"For God did not call us to uncleanness, but to holiness." - 1 Thess. 4:7
At the beginning of 2012, I started a series of posts in our Wednesday Witness regarding the building of Godly character in the life of the Christian. Over the past several months we have considers many various character traits which ought to define the life of every believer. These attributes should be strenuously cultivated until our lives manifest the fullness of God's glory and grandeur in our every thought, word and deed. I am going to conclude this series this week by looking at that characteristic of the Christian life which should stand above them all, and in many ways, all other traits flow from this one: Holiness.
Above all, Christians ought to be a holy people. The God of the Bible says, "Be holy, as I am holy" (1 Pet. 3:16). We are to be holy because God is holy. He is pure in all His thoughts, true in all His words, and righteous and in His deeds. The Lord's holiness separates Him from everything else. To be holy literally means "to be set apart". And as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, His holiness should stand as the standard of holiness, purity, truth and righteousness all Christians strive for. By the work of the Holy Spirit, through the grace of almighty God, we can and should expect to grow in the ways of our Father, to be holy as He is holy.
The Bible says that without holiness, no man will see God (Heb. 12:14). We cannot make ourselves holy. We cannot gain God's acceptance through our own efforts. Holiness does not reside in the human heart, lying dormant waiting to be stirred. The Lord alone is the source of true holiness. He is a thrice holy God (Isa. 6:6). If we are to be holy as He is holy, if we are to answer the call to holiness, it must be done through faith and repentance. Christians were once known as those 'set apart' as those who earnestly sought holiness from the Lord. May holiness define us once more as a people. May we seek holiness. Christ's holiness. And give glory to God.
“What you have as heritage, take now as task; for thus you will make it your own”. - Goethe
"Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways... and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." - Jer. 6:16
Dear Fellow Christian Gentlemen,
We stand at the edge of a epoch-changing time in our history. The lot has been cast. It has fallen to us to be the generation of men upon which much, if not all, of our future will be written. As I pen these words, the very foundation of our society is crumbling to the ground around us. Rampant demagoguery, decadence, and degeneracy has befallen us and we find ourselves pressed sorely under the hard Providences of a holy and righteous God. The spiritual weaponry of Christ's and our enemies are being wielded this very moment. The tips of their spears and the edges of their swords have been shaped and sharpened; anxious to draw your blood (if only figuratively for the moment). No one remains safe. God's enemies are eagerly anticipating the death and destruction of the Christian man. They long to see an end to all that the Christian holds precious and dear. The enemy's joy and satisfaction, his glorious victory will only be realized as your faith, your convictions, the people and possessions you treasure most (and if needs be your life), along with the ideals you value and the principles upon which you stand united with your brothers in Christ are completely wiped from the face of the earth, stricken from history, and covered in the fullness of the wickedness and depravity of fallen man.
The gauntlet has been thrown down. A challenge has been given. The prince of the power of this world and his minions have rallied together on the field of battle and they are relentlessly determined to send you to your demise. Therefore it is here and it is now that we, as men standing firm upon our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, must answer the call to service in our Master's army. It is now that serious conviction must root out flaccid complacency. Righteous principle must triumph over godless apathy. Fear must flee in the face of a fierceness and determination like that of our once honorable forefathers. It is up to this generation of would-be-warriors to face our enemies on the battlefield, robed in the full armor of God, and prepared to live, or if needs be die, for the cause of Christ! What we, dear brethren, have as a rich and precious heritage, the faith handed down to us, we must now take as our calling and task. Only then do we make it our own. There is an old path, a better way. There is the grace of God and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to quicken and strengthen us for what lies ahead. Be it in our coveted churches, in our homes and by our firesides, or in the realm of public opinion, civil affairs and cultural controversy, may we be found fighting the good fight of the Faith once delivered to us by the beloved saints.
