Many people today are engaged in the relentless DIY project of personal holiness, busily trying to construct lives that are good enough, worthy enough, and acceptable enough, often not knowing what “enough” actually is and not realizing that not a single one of us is equipped for the task. Instead, we need to call the Professional with a capital “P.” The people in Haggai’s time were wrestling with the same prideful issue—trying unsuccessfully to cultivate, manage, and distribute their own holiness. But, in our text today, we’re going to find God correcting them and lovingly calling them, and you and I as well, to the only Source of true, lasting holiness: Himself.
Plumbing, gardening, auto mechanics, construction. These are all types of DIY projects I’ve attempted with varying degrees of disaster. At some point you’d think I’d stop trying, but I don’t.
In fact, recently I was making plans to hang shelves on the big, blank wall in our home stairwell when my wife, realizing my scheme, reminded me of all the times in the past I’d hung shelves and all the times they’d fallen off the walls. She added, “Our kids play on the landing in that stairwell underneath where you want to hang those things.”
Sometimes it’s best, even if it hurts our pride, to skip the DIY project and, instead, call a professional. There are some tasks that are simply outside of our skillset and need to be outsourced … for the good of everyone involved!
Many people today are engaged in the relentless DIY project of personal holiness, busily trying to construct lives that are good enough, worthy enough, and acceptable enough, often not knowing what “enough” actually is and not realizing that not a single one of us is equipped for the task. Instead, we need to call the Professional with a capital “P.”
If you have a Bible with you, turn to Haggai 2. The people in Haggai’s time were wrestling with the same prideful issue—trying unsuccessfully to cultivate, manage, and distribute their own holiness. But, in our text today, we’re going to find God correcting them and lovingly calling them, and you and I as well, to the only Source of true, lasting holiness: Himself.
Verse 10 introduces Haggai’s third sermon to these people and it begins with a compelling illustration meant to highlight the futility of DIY holiness. That is, the uselessness of taking into our own hands our acceptability before God. As we’ll see, it’s a task we are simply not equipped to complete.
On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Haggai: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’ ”
The priests answered, “No.”
Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”
Haggai calls the priests—the official interpreters of the Mosaic Law—and asks them two simple questions having to do with consecrated (or, holy) meat, that is, meat that has been ceremonially set aside for worship.
In your home you may have towels set aside for guests or dishes set aside for fancy meals; these are things reserved for a special purpose. So it was for the people of God. They consecrated certain items, specific days, and particular animals to be used for worship.
One doesn’t simply approach a perfectly holy, pure, and undefiled God as a creature that is less than those things. Instead, God made provision and gave his people specific instructions for how they could come before him and continue a relationship with him in spite of their defiling sinfulness. One such way was through the sacrificial system, a system which demanded consecrated meat, that is, holy meat reserved for a holy God.
It’s the priests’ familiarity with this that Haggai leans on in his questions. Say we have a piece of meat that’s been set apart for temple use. Can the holiness of that steak be transferred to unholy items through contact? Professional opinion: “No.”
What about the opposite? If someone is unclean, impure, or defiled—in this case because they’ve come into contact with a dead body—can that defilement be transferred through contact? Professional opinion: “Yes.”
Here’s the point Haggai is making and the point the priests understand well: Defilement is contagious; holiness is not.
We’re familiar with this principle: Sickness is contagious; health is not. Pollution spreads; purity does not. It’s the same with holiness.
God, through Haggai, is reminding his people that defilement, unworthiness, sinfulness are contagions whereas holiness, purity, and divine acceptability are not. Now, why would they need to be reminded of this lesson?
Then Haggai said, “ ‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.
It seems that the people were thinking that, since they, as God’s holy and chosen people, were rebuilding the holy temple, all that they touched became holy. But that wasn’t the case. In fact, God tells them they are defiled, polluted, and unclean and, as such, everything they touch, every prayer they offer, every sacrifice they make is all, likewise defiled, polluted, and unclean. Defilement is contagious; holiness is not.
