THESE PROMISES, BELOVED: tautas oun echontes (PAPMPN) tas epaggelias,
agapetoi: (2Cor 1:20; 6:16, 17,18; Ro 5:20-note,
Ro 5:21-note; Ro 6:1-2-note,
Ro 6:11-note; Hebrews 4:1-note; 2Pe
This verse most naturally goes with the
preceding passages and therefore is an example of a less optimal chapter
break (Verse numbers and chapters of course were added by men, not inspired
Note that cleansing from defilement and
perfecting holiness (the two sides of sanctification) are motivated (1) by
God's promises and (2) by a reverential, filial fear of God. As S Lewis
Johnson says "“Conduct and calling are to agree.”
Privilege and promise
go hand in hand.
(oun) is a
term of conclusion
indicating that the statement it
introduces is an inference drawn from the context, usually the preceding
context. Always stop and ask the question "What is the therefore
Spurgeon writes that...
KINDLING with strong emotion, constrained
by the love of Christ, and animated by the fellowship of all spiritual
blessings, the apostle here strikes out an exhortation. He appeals to the
noblest passions of the children of God, to their possession of divine
lineage, a present endowment, and their expectation of an exalted destiny.
These he uses as incentives to holiness of life. To stir up in us this godly
ambition, he sets before us the Christian in various lights (1) As possessed
of most glorious privileges. Having these promises." Not promises in
reversion merely, but in actual possession, received, embraced, enjoyed...
(2) As laboring to be rid of obnoxious evils... (3) As aiming at a most
exalted position...Perfecting holiness (4) As prompted by the most sacred of
motives...in the fear of God. (Sermon
Therefore - This
conjunction clearly refers to the
seven promises just
mentioned at the end of 2Corinthians 6...
Or what agreement has the temple of God
with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, (Promise
#1) "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND
WALK AMONG THEM; AND (Promise #3)
I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND (Promise
SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 "Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE
SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And (Promise
I will welcome you. 18 "And (Promise
I will be a father to you, And (Promise
you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty. (2Cor
Spurgeon comments on these promises:
The promises referred to are mentioned in
the previous chapter.
1. Divine indwelling: "I will dwell in them" (2 Cor. 6:16).
2. Divine manifestation: "I will walk in them."
3. Divine covenanting: "I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
4. Divine acceptance: "I will receive you" (6:17).
5. Divine adoption: "I... will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons
and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (6:18).
These promises are already fulfilled in
our experience. (Sermon
Comment: As Elisabeth Elliot
wrote "God has never promised to solve our problems. He has
not promised to answer our questions... He has promised to go with us."
Hudson Taylor adds that "There is
a living God. He has spoken in the Bible. He means what he says and will do
all he has promised."
A little saint may enjoy a great promise.
- Source Unknown
John MacArthur astutely
observes that the conjunction therefore serves another function in this (and similar
contexts) writing that...
Paul’s use of the word therefore
is a call for action based on what he has previously written (cf. Ro 12:1-note,
2; 2Pe 1:3-note,
"for this very reason" [cp "therefore"] 2Pe 1:5, 6, 7, 8).
J: 2Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Press
(echo) means hold, possess or have and is
calls for believers to continually hold these precious and magnificent
promises (2Pet 1:4-note) in their mind, for as a man
believes, in such a way will he behave. If one really believes these promises are true,
this belief will serve to motivate
and empower one's choices and ultimately one's overall conduct and lifestyle.
In short, possessing God's potential promises is
a precious privilege but we
must act upon them by faith and enabled by grace for them to become reality. As Gurnall wrote...
Oh, it is sad for a poor Christian to
stand at the door of the promise in the dark night of affliction afraid to
draw the latch!
(houtos, touto) is a a reference therefore to that which is
comparatively near at hand in the discourse. Here as is often the case with
this pronoun, these serves to draw attention to something in the preceding
discourse (i.e., the seven promises).
How important are God's promises to
the believer's life of faith? Calvin put it well when he said that...
Distrust is cured by meditating upon the
promises of God.
F B Hole writes that...
WE HAVE THEN these striking promises from
the lips of God. If we are separate from the world, and face whatever loss
that may involve, we shall find God acting as Father toward us, and we shall
enter consciously into the good and sweetness of the relationship in which
we are set. (2
MacArthur has an interesting note
on these promises writing that...
Those promises should elicit love,
gratitude, and thankfulness for His overwhelming generosity. In fact, one of
the things that characterizes unrepentant sinners is ingratitude (Lk 6:35;
Ro 1:21-note; 2Ti 3:2-note)
J: 2Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Press
(epaggelia from epí = intensifies verbal meaning + aggéllo
= to tell, declare) originally referred to an announcement or declaration
(especially of a favorable message) but in later Greek came to mean a
declaration to do something with the implication of obligation to carry out
what is stated (thus a promise or pledge). Epaggelia was used in
secular Greek as a legal term denoting summons, and then came to mean a
promise to do or give something. In
the NT epaggelia is
used primarily of the promises of God and represent His solemn pledge to
perform or grant a specified thing.
Promise thus speaks of the assurance that God will do something...
For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him (Christ) they are yes;
wherefore also by Him (Christ) is our Amen to the glory of God through us.
(2Cor 1:20) (In other words, the promises of God find their certain
fulfillment, their "Yes", in Christ and we give our concurrence by saying
"Amen". Or as John Boys has written "The resurrection of Christ is the Amen
of all his promises." Meyer adds this exhortation "Learn to put your hand on
all spiritual blessings in Christ and say 'Mine'." And all God's people
As R C H Lenski says...
God's promise is better than any bond or note on any bank, financial
institution, or most stable government, for all these may have to repudiate
their bond; God never does so.
His every word of grace is strong
As that which built the skies;
The voice that rolls the stars along
Speaks all the promises.
read out loud and ponder all 9 wonderful stanzas!)
Unger has a nice summation of the
meaning of promise writing that it is
solemn assertion, by which one pledges his veracity that he will perform, or
cause to be performed, that which he mentions.
M. F., Harrison, R. K., Vos, H. F., Barber, C. J., & Unger, M. F. The New
Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press)
The 1828 Webster's English
dictionary defines promise as...
declaration, written or verbal made by one person to another, which binds
the person who makes it, either in honor, conscience or law, to do or
forbear a certain act
specified. It is a declaration which gives to the person to whom it is made,
a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of the act. The
promise of a visit to my neighbor, gives him a right to expect it, and I am
bound in honor and civility to perform the promise. Of such a promise human
laws have no cognizance; but the fulfillment of it is one of the minor
moralities, which civility kindness and Strict integrity require to be
Nelson's New Illustrated Bible
Dictionary rightly adds that...
God did not have to promise anything to sinful people. But the fact that
almost all biblical promises are those made by God to human beings indicates
that His nature is characterized chiefly by grace and faithfulness.
R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nelson's
New Illustrated Bible Dictionary)
(agapetos from agapáo = love;
agape) means beloved, dear, very much
loved. Agapetos is love called out of one’s heart by preciousness of
the object loved. In Scripture agapetos is used only of Christians as
united with God or with each other in love. God the Father uses this same
word describing Jesus declaring that
This is My beloved Son, in whom I
am well-pleased. (Mt 3:17)
In fact the first 9
uses in the NT are of God the Father speaking of Christ, His beloved Son.
This gives you some idea of the preciousness of the word beloved!
This truth makes it even more incredible that Paul described the saints at
troubled church at Corinth as beloved. (see all of Paul's uses of
agapetos - Ro 1:7; 11:28; 12:19; 16:5, 8,9, 12; 1Co 4:14, 17; 10:14;
15:58; 2Co 7:1; 12:19; Eph. 5:1; 6:21; Phil 2:12; 4:1; Col 1:7; 4:7, 9,
14; 1Th 2:8; 1Ti 6:2; 2Ti 1:2; Philemon 1:1, 1:16) In short, by addressing
the saints at Corinth as beloved, Paul is conveying the deep feeling
he has in his heart towards them. And recall that the Corinthian church was
far from problem free! Grace is truly an amazing thing!
LET US CLEANSE
OURSELVES FROM ALL DEFILEMENT OF FLESH AND SPIRIT: katharisomen (1PAAS)
heautous apo pantos molusmou sarkos kai pneumatos: (Psalms 51:10;
119:9; Proverbs 20:9; 30:12; Isaiah 1:16; Jeremiah 13:27; Ezekiel 18:30, 31,
32; Ezekiel 36:25,26; Matthew 5:8-note;
Mt 12:33; Mt 23:25,26; Luke 11:39,40; Titus
2:15; James 4:8; 1Peter 1:22-note;
1Pe 2:11-note; 1John 1:7,9; 3:3)
Ourselves - This is a reflexive
pronoun (heatous) which signifies that although the cleansing work is God’s
(cf. Acts 15:9; Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5), the cleansing does not happen without
volitional effort on the believers’ part.
Spurgeon comments that let us
cleanse ourselves speaks to...
1. Personality: "Let us cleanse
2. Activity. We must continue vigorously to cleanse both body and mind.
3. Universality: "From all filthiness."
4. Thoroughness: "Of the flesh and spirit."
If God dwells in us, let us make the house clean for so pure a God.
Has the Lord entered into covenant with us that we should be his people?
Does not this involve a call upon us to live as becometh godliness?
Are we his children? Let us not grieve our Father, but imitate him as dear
Martin Luther wrote "What
greater rebellion, impiety, or insult to God can there be than not to
believe His promises?" And if we truly believe His promises, we will strive
in to obey through His power working in us.
Spurgeon adds that
The sight of the promises themselves is
good for the eye of faith: the more we study the words of grace, the more
grace shall we derive from the words.
Let us apply to him for the requisite
grace of purification; and avoid every thing in spirit and practice which is
opposite to the doctrine of God, and which has a tendency to pollute the
F B Hole writes that...
Now having such promises we are exhorted
to purify ourselves, and thus perfect holiness in the fear of God. Notice
that it says, "from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit." This is a very
important word, and very sweeping. Our attention has just been directed to
the necessity of a purification from all fellowship with the world in
outward things. Yet if we merely practiced separation in outward things,
confining ourselves to that, we should just become Pharisees; a most
undesirable thing. The separation we are to practice goes much deeper. All
filthiness or pollution of the flesh is to be avoided, and all filthiness of
the spirit too.
Both forms of separation are called for;
the inward and the outward too. The outward without
the inward is just hypocrisy. The inward without the outward is
at best a very defective thing. At the worst it descends to the plight in
which Lot was found in Sodom, though not himself descending to the shocking
morals of that city. Abraham was in the happy path of God's will; clean
outside the place as well as free from the evil. There are the pollutions of
the world: the pollutions of the flesh: the pollutions of the spirit: the
last of the three the most subtle of all, because the most refined form of
sin. May God awaken us to great carefulness as to it. Holiness when carried
to its perfection covers all three. But we are to be carrying it on towards
its perfection even now. May God help us to do so. (2
Richard Sibbes (Puritan write)
The promises, as they have a quickening,
so they have a purging power; and that upon sound reasoning. Doth God
promise that he will be my Father and I shall be his son? and doth he
promise me life everlasting? and doth that estate require purity? and no
unclean thing shall come there? Certainly, these promises being apprehended
by faith, as they have a quickening power to comfort, so they purge with
holiness. We may not think to carry our filthiness to heaven. Doth the
swearer think to carry his blasphemies thither? Filthy persons and liars are
banished thence; there is "no unclean thing." He that hath these promises
purgeth himself and "perfecteth holiness in the fear of God." "He that hath
this hope purifieth himself, as he is pure" (1 John 3:3).
King David prayed to God pleading
with the Holy One of Israel...
Purify (Hebrew = chata' = purify from
sin; Lxx = rhantizo = to sprinkle, cleanse, cp use in Heb 10:22-note)
me with hyssop, and I shall be clean (Hebrew = taher = clean
ceremonially, morally; Lxx =
= be cleansed). Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Ps 51:7,
cp Ps. 51:2; Isaiah 1:16)
Purge me with hyssop. Sprinkle the atoning blood upon me with the
appointed means. Give me the reality which legal ceremonies symbolize.
Nothing but blood can take away my blood stains (cp 1Pe 1:18-note,
nothing but the strongest purification can avail to cleanse me. Let the sin
offering purge my sin (cp 1Pe 1:22-note).
Let him who was appointed to atone, execute his sacred office on me; for
none can need it more than me (cp Rev 22:14-note).
The passage may be read as the voice of faith as well as a prayer, and so it
"Thou wilt purge me with hyssop, and I
shall be clean."
Foul as I am, there is such power in the
divine propitiation, that my sin shall vanish quite away (cp 1Jn 1:9). Like
the leper upon whom the priest has performed the cleansing rites, I shall
again be admitted into the assembly of thy people and allowed to share in
the privileges of the true Israel; while in thy sight also, through Jesus my
Lord, I shall be accepted.
Wash me. Let it not merely be in
type that I am clean, but by a real spiritual purification (cp Eph 5:26-note),
which shall remove the pollution of my nature. Let the sanctifying (cp 1Pe
as well as the pardoning process (cp Lk 5:20, Col 2:13-note,
James 5:15) be perfected (Ed: brought to its intended goal) in me.
Save me from the evils which my sin has created and nourished in me.
And I shall be whiter than snow.
None but Thyself can whiten me, but Thou canst in grace outdo nature itself
in its purest state. Snow soon gathers smoke and dust, it melts and
disappears; Thou canst give me an enduring purity. Though snow is white
below as well as on the outer surface, thou canst work the like inward
purity in me, and make me so clean that only a hyperbole can set forth my
immaculate condition. Lord, do this; my faith believes thou wilt, and well
knows Thou canst.
Scarcely does Holy Scripture contain a
verse more full of faith than this. Considering the nature of the sin, and
the deep sense the psalmist had of it, it is a glorious faith to be able to
see in the blood sufficient, nay, all sufficient merit entirely to purge it
away. Considering also the deep natural inbred corruption which David saw
and experienced within, it is a miracle of faith that he could rejoice in
the hope of perfect purity in his inward parts (cp Ps 19:8). Yet, be it
added, the faith is no more than the word warrants, than the blood of
atonement encourages, than the promise of God deserves (cp Isaiah 45:22).
O that some reader may take heart,
even now while smarting under sin, to do the Lord the honour to rely thus
confidently on the finished sacrifice of Calvary (cp 1Pe 2:24-note,
and the infinite mercy there revealed. (cp Lam 3:19, 20-21, 22-23,
24-25, 26, Mt 11:28, 29-30)
Archbishop Leighton comments on
It is the Lord that is the sanctifier of
his people; he purges away their dross and tin. He pours clean water,
according to his promises, yet doth he call us to cleanse ourselves; having
such promises, let us cleanse ourselves. He puts a new life into us and
causes us to act, and excites us to excite it, and call it up to act in the
progress of sanctification. Men are strangely inclined to a perverse
construction of things Tell them that we are to act and work and give
diligence; then they would fancy a doing in their own strength and be their
own saviors. Again, tell them that God works all our works in us and for us,
then they would take the ease of doing nothing. If they cannot have the
praise of doing all, they will sit still with folded hands and use no
diligence at all. But this is the corrupt logic of the flesh, its base
sophistry. The apostle reasons just contrary, Philippians 2:13: "It is God
that worketh in us both to will and to do." Therefore, would a carnal heart
say, we need not work, or at least, may work very carelessly. But he infers,
"Therefore, let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling," i.e., in
the more humble obedience to God and dependence on him, not obstructing the
influences of his grace, and, by sloth and negligence, provoking him to
withdraw or abate it. Certainly, many in whom there is truth of grace are
kept low in the growth of it by their own slothfulness, sitting still, and
not bestirring themselves and exercising the proper actions of that
spiritual life by which it is entertained and advanced.
