By Keith Johnson
Published January 6, 2008
The God we serve is awesome in holiness!
“Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like unto thee glorious in holiness, fearful in praise, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)
“Who shall not fear thee, O Lord and glorify thy name? For thou only art holy; for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest” (Revelation 15:4).
“Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy” (Psalms 99:9).
In examining the subject of holiness, the order of topics I shall pursue is the following:
I. What is the holiness of God?
II. The call to holiness
III. Why holiness?
IV. Some hindrances to holiness
V. Some concluding remarks
What is the holiness of God?
“It is the highest and most all embracing of the attributes of God.“1
The very word “holy” has come down from heaven. Isaiah and John tell us of what they have seen and heard. They speak of heavenly realities – of cherubim and seraphim – of living creatures! The God they saw was not just holy – but He was HOLY, HOLY, HOLY! This was their eternal message to mankind – God is three times holy!2
The Apostle John perceives something of the holiness of God when he says, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all“3 None at all! No sin or wickedness – only pure light and perfect holiness! What fellowship does light have with darkness? None at all! A holy God cannot have fellowship with sin.
Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption. So holy was God and so wicked was man that God would rather have sent his own Son to die rather than let sin reign! The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. If we don’t understand what sin is then how can we repent and feel sorry for our sins? If we don’t understand that sin separates us from God then how can we be reconciled to Him?
I am convinced that the first step toward obtaining a higher knowledge of holiness is to realize the awful sinfulness of sin. When we see our sins the way that God sees them, as totally hateful, then we will cry out to God for deliverance. Then and only then can His wonderful grace have its full effect upon us. His blood will not only cover our sins – it will also wash them away! This is His joy – to save us and cleanse us with His precious blood. The result of this great work is holiness!
The Call to Holiness
But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do: “Be holy, because I am holy.“3 The holiness of God is His greatest attribute. When we read, “Be holy,” what is our reaction? How do we respond? Many view this command negatively with a slavish mentality. But this should not be the case! It is God’s desire to share with us, His people, the greatest thing He has: His holiness!
Just as the athlete pursues excellence in his training and attains a certain degree of satisfaction and accomplishment, so it is for us, the children of God. We should approach God’s call to holiness in a positive light knowing that it is a great privilege to be saved by grace and washed in His blood. We should rejoice that we are partakers of His divine nature – to be holy just as he is holy.
God calls every Christian to a life of holiness. This call is not merely for a “select few” – there are no special categories of saints who may be holy. It is not just for leaders and “super-spiritual” people. No! – He calls all to be holy!
J.C. Ryle, the famed Bishop of Liverpool from 1880 to 1900, once wrote: “Where there is no sanctification, there is no regeneration and where there is no holiness of life, there is no new birth. This is no doubt a hard saying but it is a simple Bible truth.“4
Holiness of life is a “must” because it is the only acid test of true Christianity. This is a point that is all but forgotten by the modern church. “If we can get someone to say a prayer and join the church,” they say, “we’ve done our job!” This is a shallow view of the work of evangelism compared with all the great moves of God throughout history and the ministries of the men who have led these movements.
John Wesley, for instance, preached the gospel to the poor and wretched – the outcast of society. He preached the free grace of God and salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ by faith. But that was not all he preached: “Wesley followed up conversion by demanding that it must be confirmed by changed habits of life.“4
Let me explain – a Christianity Today poll of Americans over the age of 18 found that 94% of those polled believed in God. Furthermore, 45% said that personal faith in Christ is the only hope of heaven. Church membership rated at 67%. Half of these members polled attended church at least monthly. Another survey found 70 million Americans claiming to be born-again, almost one-third of America! It would seem evident by these statistics that we live in a Christian nation – but do we?
The theologian Reinhold Niebar warned: “take no satisfaction in the prevailing religiosity of our nation. Much of it is a perversion of the Christian gospel.“5
Why? – Because of the watered-down message devoid of holiness that has gone out to the masses! Dietrich Bonhoeffer comments on this deficient gospel:
“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. Cheap grace means grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.
“Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.
“Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.
“The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of “grace.” But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.
“Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our evangelical church. This cheap grace has turned out to be utterly disastrous to our own spiritual lives. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience.
“Deceived and weakened, men felt that they were strong now that they were in possession of this cheap grace – whereas they had in fact lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience. The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.“6
We must never forget that the grace of God is holy! We must once again preach and teach the whole gospel. We must tell the truth!
If Christianity is ever to be restored to a place of power in America, then the truth about God’s holiness must once again be lifted up to its rightful place. The message of God’s holiness is needed to save the masses in America from deception!
