Coming up today on Renewing Your Mind. A few years ago a survey was taken outside of Chicago in which people were visited who at one time in their lives had been members of Christian churches but who dropped out. And the main question was, why did you stop going to church? And the number one answer that people gave was this, church is boring.
Well, that's sad to hear, isn't it? By the way, the number two answer in that survey, they said church was irrelevant. Church leaders recognized that problem, so they tried to come up with clever and exciting ways to ensure the church is not boring or irrelevant. But are those efforts leading to a true encounter with God? Here's Dr. R.C.
Sproul. Have you ever been bored in church? Don't lie. Have you ever felt that what was going on in church was irrelevant? You know, asking yourself, when in the world am I doing here? Well, when I heard the results of that survey, I thought again of the narratives that we find in sacred Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, of what happens when people encounter God.
We've already seen what happened to Isaiah when he got an unveiled manifestation of the character of God. Let me ask you this. Was he bored?
No, no way. I mean, he was on his face. He's screaming in pain and cursing himself. How did Job respond when God manifested himself to him? Job says, I will speak no more against you.
I shall take my hand and place it over my mouth. I'll repent in dust and ashes. Habakkuk went up into his watchtower, remember, and he was shaking his fist in the face of God and demanding answers from God. And finally, God came to him, and Habakkuk said, And when he came, my lips quivered, my belly trembled, and rottenness came into my bones. You look at it, and you'll see that not everybody who meets God in the Scripture has the same reaction. Some tremble, some get all excited, some rejoice, some fall in a swoon, they pass out and everything, but you will never, ever find in the Bible an example of somebody's meeting the living God and being bored, because there is nothing less boring in all of reality than God Himself. And can you imagine somebody like Isaiah having this experience of seeing God high and lifted up and walking out of that situation, going out on the street and saying, hmm, so what?
Big deal. I mean, that was irrelevant. If God is holy, in fact, if God is, that's all we have to say. It's the most relevant affirmation any creature can ever understand. And that's why it boggles my mind when people are saying that the reason they don't go to church or that they drop out of church is because they're bored and because they find it irrelevant. That tells me one thing. It tells me that when they come to church, they're not having any kind of encounter with the living God. They're coming to a human gathering that is focused on humans and not on Him.
Well, what are we talking about? What do we mean when we say that God is holy? I mean, what comes into your mind when you think of that word holy?
What does it mean to be holy? Well, the simplest answer I can give to that I learned with the first little prayer that I learned in my family when I was a little boy. My grandmother would visit our house, and she would insist that before we ate our dinner that we had to say a little table grace. And she taught me this little table grace to recite before the dinner was served, and we would say this. I never could really figure out how this worked, but it was, God is great, God is good, and we thank Him, help me, for this food.
But my grandmother said food to make it rhyme. God is great, God is good, and thankful is food. So in any case, that was the first prayer. I didn't have any theological understanding of that. But it says in that little kid's prayer two things about God.
It said that He's great, and it says that He's good. And we have one word in biblical terms that captures both of these ideas about God, and it is the word holy. Now usually when I ask people to define holiness or the word holy, they will answer my question something like this. They'll say, well, to be holy means to be really good or really righteous or in fact to be perfectly pure, without any defects, without anything soiling our character or so on. And so to be really holy is to be perfectly pure. Now, the Bible does use the term holy like that, and when the Bible says you shall be holy even as God is holy, that's the reference it's making there, that we are supposed to mirror and reflect the character of God, His righteousness.
We're supposed to behave in such a way that mirrors His own behavior. But that's the secondary meaning of the term holy in the Bible. It's a legitimate use of the word holy, and one of the ways in which it is in fact used, but in terms of numerical frequency, is second. The primary meaning of the term holy refers to what we would call the otherness of God, the greatness of God, the sense in which God is different from you, from me, and anything in this created order.
It refers to His transcendent majesty, that majesty that is high above anything in the created realm. Now, sometimes when we talk about God, particularly when we're teaching theology and things of that sort, we can define God as the supreme being, and we define ourselves as human beings. You know, what's the difference between a human being and the supreme being?
Have you ever wondered about that? What is it about God that makes him different or other than a human being? What is it about God that makes him supreme over all things?
Well, there's some irony here. There's a little surprise in this definition, and it's this. You know, if you really want to find out what the difference is between the supreme being and the human being, it's found in this word, being. Because, you know, we're really not beings because to be is to be in a state of pure essence that never changes. Anything that changes, like you, you're getting older since you started here this morning.