Let us cleanse
from katharos = pure, clean, without stain or spot; English
words - catharsis = emotional or physical purging, cathartic = substance
used to induce a purging, Cathar = member of a medieval sect which
sought the purging of evil from its members) means to make clean by taking
away an undesirable part. To cleanse from filth or impurity.
here) for more background on
the important Biblical concept of clean and cleansing. In
secular Greek katharizo occurs in inscriptions for ceremonial
katharizo is used in the NT to describe cleansing from ritual
contamination or impurity (Acts 10:15) as well as the cleansing
lepers from ceremonial uncleanness (Mt 8:2-3, et al). Another figurative
use in 1John 1:9 (cf James 4:8, Hebrews 10:2-note)
describes the purifying or cleansing from sin and a guilty conscience thus
making one acceptable to God and reestablishing fellowship.
In short this
word group (katharizo, katharos = pure, kathairô = prune) conveys
the idea of physical, religious, and moral cleanness or purity in such
senses as clean, free from stains or shame, and free from adulteration.
For a good sense of
the meaning of katharizo, study the NT uses in context (or do the quick study
by holding pointer over each reference) noting who does the cleansing and
from what. Observe for God's sovereignty and man's responsibility (Mt 8:2,3;
10:8; 11:5; 23:25,26; Mk 1:40, 41, 42; 7:19; Lk 4:27; 5:12,13; 7:22; Lk
11:39; 17:14,17 Acts 10:15; 11:9; 15:9; 2Co 7:1 Eph 5:26; Titus 2:14; Heb
9:14, 22, 23; James 4:8; 1Jn 1:7, 9 )
Here in 2Corinthians
Paul uses the
which is very decisive, and calls for sudden, decisive action on the part of
the Corinthian believers. Paul says in essence "Make a clean and complete
break from defilement!"
Dictionary has the following thoughts on to purify and to
From Latin = purifico; purus, pure, and
facio, to make.
1. To make pure or clear; to free from
extraneous admixture; as, to purify liquors or metals; to purify the blood;
to purify the air.
2. To free from pollution ceremonially;
to remove whatever renders unclean and unfit for sacred services. (Purify
yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day purify
all your raiment. Num. 31:19).
3. To free from guilt or the defilement
of sin; as, to purify the heart. (Who gave himself for us, that he might
redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people,
zealous of good works. Titus 2:14).
1. To purify; to make clean; to remove
filth, or foul matter of any kind, or by any process whatever, as by
washing, rubbing, scouring, scraping, purging, ventilation, etc.; as, to
cleanse the hands or face; to cleanse a garment; to cleanse the bowels; to
cleanse a ship; to cleanse an infected house.
2. To free from a foul or infectious
disease; to heal. (Lev. 14:4, 8, Mark 1:42)
3. To free from ceremonial pollution, and
consecrate to a holy use. (Nu 8:15. Ezek. 43:20)
4. To purify from guilt. (1John 1:7)
5. To remove; as, to cleanse a crime.
Barnes writes that...
While it is true that all purifying
influence and all holiness proceed from God, it is also true that the effect
of all the influences of the Holy Spirit is to excite us to diligence, to
purify our own hearts, and to urge us to make strenuous efforts to overcome
our own sins. He who expects to be made pure without any effort of his own,
will never become pure; and he who ever becomes holy, will become so in
consequence of strenuous efforts to resist the evil of his own heart, and to
become like God. The argument here is, that we have the promises of God to
aid us. We do not go about the work in our own strength. It is not a work in
which we are to have no aid. But it is a work which God desires, and where
he will give us all the aid which we need. (Barnes' Notes on the NT)
Sin is pictured by many images in the
Bible, such as disease (Isaiah 1:4-6), darkness (1John 1:5-10), drowning (Ps
130:1-4), and even death (Eph 2:1, 5; Jn 5:24), but frequently it is
pictured as dirt and defilement (Isaiah 1:16, 18; Jer 4:14).
In the Old Testament, an innocent animal
had to die to provide ritual cleansing for the Jews, but the innocent Lamb
of God had to die to provide cleansing for us (John 1:29, 1Jn 1:7, 9; 1
Peter 1:18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23).
McGee writes that...
When I receive the Word in faith and I
act upon that Word, I am cleansed from all the filthiness of the flesh and
spirit. This is what the Lord Jesus meant when He said, "Sanctify them
through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). The best bar of soap in
the world is the Word of God. It will really clean us up. The Holy Spirit
enables us to deal with the sin in our lives.
J V: Thru the Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson
Paul gives a command to Timothy
which parallels the exhortation in this verse...
Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God
stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Let
everyone who names the name of the Lord
from wickedness." (see note
2 Timothy 2:19)
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and
strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against
the soul. (see note
1 Peter 2:11)
What then? Do they need purified? Are
they naturally impure, that they must be purified? They are God’s
blood-bought, redeemed people, and yet they need purifying? Ah, yes,
brothers and sisters, every one of them, even the apostle Paul himself!
Where will you find a warmer spirit, a more zealous heart, a more
consecrated man than the apostle Paul? And yet he says, “Let us purify
It surely wouldn’t be presumptuous, on my part, if there is in this church
some esteemed saint who has for many years kept the faith in an unblemished
way, and has been engaged in the service of the Master, far above others, in
winning souls—it wouldn’t be presumptuous if I should say to him, “Let us
purify ourselves.” I suppose that, the nearer we get to heaven, the more
conscious we shall be of our imperfections (cp Paul in 1Ti 1:15, near the
end of his life of pursuing holiness!). The more light we obtain, the more
we discover our own darkness. That which is scarcely considered sin by some,
will be a grievous defilement to a tender conscience. It is not that we are
greater sinners as we grow older, but that we have a more acute sensitivity
to sin, and see that to be sin which we winked at in the days of our
ignorance. Yes, we may say to those whose grey hairs show that they are
getting near home, “Let us purify ourselves.” And if it is this way to the
holiest and most prominent of the people of God, then it should be all the
more to us, beloved, common saints, who are barely worthy to be called
saints at all, only that we trust we are washed in the precious blood, and
are saved through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. “Let us purify
Notice how clearly the apostle puts it! I want you to notice his points.
1. The work is personal: “Let us purify ourselves.”
It is always easier for us to want to purify other people, and attempt a
moral reformation among our neighbors. Oh! It is easy to point out other
people’s faults, and to make every effort to protest against them. It seems
natural for us to expose sin and ridicule the foolishness of this age, or to
preach virtue. It highly gratifies some people when they can find a fault in
some highly-respected brother; they just tear him to pieces with about the
same zest that might be displayed by an ape. That is their forte, the
strength of their genius—tearing to pieces what they could not put together,
and attempting to raise themselves by lowering others. But notice the
apostle says, “Let us purify ourselves.” Oh, that we would all look at
ourselves! Oh, that we examined our own hearts more! Yes, certainly it is
our business to tell our brother or sister of their faults, but certainly we
ought not to have left the other undone, for that is our first business,
“Let us purify ourselves.” It all seems well and good to drag the Church of
the Living God up to the altar, like some bleeding victim, and there to stab
her with the sharpest knife of our criticism, and to say of the modern
church that she is not this and she is not that. But the obvious question we
need to ask ourselves is, “How much have I helped to make her what she is?
If she is degenerate, how far is that degeneracy a result of my having
fallen from the high standing which I ought to have occupied?” We will all
have contributed our quota to the reform of the church when we are ourselves
are reformed. There can be no better way of promoting holiness in our
churches than by increasing in personal holiness. “Let us purify ourselves.”
2. There is activity needed in discharging this personal duty. “Let us
It seems to imply that the Christian, while they are acted upon by divine
influence, and are cleansed by the Holy Spirit is also an active agent of
their own sanctification. They are not like the vessels and the pots of
which the apostle speaks, that were cleansed under the law; but they are a
free agent, and the holiness which God works in them, is not the pretended
holiness of candlesticks and altars, but it is the holiness of a responsible
person—a holiness which is not forced upon them, but which their whole soul
gives consent to. They purge themselves. Depend on it, you and I do not grow
holy by going to sleep. People are not made to grow in grace as plants grow,
of which it is said, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed
sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” [Mark 4:27]. The Christian
is developed by actively seeking growth, by earnestly striving after
holiness, and resolutely endeavoring to obtain it.
The utmost of our activity ought to be put forth in purifying ourselves. You
will not overcome your bad temper by saying, “Well, you know I am
quick-tempered; I cannot help it.” But you must help it; you must, if you
are a Christian. You have no more right to shake hands with a bad temper
than you have to fraternize with the devil. You have got to overcome it, and
in the name of God you must.
Likewise, if you happen to have a lazy disposition, you must not say, “Ah,
well! you know, I am naturally that way.” Yes, you are naturally lazy—we
know that; you are naturally as bad as you can be; but surely that is not
the point we are concerned with—we are concerned with what you are to become
by divine grace. Although sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit yet
it is equally true, and this we must always bear in mind, that the Holy
Spirit makes us active agents in our own sanctification. In the first work
of regeneration, we know that the soul is passive, because it is dead, and
the dead cannot contribute to their own stimulation and awakening, but,
being awakened, he “works in us to will and to act according to his good
purpose” [Philippians 2:13].
God does not work in us to sleep and to slumber; his good purpose is
answered by us when we are constrained to will and to do; therefore the
apostle’s argument, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it
is God who works in you” [Philippians 2:12-13]. He works it in, you work it
out; you have to bring out in, the outward life is what he works in the
inner springs of your spiritual being. You are to work it out because he
works it in. Sin is to be driven out of us as the Canaanites were driven out
of Canaan by the edge of the sword. Jericho’s walls will come down, but not
without walking around it for seven days. You may be weary from marching,
but march you must if you would conquer. How did the apostle put it? “Our
struggle is not against flesh and blood” [Ephesians 6:12], and so on; but he
represented the conquest as being a conquest gained by struggling. He
declares that he had to fight with his old nature, and the conflict was
severe. Although saved by grace, redeemed souls make remarkable
efforts—efforts beyond their natural powers—to overcome sin in their lives.
3. That we must not stop short of perfection in our purifying: “Let us
purify ourselves from everything that contaminates.”
Your eye must not spare, your heart must not pity, one pet sin. Most men and
women would gladly be holy if it were not for that one sin that they vainly
flatter themselves to be safe and harmless. “Let us purify ourselves from
everything.” O Christian, you should doubt your right to that name unless
all sin is obnoxious to you! You have no right to say, “I will give up pride
and arrogance,” if you excuse yourself for being greedy. If greed is the
leak in your boat, it will sink it quite as surely as pride. If neither
pride nor greed is there, yet if you have an unforgiving heart, and cannot
forgive those who offend you, you shall just as soon prove yourself to be
reprobate that way as by any other. We must be like the father of a Jewish
family purging out the leaven before the Passover. He lights a candle, you
know, and goes to the cupboard under the stairs, or wherever the bread may
be kept, and is careful that every bit is removed. He then has every
cupboard unlocked, and rummages with a brush in his hand, himself
personally, and with a candle, too, to see if there is even a crumb of
leaven, for he cannot keep the Passover if there is a crumb of leaven in the
house. In the same way we should be earnestly searching after everything
that contaminates, to get it all out. Search as best as we can, I am afraid
something will still be left. There will be some beloved idol hidden away
somewhere in the recesses of the mind. The heart will cling to its idols in
such a way that we cannot find them all at once; there is an absolute need
to search again and again; they must be searched after, and we must, each
one of us, be prepared to say,
“The dearest idol I have known,
Whatever that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.”
4. The apostle shows the thoroughness
of this work by saying, “Let us purify ourselves from everything that
contaminates body and spirit.”
“Contamination of the body and spirit.” We may think this includes only the
outward sins so well known and so easily distinguishable, those degrading
sins which even morality condemns. Possibly, Christian, although you may
guard yourself against these, yet you will be in danger from the next class,
namely, sins of the spirit. These are the mothers of the sins of the flesh.
Someone killed a wasp in the early spring, and it was said that he had
killed a thousand wasps, for that wasp was full of eggs. Sins of the spirit
are full of that seed which, when matured, issues in shameful wickedness. If
you can cleanse yourself from these you will save yourself from the outward
appalling sins. The outward life will be right when the inward life is
right. I wish we were more concerned about purifying ourselves from
everything that contaminates the spirit. I am inclined to think that some
Christians thoughtlessly contaminate their spirits, I mean that they do it
willfully. I am not sure that, when there is a divorce case in the
newspapers, I have any business to read it; yet a great many good Christian
people, who often pray to be delivered from temptation, are careful to read
all the details. When there is a bad story in the papers or being spread
around about anybody, I know that I should not listen to it; yet that
curiosity of ours often tempts the devil to tempt us. If there is any dirty
puddle of water or some polluted water, I know that I am not obligated to
drink out of it. True, I may be an officer appointed to taste the water; if
I am not, I would rather avoid the harmful sip; it would be better to leave
it alone. We may all do a great deal of that kind of thing; and, nowadays,
when the press exposes everything, and it is published all over the world, I
am sure that Christians do pollute their spirits a great deal more than they
have any occasion to do; and besides that, we can turn over a sin, you know,
in our mind, till we become so accustomed to it that we do not think it to
be a sin. I know that some Christians have managed to convince their
conscience of the idea that what they do is not sin in them, but would be
sin in other people; that their personality and makeup is such that the
particular sin can be tolerated in them, and generally speaking, although it
would be very, very wrong for other people to do the same, they have got a
sort of spiritual indulgence, such as used to be issued by the Roman
Catholic Church, and they never doubt that they can, sin with impunity. Ah,
dear friends, this will not do! “Let us purify ourselves from everything
that contaminates body and spirit.”
The drift of the argument is this—if God lives in us, let us make our house
clean for such a pure God. What! indwelling Deity and unclean lusts?
Indwelling Godhead, and yet a spirit defiled with evil thoughts? God forbid!
Let us cry aloud to the Most High, that in this thing we may be purified,
that the temple may be fit for the habitation of the Master. What! does God
walk in us, and hold communion with us, and shall we let the devil come in
too? What agreement can we have with Christ? Shall we give ourselves up to
be the servants of money, when God has become our Friend, our Companion? It
must not be! Divine indwelling and divine communion both require from us
personal holiness. Has the Lord entered into a covenant with us that we
shall be his people? Then doesn’t this involve a call upon us to live like
his people, in all godliness? Favored and privileged above other men and
women to be a special people, separated to God, shall there be nothing
special about our lives? Shall we not be zealous for good works?
Divinely adopted into the family of the Most High, and made heirs of God,
and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, what other arguments do we need to compel
us to holiness? You see the word, “Since” in our text? It simply means this,
because we have attained to such choice and special promises, “Since”—for
this reason, “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body
and spirit.” (Our
Position and Our Purpose)
From (apo) is a
preposition which primarily expresses the idea found in the English word
"from", which in turn pictures the idea of putting some distance between or
removing to a distance. Apo is a marker of dissociation, implying a
rupture from a former association.
