Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Dannah Gresh: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says there’s only one way to experience the holiness of God.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Do you want to be holy? Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Holy One, and then let God discipline you when He knows you need it so that you can share His holiness!

Leslie: It’s Monday, October 7, and this is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, along with Dannah Gresh.

Dannah: Last week Nancy began a series called “Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival.” It’s based on a workbook Nancy co-wrote with Tim Grissom called Seeking Him. By God’s grace, that workbook has transformed the lives of thousands of individuals . . . and whole families and entire churches.

Last week Nancy showed us the joy that comes from honesty, humility, repentance, and grace. Today our topic is . . .

Nancy: Holiness. That’s a word you don’t hear a lot today. Oh, some of your Bibles may say—like mine—“Holy Bible.” You still see that some. You hear people use the word “holy” in ways that don’t fit at all! “Holy cow!” My ears just kind of go like this when I hear that because cows aren’t holy. God is holy. God’s Word is holy! So you hear a lot of misuse of the word.

But then when you talk about it in a biblical context, I think there are a lot of misconceptions. If you were to ask a person on the street out here, “What do you think about holiness?” Some of the things they would come up with (I jotted down a list) . . .

I think a lot would think it’s old-fashioned, boring. Some people would think of legalism, a burden. “It’s impossible! There’s no way anybody can be holy!” Some people would think it’s something that’s just for a few select really pious people . . . I mean, the “saints,” you know? (They forget that we’re all called saints if we’re children of God.)

Some people think of holiness as something that God intends to kill our joy. So God is a killjoy: “You can be happy or you can holy—but you certainly can’t be both.” So they think of holiness as, “No fun! Who would want that?” They think of it as restrictions, a list of things you can’t do, a list of things you have to do, an obligation.

And you just add all those up and it’s like drinking salt water; I mean, who would want this!? Well, Scripture has a very different view of holiness, and it is one of the most precious tenets of our faith—the holiness of God and His call to us to be holy.

Our call to holiness is rooted in who God is. 

  • He is holy. 
  • He is brilliantly, gloriously pure. 
  • He is set apart from all others; there is none like Him. 
  • There is no sin in Him. 
  • There is no defilement in Him. 
  • There is no hypocrisy in Him. 
  • There is no doubt in Him.
  • There is nothing wrong in Him. 

He is utterly apart from us, utterly “other.” That God is holy, and He made us to reflect His holiness.

It’s beautiful, but it’s so brilliant that in the Scripture, in the Old Testament, if you came near it you would die! Why would you die? Because you aren’t holy. Sin cannot coexist in the presence of holiness. And yet, as God presents holiness in the Scripture, it’s a good thing; it’s a beautiful thing; it’s a desirable thing.

It’s a thing that Adam and Eve loved and cherished and wanted—until they decided to sign their “declaration of independence,” and then sin enters the picture. Now we have all these misconceptions about holiness. Who wants holiness anymore? Because, see, Satan holds sin out and says it has pleasures; it’s fun. Holiness? Not so much.

God said, “Don’t eat the fruit of that tree.” 

[Satan:] “What fun is that? What kind of God would give you restrictions like that?” 

Satan makes holiness look drab, and he makes sinfulness look alluring and beautiful and attractive. That’s a lie! That’s what he does. But we see in the Scripture that holiness is consummately desirable! It is that for which we were created. It is the pathway to incredible blessing and joy! 

You say, “How do you know that?” Well, there are many ways in the Scripture, but one, to me, that’s so compelling is the example of Jesus. You read about this in both the Old and the New Testaments. 

In fact, in Hebrews chapter 1, verse 9, the Scripture is quoting from the psalms about Jesus, about the Messiah. It says of Jesus, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.” Now, just stop there. Jesus loved what was righteous; He hated everything that wasn’t righteous, everything that was wicked and sinful.

We’re told to do just the opposite: we’re supposed to love that which is questionable or sinful, and we’re supposed to despise that which is holy. Satan just changes the price tags on everything, doesn’t he? He reverses their values. But Jesus loved righteousness and hated wickedness. 

