Whatever Happened to Holiness?

I am becoming increasingly aware of the lack of consideration for this disposition called holiness. The name of Christ is constantly slandered by those who honor Him with their lips but trash Him with their lives. But, more than that, it seems as if those whose lives do not honor Him as Lord are completely ignorant of the dishonor; they do not tend to care, preferring to live their own lives by their own fleshly leadings without any attentiveness to the psalmist’s proposition of setting Christ before us always – that is, that we might have our Lord before us, that every step we take may be evaluated in light and rememberance and reference to Him, that we might capture His mind, His affections, His aim and see and think and act as we look through that holy lens.

Perhaps it is thought that holiness is a bore, a drudgery, an ideal of the long since deceased saints of old. And the greater truth is that the one who does not practice Christian holiness is in point of fact not a Christian, for “by their fruits you shall know them.” One thing certain is the thought of it as a purely human empowered thing and therefore when the reality of our unholiness hits time and time again we become vexed, discouraged, and morally complacent, giving in to the ease of the “old self”. It is no doubt a complication of realities, for though holiness is a personal matter, it is a corporate matter too; and although holiness attends to the individual so that the accountability of one’s own life will be the matter judged by God, yet certainly the pride of many pastors confounds the notion of internal progressive sanctity and its necessary root of Christ’s holiness imputed and the precious gift of that holy principle of God’s Spirit; and the sinful depravity of the world in which we live our apparently “unguarded and intoxicated” “Christian lives” attends to our corporate and personal insobriety and disciplinary laziness. It does not help that many in the church do not know exactly what holiness is, nor do they truly understand the Gospel of Christ, so that the thing called holiness is not at all a self-made disciplinary guide whereby we merit favor with God after we have “walked the aisle”, but rather the overflow of the heart that has truly grasped the reality of the Gospel – that Christ fulfilled all demands of actual holiness for us so that we might rest from our self-righteous attempts through faith in Him and being infused with God’s Spirit we are made alive to His principle of leadership designed to check us constantly and satisfy us both now and eternally in God preeminently, whereby, being satisfied in Him, the temptations of the world and of the flesh and of the devil, himself, are like a foul stinch that we endeavor by all means to be rid of. And if we be not rid of it then what assurance do we have that our tastes have been truly changed!? If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature! How is it possible that one can be filled with the God of the universe and not be changed by it – forever!?

But I find something else of mention – that God would call sinners holy! Have we gotten used to being called by this godly disposition? Have we grown to comfortable with the grace of this characteristic? For a sinner is a sinner and not at all a holy being. Our nature is to be unholy, opposed to God, murderous towards Christ and His saving work and testimony; we are born enemies of God, rebellious towards Him, angry fist-shakers in His glorious and patient Face; we harbor the seed of hell, of death; human beings breed sinners! We are worms, and lower than maggots in the light of His holy fire! If we were to enter His holy presence without the cloak of Christ, we would dissipate into nothing – this is why hell is a place separated from God, that our just punishment might last for all eternity! And this is our place, our wage, our very being!

It is a thing too wonderful for words that God who is transcendenly holy calls us holy, and as I see it, there is only one way in which this grace is possible – that God would dwell within the sinner! We are not holy because we are inherently holy, beloved! No, we are holy because God dwells in us, and God is Holy! 1 Peter 1:14-16 demands the Christian attention – “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy,'” – to which we ought to stand silent and amazed! God demands our holiness! But how are sinners to be holy? Sinners are to be holy in this way and for this reason – the God who called you is holy! Do not depend on yourselves for this, beloved! God makes you holy, and demands your holy obedience to the imperatives of Christ and the law of Christ precisely because in Christ God fulfilled all saving holiness for you and gave Him, Jesus Christ, to you, within you, in your mind, in your heart, in your will and mouth, so that by that principle of holiness given to you through your faith in Christ, you might actually practice holiness on a daily basis! Simply put, God has fulfilled in Christ what you could not do, and filled you with Christ’s Spirit, and you are a holy person, and the church a holy nation precisely because God is holy and God is in us, not because you had a natural epiphany of internal transformation via therapeutic methods, etc. Or even more simply, “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” to which the apostle continues, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you…you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator,” Colossians 3:3, 5, 9-10. That is, being hidden with Christ in God or accounted as perfectly holy, be growing in Christ’s likness, i.e., holiness in a progressive manner.

The reality of God calling sinners holy, with the full knowledge that He alone is truly and transcendently holy, is a completely humbling truth. For as it was in Luther’s mind that to be truly free in the will was to be as God is – literally that to entertain the notion of true freedom one would have to be free as God is free – so it is with the disposition of holiness; only God is truly holy! Our holiness, then, is not an inherent thing (oh, the folly of every other world religion that would boast in human works), a thing we are born with, or a thing that we grow up into with age and settling, for children and grandfathers alike are wretched apart from Christ. Beloved, your holiness is a thing alien to you, given to you by the grace of God who alone is truly holy and has at His disposal the ability and power to make holy any sinner at any time by the effectual call of that sinner to repent of sin and believe in the truth as it is in Jesus Christ to the praise of His glorious grace. Our “life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Moreover, death to the elemental things of the world is to be alive to the eternal things of the kingdom of God. Our participation in the cross of Christ is the precursor and necessary thing to our resurrection life in Him. By the grace of God and faith in Christ, we have “died” to the world and the world to us (Galatians 6:14), though we live in the world, which is to say that we have been made “alive” to God having been “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1), the outcome being that we “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God,” (Colossians 3:1). In other words, holiness consists in our death to the world, by which is meant that we have become alive to the preeminent satisfaction and triumphant joy of who God is, and who God is for us and in us and through us for His glory. All the sensualities of the world become colorless and tasteless in comparison to the new passion and desires, colors and tastes that God has given to us in Christ. Holiness is not a negative thing, beloved, but an infinitely wonderful gift of God; it is not a drudgery but a thing altogether pleasing for us to honor Him with – though He, Himself has given it to us so that He owns it altogether (1 Chronicles 29:14)!

Therefore, let us say that holiness is a thing given by God apart from our own doing; that true holiness is a preeminent satisfaction and enjoyment of and rejoicing in God through Christ whereby the overflow of the heart is to drench everything and everybody with the reflection of our Lord unto the glory of God, as it is written, “You shall be holy, (because) I am holy.” To mistake these things is detrimental to the authenticity of our profession of faith. To deny them with your lifestyle is to deny that you ever truly believed. And by that reckoning, let us be fearful if our lives do not reflect Christ, and humbled and enjoyably holy if by His grace we are by these things encouraged – in Jesus’ name. Amen.


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