God continues his lesson:
“ ‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on—consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.
Remember how it was before temple construction began. In chapter 1 we remember that, because of their disobedience and mis-prioritization, the people had forfeited divine provisions. It had cost them to live unfaithful lives before God. “Give careful thought,” God says.
Then God calls for more “careful thinking”:
‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
“ ‘From this day on I will bless you.’ ”
God is calling them to compare then and now. Think about how it was and about how it is. Then, you were unfaithful—paneling your own houses and ignoring mine—and your harvest suffered. Now, think carefully, you’re building my house, but has your harvest improved? No! So, maybe, just maybe, God is looking for something in his people other than mere obedience. Something is still missing! Think about it!
The people had sinned and were experiencing the consequences. And they thought by building the holy temple it would make them holy and prosperity would quickly return. They figured they could catch holiness through contact and proximity to God’s house forgetting that holiness isn’t contagious. Defilement is.
This is the futility of the DIY holiness project that every lost person in our world today is working hard at. They want to live “good lives” and be seen as “good people.” And how do they do that? By spending time, energy, and money building consecrated temples of humanitarianism, benevolence, altruism, and self-defined morality. They believe what they do transfers to who they are; that if they do enough good they become good enough. They think holiness is contagious. That’s sad.
But what concerns me even more is when God’s people behave similarly. That, just like the people Haggai was correcting, we think that living Christianly makes us holy. That instead of doing the hard Spirit-empowered work of Word-motivated self-examination and repentance we try to simply act right, serve lots, and give much, not realizing that this is a DIY project that is doomed from the start and that, instead of becoming more holy, we are defiling everything around us.
McGee once said: “Friend, you can swim in holy water, and it won’t make you holy. … Trying to make yourself acceptable with God through ceremonies and all of that sort of thing is like pouring a gallon of Chanel No. 5 on a pile of fertilizer out in the barnyard in an effort to make it clean and fragrant.”
We cannot conjure nor distribute holiness. Haggai was sent to correct this misunderstanding, point out the futility of that task, and then highlight the wisdom of calling the Professional.
We’ve got to understand that we’re not able to build our own holiness. I can’t sanctify myself no matter how hard I work. I can’t set myself apart for God no matter the things I do and the people I’m around. And neither can you. That’s a futile DIY project. Instead, we must call the only one that is able to make us holy and keep us holy—and that’s God himself. And so, in the time we have left, I want to highlight three reasons why that’s the case; why he’s the only place we can go to get this much-needed job of personal holiness done and done right.
First, God’s holiness is infinite. Whereas anything you and I produce—even the very best of what we do—is temporary, fading, and flawed, God’s holiness is consistent and inexhaustible. It never sputters and never runs out. God’s holiness is infinite.
In what we’ve already read, Haggai subtly contrasts man-made holiness with God’s transcendent holiness:
Then Haggai said, “ ‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled. … I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.
God, and God alone, is infinitely holy, completely other, and totally undefiled.
“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).
And they [the angels around God’s throne] were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).
So, not only is God the standard of holiness to which we are called, but he is the inexhaustible source of holiness from which we must draw. It has to come from him; there is no other place, no other source. And he will never run out. That’s why we call the Professional.
Second, not only is God’s holiness infinite, but his power is sufficient. Even if we could conjure up some holiness on our own, we’re too feeble and fickle to make it stick. Even if I could do some act of obedience today that credited holiness to my account before God it would do no good because tomorrow I’d mess it up. But, in contrast, God’s holiness is applied to us with power that is strong and unchallengeable.
The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month:“Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth.I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.
God reminds his people, “My power knows no equal.” Kings and kingdoms are no match for God. The greatest armies in the world are like puppets in his divine hands. Creation itself trembles before his power, power that is sufficient to judge and to save.