Did you know that? You're changing. We all change, don't we? We get older, we get thinner, we get fatter, we get taller, whatever we are becoming. We are always moving. We're always changing. There's nothing permanent about who we are. But God is never changing. God never grows older or taller or heavier because he is eternally perfect in who he is and what he is. Now, the biggest difference between every creature and God is this, that I, as a creature, cannot live by my own power. I had a beginning in time, didn't I?
I have a birth date, so do you. How long can you live without oxygen? Not very. How long can you live without water?
Not very long. How long can you live without food? If you lack these things, what happens? You die. Because you're a dependent creature. You're fragile.
Your life could end this afternoon. But God can't die. He doesn't need water.
He doesn't need food. He doesn't need anything because he has the power to be in and of himself. And not only does he have the power to be in and of himself, but he holds the power of everybody's existence. You know, the Bible says, in him we live and move and have our being. You can't move apart from the power of God. You can't live apart from the power of God. You can't be apart from the power of God because only God possesses being in himself, of himself, and by himself.
You don't have that power, and I don't have that power, and the universe doesn't have that power. We have people falling all over themselves in this day and age trying to account for you and that table and this universe for being without appealing to God. And they'll say such things as, you know, the universe just exploded into being by itself.
They resort to total irrational ideas to get away from. And you have to understand that if anything exists right now, if you exist, if that table exists, if that book exists, if that rug exists, if there's anything in existence, then something must have eternal being. Because if there was a time that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, you don't have to be a rocket scientist or a philosopher to know that if there was a time there was absolutely nothing, think about it, absolutely nothing, what could there possibly be now?
Nothing. But there is something, so somewhere, somehow, transcendently, something has to have the power of being or nothing could be. And that belongs to God and to God alone. Only God has the greatness of having the power of being within himself. And when you contemplate that very concept of pure being, you come up on tiptoe and you begin to look down into the deepest question the mind can ever contemplate when you contemplate the idea of pure being. Now, early in the 20th century, a philosopher who was also a sociologist studied various world religions beyond the pale of Christianity and examined how people in different cultures, different parts of the world, and different societies reacted or responded to whatever they thought was holy. And he found that there's a kind of pattern, a uniform pattern across the world that any time a human being comes into an encounter with that which they regard as sacred or holy, the universal reaction is the same, fear. And this theologian, anthropologist, sociologist identified this feeling as what he called the Mysterium Tremendum, the tremendous mystery.
And the Mysterium part and the Tremendum part as well calls attention to how we respond to the holy. Now, I can remember something that none of you can remember in your lifetime, the advent of broadcast television. I'm old enough that I grew up as a kid not watching TV but listening to the radio before television came out. And when you listen to the radio every night and all these different programs that were on there, you had to use your imagination. They had all kinds of adventure stories and cops and robbers stories and all the rest, but there was one story on Sunday night that was the scariest story of all. And they had a couple stories that were scary.
One of them was called Suspense, you know, kind of eerie. But the scariest one, the lead in to this radio program is you would hear this crypt, this cemetery vault door creaking open at night. You'd hear this thing creak open on the radio and then this ungodly voice would come on the air and announce the program. And you know what the program is called? Inner Sanctum. Well, it never really registered on me when I was a kid. When I'd listen to this program and get scared to death, I just knew that there was this creaky door and the scary voice.
But I never really thought about the title of the program. The title of the program, Inner Sanctum, means within the holy. Then when I discovered the character of God, I said, hmm, no wonder the entertainment industry in this country, when they were trying to find some way to scare the bejabbers out of people with a radio program, they intuitively understood that the scariest thing they could come up with was to be in the inner chamber where God was, where the holy was. Like in Israel, where the innermost portion of the tabernacle and of the temple was the sanctus sanctorum, the holy of holies, where only one person was allowed to enter and that person only once a year. And even then, after he had gone through an elaborate ritual of cleansing, because, you see, there was a barrier there.
And the barrier, the reason for the barrier was simple. God, who dwells in the holy of holies, is himself altogether holy, and we are not holy. And those who are not holy fear whatever is holy.
The Bible tells us that it is the reaction of fallen creatures to flee when no man pursues, that the pagan trembles at the rustling of a leaf. I tell a story of a friend of mine who was a professional golfer, and he was out one afternoon getting ready to play in a tournament on the tour. And on the day before the tournament started, there was a practice round, and the practice round was made up of a foursome, the man who was the reigning champion of this particular event who also was the previous year's player of the year.
