Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says, “If churches value relevance to the world over holiness . . .”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: . . . then I believe we’re ultimately going to do some things that will forfeit the presence of God. I am saying that sinners ought to be uncomfortable in the presence of a holy God. I’m saying that sinners will never be truly converted until they have experienced the conviction of God’s Spirit over their sin. And that is not comfortable.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, October 16.

It seems like everybody wants to be relevant. But how many want to be holy? Nancy is going to talk about it in a series called Seeking Him, twelve weeks on personal revival. This week’s focus is holiness. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: We’ve been talking about how there’s a tendency in our generation for the world to filter into the church and for the church to become more like the lost world outside. We’re supposed to be influencing the world, but so often it’s the case that the world, the secular world, the world that doesn’t know God, is influencing us with its values, its ways of thinking, its standards.

There’s a man in the Old Testament that I really admire. The reason I admire him is that he was a man that refused to get sucked in by the allure of the world. His name was Nehemiah. Nehemiah never got accustomed to sin.

You hear the story about the frog and the kettle and how if you throw that frog into a pot of boiling water, he will hop right out. But if you put him in a kettle of room temperature water and then slowly turn up the heat, you can cook that frog to death because he gets accustomed to it. He’s used to it, and he doesn’t realize he’s being cooked to death.

I think the frog in the water that’s getting gradually heated up is a picture of how so many of us function today. Our eyes have just gradually grown accustomed to the darkness around us. Then we tend to fit in and adjust to it.

Nehemiah never got adjusted to the darkness. He never got accustomed to sin even when everyone else around him had become desensitized. They were just taking things in and adjusting to the times. Not Nehemiah. Here’s a man who had the law of God written on his heart.

He had a love for God, a passion for God, and a passion for holiness that compelled him to care when God’s law was being disregarded. It mattered deeply to him.

Let me give you a little background and then I want to tell you about the life of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was one of the Jewish exiles that was living in Persia around 400 BC. At one point Ezra, who was a contemporary of Nehemiah’s, led a group of those exiles back to their homeland, back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple that had become demolished.

Fourteen years later after those original exiles had gone back to rebuild the temple, Nehemiah, who was still in Persia, received word that the walls of the city were still broken down and in disrepair, that there was still work to do in his homeland in Jerusalem.

So Nehemiah (to make a long story short) left his comfortable job where he had a “plum” position serving the king, and he made a 900 mile journey to help his fellow Jews restore the city, rebuild the walls. When Nehemiah got to Jerusalem—you remember the story—he faced incredible opposition from various sources.

Here are three people who are named as those who spearheaded the opposition. You remember Sanballat and Tobiah and Gesham? These were three foreigners who were determined that the Jews were not going to rebuild Jerusalem. But in spite of the opposition, the walls finally were rebuilt.

Nehemiah became the governor of Judah and, along with his friend Ezra the priest, he turned his attention to rebuilding the spiritual and the moral foundations that had eroded. They had rebuilt the physical walls; now they needed to rebuild the spiritual and moral foundations.

So in Nehemiah chapters 8-10 you read the story of the great revival that transpired when the people were challenged to repent and turn to the Word of God that they had neglected for so long. As part of that revival (still by way of background here), the people made a covenant with God. In that covenant they agreed to three things.

You read the three parts of this covenant in chapter 10 of Nehemiah. Number one: They agreed that they would not intermarry with the unbelieving nations around them. God intended that His people should be a holy seed, a holy line, through whom would come Christ the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Keep that line pure. Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Keep the line pure. And the people said, “We will obey God on this matter.”

Then in verse 31 of chapter 10, they agreed to a second thing. They said, “We will not buy or sell or conduct commerce on the Sabbath. We will honor the Lord’s day,” (paraphrase). That was a law they had been given many years earlier, but they had neglected the Word of God. They came back in this time of revival. They made a covenant. They said, “We will start observing the Sabbath again.”

Then number three, in verse 32 and the following in chapter 10, they said, “We will support the needs of the temple and the needs of the Levites,” (paraphrase). And again, this is something they were supposed to have been doing all along.

