Worship in the Psalms - Worship in the Splendor of Holiness: The imperatives of Worship

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Worship in the Psalms

Worship in the Splendor of Holiness: The Imperatives of Worship

Psalm 96

So this morning we are going to take in an overview of holiness, try and get the big picture. Then, in the following weeks, we will breakdown the big picture into more detail. To frame our big picture of holiness, we will begin by looking at Psalm 96 – a cry of God’s people to reveal his holiness. Then, we will touch on some of the talking points of holiness – particularly as holiness relates to our lives in Christ.

Psalm 96 is one of those wonderful psalms of praise that remind the people of God what they are supposed to be about. It amazes me that few people recognize the evangelical nature of the Old Testament faith. The modern church often acts as if God had no interest in anyone save the children of Israel before Jesus came – as if prior to the cross, all nations other than Israel were expendable. It is as if grace was in short supply before Jesus came on the scene.

But Psalm 96 tells us differently. The psalm issues a call to praise – a summons for all creation to sing praise to God. Look at vv.1-3.

“Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! 2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!”

Now, the marvelous works the psalm is referring to are most likely the Exodus event and God bringing the children of Israel into the Promised Land. So why would all the rest of the earth want to praise God? In vv.4-6 we are given the justification for declaring God’s glory among the nations.

“For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. 6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”

There are two points to think about in these verses that help us understand what lay at the root of the call to praise.

1. The first is how the psalm declares all other gods to be idols – false gods with no power and more importantly, no life.

Idols are created by the hands of men, so are incapable themselves of creating anything.

2. The second is that the God all the earth is called to praise is the one who created the earth.

These two points reveal what separates God from everything else – what makes him unlike the lifeless idols so many others worship.

It is at this point in the psalm that the root of praise for God becomes evident. It is because he is holy.

In vs. 9 the psalmist calls on all things created to “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!”

To understand what the “splendor of his holiness” is, we must first understand holiness as it relates to God.

Holiness is not an easy term to wrap your head around, is it? It is a word that doesn’t get much use outside of the Christian church. Even within the church it has fallen into disuse – except as an adjective for God, one filled with mystery and deep spiritual meaning. You ask a theologian to define holiness and you will get a dissertation instead of an answer.

But the key thought behind “holiness” is much simpler. The root word for holiness actually means “apartness, separateness.” The idea is that God is holy because he is separate – separate from creation and from its defilement.

Unlike other gods, whose power and existence were tied to a people, region or nation, God stands outside creation and is master over all of it. Where the pagans often attributed some aspect of nature to the power of their god, such as fertility, God is the Creator of the natural world, distinct from it and ruler over its entirety. Pagan gods were thought to have human passions and reason, even weaknesses, only on a god-like scale. But God is holy because he is totally other than human, utterly different.

This, of course, also means that God is separate from sin, from evil, and from all imperfection. His power and purpose are not diminished or thwarted by the failure of his servants. His holiness is not compromised by our ungodliness – he remains apart and perfect.

It is because of this that the first thing a person is struck with when he or she is brought into God’s presence – like Isaiah – is his holiness; how separate God is from us. We are overwhelmed by the realization of how little separation there is between us and the rest of creation, how tied we are to creation, in the light of how separate and distinct God is from us.

It is because God is this transcendent, that he is able to declare something or someone else as holy – that is, to set it apart for his use. He is able to declare something holy, not because he imbues it with some magical, purifying power, but because it belongs to him who is altogether separate.

Now, what does all this talk of separateness mean for us? 5 markers of holiness:

1. Holiness has to do primarily with our relationship to God. By virtue of our relationship to God in and through Jesus Christ, we are declared holy – separated on to God for his pleasure and purpose. That is our fixed and unvarying state, in Jesus Christ. We are holy because we belong to God.

But we are also called to be holy. The apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

As God has separated us onto himself, declaring us holy, our task or job – if you will – is to be what God has already made us; holy, separated for his use and pleasure. This means that holiness is basic to every Christian.

As JI Packer puts it, “It is not an option, but a requirement. God wants his children to live up to his standards and to do him credit in the eyes of the watching world….”

Since we are separated or set apart for God from the moment we first believed, and since the relationship that set us apart comes by grace and is totally the work of God, our duty – really our debt of gratitude – is “practice moral and spiritual holiness on a day-to-day basis.”

That is our part of the love relationship God has drawn us into. That is not to say that holiness of life is a totally human accomplishment. Rather, it comes through cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to sanctify us – that is to perfect us in character and spirit to more accurately reflect the love and character of Jesus Christ.

So, what does it take to practice moral and spiritual holiness on a day-to-day basis?

In Psalm 42, we read about a person who simply longs after God. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”

What an exquisite expression of desire. This is written in language we can feel. We not only hear it with our ears, we drink it deeply into our hearts. If we were to write this to a lover, my goodness, the passion it would stir.

Yet, such a desire for God is the first marker of holiness. But such unabashed desire for God does not come easily for us, being sinful at birth. Our natural inclinations are to desire only what serves and pleases us.

So being holy requires us to redirect our desires; to detach our desires from things of the created world – particularly from ourselves and our own self-serving lusts – and through Christ, redirect them to focus “on fellowship with the Father and the Son” and continue to strengthen the redirected desire. Put simply, we must learn to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

2. The cultivating of virtues. JI Packer puts it, “Holiness means not only desiring God, but also loving and practicing righteousness, out of a constant exercise of conscience to discern right from wrong and an ardent purpose of doing all that one can to please God.”

Just think of it as cultivating the fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-24 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

3. Following the Spirit’s urgings. Here is where many have gotten into trouble, primarily out of seeking some sort of supernatural experience, they mistake their own urges for that of the Holy Spirit.

Usually, it is form of rationalization so that the person can get what they want without having to answer for it – God made me do it. Can you think of a more ironclad excuse? But the test of any inner promptings is whether or not it agrees with the Word of God. As John writes in his first letter, “…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God.”

4. Gaining ground against the onslaught of sin. We all know that the battle against sin is never-ending. It seems like just as we get one sin under control, another pops up. Or we start feeling confident about our victory over some besetting sin and sensing our pride, the devil finds a foothold. But the Scriptures clearly teach us that God justifies us in order to sanctify us – that is conform us to the image of Christ.

In Colossians 3:5-10, Paul instructs the church to “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

In the Christian, sin has been dethroned – just as Christ died to sin, we died to sin. Since we are dead to sin, we should no longer live as if we were still bound by its power.

5. The practice of Spiritual disciplines. Throughout the Scriptures we are encouraged to take an intentional, purposed effort to develop our relationship with God.

Psalm 1 speaks of meditating day and night on the law of the Lord. Psalm 5 tells of rising in the morning for prayer. Hebrews 10:25 speaks of not forsaking the gathering together.

Holiness does not happen by accident. It is a concerted effort to deepen our relationship with God in Christ. Motivated by the matchless love Jesus displayed upon the cross, we approach our faith life with the same tenacity, self-control and dedication the marathon runner brings to the course in preparation for a race. We deliberately set our course to run deep into the Father’s arms.

When you combine these five markers, you fill in the frame for holiness that we built earlier, and you get the big picture of holiness. I know we moved quickly through it this morning, but over the next four or five weeks we will taking a more detailed look at the markers of holiness.

As you go home this afternoon, let me encourage you to take one thought with you. By virtue of our relationship to God in and through Jesus Christ, we are declared holy – separated on to God for his pleasure and purpose. As God has separated us onto himself, declaring us holy, our task or job – if you will – is to be what God has already made us; holy, separated for his use and pleasure.

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