The hour is at hand. The time has come. Chose this day whom you will serve. May the men of God in my generation, those of this era, be found faithful in their calling. May history record of many great deeds done, of higher and more nobler victories won, and of the mighty advancement of God's kingdom accomplished at the hearts and hands of my fellow brothers. Yes, we may stand at the edge of an epoch-changing time. Yes, if we fail to act today, the heritage we leave for tomorrow's children may be one of dread, despair and shame. But there is hope! Greater is He that is in you, then he that is in the world. Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) was an English writer, author and poet. One of his best known works was a rousing call to tired soldiers to keep up the good fight entitled, "Say not the struggle nought availeth". Be encouraged my brothers. Trust in God and you will find rest for your soul. I leave you with Mr. Clough's though-provoking poem. Will you join me?
"Say not the struggle nought availeth, the labor and the wounds are in vain,
the enemy faints not, nor faileth, and as things have been, things remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars; it may be, in yon smoke concealed,
your comrades chase e'en now the fliers, and, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking, seem here no painful inch to gain,
far back through creeks and inlets making, came silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only, when daylight comes, comes in the light,
in front the sun climbs slow, how slowly, but westward, look, the land is bright!"
Post tenebras lux,
Early in the 20th century the essayist, Andrew Lytle, wrote a critique of the encroaching industrialization upon the old Southern agrarian life. In one of his works found in the book entitled "I'll Take My Stand" he writes that "A farm is not a place to grow wealthy, it is a place to grow corn." And I think what Mr. Lytle was trying to convey is that the way of life for the traditional agrarian man is not all-together compatible with the culture of "Progress" that was being push on our country at the time and the so-called advancements of society, the development of large corporations, wealthy executives, mass production, and the increasing taxation and government involvement in the life of everyday folks was in desperate need of critiquing. In other words, the pursuits of the agrarian, and the industrialists weren't the same - their goals, their destinations weren't the same, and therefore the way they thought about life and its values, and how they went about simply living life was going to be different as well. In other words, there was a glaring contrast arising between the old and new order of things.
As we conclude our short series on the doctrine of holiness, what I want to suggest to you this morning is that the pursuit of the Christian, in some ways, like that of the old-time agrarian, might seem odd and antiquated, he might seem out of place in the contemporary world, but the pursuit of holiness in the life of the Christian is essential to his or her spiritual life, nurture and well-being. Just as the farmer is to be about the business of growing corn, the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be about the business of growing in grace and in holiness. Both are in the business of cultivation. And the fruits, the results of our pursuit of holiness, according to our passage today, in some sense separates the true believer from all others who might profess faith in the Lord. Let us read together then the text under our consideration;
"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" - Heb. 12:14
Now this verse actually sums up the whole duty of the Christian, our duty towards our fellow man, and our duty towards God. But what I want to do for our purposes this morning is to focus in on the second part of this verse. The first deals, again, with our duty towards man - pursuing peace with all people, and this we should forever and always do. Jesus says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God”. Yet I want to turn our attention this morning once more towards the matter of holiness and draw out a few more principles regarding holiness and the vital importance this matter plays Biblically and towards salvation in the life of the believer.
This passage could almost be viewed as a warning. Take careful heed therefore to the words of Scripture before us. For they tells us that without holiness, no one will ever see the Lord. It appears to be saying that holiness, holiness of heart, holiness of life, consecration of ourselves to the purpose, will and obedience of the Lord must needs come to pass for anyone to see the Lord in the sense of savingly entering the glory of His salvation. In school you have what are called prerequisite courses. You must take Algebra I before you can take Algebra II. You must have successfully completed Chemistry before moving on to Physics and so on. Well, in the spiritual realm, you must have obtained holiness of life before you will see the Lord - The Bible says holiness is a prerequisite.
Yet I want to be careful here, because I don't want to you to misunderstand the nature of holiness. I don't want you to leave here thinking of holiness something it is not. For example, my telling you that we are to pursue holiness without which no one will see the Lord is not legalism. Now what is legalism? Legalism comes in different forms, but basically it is a doctrine that teaches we can earn our salvation in Christ, that we "do" enough here on earth that God takes notice of us, and we then earn our position through our external conformity to a set of laws, or rituals. It is the merit system, whereby men teach we can earn favor with God. This is legalism – and it’s not Biblical. The pursuit of holiness is not legalism. I'm not asking you to judge your conformity to God's standards of holiness, to His Law as a means of obtaining your salvation or even your sanctification. I'm not suggesting to you that the pursuit of holiness is simply a set of rules you follow and then at the end you come into your reward. I'm not trying to teach you to "do" anything - but to "be or become" something - to become holy.