And you think, Wow, if I loved righteousness and hated wickedness (this is how the world reasons) I would be a miserable person! Ya think!? It is said of Jesus that He loved righteousness, He hated wickedness, “. . . therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Heb. 1:9).

What is that saying in plain English? Jesus was the happiest person on the face of the earth! And it’s connected with His holiness. He loved righteousness, He hated wickedness, therefore God anointed Him with the oil of gladness, the oil of joy, beyond any of His other companions.

The greatest joy, the greatest happiness, the greatness gladness to be found on the face of the earth, when Jesus was on the earth, was resting on Jesus, who loved righteousness and hated wickedness. You think that if we loved righteousness and hated wickedness that we too might be “anointed with the oil of gladness?”

Psalm 97 says it this way, beginning in verse 10: “O you who love the Lord, hate evil!” You see, we think we can love God, but toy with evil. We think we can have a friendship with evil, have a dating relationship with evil. “Oh, but he loves God!”—but he’s sleeping with somebody else’s wife. “Oh, but he really loves God!”—but he’s lying about his taxes. “Oh, he loves God . . . but . . .” No.

The psalmist says, “You who love God, hate evil.” Be like Jesus, is what it’s saying. Jesus hated wickedness. Hate evil! 

So what happens if you love the Lord and you hate evil? Well, verses 11–12 of Psalm 97 tells us: 

Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!

I grew up in a home where my dad, who was a first-generation Christian (as was my mother) . . . My dad had had a life of rebellion and waywardness, just marked by great sinfulness, as we all are, but his was very external and obvious. And when he came to know Jesus, his life was totally changed from the inside out!

As he raised our family, he grew us up teaching us that holiness is a beautiful thing; it’s a good thing. It wasn’t until I left my home that I discovered a lot of people think holiness is boring and something you don’t want. I thought it was something you do want! 

Now, I knew it was challenging to get it; I knew I’m not God, I’m not holy like God. I had my own flesh, my own temptations—the world, the devil—all of these things playing in, but I thought holiness was something we would want. And then I got out in the rest of the Christian world and found out that not everybody feels that way.

But Dad wanted us to see that to pursue holiness is to have joy! It’s to be full of joy; it’s the best way to live; it is what draws us near to Christ. I’m glad we talked about grace first, because now that we’re talking about holiness, we’re going to remind ourselves we can’t be holy; we aren’t holy. 

Only God is holy, and it’s the grace of God that makes us holy, that He gives us the desire and the power to live a holy life. I want to look at a passage in Scripture that helps us understand why holiness matters and how we can make progress in holiness.

If you have your Bible there, turn with me to Hebrews chapter 12. This is a rich passage. We could spend way longer on it than the time we have today, but I just want to give us some highlights of it. I’m going to begin at verse 1; I want to just show you some things that stand out to me in this passage.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [these are the people in that great “hall of faith” in chapter 11, who walked before us, who trusted God, believed God ], let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:1).

Then in verse 4, the writer talks about your struggle against sin, he talks about laying off sin, laying off weight . . . sin clings so closely. He talks about resisting sin in verse 4. Then skip down to verse 14 (we’ll come back to some of the rest of this in a minute). But, lay aside sin which clings so closely, struggle against sin. And then verse 14: 

Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 

So there’s a “put off” and “put on” here. Put off sin and strive for holiness. Some translations say, “Make every effort to be holy,” (NIV) or “pursue holiness” (CSB)—I like that one. One commentator said, “Constantly be eagerly seeking after holiness.” Who do you know like that? 

It’s so rare to find somebody who is eagerly seeking after holiness! Now, here’s the thing. As I read this passage and I read about laying aside every weight, laying aside sin which clings so closely—it wraps itself like a blanket around us. It talks about our struggle against sin, our resistance against sin and striving for holiness. I’ve got to tell you, honestly, it sounds like a lot of hard work!