Apo indicates the separation of a
person or an object from another person or an object with which it was
This preposition therefore pointedly describes any separation of one thing
from another by which the union or fellowship of the two is destroyed. In
the present context clearly the meaning is figurative and refers to breaking
from all defilement. This same idea was commanded by God in the
immediately preceding context where Paul wrote...
Therefore (because of truths in 2Cor
6:14, 15, 16), COME OUT
- command calling for hearers to make an immediate, definite choice to get
out, to escape with their life so to speak, quoted primarily from Isaiah
52:11, with echoes from Ezek 20:34, 41, cp Jer 51:45, Rev 18:4, 1Jn 2:15-17
cp Ge 39:12, Nu 16:21, 26, 45, Pr 6:5, 9:6, 1Cor 6:18, 10:14, 1Ti 6:11, 2Ti
2:22) FROM THEIR MIDST (Remember Lot's wife - Lk 17:32, 33, Ge 19:17, 26)
AND BE SEPARATE
(apohorizo [apo = away from + horizo = mark by a limit] -
set off a boundary,
- cp Nu 33:51-56 cp Ex 23:24,33; 34:13; Dt 7:2,5; 12:3; Josh 11:12; Judges
2:2, Ezra 6:21, 10:11,
says the Lord. "AND DO NOT
- with a negative means "Stop touching what is unclean" - Implication? They
were touching that which is unclean - this could be literal but you can
"touch" things unclean with your mind and will! Do not be deceived!) WHAT IS
UNCLEAN (akathartos = impure, defiled. We must not associate with that which
will compromise our testimony or lead us into disobedience); and I (the
Living God) will welcome you. (2Cor 6:17).
Comment: It has been well remarked
that the very essence of the history of Israel is in the words, "Get thee
out!" That was the word of God that came to Abraham as in Authorized
Version: "Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred and from thy
father's house" (Ge 12:1). That was the warning that came to Lot before the
destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Ge 19:12, 13, 14). Beloved of God, there
are things in the world with which the Christian cannot and dare not
associate himself or herself!
All (pas) means all
without exception. Don't be like the man who "buried the hatchet" in his
backyard to symbolize his forgiveness of a wrong committed, but left the
hatchet handle remain visible in case he needed to use it again! All
defiling influences need to put away with no "handles" remaining visible!
Wiersbe makes a good point
Whenever we sin, we must pray, "Wash me"
(Ps 51:2, 7); but sometimes God says to us, "Wash yourselves, make
yourselves clean" (Isa 1:16). When we seek forgiveness, God washes the
record clean (1Jn 1:9); but God will not do for us what we must do for
ourselves. Only we can put out of our lives those things that defile us, and
we know what they are. It might mean cleaning out our library (Acts 19:18,
19, 20), our cassette and CD collection, the magazine rack, or perhaps the
TV viewing schedule. We must separate ourselves from whatever defiles us and
grieves the Father (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; James 4:7, 8). (Bible Exposition
Commentary on OT)
Defilement (3436) (molusmos
from moluno = stain or soil/smear as with with mud ~ defile in
a religious or cultic sense - see uses of moluno in 1Co 8:7, Rev 3:4, 14:4)
describes that which stains, defiles or soils and thus produces foulness;
dirtiness; uncleanness. Synonyms would include contamination,
Defilement is the corruption of
morals, principles or character; impurity; pollution by sin.
Barnes writes that molusmos...
means a soiling, hence defilement,
pollution, and refers to the defiling and corrupting influence of fleshly
desires and carnal appetites. (Ibid)
Rob Salvato says defilement
speaks of "mud on our wedding garment" and recalls to mind the Bride of
Christ cleansing herself in the Revelation...
"Let us rejoice and be glad and give the
glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has
made herself ready (the verb hetoimazo here carries idea of willingness
and eagerness as well as of readiness)" And it was given to her to clothe
herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous
acts of the saints. (see notes
IVP Commentary notes that...
The noun (molusmos) is found only here in
the New Testament, although the verb moluno is used twice in Revelation 3:4;
14:4) and once in 1Corinthians 8:7 of defiling the conscience through the
indiscriminate eating of meat sacrificed to idols (compare Jer 23:15). This
brings us back full circle to Paul's opening injunction to stop entering
into unequal partnerships with unbelievers (2Cor 6:14). The close
association of molusmos with idolatry suggests that Paul is thinking
especially of defilement that comes from dining in the local temples,
membership in the pagan cults, ritual prostitution, active engagement in
pagan worship and the like.
John MacArthur comments that
appears only here in the New Testament.
In all three of its uses in the Septuagint (Ed: only on in the
non-apocryphal), however, it refers to religious defilement. Paul calls
believers not only to cleanse themselves from sin and immorality but
especially, in this context, from all associations with false religion.
J: 2Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Press
Robertson writes that...
In LXX, Plutarch, Josephus molusmos
includes all sorts of filthiness, physical, moral, mental, ceremonial, "of
flesh and spirit." Missionaries in China and India can appreciate the
atmosphere of pollution in Corinth
The only other use of molusmos
in Scripture is in the non-apocryphal
Jeremiah 23:15 "Therefore thus says the
LORD of hosts concerning the prophets, 'Behold, I am going to feed them
wormwood and make them drink poisonous water, for from the prophets of
Jerusalem pollution (Hebrew = chanuppah = pollution; Lxx = molusmos) has
gone forth into all the land.'"
Flesh and spirit - This could
be a figure symbolizing the whole person. The flesh would seem to symbolize
the external and the spirit the internal aspect and thus the entire man is
to be cleansed!
Maclaren explains flesh and spirit
The former (flesh), of course, refers
primarily to sins of impurity which in the eyes of the Greeks of Corinth
were scarcely sins at all, and the latter (spirit) to a state of mind when
fancy, imagination, and memory were enlisted in the service of evil. Both
are rampant in our day as they were in Corinth. (read
entire excellent message)
S Lewis Johnson writes that...
It’s possible to be cleansed of
defilement of flesh and not of the spirit. Take the prodigal and his elder
brother, the prodigal was possessed of defilement of the flesh, but his
brother, his proud brother who stayed with the father, had defilement of the
spirit. So let’s cleanse ourselves beloved of all defilement of flesh and
Corinthians 6:11-7:4 Puritanism in the New Testament)
Wiersbe writes that...
David's sin with Bathsheba was a sin of
the flesh, a yielding to lust after an afternoon of laziness (2Sa
11:2; Gal 5:19), but the census was a sin of the spirit (2Cor. 7:1),
a willful act of rebellion against God. It was motivated by pride, and pride
is number one on the list of the sins that God hates (Prov. 6:16-17). "Pride
is the ground in which all the other sins grow," wrote William Barclay, "and
the parent from which all the other sins come."
Harry Ironside asks...
What is the difference between filthiness
of the flesh and filthiness of the spirit? There are two classes of sin, and
all sin is filthy in the sight of God. Filthiness of the flesh refers to
sins of the body, and there are so many of them, unholy lusts, unbridled
appetites. Drunkenness, gluttony, licentiousness, inordinate affection, are
all sins of the flesh, and though at the present time our abominable
philosophies throw a glamour over these things they are utterly vile in
What about filthiness of the spirit?
Vanity, pride, conceit, haughtiness, and unbelief are just as evil as these
other things in the sight of God. Take this dainty girl who stands in front
of her mirror trying to make a work of art out of her face in order to
attract the attention of the opposite sex, that vanity that is so
characteristic of her is as truly filthy in the sight of God as the other
sins I have been mentioning. Take that man who is so haughty and proud, and
is seeking power and authority over his fellows, constantly looking for
admiration on the part of men who like himself are going on to the grave,
that haughtiness, that pride, is in God's sight absolutely filthy.
James in the context of grace
given to the humble, commands an external and an internal cleansing
near to God and He will draw near to you.
(katharizo - the same verb
used by Paul -
your hands, you sinners; and
hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8)
David mentions the need for
external and internal cleansing in those who would seek to approach the holy
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure
heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, and has not sworn
deceitfully. (Ps 24:4,5)
Spurgeon comments: Outward,
practical holiness is a very precious mark of grace. To wash in water with
Pilate is nothing (Mt 27:24), but to wash in innocency is all important. It
is to be feared that many professors have perverted the doctrine of
justification by faith in such a way as to treat good works with contempt
if so, they will receive everlasting contempt at the last great day (Jn
5:28, 29, Rev 20:12, 13). It is vain to prate of inward experience unless
the daily life is free from impurity, dishonesty, violence, and oppression.
Those who draw near to God must have
clean hands. What monarch would have servants with filthy hands to wait at
his table? They who were ceremonially unclean could not enter into the
Lord's house which was made with hands, much less shall the morally defiled
be allowed to enjoy spiritual fellowship with a holy God. If our hands are
now unclean, let us wash them in Jesu's precious blood, and so let us pray
unto God, lifting up pure hands.
But "clean hands" would not suffice,
unless they were connected with a pure heart (Mt 5:8-note).
True religion is heart work. We may wash the outside of the cup and the
platter as long as we please; but if the inward parts be filthy, we are
filthy altogether in the sight of God, for our hearts are more truly
ourselves than our hands are. We may lose our hands and yet live, but we
could not lose our heart and still live; the very life of our being lies in
the inner nature, and hence the imperative need of purity within. There must
be a work of grace (1Cor 15:10, et al) in the core of the heart as well as
in the palm of the hand, or our religion is a delusion (James 1:26, 27-see
God grant that our inward powers may be cleansed by the sanctifying Spirit,
so that we may love holiness and abhor all sin. The pure in heart shall see
God (Heb 12:14), all others are but blind bats; stone blindness in the eyes
arises from stone in the heart. Dirt in the heart throws dust in the eyes.
used 147 times in the NT and a simple definition of sarx is somewhat
difficult because sarx has many nuances (some Greek lexicons list up
to 11 definitions for sarx!). The diligent disciple must carefully
of in order to discern which nuance is intended. The range of meaning
extends from the substance flesh (both human and animal), to the human body,
to the entire person, and to all humankind.
from pnéo = to breathe) refers to the immaterial part of the human
personality in contrast to the outward and visible aspects of flesh and
Wiersbe notes that...
Too often Christians deal with
symptoms and not causes. We keep confessing the same sins because we have
not gotten to the root of the trouble and "cleansed ourselves." Perhaps
there is "filthiness of the flesh," some pet sin that "feeds" the old nature
note on make provision for the flesh).
Or it may be "filthiness of the spirit," an attitude that is sinful.
W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor
PERFECTING HOLINESS IN THE FEAR OF GOD:
epitelountes (PAPMPN) hagiosunen en phobo theou: (Matthew 5:48-note;
Eph 4:13-note; Philippians 3:12-note,
Phil 3:15-note; 1Thess
Puritan Thomas Watson on-
- Real, Counterfeit, Necessity, Signs, Inducements, How Attained?
See article below on
See list of 43
Hymns Related to Holiness
TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY
William D Longstaff
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.
Warren Wiersbe has an humorous
quip on the preceding hymn...
We will stand and sing hymn 325,"
announced the worship leader, " Take Time to Be Holy.' We will sing verses
one and four." If I had been sitting with the congregation instead of on the
platform, I might have laughed out loud. Imagine a Christian congregation
singing "Take Time to Be Holy" and not even taking time to sing the entire
song! If we can't take the time (less than four minutes) to sing a song
about holiness, we're not likely to take time to devote ourselves to
"perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2Cor 7:1).
The pattern for holiness in this passage
is first dispose of the "negative" and then pursue the "positive".
Don't try to accomplish this charge in your own strength for you will fail
miserably. A desire for and power for holiness must by it's very nature come
from the Holy One. In short holiness in believers is clearly a work of
God (see 1Th 5:23-note,
And yet holiness is not simply "Let go and let God", but requires the
believer's cooperation (especially engagement of our mind and will) so that
we work out what God has worked in us (Phil 2:12-note,
Spurgeon comments that let us
cleanse ourselves speaks to...
1. We must set before us perfect holiness
as a thing to be reached.
2. We must blame ourselves if we fall short of it.
3. We must continue in any degree of holiness which we have reached.
4. We must agonize after the perfecting of our character. (Sermon
As A T Robertson says, Paul is
Not merely negative goodness (cleansing),
but aggressive and progressive (present tense of epiteleo) holiness, not a
sudden attainment of complete holiness, but a continuous process (1Thes
(Word Pictures in the New Testament)
In his letter to Titus, Paul
teaches a similar pattern of holiness...
has appeared (epiphaino),
bringing salvation to all men, instructing (paideuo
= disciplining -
= continually) us to deny (arneomai
= to say "no" to) ungodliness (asebeia)
(the negative aspect of holiness) and to live
(the positive aspect of holiness) in the present
age, looking (prosdechomai
= expectant looking as if His return is
[which it is!] - looking is in the
= continually, as one's
lifestyle -- expectant looking one of the best antidotes for apathetic
living!) for the blessed
of the glory of our great God and
Savior, Christ Jesus (See notes
from epí = intensifies meaning, in the sense of meaning "fully" +
= to complete, bring not just to the end
but to the destined goal from télos = end, goal. Note: télos
originally meant the turning point, hinge, the culminating point at which
one stage ends and another begins; later the goal, the end. Marriage and
death are is in this sense both a telos) conveys the intensified
meaning to fully complete or to fully reach the intended goal
in the sense of successfully completing what has been begun (Gal 3:3, Ro
to fully finish this "race of grace", to
press on to a successful finish.
1Corinthians epiteleo is in the
which means that the perfecting is to be a continual (active
= calls for a personal, volitional choice) process (speaks
of a daily process =
In other words, saints are to be about the divine business of perfecting
holiness, until the Lord returns (Rapture
vs Second Coming)
or we are called home to Him. There is no "graduation" from the school of
holiness in this life! Graduation day is our glorification day! This verse
also obliterates the teaching of "entire sanctification" for the battle for
holiness is never complete in this present life. The work of redemption is
not complete until we are glorified.
In other words, as saints ("holy
ones", set apart ones), believers are in Christ and have His perfect
positional holiness (1Cor
1:30, NIV) but it is the duty of each saint to daily, continually
choose to cleanse oneself and as we are doing this (controlled by the Holy
Spirit, not legalistic constraints), we will are becoming in effect a more
and more like Jesus (conformed to His image) and less and less like the
The idea here is, that of carrying
it out to the completion. Holiness had been commenced in the heart; and the
the apostle is, that they should make every effort that it might be complete
in all its parts....
No man can
be a Christian who does not sincerely desire it, and who does not constantly
aim at it. No man is a friend of God who can acquiesce in a state of sin,
and who is satisfied and contented that he is not as holy as God is holy.
And any man who has no desire to be perfect as God is, and who does not make
it his daily and constant aim to be as perfect as God, may set it down as
demonstrably certain that he has no true religion, How can a man be a
Christian who is willing to acquiesce in a state of sin, and who does not
desire to be just like his Master and Lord?
Wiersbe notes that...
The Pharisees were keen on
away sin (Mt 23:23, 25), but they neglected to perfect holiness. But it is
foolish to try to perfect holiness if there is known sin in our lives.