Holiness is not moralism. Charles Spurgeon does an excellent job describing this substitute to true holiness. The moralist he says, "has never done anything wrong in his life... He treats his neighbor with integrity, he believes that, so far as he knows, if his ledger be examined, it bears no evidence of a single dishonest deed. As touching the law, he is blameless: no one ever doubted the purity of his manner; from his youth up, his life has been amiable, his temperament what everyone could desire, and the whole tenor of his life is such that we may hold him up as an example of moral propriety. Ah, but this is not holiness before God. Holiness excludes immorality, but morality does not amount to holiness; for morality may be but the cleaning of the outside of the cup and the platter, while the heart may be full of wickedness. Holiness deals with the thoughts and intents, the purposes, the aims, the objects, the motives of men. Morality does but skim the surface, holiness goes into the very caverns of the great deep; holiness requires that the heart shall be set on God, and that it shall beat with love to him."
Turn with me to Matthew chapter 23. Look at verses 25-28 with me. The Pharisees of Jesus' day certainly didn't lack morality. They were probably fairly moral when considered outwardly. Very respectable folk. Admired for their appearance of righteousness to the untrained eye. And they certainly didn't lack regard for laws. Their conformity to law was unparalleled. But none of this was the true pursuit of holiness. They missed the point, they missed the boat, they missed that which without it, no one will see the Lord.
From whence does our holiness come? We've previously discussed the "What" of holiness and the "Why" of holiness, I want to take the remainder of our time today considering the "where" of holiness. Where does holiness come from? Answer: If you desire to be holy, and if you want, like our passage in Hebrews states, "to see the Lord" you must begin with the Lord Jesus Christ. You will do nothing at all, and make no progress until you feel your sin and weakness, and run to Him. Christ is the root and beginning of all holiness and the way to be holy is to come to Him by faith and be joined to Him in His inherent holiness. Christ is not only wisdom and righteousness to His people, but holiness also.
Consider thsi beloved, just a few verses before ours here in Hebrews, back in verse 2, we find that the Lord Jesus is both the divine Author and Finisher of our glorious faith. Not only is He the Author of everlasting life, creating new life where there was once only death, authoring salvation where there was only condemnation, authoring hope where there was only hopelessness, and authoring eternal joy where we only knew despair, the Lord Jesus is the grand and glorious Finisher if that faith as well. From whence does our holiness come - it comes from knowing, loving and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. He that began a good work in you, the work of making you holy, will complete it unto that day. One man stated it this way, “Do not let men deceive themselves; [holiness] is a qualification that is indispensable for those who are saved by the Lord Christ. He leads no one to heaven except those whom He sanctifies on the earth."
Again, I'm not trying to scare you into something. I'm not here to try to manipulate you into thinking or acting in a certain manner. But I am here to faithfully bring the Word of the living God to you which says, 'Pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord'.
The Authorized Version translates that first word in our verse as "Follow". Honestly I'm a little disappointed with the AV at this point - the New King James does much better with the word "Pursue". It is the Greek word diōkō (dee-o'-ko) and it's a much stronger word that simply to follow. It means to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after; to press on: figuratively of one who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal or to seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor as to acquire. One version has it "Strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord".
And so I want to leave you with the question today, Will you see the Lord? Are you striving unto holiness? Do you have assurance this very hour of your eternal destination? Is there fruit unto repentance and life? Have you, or are you meeting the prerequisite of seeing God by your own pursuit of holiness? Young people, never think you are too young to start praying, reading your Bible and asking God to make you holy. To our elderly, never think it is too late to begin a pursuit of holiness unto the Lord. Holiness is the true mark of both, young and old, man and woman, all who love the Lord and whose passionate desire is to see Him in glory.
