LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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WHAT HOLINESS IS NOT

 

 

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 )

 

 

Before we investigate the subject of holiness any further, it will serve us well to look at some things holiness is not. The subject of holiness has been made ambiguous in our time. To some people the word means one thing and to others it means something else. It is highly probable that many, if not most, Christians actually do not know what the term means. It is of no value to discuss holiness with someone when that person has no idea of what you mean. To clear some of the debris out of the way before I discuss holiness, I want to mention four things holiness is not.

 

The holiness of salvation is not just a positional holiness. Doctrinal systems that do not allow for practical, ethical holiness ascribe the holiness of believers to their position in Christ. The thinking is that “saved” people have a position in Christ, and since Christ is holy, His holiness is attributed to them because of their position in Christ. On the surface, this makes complete sense. However, 1 Peter 1:13 –16 speaks of an ethical holiness; holiness that comes from the salvation experience through Christ and has an outward expression in all our behavior.

Modern Christians are taught that this cannot be. The reasoning employed is that humans are sinful because they have a sinful nature (original sin) that resides in their flesh and will remain there until their death. No matter how hard a person tries to resist temptation or tries to do what he knows is right, he will inevitably and invariably be overpowered by his sinful nature and commit sin. Most Christians are lead to believe that, intentionally or unintentionally, they sin in word, thought, or deed every day.

 

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 )

 

The statement that Jesus cleanses us from all sin is pretty straight forward. But in the face of this clarity, the explanation of this passage given to most Christians is that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin: past, present, and future. That means that not only are my past sins under the blood of Christ, but any sin I might commit right now, and all sins that I might commit in the future are under the blood of Christ. When this thinking is joined with the doctrine of the perseverance of the believers, it results in what is commonly called Eternal Security. The premise of Eternal Security is that the sins committed by Christians only diminish their reward in heaven but do not keep them from going to heaven. In a sense, this thinking becomes a license to sin. This doctrine is logical when it is denied that the ethical outcome of salvation is perfection. People cannot be perfect, therefore they sin habitually and often without knowing they have sinned. There are many passages of Scripture that have been made to support such thinking, two of which are:

 

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (Romans 4:5)

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 

The Romans passage says that when sinners come to God with no personal righteousness, God justifies them and credits them with the righteousness of Christ. It is true that, according to Philippians 3:9 our so called righteousness, if it can be called that, is totally ineffective and useless before God. It is only the righteousness of Christ that has any meaning to us before God. No proponent of true holiness suggests or believes that any pretense to personal righteousness has any merit with God. The righteousness exhibited in the life of a Christian is first and always the righteousness of Christ.

The teaching here is that the righteousness of Christ is accredited to our past lives, thereby justifying us before God and making our past lives acceptable to Him. In other words, this is the aspect of salvation known as justification. While we are to live a righteous life, this is only possible through the righteousness of Christ. Christians are to be to be righteous people, but that righteousness is Christ’s righteousness, not our own. No one can brag about being a holy person as if he did it on his own.

What this passage does not teach is that we can never be righteous; that is, God always sees us as righteous and holy people regardless of how we live. Somehow, as we sin more or less every day, the blood of Christ covers that sin, whether or not we repent, and God does not see it. God always sees the righteousness of Christ and never sees our unrighteousness. This line of thinking has God as deceiving Himself.

The new creation relationship of 2 Corinthians 5:17 is stated in the terms of an absolute change in the lives of people who are in Christ. They are a NEW CREATION, and that is explained as old things having passed away and all things become new. This does not describe religion added to an otherwise sinful life. Either people are new creations or they are not; this does not describe some evolutionary process where people are part sinners and part saints.

Some understand this to say that when we are in Christ, God sees us as if we are a new creation; or, that He considers us to be a new creation. Our sins are forgiven and we have become sons of God. Yet, there is no real change in our being; we are still sinners but saved by grace. This verse cannot be understood to say that anyone in Christ is considered to be a new creation; it says that he is a new creation. A past president of the United States of America defended and justified certain of his actions with the defense that it all depends on how you define the word “is”. His argument did not make sense then and it doesn’t make sense in this passage. The word “is” has only one meaning: third person singular of TO BE. It describes the state of being of a third person in the present and it excludes all other possibilities other than the state attributed to that person in the sentence.