So they made this covenant; they signed this covenant. They agreed to it. I think at the time they probably intended to keep it. And they did keep it for a while.

After serving in Jerusalem for twelve years, Nehemiah returned to Persia for some reason we’re not given. We’re not told why he went back. We’re not told how long he went back. We think it was probably for a couple of years.

Then he retuned to Judah; he came back to Jerusalem. And when he did he was shocked to discover that the people had failed to keep the covenant. They were flagrantly disobeying the Word of God.

You can read this story in Nehemiah chapter 13. I won’t read the whole text. I’m going to read portions of it. But I want to encourage you to go back and read that whole passage because you will get the feel, the flavor, of what Nehemiah experienced, what he encountered when he got back to Jerusalem and—what I really want you to see—how he handled what he saw.

Starting in verse 10, for example, he says, “I found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field.”

They had promised to take care of the Levites, to take care of the temple, to give their tithes and offerings. But they had stopped giving and so the Levites had to go back into their fields to earn a living because their needs were not being met.

Then you read, starting in verse 15, they had stopped observing the Sabbath. He says, “In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day.”

They had said, “We won’t do this.” But here Nehemiah comes back and they are doing the very thing they had promised not to do.

Then you see in verse 23, chapter 13 of Nehemiah. He says, “In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people.”

So the Jews had become integrated into the pagan, godless, unbelieving cultures around them. And it started out by dating, courtship, and marriage that God had forbidden and that they had said, “We will not do.”

As Nehemiah saw these offenses against God’s law, as he saw that they had broken this covenant, he was mortified. He boldly confronted the people over their backslidden condition.

You read, for example, in verse 11, he says, “So I confronted the officials and said, ‘Why is the house of God forsaken?’”

Verse 17: “Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, ‘What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day?’”

I mean, he got in their face. He said, “This is not right.” And then when he saw the intermarriage, his reaction here was pretty extreme. I’m going to read it beginning in verse 25.

He says, “I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women?”’

He goes on to say, “What is this evil thing you are doing?” (verse 27, paraphrase).

I want to say that the New Testament gives us, as the church, specific direction about how we are to handle these situations. It doesn’t say anything about pulling out people’s hair or cursing them. But what I want you to see is that Nehemiah took sin seriously, that he was passionate about holiness, that he said, “This has to be dealt with. It can’t be swept under the carpet.”

One of the most serious offenses that Nehemiah encountered when he came back to Jerusalem involved a man named Tobiah, the Ammonite. You read about this incident in verses 4-9 of chapter 13.

Tobiah was the man who, years earlier, had done everything in his power to oppose the work of God when they had been trying to rebuild the city walls. But over the years the Israelites had gotten to know Tobiah better.

He started out being their enemy, their opponent, but then they got to know each other. The Israelites began to socialize with Tobiah. They gradually let down their guard. And the casual relationship ultimately led to more intimate relationships.

Those intimate relationships included marriage ties between Tobiah’s family and the family of Eliashib the priest. Their sons and their daughters married each other. Over time the differences between Tobiah and the Ammonites and God’s people who were set apart for God, those differences all but disappeared.

Unbelievably, by the time that Nehemiah returned, this sworn enemy of God, Tobiah, was actually living in the temple. This was in direct violation to God’s command years earlier that no Ammonite should ever be allowed to set foot in His temple. And God had given reasons for that. Yet here Tobiah was living in a room that had been given to him by the priest.

Undoubtedly that change of affairs did not take place overnight. Sin doesn’t usually come into our lives or our homes or our churches overnight. People don’t just go from one day being happily married, faithfully committed to each other, and then just jump into bed with somebody else’s spouse. It doesn’t happen overnight, usually. There’s a process that leads to the encroachment of sin into our lives and into the church.

I think it probably happened in this situation the same way it often does in our lives. One compromise probably led to another and then another. Soon the priests and the people found ways of justifying things that, years earlier, they would not even have considered justifying.

A spirit of tolerance became exalted over a spirit of truth. I can imagine them just thinking and saying, “You know, Tobiah is not really such a bad guy. And his family, his wife is kind of nice and he’s got nice kids, and they fit in so well here. It doesn’t seem right to tell him he can’t stay just because he’s not a Jew. We don’t want to be legalistic about this.”

