A WORD ON TRUE HOLINESS
William F. Bell
“And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” [Ephesians 4:24].
But as He which hath called you is holy, so BE YE HOLY in all manner of conversation (conduct); Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:15-16].
Evangelist Rolfe Barnard (1904-1969) once said that churchgoers in his day “were terribly afraid” of the word “holiness.” Today, many still are! I have often said that the only kind of Christian we should be is the “holiness” kind. God is the Holy One. We have a Holy Bible. We declare a holy gospel. Christ is the holy Son of God. The Spirit living within us is the Holy Spirit. The true children of God are called “THE HOLY PEOPLE” (Isaiah 62:12).
Note that Paul uses the expression, “TRUE HOLINESS.” When we read that something is “true,” it is being contrasted with that which is “false.” Mere outward religion is false holiness! God is called “THE LIVING AND TRUE GOD“ (1 Thessalonians 1:9) in contrast to all “false” gods (Psalm 115:4-8).
WE MUST BE CONCERNED ABOUT “TRUE HOLINESS.” Simon Peter was quoting the Old Testament when he said, “BE HOLY IN ALL YOUR CONDUCT.“ Is not this highly important today when “sexual harassment” is constantly in the news? How we need to guard our thoughts, our words, and our actions! “KEEP THYSELF PURE,” Paul admonished Timothy (1 Timothy 5:22), later saying to him, “FLEE ALSO YOUTHFUL LUSTS” (2 Timothy 2:22). How can these texts be misunderstood? But some religious people make fun of this doctrine of holiness, asking, “But how is it possible for unholy sinners to be holy and pure?” To answer that question requires a biblical knowledge of the doctrines of human depravity, election, redemption, justification, and sanctification.
Note that Peter is writing to the “elect,” those having been “born again” and “called” (1 Peter 1:2,3,15). Paul clearly says he is writing “TO THE SAINTS WHICH ARE AT EPHESUS, AND TO THE FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS“ (Ephesians 1:1). “Saints” are “holy ones,” but only “in Christ Jesus.” Is not this crucial to understanding true holiness? God declares, “For I am holy,” but no sinner can ever say this! Only Christ our Lord was “holy” and “not defiled” with sin [Hebrews 7:26].
We know that “holiness” is far more than merely “abstaining” from certain outward things often called “sin.” But all the “abstaining” in the world from what men call outward “sins” could never produce true holiness! Mark that down. But no matter our view, the “be holy” texts of Scripture are powerful, including this one: “FOLLOW PEACE WITH ALL, AND HOLINESS, WITHOUT WHICH NO ONE SHALL SEE THE LORD” [Hebrews 12:14]. Note that we must “pursue” peace and holiness, that is, “be diligent” about it by the grace of God.
SINNERS “BORN FROM ABOVE” HAVE DIFFERENT “CONDUCT” FROM THE UNREGENERATE.
We desire to honor Christ in daily living, knowing assuredly that only God’s grace makes sinners differ from each other. None of us can ever “live holy” personally, for our fallen nature does not allow it. But those “born again” possess a new nature, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18; Romans 8:9; 2 Peter 1:1-4). Paul calls it being “CREATED ACCORDING TO GOD.” We never “put off the old man” until the grace of God “renews” our minds in order for us to “put on the new man.”
Some indeed have a “holier-than-thou” attitude, but this does not destroy the biblical doctrine of “true holiness.” It is also true that our “conduct” does not save us legally, for the only ground of our salvation is the justifying righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-26). But does not the cross of Calvary assure us that God will have a holy people? Yes! We know that “holiness” is an EVIDENCE of justification in our lives, for Simon Peter attributes it to the Spirit of God: “IN SANCTIFICATION OF THE SPIRIT, UNTO OBEDIENCE” [1 Peter 1:2]
Note, “sanctification of the Spirit” is “unto obedience.” How could it be any clearer?
Those “chosen” by the Father, “redeemed” by the Son, and “called” by the Spirit, are described in this gracious manner: “THAT WE SHOULD BE HOLY AND WITHOUT BLAME BEFORE HIM IN LOVE“ (Ephesians 1:4). Therefore, the Lord Jesus Christ is our “holiness” OBJECTIVELY (1 Corinthians 1:30), and because of that glorious fact the Spirit also works in us “holiness” of life SUBJECTIVELY (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4).
The true believer can never be “antinomian” (lawless) in life, anymore than a bird can live in water!
Sin is not a redeemed person’s element, and if we can sin without grieving over it, that spells no regeneration! But, beloved, if we have been justified through Christ’s work “FOR US,” then we experimentally “put on the new man” because Christ Jesus now lives “IN US.” And this is the glorious gospel, as the poet confirms by writing,
Ye souls, redeemed with blood,
And called by grace divine,
Walk worthy of your God,
And let your conduct shine;
Keep Christ, your living Head, in view,
In all you say, in all you do.