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CAN WE BE HOLY?

 

   

“You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE Lord. And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban.  So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord. (Exodus 28:36-38)

 

 

God instituted the office of High Priest when He established the ceremonial worship of the tabernacle in the Sinai desert. The uniform of the High Priest was different from that of all other priests because his function was so different from theirs. The iniquity of the holy things is here said to be born by the High Priest on his forehead, an acknowledgment of the guilt of sin that made the sacrifices necessary. The only thing that kept the High Priest from being sinful in the presence of God was the gold plate he wore on his headdress on which was inscribed the words: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. The symbolism in this is that the holiness of God rested on the High Priest thereby making him holy and capable of bearing off the iniquity represented by the sacrifices presented by the people. This made the High Priest a type of Christ, the Holy Savior who bore the sins of the world on the cross.

Holiness is defined as the state or character of being holy. The word holy is defined in several ways, two of which are: (1) devoted to the service of God, and (2) religious or moral purity. The Old Testament word for holy means a sacred place or thing. This word comes from the root to be clean (in either a ceremonial or moral sense). The New Testament word for holy means purification, or the state of purity. This word is also translated by the English word sanctification.

The word holiness sometimes appears in the Bible along with the word righteousness, which suggests the two words are closely related in character. Righteousness is defined as characterized by uprightness or morality; morally right. The New Testament word is derived from the Greek word meaning equitable, which implies innocence and holiness. The Old Testament word comes from the root to be right (in a moral or forensic sense).

Another word of significance in the study of holiness is the word perfection. While the words holiness and righteousness are tolerated, if not touted, in much of modern Christianity, the word perfect is eschewed as the worst of words that can be associated with a Christian. Christians that believe in Christian perfection, what few there are any more, are considered to be filled with spiritual pride and the worst of sinners on the face of the earth. John Wesley faced such criticism throughout his ministry and the denomination that planted itself on his memory quickly abandoned the concept as the worst of all possible shibboleths. Nevertheless, the word perfection has meaning and if we understand that meaning, we will see that it is not the dirty word most people believe it to be. The definition of the word perfect is: In a state proper to a thing when completed. In other words, perfect is when something has been completed and is in its final and intended condition. The Old Testament word for perfect means complete (whether literally, figuratively, or morally). The New Testament word simply means complete.

The words holy, righteous and perfect are perfectly good Bible words that, when applied to the experience of salvation, indicate the making clean, making right, and bringing to a completed or finished state as God intends. These words cannot be separated from the experience of salvation without doing violence to the word of God. In fact, doctrinal systems that explain away these words rob Christians of the essential aspects of salvation. Therefore, we say that holiness is the logical and natural outcome of the experience of Christian salvation.

 

It appears that people do not like to use the words holy, righteous and perfect to refer to themselves or to other humans as these words convey traits that are considered unattainable by sinful human beings. Yet the Scriptures differ with that opinion.

 

For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth.  (Leviticus 11:44)

 

In the context of this text, God is telling the Israelites not to eat unclean creeping things because to do so would make them unclean and, thereby, unholy. Certainly we understand that the type of holiness referred to here is a ceremonial holiness. There is nothing moral or immoral about a creeping thing that would automatically defile the moral nature of a person. However, disobeying the command of God would be an immoral action and would result in moral defilement. But, bugs are not sinful in themselves, so it is clear that God refers to ceremonial holiness in this statement. But notice God’s rationale for imposing this ceremonial holiness on the people: It is His own holiness; be holy, for I am holy. In all considerations of holiness, whether ceremonial or moral, it must be remembered that the underlying fundamental is God’s holiness. People that dismiss holiness as irrelevant or unattainable do so at their own peril as they are dismissing the holiness of God as irrelevant or unattainable.

 

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13–16, NASB )

 

First Peter is an epistle the Apostle Peter wrote to the church at large and, as such, it is not limited to the Early Church but is applicable to the church throughout history. He admonishes us to fix our hope on the grace to be made apparent at the coming of Christ; in other words, live our lives as if Christ would return today. Consistent with that hope we are told to live radically changed lives. Our first responsibility to the Lord Jesus Christ is obedience; or second responsibility is not to live in the sinful manner we did as sinners; and the third responsibility is to live as Christ lived, that is, holy in all our behavior. Notice that Peter indicated that ALL our behavior is to be holy. If we consider how much is ALL behavior, that eliminates occasional lapses into sin. How many professed Christians ignore this of feel that it somehow does not apply to them? If Saint Peter is the gatekeeper of heaven, as jokes and stories portray him to be, how can people expect him to punch their tickets when they have not obeyed this statement he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?

