We are called to be set apart. Those words had seemed to be on repeat in my head and my heart, but I found myself wrestling with what it meant and how it was to be lived out.
At the start of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul identifies himself as “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (Romans 1:1). But this is Paul, the man with the incredible testimony of a life turned upside-down when he met the Lord on the Damascus Road. Once he began to follow Christ he was whipped, beaten, shipwrecked, and even stoned and left for dead. So, is that what a life set apart looks like?! Maybe. After serving for over a decade in a ministry standing with persecuted Christians all over the world, I know that there are men and woman today who still face these dangers.
But what about you and I, Christians living in the 21st century with the liberties and freedom of the Western world, what does it look like for us to be set apart? That was what I was wrestling with when the college ministry where I serve at church began a three-week study on holiness, and in which I was challenged by the following words of Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15).
Have you given much thought to this verse? Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, weeks, if not days before He would go to the cross and die on their behalf, and ours.
If you love me, you will keep my commands.
Of course, I love Jesus, but what commands do I need to keep in order to prove that? If I’m being honest, that would have been my response had I been among the disciples that day. While I am not proud of it, I often find myself fighting against any authority that tells me I have to do something, especially if I don’t agree or I don’t understand why a certain rule has been put in place. But if I say I love Jesus and that I believe the Bible is His Word, why do I struggle to keep His commands?
Vance Pitman answers my question in his book, Unburdened, when he shares his mentor’s words, “Our obedience is in direct proportion to our love.” Pitman goes on to say, “This means if I’m struggling in an area of obedience, I don’t have an obedience problem; I have a love for Jesus' problem. In other words, I love my sin more than I love Him.” Ouch! That one hurts because I know it is true.
Where I get myself into trouble is when I forget that I bring nothing to the table in this relationship. As Ephesians 2:1-5 says,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.
In his book, The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung says it this way, “Never forget: first God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, then he gave them the law. God’s people were not redeemed by observing the law, but they were redeemed so they might obey the law. ‘By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.’ (1 John 2:3) We can talk all day long about our love for God, but if we do not keep his commandments, we are liars, and the truth is not in us (v. 4). If we love Jesus, we’ll obey his Word (John 14:23).
When we realize just how wretched our sin is, and what Christ has done, to bring redemption and salvation to our hearts, our response should begin to change. There should be a growing desire to serve Him and obey His commands, and to do so joyfully. This, I have begun to understand is what it means to be set apart.
As we finished our study on holiness, I was asked if I would be willing to create a set of Hide & Seek Scriptures personalized verse cards around the theme of holiness to offer our students. I am now pleased to release the Our Call to Holiness set on our website in order that you can join us in pursuing a life of holiness.