“Future Ready: Living Holy”

We continued our series called Future Ready at Gateway Church in Austin.

In order to change our tomorrow, change must first start within us.

Digging Deeper:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner,  life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Message Video at Gateway South Austin:

Message Notes by Ross Sagehorn:

Have you ever felt that way? Doing something you didn’t want to do? Unable to break the habit, or say “no?” Showing up to a space or in a relationship as a version of yourself that doesn’t quite match who you are (or are growing to become) today? 

We’re in this series we’re calling Future Ready, and we’re talking about the decisions we make today, the moments we seize today, that prepare us well for the future God has for each of us. And when it comes to this conversation around our behavior that can sometimes go against what we say we believe, or want to be true in our lives, we have to acknowledge that the decisions we make are never just neutral. Our decisions are always moving us in some direction. Sometimes, then, the temptation can be to blame the circumstances around us for the decisions we make that don’t move us in the direction we want. “People will never accept me for who I am, so I have to perform.” “I never get enough time to do what I want to do. I have to focus on me.” “They just don’t get it. They’ll never change.” 

So, you can look at the circumstances around you that might cause you to make certain decisions a certain way, and you can rationalize those decisions, but here’s the tough reality:

Nothing changes around you unless something first changes in you.

Think of it this way: Imagine two boats are about to set sail. Both are designed to be good at sailing, to travel across the water with precision. Both have the capacity to navigate difficult sailing conditions. Both were made to thrive in the water, to float.

But now imagine that one of the boats has a few holes in it. Maybe it hasn’t been taken care of, or hasn’t been well maintained. Maybe nobody knows about the holes. They’re small enough that nobody really pays attention, or sees them, or thinks they’re a big deal. This boat that was designed to thrive in the water, to sail, can now only do one thing: sink.

Same conditions. Same original intent. Same goal: Thrive in the water. And the captain of the second boat could complain that the boat wasn’t ready for the water, but whose responsibility was it to check the condition of the boat before setting sail? The captain’s. Because the water is not the problem; the holes are. 

And in our lives, sometimes the holes show up as holes in our emotional wellbeing. Sometimes the holes show up as holes in our spiritual formation. Sometimes they’re holes in our ability to resist unhealthy urges or temptations in our lives. But we have to be careful not to let these holes become excuses for letting our lives go off the rails due to the circumstances around us. 

Over the years I have seen too many people who had seemingly small issues – just cracks in their character, but because they never sought help or acknowledged they needed healing, it was the weight of their success that actually led to their downfall. These cracks widened and became holes  as their influence increased. Sadly more damage was done. If only they had taken those cracks in their character seriously.

This is a similar conversation as the apostle Paul writing to the Romans:

1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 

3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. – Romans 6:1-4 (NIV)

In other words: Nothing changes around you unless something first changes in you

Which means we have two choices, we have two deals on the table: Take steps to acknowledge and grow in the areas God is inviting us to today, or don’t. That’s the choice we get. 

But at the end of the day, should we choose the latter, we don’t get to look back at God and blame him for our sinking. He was with us in the water, he’s with us in all of our circumstances. It was our choice to ignore the holes. And for many of us that’s when our lives started to unravel. Not necessarily because we couldn’t handle the circumstances, but because we hadn’t done the work with God to prepare for them. And that choice is ours. 

Putting Jesus’ Words Into Action

This actually reminds me of a story Jesus told to illustrate the same idea. In one of his most famous talks ever, what we now refer to as the Sermon on the Mount (which we’re going to be spending a ton of time unpacking in our next series), Jesus wraps the whole thing up by presenting his listeners with a similar choice. It’s another two-deals-on-the-table type of moment. 

To give you some context, and this will be way too oversimplified but go with me, Jesus has just given a message to a big crowd (similar to how we do this on Sunday mornings) explaining what life in the Kingdom of God looks like: who’s invited (spoiler, it’s all of us; every single person), how we treat each other, how we interact with the world around us, and the people are blown away by what he’s saying. And check out how he lands the plane. If you have your Bible (otherwise it’s up on the screens) this is in Matthew chapter 7, starting in verse 24; Jesus ends his sermon with this: 

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV)

Again, Jesus presents two choices. Two deals. Just like our two boats, there are two options. And, when it comes to that choice we get to make, Jesus presents an important premise that I want to camp-out on for a second. Notice in verse 24 how Jesus says, “…everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice…” That is the choice! Not whether or not we hear, but whether or not we implement the teachings of Jesus in our lives. It’s that person, Jesus says, who is setting themselves apart for his Kingdom. 