Peter supports his admonition by referring to Leviticus 11:44 . Surely his intention was not to keep us from eating bugs. The holiness he requires here is not ceremonial holiness, but ethical holiness resulting from a reborn moral condition that comes from an experience with God. As Christians, we receive from God a moral holiness that can only be expressed through behavior; a state of being that produces a life consecrated to God. The Christian standard for holiness is the holiness of God. This is not something we aim at as a goal that can never be reached. This is something that can be, and must be, realized in our actual every day lives.

 

And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

 

God chose Abraham to be the father of the nation through whom Messiah would come into the world. God made an agreement with Abraham in which He would bless Abraham if he would simple be what God wanted for him to be. Abraham was undoubtedly a good man before God called him. We first see him as a faithful son dutifully following his father, and then as a highly responsible man taking on the leadership of his family at his father’s passing. There were traits about this man that made him eligible for his encounter with God in Genesis chapter twelve. But even in all his goodness, he lacked a certain righteousness about his life and it is in the encounter with God in chapter fifteen that we see this righteousness born in him. When Abraham believed God about the forthcoming miraculous birth of Isaac, a birth physically impossible except for the intervention of God Himself, God saw his intent to be right with God even in the face of the impossible, and God accounted it to him for righteousness.

 

And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Romans 1:18–19­)

 

The Apostle Paul describes salvation as a two-sided experience: (1) Set free from sin, and (2) becoming slaves of righteousness. New Testament righteousness is defined as innocence and holiness; being without sin. That is, we were once sinners, slaves of uncleanness and lawlessness leading to more and more lawlessness. In our encounter with God through salvation we have been set free from sin and its slavery and are now dedicated to right living. Notice in Paul’s reasoning that righteousness produces holiness as its natural and logical outcome: slaves of righteousness for holiness.

 

This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.  (Genesis 6:9)

 

Here we encounter the dreaded “P” word: Perfect. Either Noah was perfect or he was not; and if he was not, then the Bible tells a lie. Noah was a just man. The word just is the same word as righteous in the original language. Remember that the word righteous means to be right: Noah was right with God. Because he was right with God, Noah is said to be perfect in all his generations. Noah was everything God wanted him to be. Yes, Noah had some problems, but in spite of those problems and for the time in which he lived, Noah was a perfect man. Christ came into the world between Noah’s time and our day and with His coming ushered in the better covenant and the moral transformation of the new birth. If Noah could be perfect before God with the grace of God he experienced in his time, how much more can those who are born from above and filled with the Holy Spirit be perfect before God in our time?

 

For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14, NASB )

 

The writer of Hebrews speaks of people who are sanctified, or made holy, in his time. Christian theologians universally agree that sanctification is an aspect of Christian salvation even though there might be some differences of opinion as to when it happens and to what extent. But notice the bold and shameless assertion of this New Testament writer that the atonement in Christ perfects the sanctified for all time. We agree that people are sanctified in salvation so of necessity we MUST agree that they also are perfected for all time. By the way, in the New Testament the words holiness and sanctification are the same Greek word.

What does this passage teach? There are several aspects of salvation, such as conversion, the new birth, justification, adoption, and glorification. Sanctification is the sixth aspect of salvation and completes the work of salvation. While the New Testament writers do not present a systematic theology of salvation, all these aspects of salvation are given throughout its pages. The writer of Hebrews, whose purpose is to contrast Old Testament and New Testament salvation, merely cuts to the chase and here speaks of salvation by the term sanctification, or being made holy, and he says that this act of God on the human life completes the spiritual and moral work of salvation. Salvation enables the Christian to go out into the world and be holy in all his behavior because he is complete in Christ.

 

Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12, NASB )

 

Paul speaks of the great prayer-burden Epaphras carried for the church at Colosse. While he may have prayed varied and sundry things for them, his passion was characterized by his burden that they would stand perfect and fully assured in the will of God. The expression rendered “fully assured” in the NASB is actually the word “complete.” While “complete” is the definition of the word “perfect”, Paul uses this word as a complement to the word perfect to expand its meaning. The two words stand in the relationship of cause and effect. Perfection, the cause, comes from the spiritual and moral transformation of salvation. Completeness, the effect, is the ability to live out in ethical reality the will of God: In other words, the ability to be holy in all your behavior.

 

Can we be holy? Through this study we see that this one question is actually three questions: (1) Can we be holy, (2) can we be righteous, and (3) can we be perfect. The Scriptures lay out for us in both the Old and New Testaments that some people realized these virtues in their lives. If we understand the gospel correctly, we come to understand that holiness is the natural and logical outcome of salvation. Salvation saves people from their sins; it makes them free from sin to use the words of the Apostle Paul. Therefore, saved people live right; they are righteous. If Christians live right, then they are holy; consecrated to God and morally pure. If Christians are holy, then they are perfect in that they have everything God wants them to have in salvation: They are complete.

Can we be holy? In simple terms, as sinners, people are incomplete according to the will of God; they are not what He wants them to be. As people set free from sin and made holy by the grace of God, they are complete according to the will of God. Yes, I believe that we can be holy.