W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor
epiteleo with a similar meaning in Galatians asking
Are you so foolish (literally without comprehension)? Having begun (the
moment you were
by faith) by the Spirit, are you now being perfected (epiteleo
- present tense = continually
by the flesh (sinful human nature, the seat and vehicle of sinful
As noted above, the present tense of epiteleo is continuous, so the
idea is that while a beginning was made at a definite point (the moment you
believed), perfecting (as used in this versed) is a process
and specifically a process that is synonymous with the process of daily
In other words if the Galatian Christians
not obtain salvation by works but only by faith, could they expect to grow
spiritually or continually progress in holiness by keeping the law? The idea
that keeping the Mosaic Law will somehow help the Holy Spirit is a fallacy
that sadly persists to our day. If the power of the Spirit was necessary to
save them, could they complete the process by fleshly efforts? Clearly the
answer likewise is "no". Now Christians "keep the Law" out of love, not
In another parallel use of
epiteleo Paul encourages the saints at Philippi (and believers
everywhere) that he was
confident (having come to a settled persuasion concerning) of this very
thing, that He who began a good work
tense salvation = justification)
will perfect (epiteleo - will carry it on towards completion until it
reaches the intended goal) it until the day of Christ Jesus (future
tense salvation = glorification)."
"A Debtor to Mercy Alone"
Click to play
The work which His
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
—Augustus M. Toplady
Holiness - Not happiness, but
holiness. This is God's great goal and design for fallen men who have
experienced the miracle of redemption and regeneration. And why is this so
critical in Corinth (and post-Christian America)? Because the church has the
greatest impact on the world when it is least like the world.
The desire of the Holy One has always
been for His people to be holy in all their behavior. Moses records
Jehovah's command to Israel...
'For I am the LORD your God.
Consecrate (Hebrew verb
qadash signifies an act or a state in which people or things are set aside
for use in the worship of God) yourselves (Hebrew = nephesh = literally
"your souls") therefore, and be holy; for I am holy. And you shall not make
yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth.
'For I am the LORD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your
God; thus you shall be holy for I am holy.'" (Lev 11:44-45, cp Lev 19:2,
Peter echoes Jehovah's charge in
his epistle to believers...
Therefore, gird your minds for action,
keep sober in spirit, fix your
completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus
Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts
which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you,
holy yourselves also in all (no exception clause here!) your behavior; 16
because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." 17 And if you
address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man's
yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth. (See notes
1 Peter 1:13;
On Sunday morning, January 24, 1861,
Charles Haddon Spurgeon closed his sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle
with these words...
An unholy Church! It is of no use to the
world, and of no esteem among men. Oh, it is an abomination, hell's
laughter, heaven's abhorrence. And the larger the Church, the more
influential, the worst nuisance does it become, when it becomes dead and
unholy. The worst evils which have ever come upon the world, have been
brought upon her by an unholy Church.
hagios = holy
- from "a" = privative signifies the absence of a quality + "ge" = earth and
thus hagios = literally that which is separated from the earth!)
basically refers to separation from what is common or unclean, and
consecration unto God (Lev 20:24-26 Acts 6:13; 21:28). Hagiosune
refers to holiness not in the sense of describing the process of
becoming "holy" but rather the quality, state or condition of exhibiting an
ethical quality that reveals itself in purity or integrity of one's
character and conduct. Holiness is a state of spiritual soundness and
Hagiosune refers to a quality of life expressed in careful obedience to
God. In fact holiness is a chief attribute of God and a quality to be
developed in His people.
Holy is from the Saxon word “halig” which
means “whole” or “sound”. Holiness then is a general term used to indicate
moral wholeness. Tyndale Bible Dictionary adds that "The primary OT word for
holiness means “to cut” or “to separate.” Fundamentally, holiness is a
cutting off or separation from what is unclean and a consecration to what is
Separation from the world involves more than keeping our distance from
sinners but also means staying close to God. More than avoiding
entertainment that leads to sin, holiness extends into how we spend our time
and money. There is no way to separate ourselves totally from all sinful
influences. Nevertheless, we are to resist the sin around us, without either
giving up or giving in. When you know what God wants you to do, make a clean
break with sinful practices. But beware of the trap of falling prey to
keeping a list of do's and don't's or you will fall into the bondage of
Hiebert explains that...
The demand for holiness is rooted in the
fact that by virtue of his acceptance of the atoning work of Christ, the
believer has been separated from the world and set apart as belonging unto
God. That which is devoted to God must he separated from sin. Genuine
holiness is motivated by the obligations love imposes. (1Thessalonians)
Douglas Wilson in a treatise on
the Doctrine of Holiness writes...
An old Puritan tells us that a “blurred
finger is unfit to wipe away a blot.” This is something we need to hear; we
live in a generation that has blurred virtually everything. When this
blurring happens, everything about true religion suffers, but nothing
suffers more than the concept of the holy. That which is holy
is distinct, clear, separate, and other—it is in no way blurred...
One of the central duties of the church’s
teaching and preaching ministry is, therefore, to keep the blinding
holiness of God constantly in front of those who have “heard it all”
before. We must teach and emphasize the doctrine of God’s holiness.
It is quite true that we may mouth the
correct words concerning God’s holiness, and yet have our hearts far
away from the ramifications of such words. John Newton once commented,
Self-righteousness can feed upon
doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a
Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness
of the creature and the riches of free grace.
Glorious hymns on the holiness of
God can be sung as if they were dirges (Ed: A song or tune intended
to express grief, sorrow and mourning) commissioned for the funeral of a
very nice person indeed. The common reaction to this hypocrisy too easily
proclaims that the solution to a lifeless and dry orthodoxy is to mouth
incorrect words about the holiness of God. But the solution to dead
orthodoxy is not to be found in dead heresy. The
grace of God
(Ed: cp Titus 2:11-note,
where grace manifest in the incarnation of Christ [Jn 1:14, 17] initially
saves us [justification = declares us righteous by grace through faith] and
then instead of leaving us to our own methods remains continuously in our
life as our "instructor" [even as many today use "personal trainers" to get
and stay physically fit, believers have a trainer for holiness that they
might stay spiritually fit!] as we strive against sin in our daily daily
walk of [progressive, practical] sanctification ["holiness]) must enable us
to speak of God’s holiness in a way that is anointed and applied by Him. The
holy God is the living God. (Reformation
and Revival Ministries. Volume 4:2 Spring, 1995 Page 60)
Journal Subscription info) (List
of 22 journals - 500 yrs of articles searchable by topic or verse!
Incredible Online Resource!) (Bolding added for emphasis)
As someone has well said...
If God gives Himself to us in promises,
we must give ourselves to Him in duties. (Stated another way, divine
revelation calls for a divinely empowered response on our part!)
A W Pink rightly remarked
It is a blessed fact that God's promises
are as large as His exhortations, and for each of the latter there is one of
the former exactly meeting it.
VTP writes that...
In a world so full of distractions and
temptations, purity is difficult. Even more than difficult, the call to
purity often goes forgotten and ignored. "Cheap grace" (Jude 1:4) is
substituted for a call to passionate living. While we never want to give in
to a works righteousness, we also must remember that impurity through
laziness or lack of commitment or simple rebellion are contaminating to
those claiming to be Christians and ruin our influence before the watching
(en) means in the sphere of, the "atmosphere" of and thus the
influence of. In this case the believer's perfecting of holiness
is to be motivated by a reverential fear of God (coupled with an
apprehension of the promises of God as discussed above).
A spiritual mind has something of the
nature of the sensitive plant: a holy shrinking from the touch of evil. —
Fear of God - 10 occurrences of
this phrase in ESV - Ge 20:11; 2Sa 23:3; 2Chr 20:29; 26:5; Ne 5:15; Job 4:6;
15:4; Ps 36:1; Ro 3:18; 2Co. 7:1. Listen to
Mp3's by Jerry Bridges on "Fear of God"
IVP Commentary adds that...
Purifying ourselves is to be done out of
reverence for God--that is, in deference and devotion toward him to whom we
owe everything (Hughes 1962:258). That we would strive to live a holy life
is a wholly appropriate response to the promises of God's presence (v. 16),
his welcome (v. 17) and his fatherhood (v. 18; since we have these
from the verb phébomai = to flee from or to be startled) refers first
to flight, to alarm, to fright or to terror (of the shaking type) (cf. Mt
14:26; Luke 21:26; 1Co 2:3). This type of fear is connected with fear of the
unknown, fear of the future, and fear of authorities. It speaks of the
terror which seizes one when danger appears. On the other hand phobos
as used in the present context refers to reverence, respect and honor or in
short the attitude believers should have toward a holy God (cf. Acts 2:43;
9:31; 2Co 5:11).
Spurgeon comments that let us
cleanse ourselves speaks to...
1. The fear of God casts out the fear of
man and thus saves us from one prolific cause of sin.
2. The fear of God casts out the love of
sin, and with the root, the fruit is sure to go.
3. The fear of God works in and through
love to him, and this is a great factor of holiness.
4. The fear of God is the root of faith,
worship, obedience, and so it produces all manner of holy service.
See how promises supply arguments for precepts.
See how precepts naturally grow out of
In the fear of God - Maclaren
explains this phrase...
It is in the fear of God that holiness is
to be perfected There is a fear which has no torment. Yet more, there is no
love in sons or daughters without fear. The reverential awe with which God’s
children draw near to God has in it nothing slavish and no terror. Their
love is not only joyful but lowly. The worshipping gaze upon His Divine
majesty, the reverential and adoring contemplation of His ineffable
holiness, and the poignant consciousness, after all effort, of the distance
between us and Him will bow the hearts that love Him most in lowliest
prostration before Him. These two, hope (in God's promises just mentioned in
the previous chapter) and fear, confidence and awe, are like the poles on
which the whole round world turns and are united here in one result. They
who ‘set their hope in God’ must ‘not forget the works of God but keep His
commandments’ (Ps 78:7-note);
they who ‘call Him Father,’ ‘who without respect of persons judgeth’ must
‘pass the time of their sojourning here in fear,’ (1Pe 1:17-note;
cp Pr 3:7-8; 8:13; 14:16, 27; 16:6, Neh 5:15, Job 1:1, 1:8; 28:28, Ps
34:11-12, 13-14; Eccl 12:13, 14; Eph 5:21-note)
and their hopes and their fears must drive the wheels of life, purify them
from all filthiness and perfect them in all holiness. (read
entire excellent message)
Barnes remarks that the idea of
the fear of the Lord..
seems to be, that we are always in the
presence of God; we are professedly under his law; and we should be awed and
restrained by a sense of his presence from the commission of sin, and from
indulgence in the pollutions of the flesh and spirit. There are many sins
that the presence of a child will restrain a man from committing; and how
should the conscious presence of a holy God keep us from sin! If the fear of
a man or of a child will restrain us, and make us attempt to be holy and
pure, how should the fear of the all-present and the all-seeing God keep us,
not only from outward sins, but from polluted thoughts and unholy desires!
MacArthur adds that...
Motivating believers’ pursuit of holiness
is the reverential fear of God, which is foundational to godly living (Job
28:28; Ps 19:9; 34:11; Ps 111:10; Pr. 1:7; 8:13; 9:10; 15:33; 16:6; 23:17;
Acts 9:31). The church must confront the world to fulfill the Great
Commission given to us by our Lord (Matt. 28:19, 20). Yet we must not
compromise with false religion to do so. To disobey God’s explicit command
to separate from unbelievers is foolish, blasphemous, ungrateful, and
forfeits God’s blessing.
J: 2Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Press
The Psalmist links fear of the
LORD with holy conduct declaring...
How blessed is everyone who fears
the verb phobeo is
= speaks of habitual practice or lifestyle) the
LORD, who walks (In the
the verb poreuo is
= speaks of habitual practice or lifestyle) in His ways. (Ps 128:1, cp Ps 112:1)
Spurgeon comments: Blessed is
every one that feareth the Lord. The last Psalm (Ps 127:5) ended with a
blessing, -- for the word there translated "happy" is the same as that which
is here rendered "blessed": thus the two songs are joined by a catch word.
There is also in them a close community of subject. The fear of God
is the corner stone of all blessedness. We must reverence the ever blessed
God before we can be blessed ourselves. Some think that this life is an
evil, an infliction, a thing upon which rests a curse; but it is not so; the
God fearing man has a present blessing resting upon him. It is not true that
it would be to him "something better not to be." He is happy now, for he is
the child of the happy God, the ever living Jehovah; and he is even here a
joint heir with Jesus Christ, whose heritage is not misery, but joy. This is
true of every one of the God fearing, of all conditions, in all ages: each
one and every one is blessed. Their blessedness may not always be; seen by
carnal reason, but it is always a fact, for God himself declares that it is
so; and we know that those whom he blesses are blessed indeed. Let us
cultivate that holy filial fear of Jehovah which is the essence of all true
religion; -- the fear of reverence, of dread to offend, of anxiety to
please, and of entire submission and obedience.
This fear of the Lord is the fit
fountain of holy living: we look in vain for holiness apart from it: none
but those who fear the Lord will ever walk in His ways.
That walketh in His ways. The religious life, which God declares to
be blessed, must be practical as well as emotional. It is idle to talk of
fearing the Lord if we act like those who have no care whether there be a
God or no, God's ways will be our ways if we have a sincere reverence for
Him: if the heart is joined unto God, the feet will follow hard after Him. A
man's heart will be seen in his walk, and the blessing will come where heart
and walk are both with God. Note that the first Psalm links the benediction
with the walk in a negative way, "Blessed is the man that walketh not", etc.
but here we find it in connection with the positive form of our
To enjoy the divine blessing we must be
active, and walk; we must be methodical, and walk in certain ways; and we
must be godly, and walk in the Lord's ways. God's ways are blessed ways;
they were cast up by the Blessed One, they were trodden by Him in Whom we
are blessed, they are frequented by the blessed, they are provided with
means of blessing, they are paved with present blessings, and they lead to
eternal blessedness: who would not desire to walk in them?
In Psalm 119 the psalmist presents
the perfect "formula" for reverential fear as the stimulus for a holy
- Actually a
command [!] - "Do this now Lord!") Thy word (Hebrew = 'imrah = utterance as
in Ps 12:6, 17:6) to Thy servant, as that which produces reverence
(holy awe and fear) for Thee. (Ps 119:38)
Spurgeon's comment: Who is devoted
to thy fear, or simply -- "to thy fear." That is, make good thy word to
godly fear: wherever it exists; strengthen the whole body of reverent men.
Stablish thy word, not only to me, but to all the godly ones under the sun.
Or, again, it may mean -- "Stablish thy word to thy fear," namely, that men
may be led to fear thee; since a sure faith in the divine promise is the
fountain and foundation of godly fear. Men will never worship a God in whom
they do not believe. More faith will lead to more godly fear. We cannot look
for the fulfilment of promises in our experience unless we live under the
influence of the fear of the Lord:
Establishment in grace
is the result of holy watchfulness
and prayerful energy.
We shall never be rooted and grounded in
our belief unless we daily practise what we profess to believe. Full
assurance is the reward of obedience. Answers to prayer are given to those
whose hearts answer to the Lord's command. If we are devoted to God's fear
we shall be delivered from all other fear.
He has no fear as to the truth of the
who is filled with fear of the Author of the Word.
