Christian Living, Spiritual Formation

Holiness is Not a Dirty Word

June 7, 2013

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We hear little mention of it these days, but it is still a requirement to see God. The concept of “holiness” has become taboo in many circles, a dirty word if you will. Many mistakenly equate it with legalism and traditionalism and therefore exclude it from their preaching, teaching, and sadly their life. Some feel as though holiness is a replacement for grace, and therefore shun any movement toward the subject, feeling as though they will somehow tarnish God’s unmerited favor. But grace and holiness are mutually inclusive; you cannot have one without the other, at least on God’s end.

It is true; there is a self-promoting brand of holiness that leads to arrogance and conceit, and even false salvation. Andrew Murray warned of this when he said, “There is no pride so dangerous, none so subtle and insidious as the pride of holiness.” But such was not the brand of our Lord; neither should it be ours. We are instructed to “be holy” even as the Lord is holy. True holiness, the kind exhibited by Christ, flows from a spirit of humility, not hatred.


What is Holiness and How Do We Measure It?

Holiness is a divine attribute that can only be imparted to us and through us by our standing and position in Christ. An unsaved person cannot be holy; and a saved person can only be holy as he surrenders his will to the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore we measure our holiness not by how stark or different we are from the world (the world is always changing their standards); rather we measure our holiness with the alignment of Scripture, and our resemblance to Jesus. Jerry Bridges said, “Many Christians have what we might call a cultural holiness. They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. As the Christian-culture around them is less or more holy, so these Christians are less or more holy. But God has not called us to be like those around us, He has called us to be like Himself.”

Ultimately, holiness is adapting to the character of God. To be like Christ is the ultimate goal of life (this one and the one to come). We cannot separate His love, forgiveness, and mercy from His Holiness. As a matter of fact, we are recipients of the former because of the latter. Redemption from God is established because He is holy. No one seems to argue that fact- an unholy God could never warrant nor bestow grace. Yet, when it comes to separation from the world, we major on His grace, but minor on the very holiness from which His grace flows. We want salvation without separation, we want conversion without consecration, we want harmony without holiness.


Why is There Little Emphasis Concerning Holiness?

Many reject holiness because they feel it is too weighty and constricting. If we embrace righteous living, some contend, we are forced to relinquish joy and worldly bliss; but the reality is, we do not know joy until we discover holiness. We mistakenly pursue happiness and never find it, because true happiness is the byproduct of the pursuit of righteous living. Many who feel that holiness will restrict them will never find contentment at all because of the very thing they refuse. Unless you intend to live holy, you will never attempt to be holy; and thus living without it, you’ll never know the joy of living with it.

Others disregard holiness in their lives because it seemingly is too difficult of a goal to obtain; and there is some validity to such claims. Really, holiness is not a difficult objective at all; it is an impossible one in the energy of the flesh. But God has called us to live with and by the Holy Comforter. John Owen, the great Puritan writer declared, “Trying to be holy from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.” As Owen contends, the greatest problem in our attempts at holiness is “self.” Only when we crucify the flesh, submit and yield to the leadership of the Spirit of God, will we be able to kick off our sandals and approach the burning bush; only then can we stand on holy ground.


What Holiness Will Do and How it is Produced

Indeed, holiness is a paradox. The closer we get to the Lord the more sensitive we become to sin. It is not strange to feel unholy, the more holy you become. Holiness awakens our senses to the dross of iniquity; it illuminates our indifference with God, and perhaps that is why we fight it. It is much easier to lie dormant in a state of spiritual lethargy than to deal with our true selves. Yet strangely enough, the pursuit of holiness moves us beyond the indifference, changing us, transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. This does not happen overnight, it may not even happen over years; but a constant diet of sincere spiritual food strengthens the inner man and transforms our appetite. As Horatius Bonar said, “Holiness is not measured by one great heroic act or mighty martyrdom…it is the small things that a great life is made up.”

Therefore, holiness is a process, it is a progression. It is an ongoing ordeal, one that is worthy of our attempt. It is the frequent and daily adaptation of the character and Spirit of Christ. So to refuse holiness is ultimately to refuse Him. As a spiritual leader we must stop making excuses and begin an intentional search and exploration for things divine. I conclude with a sobering, yet encouraging reality from Kevin DeYoung, “Let’s not ever be afraid to land on law, never as the means of meriting justification, but as the proper expression of having received it.” I concur, the holiness of God affords divine grace in us, and divine grace in us causes us to be holy as God is holy.


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