You can imagine how the reasoning went and developed. So the godless Tobiah, the Ammonite, moved into the temple while the people kept on doing church, doing their religious stuff, going through the motions. They were not the least bit troubled about the state of affairs when Nehemiah arrived back in Jerusalem.

But to Nehemiah, who cared deeply about God and about holiness, this was an unthinkable situation. To him it was like the frog being thrown into the pot of boiling water. No way! He had not gotten adjusted to this. He was furious, and he acted decisively.

You can read about this in verses 4-9 of chapter 13. Nehemiah physically hurled Tobiah and all his possessions out of the temple. Then he gave orders to purify the rooms that had become desecrated. He denounced the evil situation, and he called on the priests and the people to repent.

Why were these offenses such a big deal to Nehemiah? And why did he feel the need to interfere in other people’s lives? After all, today if you go to your sister or your brother or somebody in your church or your son or your daughter or a friend and you talk to them, you confront them about something that is not pleasing to the Lord, the thing you’re likely going to hear today is, “That’s none of your business.”

Why did Nehemiah feel that this was his business or that he needed to make it his business? Why wasn’t he just content to obey God himself and leave others alone?

He was compelled for the passion of the glory of God to be displayed in God’s people. His heart for holiness put him in a tiny minority even among God’s people. If you have a love for holiness today, it will put you in a tiny minority even among God’s people.

But Nehemiah didn’t seem to notice or to care. He wasn’t trying to win any popularity contests. All that mattered to him was that the holy name of God had been profaned. He longed to see God’s name hallowed once again.

The parallels between the story of Nehemiah and the church in our day, I think, are striking. We have lots of people today who call themselves believers, active members of their churches; they’re turning out a lot of religious activity.

But we have, to a large extent in our churches today, thrown out or rewritten the law of God. We have prostituted the grace of God. We’ve said, “We’re not under law. We’re under grace! So we’re free!” And what we’re saying by that is, “We’re free to sin.”

But the grace of God according to Titus chapter 2 and according to the whole of Scripture does not give us the liberty or the license to sin. The grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness. It helps us to live lives that are free from sin.

But how often do we look around in our churches today and see that a spirit of tolerance has triumphed over a spirit of truth? And now, in a modern-day sense, Tobiah, the enemy of God, is living in the temple.

You say, “What do you mean by that? Who’s Tobiah and how is he living in our temple?”

Think about some of the enemies of God that we have allowed to come into our church today. Lust. Greed. Materialism. Anger. Selfishness. Pride. Bitterness. Boy, is that one that just penetrates and infiltrates our churches today. It’s an enemy of God. Sensuality. Divorce. Deceit. Ungodly entertainment. Worldly philosophies.

Little by little we’ve let down our guard. We’ve cultivated a relationship with these sworn enemies of God. We’ve welcomed them into our churches. Or we just didn’t notice when they came in. We’ve helped them to feel at home there.

Beyond that, we’ve worked so hard to make lost and backslidden people feel comfortable in our churches that there is very little conviction of sin left, very little sense of God’s holiness, very little life transformation, very little repentance going on, very little manifestation of the presence of God.

You know why? Because God is a holy God and He cannot make Himself at home in an unholy place.

I’m not suggesting that we ought to try to alienate unbelievers in our churches. I’m not suggesting that irrelevance is a virtue or that we should make an effort to make churches as uncomfortable for people as possible.

I think sometimes some of the things we do in churches, simply our traditions and our ways of doing things that have nothing to do with Scripture, that have nothing to do with God leading us that way; it’s just what we’re comfortable with. I think sometimes lost people must walk in and wonder, “What in the world are they doing?”

So I’m not saying that old is better and new is bad. But what I’m saying is that if relevance to an unbelieving world is our objective, then I believe we’re ultimately going to do some things that will forfeit the presence of God.

I am saying that sinners ought to be uncomfortable in the presence of a holy God. I’m saying that sinners will never be truly converted until they have experienced the conviction of God’s Spirit over their sin. And that is not comfortable.