Skepticism is both the parent and the
child of impiety; but strong faith both begets piety and is begotten of it.
We commend this whole verse to any devout man whose tendency is to
skepticism: it will be an admirable prayer for use in seasons of unusually
strong misgivings. (And all God's people said "Amen!")
And in Psalm 119:133 we read a
passage which nicely "dovetails" with Psalm 119:38...
- Actually a command
[!] - "Do this now Lord!") my footsteps in Thy word ('imrah), and do not let
any iniquity have dominion over me.
Comment: The psalmist is in
essence making a request of the Almighty. We are all prone to wonder and
Lord we feel it. Here's my heart take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing).
Where you "walk" (walk used as a picture of one's general conduct of life in
the NT [Col 1:10-note,
and probably also appropriate here) reflects what you truly believe,
especially where you walk when no one but God sees you. It's interesting
that the psalmist did not say establish my eyes in Thy word...how easy it is
to look at Thy word and then go away forgetting what kind of person you were
We must prove ourselves doers and not merely hearers lest we deceive
ourselves (and sin is deceptive Heb 3:13-note
and entangling Jn 8:34). Do not walk in the counsel of the wicked because
before long you will be standing in the path of sinners and eventually even
seated with the scoffers (Ps 1:1-note).
Oh, the downward, destructive pull of our old sin nature (Ro 7:15-note),
even yet resident (albeit crucified) in those born from above. Wage war
valiant soldiers of the cross. The night is almost gone and the day of His
glorious return is at hand (Ro 13:12-note).
So fix your hope (1Pe 1:13-note;
on the One above and the things above (Col 3:1-note;
lest you become entangled in the affairs of everyday life (2Ti 2:4-note).
Spurgeon comments: Order my steps
in thy word. This is one of the Lord's customary mercies to his chosen, --
"He keepeth the feet of his saints." By his grace he enables us to put our
feet step by step in the very place which his word ordains. This prayer
seeks a very choice favour, namely, that every distinct act, every step,
might be arranged and governed by the will of God. This does not stop short
of perfect holiness, neither will the believer's desires be satisfied with
anything beneath that blessed consummation.
And let not any iniquity have dominion over me. This is the negative side of
the blessing. We ask to do all that is right, and to fall under the power of
nothing that is wrong. God is our sovereign, and we would have every thought
in subjection to his sway. Believers have no choice, darling sins to which
they would be willing to bow. They pant for perfect liberty from the power
of evil, and being conscious that they cannot obtain it of themselves, they
cry unto God for it
Luke records that the fear of
the Lord was a powerful motivating influence on the first century
So the church throughout all Judea and
Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the
fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to
increase. (Acts 9:31) (Comment: Clearly , the “fear of the Lord” does
not refer to dread or terror, since that type of fear would hardly result in
peace and comfort!)
F B Meyer (Our Daily Homily) -
The closing paragraph of the previous chapter tells us what this defilement
stands for; and in the enumeration note the increasing bonds of
approximation which each word indicates. An unequal yoke in ill-matched
intercourse with unbelievers leads to fellowship, and this to communion, and
this again to concord, and this to partnership; whilst the culmination of
the entire series is agreement, and the yielding up of the body for the
possession and indwelling of idols (cp 1Co 10:14, 1Jn 5:21). Let us beware of the beginning of this
awful approximation. It is impossible to stand still; and they who think
lightly of marrying an unbeliever may in the end hear words like those which
watchers heard spoken in the doomed temple on the night before it fell into
the hands of Titus (Ed: Roman General before whom Jerusalem and the
Temple fell in 70AD).
There was, as it were, the rushing of wings, and voices were heard saying,
Let us depart.
There is not only defilement of the flesh, but of the
spirit. It is not
enough to avoid the gross sins of the outward life. Those of the inner
temple and disposition are equally abhorrent to the holiness of God (cp Mt
5:27-28, 29, 30-notes). We must
come out and be separate from the latter as well as the
former, or we shall never realize what God means when He promises to receive
us, and to be a Father to us (cp Jesus' words in John 14:21)
The word cleanse (katharizo) is very decisive in the Greek. It calls for sudden,
decisive action; and if you answer that sin is too closely interwoven with
your nature to be thus summarily disposed of, remember that God demands our
will only. Directly we are perfectly willing and eager, He steps in and does
all the rest (cp Ro 8:13-note,
Col 3:5-note). At unknown depths the Spirit of God is at work within us
(cp Phil 2:12-note;
Ezek 36:27) to let
us work out what He works in, that we may be welcomed to God's heart. (Cross
A Matter Of Taste - Two
cockroaches decided to visit their favorite restaurant. While the larger of
the two was enjoying his meal, the smaller one said,
You wouldn’t believe
the house I just left. It was spotless. The lady had to be a cleanaholic.
Everything was immaculate—the sink, the counter, the floors. You couldn’t
find a crumb anywhere.
The other cockroach stopped his munching, looked
with some annoyance at his companion, and said,
Do you have to talk like that while I’m eating?
This story about roaches can apply to human nature as well. The second
letter to the Corinthians shows that Paul’s readers had much to learn about
clean living. They needed to develop a stronger hunger and thirst for
righteousness (Mt 5:6-note). So the apostle pleaded with them to turn away from all
filthiness (2Cor 7:1). He reminded them that God wants His people to separate
themselves from spiritual garbage.
If “cleanness”of heart sounds unappealing, perhaps we’ve been satisfied with
the crumbs of our earthly desires (cp James 4:4). We need to learn to savor the flavor of
godliness. (cp Ps 51:12, 19:8)
Father, forgive us for feeding the cravings of our sinful flesh. Help us to
cultivate instead the tastes (Ps 34:8, 119:103) that Your Holy Spirit wants to produce in us.
— Mart De Haan
Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved)
(Cross references added)
If we desire to taste
And lose our taste for sin,
We must with ruthless honesty
Expose the dirt within. (cp Pr 28:13)
—D. De Haan
Sin cannot flourish where godliness is cultivated.
Perfecting Holiness - I had not
worked in my yard for several weeks, and I was amazed at how quickly weeds
had sprung up and taken over. Weeds don't need tending; they seem to love to
sprout up for anyone who just lets things go. A bed of beautiful flowers,
however, takes watering, feeding, and of course, weeding. Flowers thrive
under the care of one who is not afraid to get dirt under his fingernails.
The Christian life takes work too. It requires the commitment of one's whole
being to Jesus—body, mind, emotions, and will—to have a life that is
wholesome, attractive, uplifting to others, and fulfilling to oneself. Even
then, weeds of selfishness and sinful attitudes can quickly spring up and
overrun the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-note,
That was the problem with many believers at Corinth. They had become
overgrown with envy and divisiveness (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). So Paul told
them to cleanse themselves from all "filthiness of the flesh and spirit,
perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). By "holiness"
he didn't mean they could be sinless, but blameless.
Lord, help us uproot any weeds of the flesh and the spirit before they
become ugly habits (cp Pr 24:30, 31, 32-33, 34). May the beauty of Jesus' character be what others see in
us (Col 1:27, 2Cor 2:14, 15, 16, 1Pe 3:15).— Dennis J. De Haan
Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved)
(Cross references added)
The Weeding Process
1. Identify sins of the flesh or the spirit (Gal. 5:17-note,
2. Call them sin and confess them (1John 1:9).
3. Stand firm in your position in Christ (Gal 2:20-note).
If you yield to God,
you won't give in to sin.
The Last Sins To Go - The
apostle Paul said that we are to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of
the flesh and spirit" (2 Corinthians 7:1). Even though it may seem to people
around us that we are living a clean, moral life, in our spirit we may be
harboring an attitude that displeases the Lord. Because sins of the spirit
are unseen, hidden in the heart, we tend to ignore them until they lead to
some outward behavior that reveals their presence.
King David's life illustrates these two aspects of sin. His lust for
Bathsheba led to adultery and murder (2 Sa 11:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 15ff; 2Sa 12:1-2,
3, 4, 5, 6, 7ff; Ps 32:5), and brought
great pain to his own life and reproach to the nation of Israel. Then, late
in his life, he succumbed to Satan's prompting to take a census (1Chronicles
21:1-2, 3, 4, 5, 6). This seemingly innocent act displeased God (1Chr 21:7, 8) because David
was taking pride in his military might. There seems to have been a subtle
shift from completely relying on God, who had often miraculously delivered
him, to trusting in his own power and strength.
On the outside, it may appear to others that we are winning the battle
against sin. But we must stay alert to the sins of the spirit, especially
pride. They can cause us to stumble and fall, even at the end of life's
journey. — Dennis J. De Haan
Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by
permission. All rights reserved)
We may confess our
Because they're difficult to hide,
But we must also guard against
Our inner sins, like lust and pride. —Sper
Pride is the stone over which many people stumble.
Hope And Holiness
by Alexander Maclaren
Having therefore these promises.., let
us cleanse ourselves from an filthiness the flesh and spirit, perfecting
holiness in the fear of God. - 2 Corinthians 7:1
It is often made a charge against professing Christians that their religion
has very little to do with common morality. The taunt has sharpened
multitudes of gibes and been echoed in all sorts of tones: it is very often
too true and perfectly just, but if ever it is, let it be distinctly
understood that it is not so because of Christian men’s religion but in
spite of it. Their bitterest enemy does not condemn them half so
emphatically as their own religion does: the sharpest censure of others is
not so sharp as the rebukes of the New Testament. If there is one thing
which it insists upon more than another, it is that
Morality is Nothing
— that the one test to which, after all, every man must
submit is, what sort of character has he and how has he behaved — is he pure
or foul? All high-flown pretension, all fervid emotion has at last to face
the question which little children ask,’ Was he a good man?’
The Apostle has been speaking about very high and mystical truths, about all
Christians being the temple of God, about God dwelling in men (2Co 6:16), about men and
women being His sons and daughters (2Co 6:18); these are the very truths on which so
often fervid imaginations have built up a mystical piety that had little to
do with the common rules of right and wrong. But Paul keeps true to the
intensely practical purpose of his preaching and brings his heroes down to
the prosaic earth with the homely common sense of this far-reaching
exhortation, which he gives as the fitting conclusion for such celestial
I. A Christian life should be a life of constant self-purifying.
This epistle is addressed to the church of God which is at Corinth with all
the saints which are in all Achaia.
Looking out over that wide region, Paul saw scattered over godless masses a
little dispersed company to each of whom the sacred name of
They had been deeply stained with the vices of their age and place, and
after a black list of criminals he had had to say to them ‘such were some of
you,’ (1Cor 6:9,10,11) and he lays his finger on the miracle that had changed them and
hesitates not to say of them all, ‘But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified,
but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our
God.’ (1Co 6:11)
The first thing, then, that every Christian has is a cleansing which
accompanies forgiveness, and however his garment-may have been ‘spotted by
the flesh,’ it is ‘washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.’ (Rev
cleansing by which black stains melt out of garments plunged in red blood!
With the cleansing of forgiveness and justification comes, wherever they
come, the gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn 7:37, 38, 39, 14:16, 17-18, 15:26,
16:7ff, Lk 24:49, prophesied in the OT Isaiah 44:3) — a new life springing up within the old
life (Jn 4:13, 14, cp Jn 6:63), and untouched by any contact with its evils. These gifts belong
universally to the initial stage of the Christian life and require for their
possession only the receptiveness of faith. They admit of no co-operation of
human effort, and to possess them men have only to ‘take the things that are
freely given to them of God.’ (1Co 2:12)
But of the subsequent stages of the Christian
life, the laborious and constant effort to develop and apply that free gift
is as essential as, in the earliest stage, it is worse than useless. The
gift received has to be wrought into the very substance of the soul, and to
be wrought out in all the endless varieties of life and conduct (Phil 2:12-note,
Phil 2:13-note). Christians
are cleansed to begin with, but they have still daily to cleanse themselves
(cp 1Co 5:7, 8):
the leaven is hid in the three measures of meal, but ‘tis a life-long task
till the lump be leavened,’ and no man, even though he has the life that was
in Jesus within him (Col 3:4-note), will grow up ‘ into the measure of the stature of the
fulness of Christ’ (Eph 4:13-note) unless, by patient and persistent effort, he is ever
pressing on to’ the things that are before’ and daily striving to draw
nearer to the prize of his high calling (Phil 3:12-note,
We are cleansed,
but we have still
to cleanse ourselves.
Yet another paradox attaches to the Christian life, inasmuch as God cleanses
us, but we have to cleanse ourselves. The great truth that the Spirit of God
in a man is the fontal source of all His goodness (Gal 5:22-note), and that Christ’s
righteousness is given to us (1Co 1:30, cp Jer 23:6, Jer 33:16, Ro 3:22-note,
2Co 5:21 Php 3:9-note), is no pillow on which to rest an idle head,
but should rather be a trumpet-call to effort which is thereby made certain
If we were left to the task of self-purifying by our own efforts
we might well fling it up as impossible (cp 2Cor 3:5, 6). It is as easy for a man to lift
himself from the ground by gripping his own shoulders as it is for us to
rise to greater heights of moral conduct by our own efforts; but if we can
believe that God gives the impulse after purity, and the vision of what
purity is, and imparts the power of attaining it, strengthening at once our
dim sight and stirring our feeble desires and energizing our crippled limbs,
then we can ‘run with patience the race that is set before us.’ (Heb 12:1-note
The Thoroughness of the Cleansing
We must note the thoroughness of the cleansing which the Apostle here
enjoins. What is to be got rid of is not this or that defect or vice, but
‘all filthiness of flesh and spirit.’ (cp James 1:21-note;1Pe
The former (flesh), of course, refers
primarily to sins of impurity which in the eyes of the Greeks of Corinth
were scarcely sins at all, and the latter (spirit) to a state of mind when fancy,
imagination, and memory were enlisted in the service of evil. Both are
rampant in our day as they were in Corinth. Much modern literature and the
new gospel of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ minister to both, and every man carries
in himself inclinations to either.
It is no partial cleansing with which
Paul would have us to be satisfied: ‘all’ filthiness is to be cast out. Like
careful housewives who are never content to cease their scrubbing while a
speck remains upon furniture, Christian men are to regard their work as
unfinished as long as the least trace of the unclean thing remains in their
flesh or in their spirit. The ideal may be far from being realised at any
moment, but it is at the peril of the whole sincerity and peacefulness of
their lives if they, in the smallest degree, lower the perfection of their
ideal in deference to the imperfection of their realisation of it. (Ed:
Read that sentence again!)
It must be abundantly clear from our own experience that any such cleansing
is a very long process. No character is made, whether it be good or bad, but
by a slow building up: no man becomes most wicked all at once, and no man is
sanctified by a wish or at a jump. As long as men are in a world so
abounding with temptation, ‘he that is washed’ will need daily to ‘wash his
feet’ (Jn 13:10) that have been stained in the foul ways of life, if he is to be ‘clean
every whit (Ed: the smallest part or particle imaginable)’.