What Jesus is describing here is the person who chooses to Live Holy. And depending on your experience in or around church, that word holy can start to take on several different meanings. 

For example, if you were raised in or around church, you may have heard the word “holiness” and associated it with not doing the things you see happening in the world around you. The unfortunate thing about using this kind of language, and framing of holiness, is that it doesn’t actually get us closer to being holy. It just tells us what not to do. It’s more like sin management where we try to discover how far is too far so we can right up to the line.

On the other extreme, maybe you’ve seen people who live “holier than thou.” Ever heard this phrase. These are folks who may not struggle with some of the same issues as those new to faith but they ignore the fact that pride and gossip and judging others are actually also issues in our heart that separate us from God and who He is calling us to be.

So, the definition I want us working from is simply this: To live holy is to live set apart [repeat]. Set apart for what? Set apart for the work and purpose of God in the world. Set apart from what? Anything that isn’t advancing that work and purpose.  

How Jesus Sees Us

Jesus presents us with the idea that to live holy is to live set apart, is to live different. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers, put it this way in describing how followers of Jesus ought to live based on their identity in Christ: 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV) 

Is that how you see yourself? As followers of Jesus, we don’t live differently in order to gain the approval or favor of God. We live differently, set apart, because God’s desire is that, as we experience more and more of his presence and goodness in our lives, we would be compelled to live our lives differently because we are different people now. That our very lives would be a demonstration to the rest of the world of how God has brought us from darkness to light, from brokenness to healing, from addiction to freedom. That our lives would become invitations for others to experience those very same things in theirs. 

See, when we choose to live our lives like that, as holy, as set part, in alignment with what Jesus says works best, Jesus says we’re like a wise man who chose to build his house on a rock. And not if, but when the storm comes, when the circumstances close in on us, maybe not today, or tomorrow, but eventually, our house is still standing. Our boat is still floating. Why? Because the decisions we made were different. Our lives were built different

But, again, this is a choice. And there is an alternative. Look back at verse 26:

26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Matthew 7:26-27 (NIV)

Jesus is describing a deliberate choice to hear what he says leads to a better life, and choose the opposite. Remember, our decisions are never just neutral. There is no third scenario here where a house is built sort of on the rock, or on the rock enough, or on the rock on Sunday mornings. We’re either building on the rock or we’re not. Jesus’ parables, like this one, are always intended to drive a response. 

And notice that, while there is a choice in this scenario, just like with our two boats, the conditions here are exactly the same. It’s the same storm. Which means living holy, living set apart, has less to do with your circumstances and more to do with your choices. Nothing changes around you unless something first changes in you. 

And you might be thinking, “That’s all great Ross, but here’s my question. Building on a rock, building on sand, holes in boats, whatever: why doesn’t God just keep the storms away?” It’s a reasonable question, and, in my experience, a really easy one to ask when you find yourself sinking in the middle of a storm. Not much makes sense then, does it? “Who cares what my house is built on, Jesus, just make this stop hurting so much!” 

In fact, for many of us this is where a tension can exist with the idea of holiness, because we thought living holy, or being holy, meant eventually reaching this proverbial finish line at which point our lives suddenly became easy, or enlightened, or perfect. But that’s not a Biblical understanding of holiness. And listen, I know the storms can hurt, but Jesus never actually said that he would take the storms away. In fact, in his final moments on Earth before being crucified and killed (talk about a storm), listen to how Jesus prayed for us as his future followers: 

15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.  – John 17:15-19 (NIV) 

To sanctify just means to set apart as holy; it’s a verb, literally to set apart as set apart. Are you starting to see the point? Jesus does not give us the impression that he wants to just snap his fingers and make all of our problems go away. His prayer for us is in the middle of the problem, in the middle of the storm! His desire, then, seems to be that, as we follow him, our lives become so set apart from the normal way the world works that the world starts to notice: we’re different. 

And here’s the beauty! He helps us live out this new way! He is with us in the storms and empowers us to withstand them, but we have to lean into our faith and let Him help us.

Areas in Our Lives We Need to Surrender

So, what does it look like to take steps toward living a life that’s set apart, living a life that’s holy? How do we exist in the world, like Jesus prayed, but not become consumed or overwhelmed by it? 