I mean, did you get that impression, too? Getting rid of weights, getting rid of sins that clings to us. It’s a long-distance race! “Run the race, run with endurance.” I’ve got to tell you . . . I hate running! (laughter) I mean, there are no two ways about it! I worked with a trainer for a little while. He had me running on a treadmill for a while, and after about two tries of that he said, “You’re not made for running! Don’t get on there anymore.” 

Endurance for me is like running from my bedroom to the bathroom. I’m not a runner. So endurance . . . this sounds like hard work. It talks about a battle—your struggle against sin—“striving” for holiness. This sounds hard!

And we see in this passage that the Christian life does require endurance and perseverance and determination and focus and intentionality. I got a letter from a disheartened woman some time ago. She said,

I’ve been a Christian for thirty years. I’m actively involved in my church, and Bible study. I keep wondering why my sin nature is the path of least resistance. A simple mind-set, worry, anger, doubt seem to be my default mode. Unless I’m making an effort, it’s where my thoughts seem to go. 

It’s like, “If I don’t try really hard, if I don’t make an effort at this, if I’m not intentional about it my thoughts are going to go back to anger and worry and doubt.” It seems like as a new creation in Christ that it wouldn’t be such a struggle!

Have you ever felt that? Like, “Why should this be so hard!?” It’s almost like it’s easier when you’re not a Christian, before you became a Christian, because then you didn’t have the Spirit pulling you toward holiness. You could just go sin all you wanted and there was no battle going on. Now there’s this battle, there’s this race to be run, there’s this endurance you have to put on.

I don’t like endurance! I want to just, like, be there! I don’t want the long journey; I don’t want the hard pathway. This illustrates the struggle that every Christian experiences at times between fleshly desires and the indwelling Spirit of God. We’d like to find a pathway to sanctification that is instant and effortless!—no long process, no hard battle.

The fact is, there is no such thing. I’m just telling you now, there is no such thing. So, why would we want to go through all of this—the struggle against sin, laying off sin, the sin that clings so closely to us, struggling, battling against sin, striving to pursue holiness? Why would we want to go through that?

Well, we read a clue in verse 14: “Pursue [strive for] . . . holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” What’s the implication of that? If you do pursue holiness, you will see the Lord. And isn’t that what Jesus said in the Beatitudes? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).

Intimacy with God: that’s what we were made for, that’s what we long for as human beings made in the image of God. We long to be free from sin, and we long to be with Him in the presence of that magnificent, glorious, beautiful holiness . . . and to be there and not have to die! We want to be holy! That was the condition of the Garden of Eden before sin came and wrecked everything.

So I want to be holy, I want to have a pure heart, I want to be close to God . . . but how?! How do I lay aside sin that clings so closely? How do I win in my struggle against sin, and how do I strive for and pursue holiness?

Let me just give you in this passage three resources that you can’t make it without in the Christian life: Number 1: The example and the help of Jesus. This is found in verses 2 and 3. Hebrews 12:2: “. . .looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. . .” You’re going to lay aside sin, you’re going to lay aside these weights, you’re going to run with endurance the race that is set before you?

How do you do it? You keep your eyes on Jesus, not on yourself but on Jesus. He’s the founder, He’s the perfecter of our faith. Verse 3: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or faint hearted.” He has been there. He’s been in the battle. He has faced temptation . . . and He won!

So you keep your eyes on Him. You don’t look at yourself: “Oh, how can I do this? Oh, woe is me! Oh, I can’t live this Christian life!” You’re right! Get your eyes off yourself, dig into the grace of God. Call out to Him for grace, and then focus on Jesus.

Some of you’ve heard that old hymn “Take Time to Be Holy.”

Take time to be holy. The world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see. 

Isn’t that what you want?

You see, Jesus has been there! He ran the race. He overcame temptation. He endured. He persevered, so keep your eyes on Him. And if you don’t, you’re going to give up. You’re going to get weary in the battle; you’re going to jump off the race track before you even make the first lap around. You’re never going to finish if you don’t look to Jesus, the Author and the Perfecter of your faith.

