holiness

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

One Seraph to another in Isaiah 6:8

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

The four living creatures in Revelation 4:8

The thrice holy declaration of God’s otherness from these two passages of Scripture remind us that God is set apart in a way unique only to him. There is no one like him. The thrice holy declaration is also unique to God’s attributes. No other attribute (love, power, glory, justice, etc.) is designated in Scripture by stating it three times. God’s holiness is gloriously, eternally unique.

God’s holiness is moral purity, but it is more than moral purity. Jerry Bridges in his book The Joy of Fearing God, describes God’s holiness as transcendent majesty (67).

In this sense, God is so much more than we are and he is truly OTHER. God is full of holy majesty and glory in a way that we cannot fully comprehend.

Yet the wonder of our salvation is that God in his holiness reached down to man in his sinfulness. Through Christ, who is God and is the fullness of God enfleshed with holiness and love, God entered into his creation. Christ experienced God’s holy wrath and displayed God’s glorious love on the cross. Jesus is the very image of God’s holiness and love.

In a most glorious realization, God redeems us in order to make us holy. This is the part of salvation called sanctification.

Let’s take a moment to review salvation in three basic parts. (There are more aspects to salvation than these three. See the previous word of the week posts. But these three parts provide a helpful framework).

  • Salvation as justification: God declares us righteous. This is salvation in the past tense. God declared us righteous by the gracious work of Christ on the cross and through our faith in him.
  • Salvation as sanctification: God makes us holy. This is salvation in the present tense. God does save us from our sin, but being made holy is a process of God removing sin from our lives and making us into Christlikeness (Romans 8:29).
  • Salvation as glorification: God glorifies us. This is salvation in the future tense. God will give us glorified bodies and allow us to experience life as he originally intended.

We explored justification in a previous post. We will explore glorification in a future post. In this post, we are going explore salvation as sanctification.

Sanctification is an aspect of salvation that can be controversial.

Does sanctification mean that God does all the work, and we can behave any way we choose? This would be antinomianism (or anti-law).

Does sanctification mean that we can become sinlessly perfect this side of heaven? This would be perfectionism.

Let’s try to answer these questions by offering just a few observations on the doctrine of sanctification.

Sanctification has at least two aspects. First, positional sanctification is the concept that God makes us holy through the work of Christ. In essence, we are sanctified through the work of Christ (see Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11). Nothing sinful will enter into God’s presence in heaven. So the work of Christ in justifying us and sanctifying us will completely cleanse our sin away.

Second, practical sanctification is how we partner with God to be holy in our character and conduct. Practical sanctification recognizes the reality that we still live in a sinful human body in a sinful world with an enemy who tempts us to sin. While we are sanctified positionally, we must partner with God to be set apart or holy in our behavior.

To answer question #1 above, sanctification does not imply that it is ok to live in sin after conversion (Romans 6:1-2). To answer question #2 move, sanctification does imply we will be perfectly holy, but not until heaven. We cannot be sinlessly perfect this side of eternity though holiness is to be our aim.

For the rest of this post, we are going to explore some practical ways that we can partner with God to be holy.

It is important to note that God expects holiness of his people.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

God to the people of Israel, Leviticus 19:2

Peter quotes this passage in the New Testament and adds additional explanations in 1 Peter 1:14-16.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.

God’s holiness is the primary reason that he expects us to be holy and set apart. God has given us the Holy Spirit to indwell us and strengthen us to experience sanctification (Ephesians 5:18).

We participate in our sanctification when we do the following things:

  • Confess and repent of our sins. We cannot expect to be holy in our conduct if we tolerate sin in our lives. When Peter reflects on the command to be holy, he reminds his readers to reject their former passions. Regular confession and repentance are means of pursuing holiness in our daily lives.
  • Reject and remove temptations. God commands us to resist the devil (James 4:7) and flee temptations (2 Timothy 2:2). We cannot expect to be holy if we are inviting sin into our lives. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to do whatever it takes to remove sin from us (Matthew 5:29-30). If you have a struggle with a particular sin, you must remove that temptation from your life. Here are two examples. If you struggle with drunkenness, you cannot sit in the parking lot of the ABC store. You must avoid (flee) temptation. If you struggle with pornography or lust, you cannot be awake at 1 am with your smart phone in hand. You must avoid (flee) temptation. To reject and remove temptations may mean that you act drastically (cut out TV or internet, not go to restaurants that serve alcohol, stop surfing FaceBook, etc.). But remember we are not called to be like everyone else. We are called to be holy.
  • Replace temptations with virtues and pursue righteousness. Being holy is not just about the negative (rejecting sin). It is about being set apart. In the Old Testament, priests were set apart as holy by their cleansing rituals, dress, and conduct. While we don’t have to emulate their rituals, the imagery is instructive. Replacing a temptation like wasted time on a smart phone with reading the Bible or a good book is conduct conducive of holiness. Likewise, we should pursue righteous behaviors (faith, love, peace, purity 2 Timothy 2:2). Spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, sharing the gospel, serving others, and meditating and memorizing the Bible are spiritually formative and helpful in pursuing holiness.

Here are some practical action items as you finish reading this post:

  • Thank God that he has set you apart to be holy through Christ.
  • Take a moment to confess and repent of your sins today asking God’s forgiveness and cleansing.
  • Remove a temptation from your life today.
  • Practice a spiritual discipline today (read, pray, study, memorize, share, serve).

When we pursue sanctification, we embrace the salvation that God has graciously given us.

Last week’s article, Anchored in the Word, emphasized our need to be dependent upon the Bible for our spiritual life.

This week’s article is going to build from that previous post. Not only do we need to be anchored in God’s Word, but we need to be anchored in the gospel of Jesus Christ. At first glance, it might have made more sense to emphasize our dependence upon the gospel prior to our dependence on God’s Word. However, it is through God’s Word that we become acquainted with the gospel.

