THE CALL TO GODLINESS in an AGE OF JUDGEMENT – 2
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness” 1 Chron. 16:29
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment ….Rather it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Pet.3:3
“I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels”. Isaiah 61:10
A week or two ago the Bible Page was about our need to walk in the fear of the Lord; that is to live with a deep awareness of how much God hates sin and evil and a clear recognition of how evil will inevitably bring down his judgement and destruction. And this is not only to be living with a mere mental awareness of his utter rejection of sin, but with a heart which has really apprehended and actually shares in God’s detestation of evil. Evil is ugly and a profound offence to God, and it should be equally so to us if we have his Spirit. This fear of the Lord is a fundamental foundation of holy living.
This week’s Bible Page is about something at the other end of the spectrum and an essential counterweight to the fear of the Lord, namely a need to walk with a deep awareness and appreciation of the fact that righteousness and holiness are things of incredible beauty. They are intensely desirable and are much to be sought after for their own sakes. They need to be seen and pursued as “the pearl of great price”, for holiness and righteousness are at the heart of the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately we are all too often blind to the fact that a godly life is a very beautiful thing and so we do not pursue it as we should. It is not sufficient to know this beauty of righteous character as a concept; it needs to be felt and recognised in the heart so that we yearn for it. We need to know that this “pearl” is worth giving up all else in order to gain it.
John Wimber wrote a short lyric with a poignant tune beginning with the words, “Isn’t he beautiful; beautiful isn’t he. Son of God; mighty King …….”. He did not spell out what that beauty was; that was left to us who sing it. One wonders what interpretations have been put on the word “beautiful” as the song has been sung. They could have ranged anywhere from the sentimental and banal to a genuinely spiritual understanding of the word as it relates to Jesus. I’m very fond of the song, but I found it was a challenge to my thinking about beauty! What was that beauty? I can find no better answer than the real beauty of the Son of God is in his holiness, his godly, loving way of life, and his love of his Holy Father. The beauty of Jesus was, and is, a spiritual beauty.
Where ever we look in God’s creation we can see something which is beautiful – that is to say something very deeply satisfying, something we long for more of, something we don’t want to leave, and something that touches us at our deepest. The smallest flower, the highest mountain, the calm ocean, the raging sea – all have that sort of beauty. God is beautiful in all things. But, as Job reminds us, “these (his majestic beauty in creation) are but the outskirts of his ways”. In his essential personal being there is something deeper, namely the beauty of his holiness – a moral beauty. It was this that human beings, made in his image, were created to reflect. We were to be naturally beautiful in terms of flesh and blood, but more important we were intended to be spiritually, morally beautiful reflecting his image. That was to be our crowning glory. Sadly we spend most of our time on the natural, physical beauty and show all too often very little appreciation and concern for the moral beauty.
Peter puts his finger very practically and precisely on what this spiritual beauty looks like when he writes in his first letter of a beauty that comes from the “inner self”, and points us to “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”, contrasting it with mere physical adornment of “upbraided hair”. He could quite easily in addition have spoken of a patient or a compassionate or a loving spirit. He could have added all the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). They are all beautiful, attractive and endearing to those who have eyes to recognise their beauty. They are the outward signs of the inner self walking in holiness. This sort of beauty in a wife, Peter says, is sufficient to create a longing in an unbelieving husband and draw him into a faith in Jesus through which he might gain the same qualities. Moral beauty is deeply attractive, at least to those who are not completely blinded by their own walk of ungodliness. The truth of this is amply borne out by the number of people who have seen “something” in a Christian that has deeply attracted them and, having come to realise that the quality and integrity of that “something” has come from Jesus, have begun to follow him.
In looking at the beauty of holiness it is worth considering for a moment how much it contrasts with sinfulness, which is ugly. A proper recognition of just how ugly sin is actually provides an important spur in our seeking after righteousness. The tragedy is that we can be massively blinded to what our faults really look like. When we are able to recognise just how contemptible pride and arrogance are, especially when placed alongside genuine humility, we have a further incentive to godliness, a stronger desire that Jesus might purify us through his indwelling Spirit. When we come to see how loathsome deceit and corruption are in contrast to honesty and integrity, and when we see how degrading sexual license is when compared to fidelity and purity we shall move on much more quickly in our pursuit of righteousness. If we cannot see how ugly evil is and can feel no repulsion to it we are in something of a dangerous place. Ungodly behaviour is always unpleasant except to those so tarnished by it that they can no longer see or feel its ugliness. God hates sin; he hates its ugliness. We should hate sin also, even if at the same time we should have compassion for those caught up in it, as indeed God has.
Isaiah’s prophetic words, inspired by the Spirit of God and quoted above, give us two instructive pictures of what holiness looks like. First, holiness is to be compared to the beautiful jewels which a bride wears on her wedding day; she is beautifully dressed, of course, but these shining jewels are the most precious thing, the most attractive thing that adorn her. They sparkle and they beautify. And the bride feels so good wearing them! That’s how God sees holiness. Second, holiness is a very special robe, a rich robe; it is beautiful and it gives status. But this robe is not woven of cloth; it is woven of all the cords that make up righteousness. It is a robe of righteousness. It is this robe with which God longs to clothe us and distinguish us. Jesus spoke of the prodigal son being given a robe by his father on his repentant return home. This son arrived back home with filthy garments, with all the stain of ungodly, ugly and self-centred debauchery still on him, to find that his repentance and turning back to his father brought him to a place where he was forgiven and was presented with a new, clean robe. He had come to his senses, had realized the futility of his sin and its ugliness and was re-clothed in the beauty of righteousness.
The garment of salvation of which Isaiah wrote is what Jesus acquired for us on the cross. It is a garment of holiness, it is exceedingly beautiful, and we are meant to step into it and cover ourselves with it. Think – Holiness is our real beauty.
I do hope this resource maybe helpful, and please feel free to print them out for your own purposes.