–September of 2004
Called to Holiness
In every age there are those who aspire to a devout and holy walk with God. It is also true that in every age there are those who have constructed their own brand of cheap grace to insure as little divine interference in their life as possible. Observing both, one naturally asks this question, “What does God require and what does His grace provide?”
No serious Bible student can overlook the command to pursue holiness, “without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb.12:14). Nor can one escape being jolted by the flat ultimatum to, “be ye holy for I the Lord your God am holy” (I Peter 1:16). The call to real holy living is repeated in various ways throughout scripture. If God means what He says, then salvation by grace through faith has some serious moral and behavioral ramifications.
The Old Testament unveils God’s expectation for His people. A summation of the first few books clearly reveals that God’s goal for all mankind is that we should live in real fellowship with Him, a fellowship that requires a correct understanding of who He is and a sharing of His revealed nature. Four times in the book of Leviticus (often referred to as the holiness code) God tells His people, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). The Book summons its readers to live a holy life based on the character of God. The Old Testament teaches us that God’s holiness is both the ground of obligation and the effective source upon which all holiness in man must rest.
The New Testament builds upon the Old but greatly expands our understanding of the holiness that God requires in us. It shows us that God’s design for us in Christ “before the foundation of the world” was “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). The New Testament does not permit a sanctity that is positional only, but both offers and demands a personal holiness. Saints must be saintly—not in calling only, but in character. The notion that Jesus Christ becomes to us “righteousness and sanctification” by imputation only is without a sound biblical basis. To say that those of us who are in Christ participate in His sanctification only in the sense of it being credited to us and not in the real sense of it being accomplished in us is to miss the whole redemptive objective of the Bible and the genius of the atonement.
This holiness begins in the New Birth when God for Christ sake forgives us of all our sins and bring us into a right relationship with Himself (positional sanctification). This radical change brings peace with God, assurance of eternal life, and such a renovation of my being that I long to be thoroughly good and morally pure in all my ways (initial sanctification). This new life ushers in a spiritual sensitivity that allows me to see the inner moral twist of my soul that gave rise to my life of sin and rebellion. Rather than being left to struggle with this inner rebel all of my life, the New Testament teaches that the work of Calvary is able to reach into my inmost being and cleanse my heart from the entrenched depravity that remains, “… He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). The Apostle Paul tells us that this is the will of the Father and prays that, “… the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly…” (I Thess. 5:23). This cleansing is effected by the Holy Spirit who “purifies the heart by faith” (Acts 15:8-9), and enables us to live lives that are morally pure, ethically righteous, and faithfully obedient.
While this cleansing from inbred sin is a definite act, completed in a moment, the retention is the result of the continuous cleansing by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The entirely sanctified Christian submissively and joyfully walks in the light, always trusting the blood of Jesus Christ to keep him cleansed from all sin (I John 1:7). And while purity may be attained in a moment, maturity will be the steady work of a lifetime (II Peter 1:5-9). As we apply new truth found in daily study of the scripture and learn to constantly walk in the Spirit we will experience a deepening of holy character and further conformity to Christ. Vitally important in this whole process is remembering that we cannot attain any holiness in our own strength but that it is accomplished only by His divine power (II Peter 1:3).
The Bible is clear that God’s objective for us is holiness of heart and life (I Thess. 3:10). And whatever His objective for me is should become the objective I pursue with my whole being. I can’t imagine a genuine Christian doing anything less.