So, why do we need to call upon the Lord for the task of making us holy? Because not only is he the infinite source but he has the power to override our defilement, to impute holiness to you and I and to make it stick. It’s no use calling a plumber who has all the tools but isn’t strong enough to turn the wrench. God not only has the holiness, but the power to apply it.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18)..
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
God’s power—the power of the gospel—is sufficient for the task. That’s why we call the Professional.
Third and finally, his faithfulness is perfect. Not only is his holiness infinite and his power sufficient, but his faithfulness is perfect.
“ ‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
God promises Zerubbabel, and the rest of his people, that he will be faithful to what he said he would do. Whereas there had been a time in the not-too-distant past when it seemed God’s messianic promise—that of the seed of the woman, the davidic king, the anticipated Deliverer—had been spoiled by the people’s unfaithfulness, God here reaffirms his faithfulness.
There is coming a day, in the future, when God’s signet ring—the sign of royal authority and personal ownership to the coming Messiah—would be given to the line of Zerubbabel. In spite of all the people had done, their mis-managed priorities, their idolatry, their unfaithfulness, their DIY project of personal holiness, God’s faithfulness is perfect.
So it is for us today. That God’s faithfulness is perfect means his holiness on us is sure and inevitable.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).
God had promised his people a Messiah, and he would be faithful even in spite of them. He has promised eternal life to all who trust in that Messiah, and he will be faithful to that promise even in spite of us.
So let’s put down the tools. Let’s stop the DIY project of personal holiness and see it for the act of futility that it is. Instead, let’s Call the Professional! Call upon he who’s holiness is infinite, who’s power is sufficient, and who’s faithfulness is perfect. Call the professional! And this goes for all of us.
If you’re not a believer, call the Professional!Stop spinning your wheels trying to manufacture “goodness.” You’ll never be good enough. The perfect God demands total perfection. Even the best of us can’t do that so stop trying. Instead, trust God. He sent his Son, Jesus, to live that perfect life for you, to die the deserved death instead of you, and raised him from the dead before you, that if you believe in him you too will be raised to eternal life.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. … my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” If you’re not a believer, call the Professional today. Accept the holiness he offers through Jesus Christ.
If you’re a lapsed believer, call the Professional!Perhaps you have trusted Christ for salvation but you’ve since strayed, you’ve fallen into sin, and you’ve given up or been swallowed into the blackness of doubt and guilt. While you once trusted Christ, now you’re not living a life that looks anything like the one he’s called you to live.
Stop trying to claw, work, and think your way out of the hole. Rest in Christ. The sins you’re wrestling with have been paid for. His holiness, the righteousness of Christ, has been put on your account and his holiness can’t be exhausted, even by you. You aren’t strong enough to tear yourself away from his powerful grip. The Bible says “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” because his faithfulness is perfect. So come back to him. Call the Professional. Throw yourself on his mercy, his holiness, his power, his faithfulness. Give up the DIY project. Repent and come home to a Father who’s waiting with open arms.
If you’re a faithful believer, call the Professional! We are called, as Christians, to work out our salvation, to pursue holiness, Christlikeness, and sanctification. But we’re to do it from a place of salvation and not towards it. We’re to strive toward holiness because we’ve been declared holy already.
Remember, we can’t produce or spread holiness. It’s given to us, applied to us by grace through faith, and we’re kept in it by his power and according to his promise. In Christ we have been sanctified—set apart for God—and so we’re free to joyfully pursue sanctification in the power of the Holy Spirit. Calling the Professional, for the Christian, kills guilt, legalism, and ceremonialism and liberates us to run after a life of holiness, a life that pleases God, blesses us, and blesses those around us.
My prayer for you this week, whether you’re not a Christian, a struggling Christian, or a faithful Christian, is that you would hear God calling you away from the chains of DIY holiness, a truly futile task, and toward the freedom that is a relationship with him through Christ Jesus.