battlemtnpastor said,

    October 13, 2006 at 11:50 am

    Lane,

    I think your generalization has merit! We all use generalizations and though we must be careful about using them, we are not to avoid them altogether. I do believe that, in general the principle which 1 Peter 2:24 brings out that Christ bore our sins in His body on the tree, THAT WE, HAVING DIED TO SINS, MIGHT LIVE FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS has been lost on the broadly evangelical world. Yes, I know this is a generalization, but the very admittance of that reminds readers that it does not hold true in every situation. Perhaps, however, a better to way to phrase it would have been this: “there is quite a large portion of people today who don’t see holiness as a necessity in life.” At any rate, just rambling thoughts. Lane, if you get a chance, jump online…I’d like to chat for a second or two.


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