Number 2: Here’s a resource you can’t be without if you want to be holy, and that’s the discipline of the Lord. You find this in verses 4–13. I won’t read the whole passage, but let me just read starting in verse 4-6: 

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, [do not] be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. . . . We have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?

For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he [our heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good [and then I love this next phrase!] that we may share his holiness (vv. 4–6, 9–10).

Do you want to be holy? Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Holy One, and then let God discipline you when He knows you need it so that you can share His holiness!

The old translation says, “that we [may] be partakers of his holiness” (KJV). We want to share in it! 

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant [you can say that again!], but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (v. 11).

What’s he saying in this passage? There’s a lot more that’s being said here, but I just want to focus on discipline as a resource in pursuing holiness. He says don’t resist God’s discipline, don’t resent it, don’t run from it. Welcome it! Yes, it is painful, but it will make you love Him more and sin less.

God’s discipline in your life. It may be through circumstances; it may be through different kinds of affliction or pain. Now, there are lots of reasons for affliction and pain and suffering. I’m not saying if you have a backache that that’s God discipline in your life. It might be. It might be just a result of living in this fallen, broken world. 

Joni Eareckson Tada, who has spent the last fifty years as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, would tell you that that accident—that diving accident when she was a seventeen-year-old girl—was God’s discipline in her life, because she claimed to be a Christian but she was not living a holy life.

Now, she’s not saying God was mad at her or God punished her. She loves the God who loved her enough to say, “I’m going to discipline you because I want you to share in My holiness. I don’t want you to experience the consequences of sin that isn’t being dealt with.”

She doesn’t know if she’d be walking with Jesus at all today, she might have the use of her feet and her legs, but would good would that be if she didn’t have the hunger for Jesus and the passion for holiness? She’s learned what it is to struggle against sin. And she’s had in more recent years other physical challenges—so difficult!

But I’ve watched her embrace those and say, “I welcome God’s discipline in my life because it’s going to make me love Him more and love sin less!” God’s discipline in our lives exposes and confronts our idols, what we really love, what we really care about, what we’re worshipping. 

So allow God’s discipline to have its intended outcome in your life. What is that? The fruit of righteousness, for those who’ve been trained by that discipline. So if you want to pursue holiness, if you want to strive for holiness, you want to be victorious in your struggle against sin, you want to keep your eyes on Jesus, His example, His pattern, His model. 

Number 1: Keep your eyes on Jesus! Number 2: The discipline of God is a resource that you can’t be without. You can’t make it without that! You may not like it—it is painful—keep your eyes on what it’s going to produce in your life. It’s a good, sweet fruit. And then, number 3: there’s a resource you can’t be without, and that’s the grace of God.

We’re back to where we were in the last session, right? The grace of God. Verse 15 of Hebrews 12: 

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.

Here’s what happens if you reject God’s grace, if you don’t receive it, if you stiffen yourself, if you’re proud. You say, “I can do this. I don’t need God!” If you don’t humble yourself, you don’t get grace. If you don’t humble yourself, if you’re proud, you get bitterness, trouble, and become defiled . . . not only you, but others around you. 

See to it . . . that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears (vv. 16–17). 

Now, there’s a whole lot of theological complexities in that passage, but I want to just point you to the key of it, and that is: see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God. If you don’t get God’s grace, if you don’t humble yourself and reach out to Him for grace, you’re going to be subject to, you’re going to be vulnerable to all these other things in your life.

Pride, which results in God resisting you, that’s at the root of sexual immorality and unholiness and being defiled and having trouble and bitterness. So you want God’s grace? You need God’s grace to be holy! 

You can’t be holy without God’s grace, you can’t be sanctified, you can’t overcome sin and temptation. So you want the grace? Keep your eyes on Jesus; let God discipline you when that’s what He’s doing.

And sometimes you say, “I don’t know if it’s God’s discipline or if it’s something else.” Just trust God that He knows what it is. What did the psalmist say in Psalm 119:71? 

It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn your statutes. 

It’s good for me! Embrace it, and then receive the grace of God.

If you don’t receive the grace of God, you’re going to forfeit the blessings that come with grace. Titus chapter 2 says it this way, verses 11–12: 

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.