I’m going to propose that we need to get really clear on the type of decisions we make that either lead to a strong foundation or a weak one. If there is no neutral, and if living set apart has less to do with our circumstances and more to do with our choices, and if nothing changes around us unless something first changes in us, every single choice we make matters. Let’s look at three big-picture areas in our lives where these decisions often play out the most often. 

Our Relationship with Self

The first area of our lives to look at is our relationship with Self. We live in a culture that’s obsessed with self. The self-help industry is worth billions of dollars. Our careers are often defined by our ability to position ourselves for the promotion, or the raise, or the upward mobility. Our culture would tell you, “Once you define your true self, pursue it at all costs. Embrace it. Celebrate it.” That is one option. But what does Jesus teach us? 

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans immediately following what we looked at earlier, writes this: 

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… – Romans 6:5-6 (NIV) 

The invitation from Jesus is to die to self. To die to our old patterns of living that were born out of preferences or desires that don’t align with what God would want for our lives. And if that’s the case, a good question to be asking ourselves is this: Where am I choosing self, rather than dying to it? Where am I choosing to live for me, and where am I choosing to live for Jesus? Both lead to opposite foundations. 

Our Relationship with Sin

How about this one: our relationship with Sin. This is a fun one, isn’t it? Obviously sin is a major issue throughout Scripture, because it is our sin that separates us from God (Romans 6:23). Sin is our literally missing the mark when it comes to what God would say is right and best in our lives. God says one thing, I choose another. That’s sin.  

But did you know there’s also a cultural version of sin? A worldly version of sin? There is. It’s the exact opposite of sin according to God. If sin according to God separates us from his version of life for us, sin according to the world separates us from the world’s version of life for us. 

If Biblical sin involves a rejection of God, worldly sin involves a rejection of commitment, responsibility, authority, and unhappiness. Why? Because according to the world, none of those things will lead to the life of true happiness that you deserve! This is the entire basis for this quiet-quitting trend. “Don’t over-commit if it doesn’t make you happy. Run from authority, or the man. If it doesn’t make you happy, just leave!”  

But a life of following Jesus most certainly involves commitment. And responsibility. And authority. And, let’s just be honest, sometimes unhappiness. So a good question to ask ourselves is: When it comes to my journey of faith, where do I find myself running from things like commitment, or responsibility, or authority, or unhappiness? 

Our Relationship with Freedom

Last one, let’s talk about our relationship with Freedom. This one is so relevant because Jesus’ entire example of the two foundations is based on our freedom to choose. Jesus does not force us to follow him, he invites us to. 

Earlier in the passage from the Sermon on the Mount that we looked at, Jesus says this: 

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. – Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

And here’s the thing: Sometimes the focus that gets put on this verse has to do with the part that says, “…few find it.” But I don’t think that’s actually Jesus’ point here, exclusivity. Why? Because narrow roads aren’t necessarily hard to find or follow; it’s just that they’re very specific. If you’ve ever been hiking you know this. Narrow trails can be just as easy to hike as wide ones, you just have way less freedom to walk where you want. That’s why the gate in this parable is hard to find. Not because it’s hidden. There’s just very little margin for freedom. It doesn’t take much to step off the path, because it’s narrow. 

So, Jesus seems to be suggesting that limiting our freedom actually leads to life. If that’s the case, a good question to ask ourselves in this conversation around living holy is this: Where am I most tempted to take my life (freedom) into my own hands? 

See, questions like these matter. Here’s why, and I need you to hear this: Nobody wakes up in the morning hoping their house is going to fall down in a storm that day. Nobody prays for the cancer, or the ugly divorce, or the loss, or the anxiety, or the depression. But sometimes those storms come, don’t they? And when they do, what we don’t get to decide is how strong the storm is, or even when it hits us. 

But, with every small decision we choose to make each day, do you know what we do get to decide? How strong our foundation will be. And when you choose to build your life on Jesus, to live set apart, he might not take the storms away, but he does say, “But I’ll go with you.” And if I’m going to have to face a few storms in my life, I’d rather face them with Jesus than without him. 

With God’s help we can grow to have a faith bigger than our circumstances!

So, the band is going to lead us in a song, and, as they sing this over you, there’s a line in it that says this, “What if the path you choose becomes a road; The ground you take becomes your home”

In other words, what if every small decision to live holy, maybe even starting right now, leads to a lifestyle, and a lifestyle leads to storm-proof confidence? How could that be? Because your house is built on a rock. And his name is Jesus.  

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