The Puritan Thomas Brooks wrote of holiness, "A good farmer will not give over sowing until he has sowed all his land; nor will a good physician give over his patient until he has cured him; nor will a good workman give over his work until he has finished it; no more should a good Christian give over his pursuit of holiness, until he is come up to the highest perfection of holiness. Look! as God carried on the work of creation from day to day until he had finished it, and as Christ carried on the work of our redemption from day to day until he had completed it—just so, Christians should look to a daily carrying on of the work of holiness in their hearts and lives, until that work be perfected and completed." –
“Without holiness no one,” no matter who they are, “will see the Lord.” Will you see the Lord?
Those that have been with us some time now have heard me say this before, and as long as it remains relevant and true, I intend to keep on saying it - As a country, we are no longer a Christian nation, that time has passed. We are no longer a post-Christian nation, that era too has gone. We are now living in an openly anti-Christian period where the principles, ideas, morals, and influences of a Biblical or Christian worldview are no longer the guiding light of our culture or society.
The 19th century German philosopher and postmodernist thinker, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, is probably most famous for that bombshell statement that he made in one of his books that "God is Dead". Now in saying this, Nietzsche didn't mean that he believed in an actual God who first existed and then died in a literal sense. He did not believe in God at all. It may be more appropriate to consider the statement as Nietzsche's way of saying that the conventional Christian God and His character are no longer a viable source of any absolute moral principles.
Now the reason I bring this up is because I fear that the modern evangelical church in America today has fundamentally embraced Nietzsche's estimation of God and His character - in that we, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ functionally live and act as no longer a viable source of any absolute moral principles. I fear, taken as a whole, we have assumed Nietzsche's estimation of ourselves and by consequence, of our God, and live practically every day under such notions.
Yet, as I hope to develop over the next few weeks, and as we enter into the year of our Lord 2011, Christians must once more throw off the world's opinion of God and His Christ. We must denounce and reject the slurs, sarcasm, and lies of the unrighteous and the ungodly. We must break the hypnosis that appears to have so many professing Christians caught in the trance of mediocrity and complacency in their spiritual life. We must consider as anathema the words of men like Nietzsche and turn our hearts towards the commands of our Lord found in Holy Scripture. One such command, and one that in every way, I believe we as believers, and the lost and dying world around us needs to see in us, is given here in Peter's 1st epistle, the 1st chapter, the 15th and 16th verses,
"But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." - 1 Pet. 1:15-16
Let me pose the question, "What should separate the Christian from the world around us? What should distinguish a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ from those who are not?" Should it not be, in many respects our pursuit of holiness? Peter, noting that it had been written in times past, that is, the command to holiness was given to Old Testament Israel, recognizes here that God's people are commanded to be holy as God is holy. Should we not say, real abiding faith will invariably produces holiness of heart and righteousness of life? In other words, we are to seek, pursue, chase after, strive unto holiness. We are commanded to be holy. And in one sense we might even say that all other pursuits in the Christian faith fall under or are subsumed in the overarching mandate given by our Lord to be holy.
Paul reemphasizes this command by reminding the Thessalonians in 4:7 that, "God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness." Holiness is to be a way of life for the believer. Holiness is to be the pursuit of every believer as we seek to live in faithful obedience to our calling in Christ Jesus. So then, a logical question to begin a discussion on this matter would be 'what is holiness'? What does it mean to be holy? I would like to spend the remainder of our time together today examining and answering this very question.
"Oh, what a word is holiness! How much does it comprehend! How little is it understood, and how much less is it practiced!" one Christian has said of holiness. And granted, to answer the question "What is holiness?" is a great task indeed - but one worthy of the true Christian believer. It is very little understood in modern days. And even less practiced, I fear. Holiness is a very comprehensive word, and expresses a condition of spirit, mind and behavior that includes many things. But at its root the word itself "holy", or "holiness" simply means to be set apart - to be separated for a specific calling, use or purpose. Charles Spurgeon defined holiness saying, "Holiness is another word for whole-ness of soul and life." So let us consider the issue of holiness and how it should be setting apart the disciple of Christ.
First, holiness is the basic substance of the new nature which we receive in regeneration. It is the "stuff" of regeneration. It is the condition into which we are placed out of sinfulness. In salvation, the sinner is transformed into the saint. The fallen man is taken in as the forgiven man, and the reprobate is converted into the redeemed. And holiness has become the mandate and content of the life by which every son and daughter of God is to be known.
