Holiness unto the Lord

Holiness unto the Lord

Sanctification.  What do you think about when you hear that word?  It has the connotations of being washed and cleansed so that one may be pure, holy and blameless.  In some ways, to me, it is a very mysterious word.  Do you think of yourself as “holy” or one who is “sanctified”?  The world we live in, the culture that surrounds us, is constantly trying to equalize and make common, but our God has called us to be separate.  We fail but this is our calling.  Paul said to the Ephesians,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Eph. 1:3-4)

Moreover, to the Thessalonians he said,

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification… For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” (1Th 4:3,7)

What then is sanctification and holiness?  It is not righteousness.  Holiness and righteousness are closely related but there seems to be a distinction between the two.  Brother Dennis Gillet says,

“Righteousness is rightness of conduct.  Holiness is rightness of character.  It is possible for people to do right things for all kinds of reasons: self-interest, loyalty, pity, self-fulfillment.  True righteousness is inspired by holiness, and holiness in the disciple is an approximation to the character of Christ.”[1]

To this, I would agree.  Holiness goes deeper into the roots of our affections and lusts.  Sanctification is the process of changing our desires.

Naturally, we are creatures that have an appetite for sin.  The pleasures of the world are instinctive.  We live in a world that succumbs to this and inundates us with all that is unholy, defiling and unclean.

What makes it sin is that it is not in accord with God’s affections.  God naturally looks upon what man does as repugnant.  God is the Holy One.  He only is guided by all that is right, just and good.

Sanctification then is an ongoing work of recalibrating our affections to cherish what God cherishes.  Sanctification is more than saying “no” to sin.  Sanctification is saying “yes” to what is right and true.   Sanctification says “yes” to loving God and what he loves.  Sanctification is a paradigm shift, a battle of viewpoints.  For the wicked, God’s holiness is revolting but for the saint it is beautiful and glorious.

If you will bear with me this morning, our focus will be sanctification.  First, I would like to re-energize or commitment to holiness by considering the lessons in the Tabernacle and the clothing of the priests.  Secondly, we will connect this with certain New Testament passages that pick up on these themes.  Our goal, as it should be every Sunday and every day, is to have that holy state of mind so that we can approach unto God.

Approaching God - The Tabernacle Lesson

When doing a study on sanctification it jumps out that a vast number of references are in the Law of Moses, especially to do with the Tabernacle and the priests.  Psalm 77:13 says,

“Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary…”

While Psalm 93:5 reads,

“… holiness becometh thine house, O LORD, for ever.”

The Encampment

God said the Tabernacle was his means of dwelling among men.  The whole encampment of the Israelites in the wilderness was a lesson in how to approach God.  Brother Barling in his book “Law and Grace” refers to it as a “quality of convergence.”

“The series of symbols which we have just examined---the Camp, the Levites, the priests, the High Priest---has what we might call a quality of convergence.  That is, while each symbol in the series equally represents the entire nation and communicates the same basic lesson (namely, that permission to approach God is contingent upon holiness), we find, as we proceed from one to the other, that the number of persons involved diminishes from a multitude to one, and that this basic lesson is presented with proportionately greater force and urgency.  The whole series is like a set of concentric circles---one nation, one tribe, one family, one individual.  …   From a seeming welter of diversified and apparently disconnected symbols we shall find emerging a theme-study of great force and beauty, for by a whole series of devices the Law emphasized in the priestly legislation that nearness to God was a matter of the greatest privilege: that the closer man gets to Him the more conscious of the need for holiness he becomes.”[2]

Brother Roberts puts it this way in the Law of Moses,

“The erection of the Tabernacle was an intimation of His [God’s] willingness to be approached by man for mercy, but not at the sacrifice of His holiness, or His authority, or His majesty.  Hence, familiar and indiscriminate approach was not invited: “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me.’  He would be approached in a consecrated and concealed recess, and that only once a year, and that only be blood shed, and that only presented by a man of His own choice, assisted by men of His own appointment, and attired in a way prescribed by Himself.”[3]

Imagine yourself as an Israelite in the wilderness among your tribe, closely packed together among the bleating of sheep and goats.  The hustle of everyday life chores and conversations all around.  Living from day to day, the heat, the dust. 

Among all this is the constant reminder of the center, the cloud by day and fire by night.  As you walk to the center of the camp, you come upon the tents of the Levites that separate you from the dwelling of God.  Past the tents of the Levites is another band of the dwelling of the priests, Moses and Aaron.  You get the sense of people going about a different sort of business then your daily routine.  The priest’s backdrop is a beautiful white wall of linen with a distinctive door, tapestry interwoven with blue, purple scarlet and cherubims. 

The Clothing of the High Priest

At once, you feel a separation as well as an invitation.  It was here, at this very door where the incident in Numbers 8 took place.  The Levites, before everybody, were purified by water, shaved, and they offered a sin offering and then we read in verse 10-11,

“And thou shalt bring the Levites before the LORD: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites: And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the LORD.”

