Holiness is Separation not Distance
This devotion is based on the following scripture …
Exodus 32 (NKJV):
30 Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. So now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! 32 Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”
This scene is a familiar one. The people of Israel have been brought out of Egypt and to the base of Mount Sinai. Moses has gone up on the mountain to receive what we know as the “10 commandments.” But while he is up there, the people get impatient. Now true, he was up there a long time … over a month! They get lost in their selfish desires and impatience and make a golden calf as their god and begin to worship it. They had just been delivered from generations of bondage. They had just also been rescued from Pharaoh’s army and miraculously brought safely through the Red Sea. And yet a few weeks of waiting go by and … they reject everything.
Moses comes down and reads them the riot act. Tells them how serious the sin is that they have committed (this is where this scripture picks up the story). Moses’ anger towards his people is more than understandable – as is the Lord’s. And yet, as Moses returns to the Lord, his mindset (or more his heartset) is one that can explain something deeper to us all about the true impact of holiness in our lives.
Moses stood in God’s presence. The scripture says that the Lord spoke to him as “a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). The closeness and intimacy he had with God is inspiring. We all long for a relationship with our Creator like that. God favored Moses. Yet in this scene, He is VERY unhappy with the nation that has turned away from Him. There is a contrast here. The people of Israel … not looking so good. Moses … looking pretty good, especially when standing next to them. As awesome a man as I’m sure Moses was, he was human. I find it hard to believe that this thought did not, at least for a moment, enter his mind (“Gee, I look pretty good next to these losers”). Don’t look at me so piously … we all have done that!
And yet, when the Lord declares His intention for delivering justice in this situation, Moses’ reaction should pause us all. It’s not just a “please go easy on them” thing. Nor is it a “spare them for me” sentiment. It goes deeper than that. He tells the Lord that if He is going to blot them out, to blot him out too. And not just from this life. The scripture references being taken “out of Your book” (verse 32) – a clear reference to an eternal consequence. The idea of them being lost for all eternity is so heart breaking to Moses that he is willing to endure eternal distance himself from the Lord too. Moses walked justly before the Lord and was entitled to the benefits of that faithfulness. He had a uniquely close and intimate relationship with his God – and yet, he is willing to be counted amongst a people who have just insulted Him deeply.
Coming from a denomination whose roots began as a holiness movement, I have long embraced the vital necessity of living a life of holiness before the Lord. Scripture is clear.
1 Peter 1 (NKJV)
16 “because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
I’m not looking to share here about living a holy life or how is it done – I’ll leave that for another time. My point here is that the closer we get to God, the more His power will flow into our lives, making it more possible to come anywhere near fulfilling this scripture’s command. But what catches my attention here in Moses’ example is that my observation over the years is that often those that pursue holy living (a truly needed and worthwhile pursuit) seem to deem it necessary to move further away from sinful people in order to draw closer to a holy God. Many have renounced all contact with the world and its various subcultures as a means of cleansing themselves from anything impure. And yet, here Moses is not only willing to be counted among his people, he is willing to receive a punishment his life does not warrant.
I’m not denying the deeper, and probably more intricate, conversation about getting strong in the Lord and removing harmful influences from our lives. But there is something here about the impact of being intimate with God that so changed Moses’ heart. After all, what is being holy if not a close intimate relationship with our Creator (again, we can discuss the outward impact of holiness another time). And while getting close to God should separate us from the attitudes and philosophies of this world, it shouldn’t separate us from the people who hold or embrace them. Shouldn’t it be us with the overpowering way of thinking?
I’m not saying that we should blindly walk into situations for which we don’t possess the strength to endure. We should never intentionally walk into a setting that will weaken our connection with the Savior. Yet it seems to me that the Master’s impact on Moses’ heart so changed him that it made him want to move towards sinful people, not away from them.
I do believe we need to take a stand for things that are right in this world (and I do firmly believe in an absolute ‘right’ and ‘wrong’). But the deeper lesson for me in this passage is that my desire to serve the Lord, and to draw closer to Him, doesn’t require moving away from the people He wants me to impact. Will standing for what is right in the midst of people who think I’m crazy and wrong create conflict? Sure … just ask Moses about conflict and not following the crowd. But you have to admire his heart as he stood before the Lord, witnessing His justified anger towards His people, and saying, “well, then destroy me too.” That just speaks to me about an embracing of, and a caring for, the lost that I believe we all can learn from.
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