The Apostle Peter wrote:

Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

1 Peter 1:23-25 (Emphasis mine)

In the first chapter of his letter, Peter grounds Christian conduct on the salvation of the believer. Paul does something similar in his letters. Doctrine (who we are in Christ based on Scripture) grounds Christian conduct (what we do in Christ commanded by Scripture). In other words, it is from the Scriptures that we learn the gospel and our need for Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of salvation. For the earliest Christians, the gospel repeated the basic story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus’ passion and resurrection have always been the central focus of the Christian gospel.

The gospel intertwines with our lives as we reflect on the reason for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. This good news of salvation flows out of the truths of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. God is supremely holy and demands absolute righteousness (the reason for the OT Law). But mankind has not been able to keep God’s standard of holiness. From our first parents in the garden until now, we are all sinful (Romans 3:23).

That God’s demand is holiness and we are sinful is not good news. Rightfully, God judges sinners, and if God gave us justice, we would be eternally punished for our sinfulness (Romans 6:23).

This is where the good news of the gospel comes in. Jesus came to take our place. The story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the story of the God/Man (Jesus Christ) who met God’s standards and became the Substitute for mankind who did not meet God’s standards.

The good news, the gospel, is that through Christ we might be justified (that is made right with God, Romans 3:24-26), made new (2 Corinthians 5:17), made alive (Ephesians 2:1-10), and experience the fullness of God’s life for us (John 10:10).

  • To experience this gospel, we must admit that we don’t deserve it or earn it. Rather, we receive it by faith (Romans 10:9-10).
  • To experience this gospel, we must admit that we are spiritually broken and impoverished. Rather, we receive it through grace (Matthew 5:3).
  • To experience this gospel, we must recognize that it is both our entry point into relationship with God and the means of spiritual growth in our relationship with God (Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 1).

The reason we must be anchored in this gospel is because Satan, our enemy, has developed many false gospels that distract and distort from the true gospel. These false gospels deceive many into believing they have the real thing. These false gospels damage the spiritual lives of many believers. These false gospels bind many to untruths that hinder their spiritual development.

False gospels:

  • Legalism. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were legalistic. In legalism, one’s standing with God is based on behavior rather than the gospel of grace. Some, who claim to be Christians, believe their salvation is dependent on their works. And some Christians receive salvation by grace, but then proceed to depend on their deeds as a means for God’s approval. In short, legalism rests on our ability to fulfill the law. Legalism is not good news, because we can never be righteous enough.
  • Antinomianism. This word means anti-law and is the extreme opposite of legalism. If legalism says that our spiritual lives depend on obedience to the law, antinomianism says that how we behave has no bearing on our spiritual lives. Paul decried this false teaching in Romans 6:1-2. Antinomianism misses the point of the law altogether. God’s laws reflect the holiness of his character. As believers, we are to obey God, but not as a means to God’s approval. Rather, we are to obey God out of the approval we have from God through Jesus Christ. Antinomianism is not good news because it rejects the basis for the gospel–God’s holy demands.
  • Prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel teaches that enough faith, prayers, and generosity to the right ministries will result in health, wealth, and status. Prosperity teachers emphasize the experiences of here and now as opposed to God’s eternal plans for glorification and reward. This false teaching is unfortunately spreading very rapidly in our world. The prosperity gospel is not good news because it treats God more like a genie in a bottle than the Sovereign and Holy God that he is. It also puts much more emphasis on our response than God’s character and actions.
  • Liberalism. In theological liberalism, the primary emphasis for Christians is on love and justice in the world. The social gospel and social justice are common phrases in this false gospel. Liberalism emphasizes behavior (love and justice) far more than belief because it oftentimes rejects the supernaturalism found in the biblical worldview. I want to be careful here. Christians are to show love and pursue justice. But these are not the means of the gospel. Rather, these are the characteristics of Christians living out of the gospel. Liberalism is not good news because it does not recognize the depth of human sin nor the supernatural means of God’s redemptive work.
  • Moral Therapeutic Deism. This false gospel is a fancy way of articulating much of Western Christianity’s emphasis on doing good and treating biblical characters as mere moral models. God’s primary responsibility here is to encourage Christians to be good in behavior. Moral therapeutic deism is not good news because it diminishes God’s nature and minimizes Christian experience to being “good people.” This false gospel is seductive because many Christians fall into it unknowingly when they emphasize moral behavior over the good news of the gospel.

The root of these false gospels is pride and self. The root of the true gospel is Christ and what he brings to us.

We need to be anchored in the gospel because the gospel makes much of God. The glory of the good news for us is that the only part we truly play is that we come to God as sinners. God gets the glory for our salvation. We get the privileges of forgiveness and walking with God.

We must think on these things. In his helpful book Your Mind Matters, John Stott encourages us to think on the gospel regularly.

We are to consider not only what we should be but what by God’s grace we already are. We are constantly to recall what God has done for us and say to ourselves: “God has united me with Christ in his death and resurrection, and thus obliterated my old life and given me an entirely new life in Christ. He has adopted me into his family and made me his child. He has put his Holy Spirit within me and so made my body his temple. He has also made me his heir and promised me an eternal destiny with him in heaven. This is what he has done for me and in me. This is what I am in Christ.”

John Stott, Your Mind Matters, 59.

Reread that quote. If you need to, keep reading it. It will do you good to reflect on who God is and what he has done in the gospel to bring you to himself.

Take a moment (or more than a moment) and praise God for the good news. Being anchored in the gospel requires that we think on these things often, praise God for these things regularly, preach the good news to ourselves consistently, and seek to obey God on the basis that he has made us his children.

Photo by Lucas Sankey on Unsplash