Some Hindrances to Holiness
The following are a list of reasons that most people fail to seek the holiness of God thus missing out on His greatest desire for their lives:
1. One may not seek after God’s holiness because: he fails to recognize its great value.
To him holiness is viewed as something that is too “legalistic” or “too intense.” These people have never come to the realization that God desires to give us his holiness, so that we may be partakers of His divine nature.
The great value of God’s holiness is found in His call to each one of us. This calling also involves many great promises.
“Having therefore these promises dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit perfecting holiness in the fear of God.“7
What motivates you in your walk with God? I hope that it is not fear or legalism! God desires to motivate you toward holiness by His love.
2. One may not seek after God’s holiness because: he has heard an inadequate definition of holiness.
A pastor stands before his church or perhaps before a television camera and says: “The word holiness means ‘set apart,’” and he’s right! But surely the word implies much more than that! Usually the people who hear such a definition walk away from the service with a big question mark in their heads. “Separate from what?”
“Holiness, a term… meaning separate from the ordinary or profane, also in Hebrew and Greek ‘holy’ implies connection with God or the divine. Thus God is holy and people, things and actions may be holy by association with God. Holiness may also include the idea of consecration to God and purity from what is evil and improper… In general, the Christian way of life derives from God and so is holy. Consequently, the community must avoid sin and evil and anything that would compromise its holiness and closeness to God.“8
Don’t be afraid to call a spade a spade – to be holy means to be set apart from “sin” unto God!
3. One may not seek holiness of life because of a prevailing teaching that places human beings in a position so weak by nature that they are unable, with or without God’s help, to be holy.
“I mean … nobody’s perfect,” people say. “We’re only human … we have to sin a little bit every day!”
A.W. Tozer has commented on this sad state of affairs: “Our moral helplessness is hammered into us in sermon and song until we wilt under it and give up in despair.“9
There are no two ways about it, either we can or cannot please God. If we cannot, then we should not worry, for we are not morally responsible. But if we can but will not, then we are guilty and are deserving of God’s punishment. Does God command anything which is impossible? No! Therefore, it is possible to live a holy life that is pleasing to God.
4. Another reason people lack the determination and desire for God’s holiness is: the teaching of “theological holiness.”
This teaching is usually communicated along these lines: “When you get saved, you get holy. There is nothing more that you can do, so just rest. Don’t be concerned about living in sin – in God’s eyes, you are already holy.”
This teaching comes from a warped view of the doctrine of justification. The Bible does teach us that we are justified at conversion. Justification, as used in scripture, means to “declare or cause to appear innocent or righteous” (Deut. 25:1); “to reckon righteous” (Romans 4:2-8); “not to impute iniquity” (Psalms 32:2).
Yes, we are justified – just as if we never sinned – at conversion. But remember … this is only one part of our salvation. God will not give us the one (justification) without the others! “Justification is a change in my standing before God; regeneration is a change in my nature; adoption is a change in my position; and sanctification means a change in my character and conduct.“10
These are all separate aspects of salvation but all of these operate as one. This is, briefly stated, the plan of salvation. It is one thing to become a “Christian” and claim to be justified, but it is quite another thing to live the Christian life of sanctification. The word “sanctification” holds no strange meaning; it means “to make holy” or “consecrate” a place, thing or person to God.
Since holiness is primarily the attribute of God, what is sanctified is removed from “profane” or “common” use and is reserved for the Lord. Sanctification is not a “passive gift.” Christians must live out their lives in a holiness that reflects what they have received.11
J.C. Ryle once said; “Tell me not of your justification, unless you have also some marks of sanctification. Boast not of Christ’s work for you, unless you can show us the Spirit’s work in you.“12
Don’t be deceived by the compromising voice of religiosity! Without holiness no one will see the Lord! A holy man will seek to be of one mind with God. He will love what He loves and hate what He hates. He will shun every known sin. He will walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh. He will strive to be like Jesus in everything he does. He will walk the path of love and kindness toward his brothers and sisters. In short, he will live his life in obedience to the written word of God.
Some Final Remarks
Do you hunger for more of Jesus? Then run to Him, leave everything behind and go to Him just the way you are. You will find all that you need in Him! He will be your holiness. Do not try to make yourself holy. Many people have tried, struggling and laboring, making resolutions, only to collapse under the weight of the Law.
Remember … without Christ you can do nothing. Allow His work on the cross to change you. Let His love motivate you. Commune with Him, love Him, worship Him! His desire is to clothe you with His holiness. Will you be holy?
It is time to lift the standard of holiness higher than it has ever been lifted before! Don’t settle for the second rate, lukewarm, compromising kind of “Christianity” that is so prevalent today! God has called you to be holy. You were saved and called with a holy calling. What will you do? Will you be holy?
And remember … it is love that blows the trumpet of holiness!
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“Here I stand … I can do no other!”
With these immortal words, an unknown German monk sparked a spiritual revolution that changed the world.
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