As long as the spirit is imprisoned in the body (cp Ro 8:23-note,
2Co 5:2-3, 4) and has it for its
instrument there will be need for much effort at purifying. We must be
content to overcome one foe at a time (cp Ex 23:30, Dt 7:22, Judges 3:1, 2,
cp 2Co 3:18), and however strong may be the
pilgrim’s spirit in us, we must be content to take one step at a time, and
to advance by very slow degrees. Nor is it to be forgotten that as we get
nearer what we ought to be, we should be more conscious of the things in
which we are not what we ought to be (cp Paul's increasing awareness of what
he was not that accompanied his progressive sanctification - 1Co 15:9 [55AD]
Eph 3:8 [61AD] 1Ti 1:15 [63-66AD] cp Ro 7:24). The nearer we get to Jesus Christ, the
more will our consciences be enlightened as to the particulars in which we
are still distant from Him. A speck on a polished shield will show plain
that would never have been seen on a rusty one. The saint who is nearest God
will think more of his sins than the man who is furthest from him. So new
work of purifying will open before us as we grow more pure, and this will
last as long as life itself.
II. The Christian life is to be not merely a continual getting rid of
evil, but a continual becoming good.
Paul here draws a distinction between cleansing ourselves from filthiness
and perfecting holiness, and these two, though closely connected and capable
of being regarded as being but the positive and negative sides of one
process, are in reality different, though in practice the former is never
achieved without the latter, nor the latter accomplished without the former.
Holiness is more than purity; it is
consecration. That is holy which is
devoted to God, and a saint is one whose daily effort is to devote his whole
self, in all his faculties and nature, thoughts, heart, and will more and
more, to God, and to receive into himself more and more of God. (cp Ro 12:1-note; Ro
The purifying which Paul has been enjoining will only be successful in the
measure of our consecration, and the consecration will only be genuine in
the measure of our purifying. Herein lies the broad and blessed distinction
between the world’s morality and Christian ethics. The former fails just
because it lacks the attitude towards a Person Who is the very foundation of
Christian morality, and changes a hard and impossible law into love (cp 2Co
8:9, 2Co 5:14, Ro 13:8-note
Gal 5:1, 14). There
is no more futile waste of breath than that of teachers of morality who have
no message but "Be good! Be good!" and no motive by which to urge it but the
pleasures of virtue and the disadvantages of vice, but when the vagueness of
the abstract thought of goodness solidifies into a living Person and that
Person makes His appeal first to our hearts and bids us love Him, and then
opens before us the unstained light of His own character and beseeches us to
be like Him, the repellent becomes attractive: the impossible becomes
possible, and ‘if ye love Me keep My commandments’ (Jn 14:15, cp 1Jn 4:10,
11, 19, Lk 7:47) becomes a constraining
power and a victorious impulse in our lives.
III. The Christian life of purifying and consecration is to be animated
by hope and fear.
The Apostle seems to connect hope more immediately with the cleansing, and
holiness with the fear of God, but probably both hope and fear are in his
mind as the double foundation on which both purity and consecration are to
rest, or the double emotion which is to produce them both. These promises
refer directly to the immediately preceding words, ‘I will be a Father unto
you and ye shall be My sons and daughters,’ (2Cor 6:18) in which all the blessings which
God can give or men can receive are fused together in one lustrous and
all-comprehensive whole. So all the great truths of the Gospel and all the
blessed emotions of sonship which can spring up in a human heart (cp Ro
Gal 4:6) are
intended to find their practical result in holy and pure living. For this
end God has spoken to us out of the thick darkness; for this end Christ has
come into our darkness (cp Ex 20:21); for this end He has lived; for this end He died; for
this end He rose again; for this end He sends His Spirit and administers the
providence of the world.
The purpose of all the Divine activity as regards
us men is not merely to make us happy (Ed: In the Biblical sense of blessed
makarios), but to make us happy in order that we
may be good. He whom what he calls his religion has only saved from the
wrath of God and the fear of hell has not learned the alphabet of religion.
Unless God’s promises evoke men’s goodness it will be of little avail that
they seem to quicken their hope. Joyful confidence in our sonship is only
warranted in the measure in which we are like our Father (Mt 5:48-note).
Hope often deludes
and makes men dreamy and unpractical. It generally paints pictures far
lovelier than the realities, and without any of their shadows; it is too
often the stimulus ‘and ally of ignoble lives, and seldom stirs to heroism
or endurance, but its many defects are not due to itself hut to its false
choice of objects on which to fix. The hope which is lifted from trailing
along the earth and twining round creatures and which rises to grasp these
promises (2Cor 7:1 "having these promises") ought to be, and in the measure of its reality is the ally of all
patient endurance and noble self-sacrifice. Its vision of coming good is all
directed to the coming Christ, and ‘every man that hath this hope in Him,
purifieth himself even as He is pure.’ (1Jn 3:2, 3)
The Fear of God
In Paul’s experience there was no
contrariety between hope set on Jesus and fear directed towards God. It is
in the fear of God that holiness is to be perfected. There is a fear which
has no torment. Yet more, there is no love in sons or daughters without
fear. The reverential awe with which God’s children draw near to God has in
it nothing slavish and no terror. Their love is not only joyful but lowly.
The worshipping gaze upon His Divine majesty, the reverential and adoring
contemplation of His ineffable holiness, and the poignant consciousness,
after all effort, of the distance between us and Him will bow the hearts
that love Him most in lowliest prostration before Him. These two, hope and
fear, confidence and awe, are like the poles on which the whole round world
turns and are united here in one result. They who ‘set their hope in God’
must ‘not forget the works of God but keep His commandments’ (Ps 78:7-note);
they who ‘call Him Father,’ ‘who without respect of persons judgeth’ must
‘pass the time of their sojourning here in fear,’ (1Pe 1:17-note;
cp Pr 3:7-8; 8:13; 14:16, 27; 16:6, Neh 5:15, Job 1:1, 1:8; 28:28, Ps
34:11-12, 13-14; Eccl 12:13, 14; Eph 5:21-note)
and their hopes and their fears must drive the wheels of life, purify them
from all filthiness and perfect them in all holiness.
Joel R. Beeke (from the Reformed tradition) offers a
thorough and practical treatise on holiness entitled
The godly farmer who plows his field, sows seed, fertilizes and cultivates,
is acutely aware that in the final analysis he is utterly dependent for an
assured crop on forces outside of himself. He knows he cannot cause the seed
to germinate, the rain to fall, the sun to shine. But he pursues his task
with diligence anyhow, both looking to God for blessing and knowing that if
he does not fertilize and cultivate the sown seed his crop will be meager at
Similarly, the Christian life must be like a cultivated garden in order to
produce the fruits of holy living unto God. “Theology,” William Ames wrote
in the opening words of his classic, The Marrow of Theology, “is the
doctrine or teaching of living to God.” God Himself exhorts His children,
“You shall be holy for I am holy” (1Pe 1:16-note). Paul instructs the
Thessalonians, “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but
in sanctification” (1Thes 4:7-note). And the author of Hebrews writes, “Pursue
peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the
Lord” (Heb 12:14-note). The believer who does not cultivate holiness diligently
will neither have much genuine assurance of his own salvation nor be obeying
Peter’s call to seek it (2Pe 1:10-note). In this article I will focus on the
Christian’s scriptural call to cultivate Spirit-worked holiness by using
diligently the means God has provided to assist him.
For the Christian, to be set apart means,
negatively, to be separate from sin, and positively, to be consecrated
(i.e., dedicated) to God and conformed to Christ. There is no disparity
between Old Testament and New Testament concepts of holiness, though there
is a change in emphasis on what holiness involves. The Old Testament
stresses ritual and moral holiness; the New Testament stresses inward and
transforming holiness (Lev 10:10,11; 19:2; Heb 10:10-note; 1Thes 5:23-note)....
In the first place, personal holiness
demands personal wholeness. God never calls us to give Him a piece of our
hearts. The call to holiness is a call for our entire heart: “Give me your
heart, my son” (Pr 23:26).
Second, holiness of heart must be
cultivated in every sphere of life: in privacy with God, in the
confidentiality of our homes, in the competitiveness of our occupation, in
the pleasures of social friendship, in relation with our unevangelized
neighbors and the world’s hungry and unemployed, as well as in Sunday
worship. Horatius Bonar writes:
Holiness ... extends to every part of our
persons, fills up our being, spreads over our life, influences everything we
are, or do, or think, or speak, or plan, small or great, outward or inward,
negative or positive, our loving, our hating, our sorrowing, our rejoicing,
our recreations, our business, our friendships, our relationships, our
silence, our speech, our reading, our writing, our going out and our coming
in—our whole man in every movement of spirit, soul, and body.
The call to holiness is a daily task. It
is an absolute, radical call, involving the core of religious faith and
practice. John Calvin put it this way:
Because they have been called to
holiness, the entire life of all Christians must be an exercise in piety.
In short, the call to holiness is a
whole-life commitment to live “toward God” (2Cor 3:4), to be set apart to
the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Thus, holiness is an inward thing that
must fill our entire heart and an outward thing that must cover all of life.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit
and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ” (1Thes 5:23-note).
“Holiness,” Thomas Boston maintained, “is
a constellation of graces.” In gratitude to God, a believer cultivates the
fruits of holiness, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22, 23-note).
This call to holiness is not a call to
merit acceptance with God. The NT declares that every believer is sanctified
in principle by the sacrifice of Christ: “By this will we have been
sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”
(Heb 10:10). Christ is our Sanctification (1Cor 1:30); therefore the church
as the bride of Christ is sanctified (Eph. 5:25, 26-notes). The believer’s status
before God is one of sanctity in Christ, on account of His perfect
obedience which has fully satisfied the justice of God for all sin.
The believer’s status, however, does not
infer that he has arrived at a wholly sanctified condition (1Cor 1:2).
Several attempts have been made to express the relationship between the
believer’s status and condition before God, foremost among them being
Luther’s well-known simul justus et peccator (“at once righteous and a
sinner”). That is to say, the believer is both righteous in God’s sight
because of Christ, and remains a sinner as measured according to his own
merits. Though the believer’s status makes an impact on his condition from
the onset of Christian experience (which coincides with Regeneration), he is
never in a perfectly sanctified condition in this life. Paul prays that the
Thessalonians may be sanctified wholly as something still to be accomplished
Sanctification received is Sanctification begun, though not yet perfected.
This explains the NT’s emphasis on
holiness as something to be cultivated and pursued. NT language stresses
vital, progressive Sanctification. The believer must strive for
Sanctification (Heb 12:14-note).
Growth in holiness must and will follow Regeneration (Eph 1:4-note; Phil 3:12-note).
Thus, true believer, holiness is both
something you have in Christ before God and something you must cultivate in
the strength of Christ. Your status in holiness is conferred; your condition
in holiness must be pursued. Through Christ you are made holy in your
standing before God, and through Christ you are called to reflect that
standing by being holy in daily life. Your context of holiness is
Justification through Christ, and your route of holiness is to be crucified
and resurrected with Him, which involves the continual “mortification of the
old, and the quickening of the new man” (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 88).
You are called to be in life what you already are in principle by grace.
The Cultivation of Holiness
Concretely, then, what must you
cultivate? Three things.
1) Imitation of the character of
Jehovah. God says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1Pe 1:16). The
holiness of God Himself ought to be our foremost stimulus to cultivate holy
living. Seek to be like your Father in heaven in righteousness, holiness,
and integrity. In the Spirit, strive to think God’s thoughts after Him via
His Word, to be of one mind with Him, to live and act as God Himself would
have you do. As Stephen Charnock concludes:
This is the prime way of honoring God. We
do not so glorify God by elevated admirations, or eloquent expressions, or
pompous services for him, as when we aspire to a conversing with Him with
unstained spirits, and live to him in living like him.
2) Conformity to the image of Christ.
This is a favorite Pauline theme, of which one example must suffice (Phil
2:5, 6, 7, 8-notes)
Christ was humble, willing to give up His
rights in order to obey God and serve sinners. If you would be holy, Paul is
saying, be like-minded.
Do not aim for conformity to Christ as a
condition of Salvation, however, but as a fruit of Salvation received by
faith. We must look to Christ for holiness, for He is the fount and path of
holiness. Seek no other path. Follow the advice of Augustine who contended
that it is better to limp on the path than to run outside of it. Do as
Calvin taught: Set Christ before you as the mirror of Sanctification, and
seek grace to mirror Him in His image. Ask in each situation encountered:
“What would Christ think, say, and do?” And then trust Him for holiness. He
will not disappoint you (James 1:2-note,
Jas 1:3, 4-note,
Jas 1:5, 6-note,
There is room for unending growth in
holiness because Jesus is the bottomless well of Salvation. You cannot go to
Him too much for holiness, for He is holiness par excellence. He lived
holiness; He merited holiness; He sends His Spirit to apply holiness.
“Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11-note
:11)—holiness inclusive. As Luther
profoundly set forth
We in Christ = justification
Christ in us = sanctification
3) Submission to the mind of the Holy
Spirit. In Romans 8:6 Paul divides people into two categories—those who
let themselves be controlled by their sinful natures (i.e., the carnally
minded who follow fleshly desires), and those who follow after the Spirit
(i.e., those who mind “the things of the Spirit” [Ro 8:5-note]).
The Holy Spirit was sent to bring the believer’s mind into submission to His
mind (1Cor 2). He was given to make sinners holy; the most holy increasingly
bow as willing servants under His control. Let us beg for grace to be
willing servants more fully and more consistently.
How does the Spirit work this holy grace
of submission to His mind, thereby making us holy? (1) He shows us our need
for holiness through conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn
16:8). (2) He implants desire for holiness. His saving work never leads to
despair but always to Sanctification in Christ. (3) He grants Christlikeness
in holiness. He works upon our whole nature, molding us after Christ’s
image. (4) He provides strength to live a holy life by His indwelling in and
influencing of our soul. If we live by the Spirit, we will not gratify the
desires of our sinful nature (Gal 5:16-note). To live by the Spirit means to live
in obedience to and dependence on that Spirit. (5) Through humble feeding of
Scripture and the exercise of prayer, the Spirit teaches us His mind and
establishes an ongoing realization that holiness remains essential as being
worthy of God and His kingdom (1Thes 2:12-note; Eph 4:1-Note) and for fitness for
service (1Co 9:24, 25; Phil. 3:13-note). “Do not get drunk with wine, for that
is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18-note). Thomas Watson
The Spirit stamps the impression of his
own sanctity upon the heart, as the seal prints its likeness upon the wax.
The Spirit of God in a man perfumes him with holiness, and makes his heart a
map of heaven.
How to Cultivate Holiness
That believers are called to holiness is
indisputably clear. But the cardinal question remains: How does the believer
cultivate holiness? Here are seven directions to assist us.
1) Know and love Scripture. This
is God’s primary road to holiness and to spiritual growth—the Spirit as
Master Teacher blessing the reading and searching of God’s Word. Jesus
prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). And
Peter advised, “Long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow”
If you would not remain spiritually
ignorant and impoverished, read through the Bible at least annually. Even
more importantly, memorize the Scriptures (Ps 119:11), search (Jn 5:39) and
meditate upon them (Ps 1:2-note), live and love them (Ps 119; 19:10). Compare
Scripture with Scripture; take time to study the Word. Proverbs 2:1, 2, 3,
4, 5 sets before us several principles involved in serious personal Bible
study: teachability (receiving God’s words), obedience (storing God’s
commandments), discipline (applying the heart), dependence (crying for
knowledge), and perseverance (searching for hidden treasure). Do not expect
growth in holiness if you spend little time alone with God and fail to take
His Word seriously. Plagued with a heart prone to be tempted away from
holiness, let Scripture teach you how to live a holy life in an unholy
Develop a scriptural formula for holy living. Here is one possibility drawn
from 1 Corinthians. When hesitant over a course of action, ask yourself:
Does this glorify God? (1Cor 10:31)
Is this consistent with the lordship of
Christ? (1Cor. 7:23)
Is this consistent with biblical
examples? (1Cor 11:1)
Is this lawful and beneficial for
me—spiritually, mentally, physically? (1Co 6:9, 10, 11, 12)
Does this help others positively and not
hurt others unnecessarily? (1Co 10:33; 8:13)
Does this bring me under any enslaving
power? (1Co 6:12)
Let Scripture be your compass to guide
you in cultivating holiness, in making life’s decisions, and in encountering
the high waves of personal affliction.