That laying on of hands was an act of association.  An acknowledgement of this is what we all attain to do.  All Israel was to be a kingdom of priests.

More details of this event are in Leviticus 8:6-12,

“And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water. And he [Moses] put upon him the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him, and he girded him with the curious girdle of the ephod, and bound it unto him therewith. And he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim. And he put the mitre upon his head; also upon the mitre, even upon his forefront, did he put the golden plate, the holy crown; as the LORD commanded Moses. And Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was therein, and sanctified them. And he sprinkled thereof upon the altar seven times, and anointed the altar and all his vessels, both the laver and his foot, to sanctify them. And he poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head, and anointed him, to sanctify him.”

The clothes the high priest wore were described in our reading of the day, Exodus 28:3, as being holy garments, for glory and for beauty.  They were no doubt different.  They were gorgeous to look at.  The gems dazzling in the bright sun.  The fine embroidery.  But the true beauty lay in what they represented.  They represented the true spirit of holiness needed to come before the very presence of God.  I believe they should be accounted as seven articles of layered clothing.  I like to think then that these seven articles aligning with the seven spirits of the Christ in spoken of in Isaiah 11:1-3,

“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:”

Why align this with the priestly garment?   Because of the clue in verse 5,

“And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.”

Two girdles, and if you noticed in Leviticus 8 the High Priest wore two girdles.  Furthermore, in Exodus 28:30 it is said he wore the breastplate of judgment upon his heart for he bore the judgment of the children of Israel.  In verse 38, he wore a crown, a golden plate, which read “Holiness to Yahweh” so that he might bear the iniquity of the holy offerings of the Israelites.

These holy garments truly were “for glory and beauty”.  We sung this morning in hymn 159 the phrase, “O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”  This is taken from Psalm 96:9 where the NASB (and NET) translate it as “Worship the Lord in holy attire”.  The context of the Psalm no doubt makes this the right translation especially when compared with Exodus 28:2.

Nadab and Abihu

This special outward adorning was no doubt more importantly to reflect the inner quality of a priest who approaches unto God.  This lesson was brought out in the tragic events of Leviticus 10.  Nadab and Abihu who offered strange fire unto the Lord paid the consequences.  The holy garments were no protection.  At work we have this safety training on arc flash.  Arc flash is a condition in high voltage electrical panels where the electricity can suddenly arc creating huge amounts of molten heat and instantly kill anybody who is close.  Videos are shown of those who suffered the consequences of carelessness.  Sometimes it seems God’s spiritual laws are no less unforgiving then his physical laws.

It is a tragically ironic scene.  I imagine Aaron decked in his full high priestly garments seeing the flash of fire burst through the seams of the Tabernacle.  Instantly he knew something was wrong.  He would have ran, bare feet pounding against the dusty floor of the wilderness, the bells on his hem ringing, the pomegranates swaying back and forth.  As he parted the curtain into the holy place the shaft of light would have illuminated the two lifeless bodies of his sons, charred beyond recognition but, as verse 5 seems to indicate, their clothes unsinged.  There is Aaron, standing over them, fighting back tears with that plate on his forehead that says “Holiness unto Yahweh”.  Moses breaks the silence and says, “This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all people I will be glorified.”  Aaron held his peace.

The suggestion based on verse 9, which is a good one, is that Nadab and Abihu were intoxicated.  This effected their judgment and they did not follow the Godly directive on how to approach him.  I would also suggest to you, based on Lev. 16:1-2, that they had tried to enter into the Most Holy place.  In this state of mind, they had thought to go into the very presence of the Almighty God.

Our Sanctification

Is God any less stringent about his holiness today?  We lack that clear lesson of a physical tabernacle or temple that the Israelites had but nonetheless God is still seeking a dwelling place among us.  God does not change.  His standards of holiness are no less and we cannot come before him intoxicated with the thinking of the world.

Peter in his first epistle (1:15-16) says,

“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”

So he takes a passage of the law and says the same applies to us.  He then in 2:5 takes those things said to natural Israel and applies them to us as spiritual Israel.

“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

How we are Sanctified

Under the law, the tabernacle was sanctified.  Under the law, the priests were sanctified.  Under the law, the altar was sanctified and thus were the sacrifices acceptable to God.  Everything was either sanctified by oil (symbolizing the spirit), by water (the word) or by blood (life sacrifice).  The Spirit, the water and the blood.  Even so are we sanctified by the same.

Consider what are hopefully familiar verses to us all.

John 17:16-19,

“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”

Eph. 5:25-27,

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.”

1 Cor. 6:9-11 (ESV),

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Sanctification is the miracle of God, his Spirit, his Word working on our hearts to change our thinking.  It seems obvious but Paul warns, “be not deceived”!  It is a process, a war fought every day.  As Paul beseeched the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7:1), “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”  Perfection in this sense is a completion.  A maturing.