Secondly, holiness is the work of the Spirit in our sanctification. After all, He is the HOLY Spirit is He not? In John 14:26 Jesus encourages His followers saying to them, "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." So, holiness is the ongoing progressive work of the Holy Spirit whereby He creates in us that which we are incapable of creating ourselves - holiness.
Holiness may be viewed in various ways, according to the different objects to which we are relating it. What do I mean? I mean that when considering different objects such as ourselves, or our neighbor or even God Himself, the idea of holiness will carry with it various applications.
For example, consider the Scriptural attitude of holiness toward sin. As early as Genesis chapter 3 the Lord God drove man, the crowning achievement of creation, from His holy presence because of a lack of holiness and the presence of sin. Holiness is adverse to sin. Holiness and sin are antithetical - they're like oil and water - they don't mix. To have holiness is to have hatred of all iniquity. It is to hate what the Lord hates. And it is to be truly and deeply affected by the sin that resides in each and every one of our hearts. The fulfillment of God's command to be holy as He is holy should drive us to the mortification, the putting to death, of all the known corruptions of our heart. Does the fact that you willfully and knowingly sin against God grieve you? Does it affect you and your walk with the Lord?
Turn with me to the 51st Psalm. Here we find a man, in David, who truly grieved over the lack of holiness in his life. Consider with me his words. To have true holiness of heart is to have genuine hatred of all our sins. My fear is that this is the essence of true godliness and life in Christ and yet it is sorely neglected to our own demise, and also tends towards a very weak testimony towards this world. If we concede that Christianity has been pushed to the margins of contemporary society - and by many accounts it has - a return of the true believer to a pursuit of holiness, and a sense of his moral obligation to seek God's righteousness in the deepest crevasses of his being will serve as a powerful witness to this skeptical world.
Finally, in answering the question of 'what is holiness?', we are not only to examine the affects of holiness upon ourselves, but upon our thoughts, attitude, and heart towards God. In Exodus 28, as the various vestments that the priests were to wear in the service to God were being listed, along with their robes, breastplate, various braided chains and exquisite stones, they were instructed in verses 36-37 to make a plate formed of pure gold and then they were to take this plate and bind it to their foreheads. The priests were to wear this plate across their forehead. And in this plate was to be engraved the words, "Holiness To The Lord".
They were to wear this plate as a constant reminder of the holy nature of their service. In other words our pursuit of holiness as it relates to God must be constantly in front of us, exhorting us, leading us in our service for Him. Holiness towards God is manifest in our supreme love for Him, in our delight in His moral and holy character, in a passion to serve according to His will, in faithful obedience to His commands, and in seeking His glory above all other things. Paul once again testifies in Romans stating "now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life."
In summary then, in answering 'what is holiness?' I mean to say it is a right condition of our heart towards God that shows forth a supreme love for Him, arising out of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, manifested by delight in God's Word, reverence for His character, obedience to His commands, gratitude for His mercy and grace. Holiness is the sincere and complete submission of the whole man, to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.
To be holy simply means living in submission to God's will for ourselves, with a hatred of inward sin, a constant struggle against the flesh, deep grief over times when we succumb to the desires of our fallen nature, and sorrowful repentance when we do. Holiness of life means a high view of God, an abiding love for His person, a devotion to His precepts, a deep respect for His character, and a zeal to do His will.
Nietzsche may claim that "God is Dead", yet those who live by the power of the Holy Spirit and testify to God's living presence in their life through holiness say otherwise. Again, I believe this "anti-Christian" world around us needs to see a holy people, a royal priesthood, devoted to holiness in every aspect of life. We need to live to impart the vital significance of this command found in 1st Peter to our young people and be a light unto holiness for others. They need to know what holiness is, and how to achieve and apply it. Yet, neither we nor they are going to cultivate holiness by looking to ourselves or the world around us to find it. Holiness is only found by looking to Christ, by yielding to the Holy Spirit, and by trusting in the Lord. Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God is holy is our calling today. Amen.