2) Use the sacraments of baptism and
the Lord’s Supper diligently as means of grace to strengthen your faith in
Christ. God’s sacraments complement His Word. They point us away from
ourselves. Each sign—water, bread, and wine—directs us to believe in Christ
and His sacrifice on the cross. The sacraments are visible means through
which He invisibly communes with us and we with Him. They are spurs to
Christlikeness and therefore to holiness.
Grace received through the sacraments is
not different from that received through the Word. Both convey the same
Christ. But as Robert Bruce put it, “While we do not get a better Christ in
the sacraments than we do in the Word, there are times when we get Christ
Flee often to Christ by Word and
sacrament. Faith in Christ is a powerful motivator for holiness; for faith
and the love of sin cannot mix. Be careful, however, not to seek your
holiness in your experiences of Christ, but in Christ Himself. As William
When thou trustest in Christ within thee,
instead of Christ without thee, thou settest Christ against Christ. The
bride does well to esteem her husband’s picture, but it were
ridiculous if she should love it better than himself, much more if she
should go to it rather than to him to supply her wants. Yet thou actest thus
when thou art more fond of Christ’s image in thy soul than of him who
painted it there.
3) Regard yourself as dead to the
dominion of sin and as alive to God in Christ (Ro 6:11-note).
“To realize this,” writes Dr. Martyn
Lloyd-Jones, "takes away from us that old sense of hopelessness which we
have all known and felt because of the terrible power of sin.... I can say
to myself that not only am I no longer under the dominion of sin, but I am
under the dominion of another power that nothing can frustrate."
That is not to imply that because sin no
longer reigns over us as believers, we have license to forego our duty to
fight against sin. Bridges rightly admonishes us,
“To confuse the potential for resisting
sin (which God provided) with the responsibility for resisting (which is
ours) is to court disaster in our pursuit of holiness.”
Westminster’s Shorter Catechism balances
God’s gift and our responsibility when stating,
“Sanctification is the work of God’s free
grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and
are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness”
Seek to cultivate a growing hatred of sin
as sin, for that is the kind of hatred against sin which God possesses.
Recognize that God is worthy of obedience not only as the Judge, but
especially as a loving Father. Say with Joseph in temptation, “How then can
I do this great evil, and sin against God?” (Ge 39:9).
Believe that Christ is mighty to preserve
you alive by His Spirit. You live through union with Christ. Live unto His
righteousness. His righteousness is greater than your unrighteousness. His
Saviorhood is greater than your sinfulness. His Spirit is within you: “You
are from God, little children, and have overcome them because greater is He
who is in you than he who is in the world” (1Jn 4:4). Do not despair; you
are strong in Him, alive in Him, victorious in Him. Satan may win many
skirmishes, but the war is yours, the victory is yours (1Cor 15:57; Ro
8:37-note). In Christ, the optimism of divine grace reigns over the pessimism of
4) Pray and work in dependence upon
God for holiness. No one is sufficient to bring a clean thing out of an
unclean thing but God (Job 14:4). Hence, pray with David, “Create in me a
clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10-Spurgeon's
note). And as you pray, work. John Owen wrote,
“God works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his
assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no
occasion of neglect as to the work itself.”
The Heidelberg Catechism (Question 116)
points out that prayer and work belong together. They are like two oars,
which, when both utilized, will keep a rowboat moving forward. If you use
only one oar—if you pray without working or you work without praying—you
will row in circles.
Holiness and prayer have much in common.
Both are central to the Christian life and faith; they are obligatory, not
optional. Both originate with God and center upon Him. Both are activated,
often mutually, by the Spirit of God. Neither can survive without the other.
Both are learned by experience and through spiritual battles. Neither is
perfected in this life, but must be cultivated lifelong. Both are easier to
talk and write about than to exercise. The most prayerful often feel
themselves to be prayerless; the most holy often regard themselves as
Holiness and work are also closely
related, especially the work of nurturing and persevering in personal
discipline. Discipline takes time and effort. Paul exhorted Timothy,
“Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1Ti 4:7-note).
Holiness is not achieved sloppily or
instantaneously. Holiness is a call to a disciplined life; it cannot live
out of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace—that is, grace which
forgives without demanding repentance and obedience. Holiness is costly
grace—grace that cost God the blood of His Son, cost the Son His own life,
and costs the believer daily mortification in exercising holiness, such that
with Paul he dies daily (1Cor 15:31). Gracious holiness calls for continual
commitment, continual diligence, continual practice and continual
repentance. If you “sometimes through weakness fall into sin, you must not
therefore despair of God’s mercy, nor continue in sin, since ... we have an
eternal covenant of grace with God” (Baptism Form). Resolve with Jonathan
Never to give over, nor in the least to
slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
These two things, fighting against sin
and lack of success, appear contradictory, but are not. Failing and becoming
a failure are two different matters. The believer recognizes he will often
fail. Luther said that the righteous man more often feels himself to be “a
loser than a victor” in the trial of and struggle against sin, “for the Lord
lets him be tested and assailed to his utmost limits as gold is tested in a
furnace.” This too is an important component of discipleship. Nevertheless,
the godly man will persevere even through his failures. Failure does not
make him quit; it makes him repent the more earnestly and press on in the
“For a righteous man falls seven times,
and rises again, but the wicked stumble in time of calamity” (Pr. 24:16)
Let us never forget that the God we love,
loves holiness. Hence the intensity of His fatherly, chastising discipline
He 12:10-note)! Perhaps William Gurnall says it best: “God would not rub
so hard if it were not to fetch out the dirt that is ingrained in our
natures. God loves purity so well He had rather see a hole than a spot in
his child’s garments.”
5) Flee worldliness. We must
strike out against the first appearance of the pride of life, the
lusts of the flesh and eye, and all forms of sinful worldliness as they
knock on the door of our hearts and minds. If we open the door and allow
them to roam about in our minds and take foothold in our lives, we are
already their prey.
“But Daniel made up his mind that he
would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which
he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that
he might not defile himself” (Da 1:8).
The material we read, the recreation and
entertainment we engage in, the music we listen to, and the conversations we
have affect our minds and ought to be judged in the context of Philippians
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good
repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let
your mind dwell on these things.”
We must live above the world and not be
of the world while yet in the world (Ro 12:1-note,
6) Seek fellowship in the church;
associate with mentors in holiness (Eph 4:12,13-notes; 1Cor 11:1). The church
ought to be a fellowship of mutual care and a community of prayer (1Cor
12:7; Acts 2:42). Converse and pray with fellow believers whose godly walk
you admire (Col 3:16-note).
“He who walks with wise men will be wise”
Association promotes assimilation. A
Christian life lived in isolation from other believers will be defective;
usually such a believer will remain spiritually immature.
Such fellowship, however, ought not
exclude the reading of godly treatises of former ages which promote
holiness. Luther said that some of his best friends were dead ones. For
example, he questioned if anyone could possess spiritual life who did not
feel kinship with David pouring out his heart in the Psalms. Read classics
that speak out vehemently against sin.
Let Thomas Watson be your mentor in
The Mischief of Sin (choice
excerpts); John Owen, in Temptation and Sin;
in The Evil of Evils; Ralph Venning, in The Plague of Plagues (click
read J. C. Ryle’s Holiness (Click
for what is considered by many as the best book on the
Christian life ever written other than The Book!),
Octavius Winslow’s Personal Declension and
Revival of Religion in the Soul (click
here), and John Flavel’s Keeping the Heart
Let these divines of former ages be your
spiritual mentors and friends.
7) Live “present-tense,” total commitment
Don’t fall prey to the “one-more-time”
syndrome. Postponed obedience is disobedience. Tomorrow’s holiness is
impurity now. Tomorrow’s faith is unbelief now. Aim not to sin at all (1Jn
2:1), asking for divine strength to bring every thought into captivity to
Christ (2Cor 10:5-see
notes), for Scripture indicates that thought-life ultimately
determines our character: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Pr
23:7a). An old proverb says it this way:
Sow a thought, reap an act;
Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Encouragements for Cultivating
The cultivation of holiness is demanding.
Thomas Watson called it “sweating work.” Happily, God provides us with
several motives to holiness in His Word. To encourage us in the pursuit of
holiness, we need to keep our eyes focused on the following biblical truths.
1) God has called you to holiness for
your good and His glory. “For God has not called us for the purpose of
impurity, but in Sanctification” (1Thes 4:7-note). Whatever God calls us to, is
necessary. His call itself, as well as the benefits which we experience from
holy living as described below, should induce us to seek and practice
Holiness benefits us by augmenting our
spiritual well-being. God assures us that “no good thing does He withhold
from those who walk uprightly” (Ps 84:10, 11).
“What health is to the heart,” John
Flavel noted, “that holiness is to the soul.”
In Richard Baxter’s scarce work on
holiness, the very chapter titles are enlightening: Holiness Is the Only Way
of Safety, Holiness Is the Only Honest Way, Holiness Is the Most
Gainful Way, Holiness Is the Most Honourable Way, Holiness is the Most
Pleasant Way (see
entire Google book "The Practical Works of Richard Baxter"
But most importantly, holiness glorifies
the God you love (Isaiah 43:21). As Thomas Brooks affirmed, “Holiness makes
most for God’s honor.”
2) Holiness makes you resemble God and
preserves your integrity. As Watson notes: “We must endeavour to be like
God in sanctity. It is a clear glass in which we can see a face; it is a
holy heart in which something of God can be seen.” Christ serves here as a
pattern of holiness for us—a pattern of holy humility (Phil 2:5-see
notes, Phil 2:6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
11, 12, 13), of holy
compassion (Mark 1:41), of holy forgiveness (Col 3:13-note), of holy
unselfishness (Ro 15:3-note), of holy indignation against sin (Mt 23:1ff), and of
holy prayer (Heb 5:7-note). Cultivated holiness which resembles God and is
patterned after Christ saves us from much hypocrisy, from resorting to a
“Sunday only” Christianity. It gives vitality, purpose, meaning, and
direction to daily living.
3) Holiness gives evidence of your
Justification and Election, and fosters assurance. Sanctification is the
inevitable fruit of Justification (1Cor 6:11). The two may be distinguished,
but never separated; God Himself has married them. Justification is
organically linked to Sanctification; new birth infallibly issues in new
life. The justified will walk in “the King’s highway of holiness.” In and
through Christ, Justification gives God’s child the title for heaven and the
boldness to enter; Sanctification gives him the fitness for heaven and the
preparation necessary to enjoy it. Sanctification is the personal
appropriation of the fruits of Justification. B. B. Warfield notes,
Sanctification is but the execution of
the justifying decree. For it to fail would be for the acquitted person not
to be released in accordance with his acquittal.
Consequently, the justifying decree of
Christ, “Neither do I condemn you,” is immediately followed by the call to
holiness, “Sin no more” (Jn 8:11).
Election too is inseparable from
“God has chosen you from the beginning
for Salvation through Sanctification by the Spirit” (2Thes 2:13).
Sanctification is the earmark of Christ’s
elect sheep. That is why Election is always a comforting doctrine for the
believer, for it is the sure foundation that explains the grace of God
working within him. No wonder our Reformed forebears deemed election to be
one of the believer’s greatest comforts.
Calvin insisted that Election should
discourage none, for the believer receives comfort from it, and the
unbeliever is not called to consider it; rather, he is called to Repentance.
Whoever is discouraged by Election or relies upon Election without living a
holy life is falling prey to a satanic misuse of this precious, encouraging
doctrine (cf. Deut 29:29). As Ryle asserts,
It is not given to us in this world to
study the pages of the book of life, and see if our names are there. But if
there is one thing clearly and plainly laid down about election, it is
this,—that elect men and women may be known and distinguished by holy lives.
Holiness is the visible side of their
“You will know them by their fruits” (Mt
Consequently, holiness fosters assurance
(1Jn 2:3; 3:19). “Everyone may be assured in himself of his faith by the
fruits thereof” (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 86). Reformed divines are
agreed that most of the forms and degrees of assurance experienced by true
believers—especially daily assurance—are reached gradually in the path of
Sanctification through careful cultivation of God’s Word, the means of
grace, and corresponding obedience. An increasing hatred of sin by means of
mortification and a growing love to obey God by means of vivification
accompany the progress of faith as it grows into assurance. Christ-centered,
Spirit-worked holiness is the best and most sound evidence of divine sonship
notes, Ro 8:2, 3-notes,
Ro 8:4, 5, 6, 7,
8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16).
The way to lose a daily sense of
assurance is to forego the daily pursuit of holiness. Some believers live
too carelessly. They treat sin lightly or neglect daily devotions and study
of the Word. Others live too inactively. They do not cultivate holiness, but
assume the posture that nothing can be done to foster Sanctification, as if
holiness were something outside of us except on rare occasions when
something very special “happens” inside. To live carelessly or inactively is
to ask for daily spiritual darkness, deadness, and fruitlessness.
4) As a believer, holiness alone can
Conversely, “To those who are defiled and
unbelieving, nothing is pure” (Titus 1:15-note). Holiness cannot be exercised
where the heart has not been fundamentally transformed through divine
Regeneration. Through the new birth, Satan is deposed, the law of God is
written upon the heart of the believer, Christ is crowned Lord and King, and
the believer made “desirous to obey God and live holy for Christ’s sake.”
Christ in us (Christus in nobis) is an essential complement of Christ for us
(Christus pro nobis). The Spirit of God not only teaches the believer what
Christ has done, but actualizes the holiness and work of Christ in his
personal life. Through Christ, God sanctifies His child and makes his
prayers and thanksgivings acceptable. As Thomas Watson has noted: “A holy
heart is the altar which sanctifies the offering; if not to satisfaction, to
5) Holiness is essential for your
effective service to God.
Paul joins Sanctification and usefulness
together: “If a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel
for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work”
(2Ti 2:21-note). Holiness is used by God to assist the preaching of the Gospel,
to build up the credit of the Christian faith which is dishonored by the
carelessness of Christians and hypocrites who often serve as Satan’s best
allies. Our lives are always doing good or harm; they are open epistles for
all to read (2Cor 3:2). Holy living preaches reality. It influences and
impresses like nothing else can; no argument can match it. It displays the
beauty of religion; it gives credibility to witness and to evangelism (Phil
2:15-note). “Holiness,” writes Hugh Morgan, “is the most effective way of
influencing unconverted people and creating within them a willingness
to listen to the preaching of the gospel” (Mt 5:16-note; 1Pe 3:1-note,
Holiness manifests itself in humility and
reverence for God. Such are those whom God looks to and uses (Isaiah 66:2).