When the fire and the presence of God in our lives and in our churches is evident, when it’s manifest, people will be drawn to our churches, not because of the entertainment, not because of the programs, but because God is there and they’re seeing the reality of a holy God.

I remember a friend telling me one time, she said, “If a non-believer walked into my church, he might think he was in a bad nightclub.”

When will we realize that the world is not impressed with the religious version of itself? Our greatest effectiveness, our greatest weapon is not found in being like the world, but in being different from the world, in being like Jesus.

So in the midst of such a state, my question is: Where are the Nehemiahs of our day, the men and women who love God, the men and women who love holiness, the men and women who fear nothing and no one but God? Where are the saints? (And a saint means a holy one.) Where are the saints who act like saints?

Where are those whose lives are beyond reproach in every matter? In their homes, their work, their speech, their habits, their attitudes, their finances, their relationships?

Where are the believers whose eyes are filled with tears and whose hearts ache when they see an unholy church entertaining itself to death and partying with the world?

Where are the believers whose knees are sore from pleading with God to give the gift of repentance and to bring a revival of holiness in our day? And where are the Christian leaders with the compassion and the courage to call the church to be clean before God?

Now women, I’m not suggesting we should sit here, in our hearts it would be wrong to criticize Christian leaders who perhaps aren’t being as bold or courageous as they ought to be. I’m not suggesting that we develop a critical spirit, but I am saying we need to lift up our hearts and hands to the Lord and say, “Lord would You give these men courage? Would You make them men of conviction?” We need to pray for them.

And we need to be responsible for the areas we’re responsible for. Where are the moms, the dads, the young people who are willing to deal thoroughly and decisively with everything that is unholy in their lives, in their homes?

The church has been waiting for the world to get right with God. I think we need to realize that the world is waiting for the church to get right with God. And when we have a passion for holiness—and I’m not talking about the kind of holiness that walks around tearing people’s hair out or screaming at them because they’re not obeying God.

By the way, Nehemiah’s gripe was not with the unbelieving pagan world. His concern was about the people of God. When the people of God get right with God and when we have this fiery, passionate, pure holiness that loves God, then the world will stop and take notice.

When we, the people of God, humble ourselves, when we turn from our wicked ways, then the world will have a reason to know and to believe that our gospel is true and that our God is real. Then many of them will fall down and worship Him as well.

Leslie Basham: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss on the power a holy life can have. Would you consider exploring this topic with Nancy? She spent a lot of time considering the area of holiness and has crafted a book called Holiness: The Heart God Purifies.

If you want to lead the kind of attractive, holy life Nancy was just describing, then get a copy of this book and do a study on holiness for yourself. To order the book Holiness, visit our website ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.

As you heard today, Nancy has a passion for calling women to holiness. It’s part of the mission of Revive Our Hearts, which is to help women discover freedom, fullness and fruitfulness in Christ. We’ll be able to continue doing this as long as listeners like you continue to pray for this ministry and give to this ministry.

When you call us with a helpful donation, we’ll show our appreciation by sending you the 2008 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar. The theme this year is “Prayers from the Heart.” It includes prayers Nancy has written out along with lovely artwork and meaningful Scripture.

Ask for "Prayers from the Heart" when you call 1-800-569-5959 or go online to ReviveOurHearts.com.

What are your goals for holiness? Do you have a plan? We don’t always think of holiness as something we can work at, but tomorrow Nancy will help change that perception. Now to wrap up today’s message on Nehemiah and on holiness, here’s Nancy to pray.

Nancy: Oh Father, how I pray that in our day You will bring a revival of holiness. May we like Nehemiah have a passion to say, “We can’t just sweep these things under the carpet. We need to deal with them.”

Lord, there are things we see that grieve our hearts and break our hearts, but we’re not in a position to deal with what others are doing that may be wrong. Lord, help us to be humble and deal with the issues in our own hearts. Help us to cry out to You and to be fervent and to intercede and plead with You to send in our day a revival of holiness in our hearts, in our homes, our churches, for Your glory. I pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scriptue is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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