I read that verse and I think, I want that! But it seems so unattainable to me at times, to renounce ungodliness, to renounce worldly passions, to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age. How do we do it!? The grace of God has appeared in Jesus Christ, bringing salvation for all people, training us.

It’s the grace of God that teaches us. It’s the grace of God that enables us, the grace of God that sustains us. It’s the grace of God that helps me say “no” to sin and “yes” to Jesus. So how do I get God’s grace? I humble myself. I say, “Lord, I can’t do this. I need You! I need You.” God’s grace gives us the desire and the power to be holy! 

The book of Isaiah, chapter 35, describes the millennial kingdom of Christ that will one day be here on this earth. And I want to just leave you with a verse from Isaiah 35, it’s verse 8. It says, 

A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness, the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way.

This is described different ways in the Scripture; in one of the last two chapters of the Bible, at the end of Revelation, it talks about how nothing unclean will come into the holy city; it will be kept outside. Only those who are holy . . . (“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”) 

You see, this city, this kingdom city, this New Jerusalem, this millennial kingdom of Christ, it’s talking about essentially the same thing. There will be a highway of holiness there. It’s a holy place, because a holy God makes it His home. And He says, “I will dwell with them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” That’s what He wants! He wants us to see Him, to be with Him. 

He wants to be our God; He wants us to be His people. This is what we long for, this what we live for! And what will it be characterized as? A place of holiness. There’s a highway of holiness, and our job between now and the return of Christ, is to be seeking Him, walking on that place of holiness.

The Scripture says in Psalm 85 that righteousness will go before Him to prepare the way for His steps. Do you want to experience the joy of personal revival? Don’t stop struggling against sin; lay it off, put it aside, even the sin that clings so closely to you. Let it go!

I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m not saying it will happen overnight. It won’t; it isn’t easy. But I’m saying it will happen as you pursue holiness, as you keep your eyes on Jesus, and as you let Him discipline you so that you can be a partaker in His holiness. You can share in His holiness.

And then, let God’s grace train you! And all the way you’ll be saying as you’re growing in holiness (there’s no pride), “Oh, Lord, I could never be holy. I’m not holy! I’m sinful and wicked apart from You, but You are holy, and You live in me. You have your Holy Spirit in me. Your grace enabling me to walk in the highway of holiness, in anticipation of that amazing day when faith will be sight and the pure in heart will see the Lord and be forever with Him!” 

How precious is that?! Does that sound boring? Does that sound old-fashioned? Does it sound like something you’d want to avoid? No! It sounds like something you want to pursue, doesn’t it? Pursue holiness!

Help us, Lord. We need You. I need You! Give us grace. Thank you that You will, this week, as we cry out to You! We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Dannah: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been giving us a fresh definition of holiness, and she’s been helping us to see it as a source of joy. It’s part of a teaching from a new series called “Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival.”

I hope you don’t just hear that message and move on too quickly. That would be missing the point. This message could be just the beginning of a process for you, a process of seeking God in a deeper way. And to help you do that, we’d like to send you a copy of Nancy’s workbook Seeking Him: Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival.

By studying Scripture with Nancy, and then answering the Personal Evaluation Questions, this is a great opportunity for you to experience personal revival on your own. Nancy has taught this series on video, so consider this: go through the Seeking Him workbook with a group of girlfriends, then watch the videos together and talk about what you’re learning from God.

In fact, we’d like to send you a copy of the Seeking Him workbook as our way of saying “thank you” when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size this week. Visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com to make that donation. While you’re there, you’ll find more information about how you can get the DVD set that goes with it. You can also call us at 1–800–569–5959.

You know, sometimes a very simple question is exactly what you need to hear, like this one from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth . . .

Nancy: Is your obedience complete, or do you have just “almost obedience”? Do you have full obedience to everything you know that God wants you to do? Do you delight to obey Him?

Dannah: Nancy will talk about that tomorrow! I’m Dannah Gresh, inviting you back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you grow in holiness. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries. 

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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