As Andrew Murray notes:
The great test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is
truth and life will be whether it be manifest in the increasing humility it
produces. In the creature, humility is the one thing needed to allow God’s
holiness to dwell in him and shine through him. In Jesus, the holy one of
God who makes us holy, a divine humility was the secret of his life and his
death and his exaltation; the one infallible test of our holiness will be
the humility before God and men which marks us. Humility is the bloom and
the beauty of holiness.
6) Holiness fits you for heaven
(Rev 21:27-note). “Pursue ... Sanctification without which no one will see the
Lord” (Heb 12:14-note).
As John Owen wrote:
There is no imagination wherewith man is
besotted, more foolish, none so pernicious, as this—that persons not
purified, not sanctified, not made holy in their life, should afterwards be
taken into that state of blessedness which consists in the enjoyment of God.
Neither can such persons enjoy God, nor would God be a reward to them.
Holiness indeed is perfected in heaven: but the beginning of it is
invariably confined to this world. God leads none to heaven but whom He
sanctifies on the earth. This living Head will not admit to dead members.
Obstacles to Cultivating
The cultivation of holiness will
inevitably meet with numerous obstacles. Much impedes holiness. Five common
problems against which we need to be on guard are these:
1) Our attitude to sin and life is
prone to be more self-centered than God-centered.
We are often more concerned about the
consequences of sin or victory over sin than about how our sins grieve God.
Positive consequences and victory then wrongly become by-products of
obedience and holiness. The cultivation of holiness necessitates hating sin
as God hates sin. Holiness is not merely loving God and our neighbor; it
also involves hatred. The hatred of sin is the essence of holiness. Those
who love God hate sin (Prov. 8:36). We must cultivate an attitude of viewing
sin as always being preeminently against God (Ps. 51:4).
Low and distorted views of sin reap low
and distorted views of holiness. “Wrong views about holiness are generally
traceable to wrong views about human corruption,” J. C. Ryle asserted. “If a
man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s diseases, you cannot
wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies.” Cultivating
holiness demands a rejection of the pride of life and the lusts of the flesh
as well as the prayer, “Give me the single eye, Thy Name to glorify”
(Psalter 236, stanza 2).
We fail when we do not consciously live
with our priorities centered on God’s Word, will, and glory. In the words of
the Scottish theologian, John Brown,
“Holiness does not consist in mystic
speculations, enthusiastic fervours, or uncommanded austerities; it consists
in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wills.”
2) Our progress is hindered when we
misunderstand “living by faith” (Gal. 2:20) to imply that no effort towards
holiness is commanded of us.
Sometimes we are even prone to consider
human effort sinful or “fleshly.” Bishop Ryle provides us with a corrective
Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked,
and unqualified a way as many do, that the holiness of converted people is
by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is this according to the
proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it. That faith in Christ is the root of
all holiness no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying.
But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true
Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith.
We are responsible for holiness. Whose
fault is it but our own if we are not holy? As Ralph Erskine counsels, we
need to implement the fight-or-flight attitude with regard to sinful
temptations. And sometimes we simply need to heed Peter’s plain injunction,
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts,
which wage war against the soul” (1Pe 2:11-note). Abstain—often it is that
If you have put off the old man and put
on the new (Eph 4:22-see
notes, Eph 4:23, 24, 25, 26,
26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32), live accordingly (Col 3:9-note,
Col 3:10-note). “Consider the
members of your earthly body as dead,” and seek those things which are above
notes, Col 3:2, 3, 4, 5), not as a form of legalism, but as a repercussion of divine
blessing (Col 2:9-see
notes, Col 2:10, 11, 12, 13,
14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23). Make a covenant with your eyes and feet and hands to
turn from iniquity (Job 31:1). Look the other way; walk the opposite way.
Put away uncontrolled anger, gossip, and bitterness. Put sin to death (Ro
8:13-note) by the blood of Christ. “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing
of thy sin,” wrote Owen, “and thou wilt ... live to see thy lust dead at thy
3) On the other hand, we fail
miserably when we take pride in our holiness and think that our exertions
can somehow produce holiness apart from faith.
From beginning to end holiness is the
work of God and His free grace (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter
13). As Richard Sibbes maintained, “By grace we are what we are in
Justification, and work what we work in Sanctification.” Holiness is not
partially God’s work and partially our work. Holiness manufactured by our
heart is not holiness after God’s heart. All working out of the Christian
life on our part is the fruit of God working in us and through us: “Work out
your Salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you,
both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-note,
“The regenerate have a spiritual nature
within that fits them for holy action, otherwise there would be no
difference between them and the unregenerate,” wrote A. W. Pink.
strictly speaking, is nonexistent. “We do good works, but not to merit by
them (for what can we merit?), nay, we are beholden to God for the good
works we do, and not he to us” (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 24).
As Calvin explained,
“Holiness is not a merit by which we can
attain communion with God, but a gift of Christ which enables us to cling to
him and to follow him.”
John Murray put it this way:
God’s working in us is not suspended
because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the
relation strictly one of cooperation as if God did his part and we did
ours.... God works in us and we also work. But the relation is that because
God works we work.
And every virtue we possess,
And every conquest won,
And every thought of holiness,
Are His alone.
Kenneth Prior warns:
There is a subtle danger of speaking of
Sanctification as essentially coming from our own effort or initiative. We
can unconsciously do this even while acknowledging our need for the power of
the Holy Spirit, by making the operation of that power dependent upon our
surrender and consecration.
Our dependence on God for holiness ought
to humble us. Holiness and humility are inseparable. Not least of what they
have in common is that neither one recognizes itself. The most holy complain
of their impurity; the most humble, of their pride. Those of us who are
called to be teachers and examples of holiness must beware of subtle and
insidious pride working its way into our supposed holiness.
Holiness is greatly impeded by any
number of wrong views of holiness in its relation to humility. For
(1) As soon as we think, speak, or act as
if our own holiness will somehow suffice us, without being clothed upon with
Christ’s humility, we are already enveloped by spiritual pride.
(2) When we begin to feel complacent with
our holiness, we may be sure we are far from both holiness and humility.
(3) When self-abasement is lacking,
holiness is lacking.
(4) When self-abasement does not make us
to flee to Christ and His holiness for refuge, holiness is lacking.
(5) Without a dependent life on Christ,
we shall possess no holiness.
4) Embracing unscriptural, erroneous views about holiness can greatly
impede our holiness.
The need to experience “the second
blessing,” an earnest search for our own special gift of the Spirit or to
exercise various charismatic gifts such as speaking in tongues or faith
healing, and the acceptance of Jesus as Savior but not as Lord—these are but
a few of the many erroneous interpretations of Scripture which can skew a
proper understanding of biblical holiness in our lives. Though addressing
these issues lies beyond the scope of this article, allow me to quote three
summary statements. Concerning the first error mentioned above, H. A.
Far from being ‘the second blessing,’
subsequent to justification, [holiness] is a work apart from which none ever
would be saved.
Or, to put it another way: It is not just
the second blessing that the believer needs, but he needs a second blessing,
as well as a third and fourth and fifth—yes, he needs the continual blessing
of the Holy Spirit in order to progress in holiness so that Christ may
increase and he may decrease (Jn 3:30).
Concerning the second error mentioned
above, John Stott wisely comments that
when Paul wrote to the Corinthians that
they were not lacking in spiritual gifts (1Cor 1:7), he makes it clear that
the evidence of the Spirit’s fullness is not the exercise of His gifts (of
which they had plenty), but the ripening of His fruit (of which they had
And with regard to the third error of
separating the Savior from His lordship, the Heidelberg Catechism provides a
summary corrective in Question 30:
One of these two things must be true,
that either Jesus is not a complete Savior or that they, who by a true faith
receive this Savior, must find all things in Him necessary to their
5) We are prone to shirk the battle of
daily spiritual warfare.
No one likes war. The believer is often
blind to his real enemies—to a subtle Satan, to a tempting world, and
especially to the reality of his own ongoing pollution which Paul so
poignantly expresses in Romans 7:14-see
notes, Ro 7:15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25.
To be holy among the holy takes grace; to
be holy among the unholy is great grace. Maintaining personal holiness in an
unholy world with a heart prone to backslide necessitates a perpetual fight.
It will involve conflict, holy warfare, struggle against Satan, a battle
between the flesh and the spirit (Gal 5:17). A believer not only has peace
of conscience, but also war within (Ro 7:24-note,
As Samuel Rutherford asserts,
“The devil’s war is better than the
Hence the remedies of Christ’s holiness
(Heb 7:25, 26, 27,28-see
notes) and of His Spirit-supplied Christian armor (Eph 6:10-see
notes, Eph 6:11, 12, 13, 14,
15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20) are
ignored at our peril. True holiness must be pursued against the backdrop of
an acute awareness of indwelling sin which continues to live in our hearts
and to deceive our understanding. The holy man, unlike others, is never at
peace with indwelling sin. Though he may backslide far, he will again be
humbled and ashamed because of his sin.
The Joy of Holiness Cultivated
A holy life ought to be one of joy in the
Lord, not negative drudgery (Neh. 8:10). The idea that holiness requires a
gloomy disposition is a tragic distortion of Scripture. On the contrary,
Scripture asserts that those who cultivate holiness experience true joy.
If you keep My commandments, you will
abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s command, and abide in His
love. These things I have spoken to you that your joy may be in you, and
that your joy may be made full (John 15:10,11).
Those who are obedient—who are pursuing
holiness as a way of life—will know the joy that flows from communion with
God: a supreme joy, an ongoing joy, an anticipated joy.
1) The supreme joy: fellowship with God.
No greater joy can be had than communion
with God. “In Thy presence is fulness of joy” (Ps 16:11). True joy springs
from God as we are enabled to walk in fellowship with Him. When we
disfellowship ourselves from God by sin, we need to return with penitential
prayer to Him as did David: “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” (Ps
notes). The words Jesus spoke
to the thief on the cross represent the chief delight of every child of God:
“Today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
2) The ongoing joy: abiding assurance.
True holiness obeys God, and obedience
always trusts God. It believes, “And we know that God causes all things to
work together for good to those who love God” (Ro 8:28-note)—even when it cannot
be seen. Like faithful workers on a Persian carpet, who blindly hand up all
colors of strand to the overseer who works out the pattern above them, God’s
intimate saints are those who hand Him even the black strands He calls for,
knowing that His pattern will be perfect from above, notwithstanding the
gnarled mess underneath. Do you too know this profound, childlike trust in
believing the words of Jesus: “What I do you do not realize now, but you
shall understand hereafter” (Jn 13:7)? That is ongoing, stabilizing joy
which surpasses understanding. Holiness reaps joyous contentment; “godliness
actually is a means of great gain” (1Ti 6:6).
3) The anticipated joy: eternal, gracious
Jesus was motivated to endure His
sufferings by anticipating the joy of His reward (Heb 12:1-note,
Heb 12:2-note). Believers
too may look forward to entering into the joy of their Lord as they pursue
holiness throughout their lives in the strength of Christ. By grace, they
may joyously anticipate their eternal reward: “Well done, good and faithful
slave.... Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt 25:21, 23). As John
Here is the Christian’s way and his
end—his way is holiness, his end, happiness.
Holiness is its own reward, for
everlasting glory is holiness perfected.
The souls of believers are at their death
made perfect in holiness” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 37).
But also their bodies shall be raised
immortal and incorruptible, perfect in holiness, complete in Glorification
(1Co 15:49, 53).
Finally, the believer shall be what
he has desired to be ever since his Regeneration—perfectly holy in a triune
God. He shall enter into the eternal glory of Jesus Christ as a son of God
and fellow heir with Him (Phil 3:20,21; Ro 8:17-note). He shall finally be like
Christ, holy and without spot or wrinkle” (Eph 5:25-note,
Eph 5:27-note), eternally
magnifying and exalting the unfathomable bounties of God’s sovereign grace.
Truly, as Calvin stated,
the thought of the great nobility God has
conferred upon us ought to whet our desire for holiness.
I once read of a missionary who had in
his garden a shrub that bore poisonous leaves. At that time he had a child
who was prone to put anything within reach into his mouth. Naturally he dug
the shrub out and threw it away. The shrub’s roots, however, were very deep.
Soon the shrub sprouted again. Repeatedly the missionary had to dig it out.
There was no solution but to inspect the ground every day, and to dig up the
shrub every time it surfaced. Indwelling sin is like that shrub. It needs
constant uprooting. Our hearts need continual mortification.
As John Owen warns us:
We must be exercising [mortification] every day, and in every duty. Sin will
not die, unless it be constantly weakened. Spare it, and it will heal its
wounds, and recover its strength.
We must continually watch against the operations of this principle of sin:
in our duties, in our calling, in conversation, in retirement, in our
straits, in our enjoyments, and in all that we do. If we are negligent on
any occasion, we shall suffer by it; every mistake, every neglect is
Press on, true believer, in the uprooting
of sin and the cultivation of holiness. Continue to fight the good fight of
faith under the best of generals—Jesus Christ, with the best of internal
advocates—the Holy Spirit, by the best of assurances—the promises of God;
for the best of results—everlasting glory.
Have you been persuaded that cultivating
holiness is worth the price of saying “no” to sin and “yes” to God? Do you
know the joy of walking in God’s ways? The joy of experiencing Jesus’ easy
yoke and light burden? The joy of not belonging to yourself, but belonging
to your “faithful Savior Jesus Christ,” who makes you “sincerely willing and
ready, henceforth, to live unto Him” (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1)? Are
you holy? Thomas Brooks gives us sixteen marks on “how we shall know whether
we have real holiness.” The list includes these: The holy believer “admires
the holiness of God; possesses diffusive holiness that spreads itself over
head and heart, lip and life, inside and outside; stretches himself after
higher degrees of holiness; hates and detests all ungodliness and
wickedness; grieves over his own vileness and unholiness.”
It is a daunting list, yet a biblical
one. No doubt we all fall far short, but the question remains: Are we
striving for these marks of holiness?
Perhaps you respond, “Who is adequate for
these things” (2Co 2:16)? Paul’s ready answer is, “Not that we are adequate
in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves but our adequacy
is from God” (2Co 3:5). “Would you be holy? ... Then you must begin with
Christ.... Would you continue holy? Then abide in Christ.”
“Holiness is not the way to Christ;
Christ is the way of holiness.”
Outside of Christ there is no holiness.
Then every list of marks of holiness must condemn us to hell. Ultimately, of
course, holiness is not a list; it is more than a list—it is a life, a life
in Jesus Christ. Holiness in believers proves that they are joined to
Christ, for sanctified obedience is impossible without Him. But in Christ,
the call to holiness is within the context of sola gratia (grace alone) and
sola fide (faith alone). “If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord,
who could stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be
feared” (Ps 130:3-note,
“Since Christ cannot be known apart from
the Sanctification of the Spirit,” Calvin writes, “it follows that faith can
in no wise be separated from a devout disposition.”
Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God,
holiness, grace, and faith are inseparable. Make it your prayer:
“Lord, grant that I will cultivate
holiness today—not out of merit, but out of gratitude, by Thy grace through
faith in Christ Jesus. Sanctify me by the blood of Christ, the Spirit of
Christ, and the Word of God.”
Pray with Robert Murray M’Cheyne,
“Lord, make me as Holy as a pardoned
sinner can be.”
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