The Habits of Holiness

Paul says in Romans 6:19 (NLT),

“Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.”

He is speaking here of habits, ingraining behaviors and ways of thinking.  We have habits of sin that lead us deeper into sin.  We must develop habits of holiness.

They say that "old habits are hard to break".  I have the bad habit of biting my fingernails.  I just do it and don't think about it until I've bitten down to the cuticle.  In a similar manner we tend to sin out of habit.  It is our habit to look out for ourselves instead of others, to retaliate when injured in some way, and to indulge the appetites of our bodies.  It is our habit to live for ourselves and not for God. 

All though sin has been dethroned it will still try to rise to its former prominence.  If left unchecked it will turn the natural instincts of our bodies into lusts.  It will turn our natural appetites into indulgence, our need for clothing and shelter into materialism, and our normal sexual interest into immorality.

The problem is that every sin we commit reinforces the habit of sinning and makes it easier to sin.  To say it another way, the more we sin, the more we are inclined to sin.  That's why it's so important to understand how our habits influence our wills.  We may want to have a will according to God yet our old habits makes us unconsciously sin against him.  It is therefore important to replace the bad habits with good habits.  Our habits of holiness should be like the habit we develop for brushing our teeth where it just doesn't feel right if we don't do it.  Take for example the daily Bible readings.  That should be a habit of holiness we just do automatically.  In fact, we should feel something is wrong when we are not doing our daily Bible readings.  Same goes for personal Bible study.  Prayer would be another habit that we have to develop through constant repetition so that it becomes an unconscious part of our being.  These habits helps us say no to sin.  And the more we say no to sin the more inclined we are to say no to all sin in our lives.  The more inclined we’ll be to saying yes to God’s way.

Another principle in breaking sinful habits and acquiring new ones is to never let an ex-ception occur.  There's a big draw to say "well, just this once".  That type of thinking is subtle and dangerous as it allows the door to be opened.  We may convince ourselves that tomorrow will be different but when the next day comes we once again say, "well, just this once."  Day after day it just becomes more difficult to say no.  Anybody who has had an addiction to drinking or smoking knows this to be true.  The habits of sin must be broken, but they never will till we make a basic commitment to a life of holiness without exception.  The Apostle John said, "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin." (1 John 2:1).  The whole purpose of John's letter, he says, is that we not sin.  We, on the other hand, tend to make a goal that we will not sin very much.  But in reality God is calling us to not move his standard down.  Our aim is not to sin, period.

Sanctified Vessels in the Great House

In the tabernacle there were many vessels made holy for God’s service so Paul says to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:4), “everyone of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification.”  There is an individual sense here but Paul also gives it a collective sense in 2 Tim. 2:16-22.  We need both holiness in our personal lives as well as our ecclesial life.

“But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

If we stop here and consider the imagery and echoes.  The ecclesia was threatened by false doctrine, which was destroying some of the faithful.  The foundation of God which stands sure, echoes the spiritual tabernacle/temple type.  He then quotes “The Lord knoweth them that are his” which is taken from Numbers 16:5 in the rebellion of Korah where it says, “tomorrow the Lord will shew who are his, and who is holy”.  Paul marries this with the quote, “Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” which seems to be from Isaiah 52:11,

Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.”

It is not an exact quote but the closest we have.[4]  It must be what he has in mind though because Isaiah appeals to the priests who bear the vessels of the LORD and this is why Paul jumps to talking about vessels in a great house.  All the vessels in the tabernacle were to be sanctified otherwise they were unusable.

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

The question in my mind is what Paul means by “if a man purge himself from these”.  What are these?  In the flow of the argument and the quotes he uses it seems to be pointing to Hymenaus and Philetus as teachers of wrong doctrine.  It is a question of the “great house” (the ecclesia) having sanctified vessels (saints) useful for the master. 


In conclusion, we have seen this morning the importance of sanctification and holiness.  Holiness being that change of our minds to desire the same things that God desires.  The importance has been seen in God’s lesson in the Tabernacle service.  For as it says in Hebrews we must be holy in order to see God.  This imagery of holy priests officiating in the sanctuary of God comes into play in the New Testament.  We are no less called upon to be sanctified by God’s word in this life so that we might approach unto him.  We, in a way, have come to our Lord Jesus Christ, laid our hands on him and associated with his sacrifice.  It is Jesus who has sanctified us and so we partake of the emblems now with these final beautiful words from Hebrews 2:11,

“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.”


[1] Dennis Gillet, “The Genius of Discipleship”, pg. 47

[2] W.F. Barling, “Law and Grace”, pg. 55

[3] Robert Roberts, “The Law of Moses”, pg. 154

[4] Paul uses this verse from Isaiah 52:11 elsewhere in 2 Cor. 6:17.