And he had three people playing with him in this tournament. He had Jack Nicklaus, he had the President of the United States, and he had Billy Graham. So imagine a foursome of Nicklaus, the reigning guy, I'm not going to give you his name, President of the United States, and Billy Graham. So my friend watched these guys tee off, and then he did his practice, and then at the end of the day he watched when this foursome finished their round, and his buddy, the other golfer, came off the 18th green, and my friend walked up to him and he said, Jesus, tell me what it was like playing golf with Billy Graham. And the guy snapped and about bit his head off.
He says, I don't need to have him trying to shove religion down my throat. And he stormed off and went to the practice tee, got a bucket of balls, took out his driver and started beating those balls to death. And my friend just patiently stood there and watched him until the guy cooled off, and he finally said to him, he said, did Billy really come on strong to you on the golf course? And the guy sighed and put his driver in his bag, and he turned to my friend and he said, no. He said, no, actually he said, Billy never said a word. I just had a bad round.
What's going on there? This guy was very uncomfortable in the presence of Billy Graham. Billy never said a word to him, but everybody in the world knew what Billy Graham stood for and what he represented. And this man was uncomfortable and probably would have gone home and said, Billy Graham is one of these holier than thou, self-righteous, blah, blah, blah, blah. If you're a Christian, you never have to say a word to anybody. If people know you're a Christian, you're going to be accused of being self-righteous even if you've never thought about being self-righteous because you represent something that actually none of us are in and of ourselves. You represent the one who is holy.
And there is a natural built-in discomfort with every human being. That's why people flee from God. That's why churches compromise the integrity of the message of the Scripture because we know people are afraid of the God who really is. That's the great tragedy because what Christianity is saying to all of us is that in Christ God removes the veil.
He doesn't stop being holy, but He says to us who are unholy, He gives to us the righteousness of Christ, so He said, you can come into my presence. You don't have to be afraid. I'm giving you peace. I'm giving you access.
Come near to me. But it's the hardest thing that we ever can learn. And there's a sense in which even in Christ we will always have, I hope, a healthy fear, the fear of respect, the fear of awe that when we contemplate who He is, we will still have the capacity to tremble before Him. This week on Renewing Your Mind, we are pleased to bring you messages from Dr. R.C. Sproul's series Fear and Trembling—The Trauma of God's Holiness. We're learning that we must have a healthy fear of God.
But through Christ, because of what He accomplished on the cross, we also have peace with God. You can continue your study when you request this complete series. There are six messages on two DVDs, and for your donation of any amount, we'll be glad to send them your way. You can make your request online at renewingyourmind.org, or you can call us.
Our number is 800-435-4343. Well, if you've listened to our program for any length of time, you know that the holiness of God is a focus of this ministry. R.C. was passionate about this subject, and you'll hear that passion in an interview that our president and CEO Chris Larson did with R.C. at one of our Ligonier conferences. What I see as our mission chiefly is to try to unfold God's revelation of Himself so the people can come to an understanding of who God is.
Let me back up just a second, back to my college days. When I was in college, the first really runaway, best-selling paraphrase of the New Testament was written by J.B. Phillips. And at the same time, J.B. Phillips wrote a little monograph entitled, Your God is Too Small.
And I remember reading that as a college student and being impacted by that as well. That is exactly the problem, that as we begin our Christian walk as spiritual infants, we don't really grow to the fullness of conformity to the image of Christ until we gain the mind of Christ. And to have the mind of Christ is to think like Jesus. And Jesus' thoughts were altogether theocentric. His thoughts were dominated by thoughts of the Father, of His being, of His character, of His will, of His purpose, of His mission. And that has to be duplicated in the lives of Christians. That for us to grow in grace, we have to grow in our knowledge of God, not just so that we can puff up our intellect and become proud of our learning, but that we may know Him. Well, that provides you with a little better understanding of why we often talk about our mission here at Ligonier Ministries to proclaim, teach, and defend the holiness of God in all its fullness to as many people as possible.
I hope you'll join us tomorrow as we continue this series. Dr. Sproul will take a look at how people reacted when they met Jesus. Some realized right away that He is the Son of God. Others, though, were frightened by His holiness. Join us for the lesson titled, What Matter of Man Is This?, Thursday on Renewing Your Mind. .
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