Also of interest in this verse are the words “new creation”. The Greek word “new” signifies new with respect to freshness. This is not something warmed over or something molded and nasty that has been spiced up. The word “creation” means a formation. The words describe a new thing God has formed or made; the new life in Christ, which is not just a retread of a sinful life. If a person is truly in Christ, there has been a fundamental change in his spiritual and moral nature so that is actually is a new and fresh spiritual formation. If we accept the concept of positional holiness, it must be with the understanding that it is the position that makes us holy, and that the holiness is real, not pretended or imagined.

 

Holiness is not legalism. The definition of legalism is precise obedience to the stated requirements of the law without regard to the intention. It is certain that God requires our obedience to His laws but this is not legalism. God has an intention for any law He places on mankind and, ultimately, that intention benefits mankind. Religious legalism develops laws which may or may not be actual requirements of God and it binds them on people usually with the threat of God’s censure if those laws are not obeyed. The Jewish Rabbinic practices in Jesus’ time are excellent examples of legalism that drove people away from the intent established by God to ends that had no real purpose other than making the people feel religious. Legalism can never be true holiness, but it is always a substitute for holiness.

 

But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:6)

 

Legalism considers itself to be observable proof that its adherents are holy because of what they do, or do not do, based on a set of rules; the letter of the law. It ignores the motives behind what people do and relies on the fact that they do what it tells them to do. Because legalism relies on a set of rules, people often fall short of precise obedience to all the rules for at least two reasons. The first is that most sets of religious rules are complex and involved and it is a challenge for the people to know all the rules and to apply them in every circumstance of their lives. The second is that rules are subject to interpretation, and it is human nature to interpret the rules in one’s favor; so, there tends to be a great deal of inconsistency among legalists. It follows then that legalists have difficulty following all their own rules and will eventually transgress one of them. Also, people have shortcomings that may not be addressed by the rules, so the people are left to their own devices. The legalistic mind can assume that God will overlook those shortcomings if most of the rules are followed. There are all kinds of issues that get caught up in legalism; for our purpose I will mention only five and that briefly.

The once-saved-always-saved doctrine is a form of legalism. This doctrine says that a “saved” person cannot loose his salvation even if he commits the worst of sins and no matter how often he sins. While the doctrine attempts to give Christians a sense of security, it is nevertheless a form of legalism in that it forces an obligation on God to accept a person as “saved” regardless of how he lives. Salvation is hereby reduced to a legal contract that binds God to the individual without any real response other than to “believe”; obedience is irrelevant.

Church joining is another form of legalism. How many people view their church membership as a contract for heaven? If the church can put his name on the roll book and accept him as a member, then certainly God has to accept him too. For sure, Christian should and must be active members of congregations, but to view church membership as an assurance of salvation is legalism.

All Christians practice prayer and Bible reading as part of their devotional lives, but how many people do these things with a superstitious awe and attribute powers to these activities that cannot be. How many people feel that if they read the Bible and pray regularly they are OK with God—in spite of what else they might do that would otherwise displease God. How many people read a certain number of chapters a day just for the sake of reading a certain number of chapters a day? To what end?

The holiness movement put a great deal of emphasis on the “outward standard.” It was believed that jewelry, hair styles, makeup, and certain manners of dressing were issues of pride that would lead to sin. Certain Bible passages were pulled out of context to support this belief. To counteract the tendency for pride, rules were drawn up to tell people what they could or could not wear. One problem that grew out of this form of legalism is that holiness people became very proud of their plain dress!

Many churches adopted legalistic positions on issues of entertainment. The idea here is that the sinful world engages in entertainments that are degrading and immoral, so it is important the Christians not involve themselves in these entertainments. So, rules about no dancing, no movies, no TV, no cards, and no ball games, just to mention a few, were put in place to protect church members from these evils. One problem with legalism in this venue is that, while telling people what they could not do for entertainment, it forgot to tell them what they could do.

All legalism has its pitfalls and my purpose is not to comment on whether or not certain restrictions are right or wrong but merely to comment on the fact that legalism is not holiness, nor is it a substitute for holiness. The gospel delivers us from the Law, meaning the Law of Moses. This does not mean that we are free to do just anything we want. The New Testament contains many passages that either spell out specific constraints or principles that address certain behaviors. We are to serve God by obeying the Holy Spirit He puts within us. As saved people, we do not need the Law of Moses or humanly devised rules to govern our behavior. The Holy Spirit will lead us in moral, ethical behavior that pleases God.

We don’t get to make the rules; some things are plainly taught in Scripture, and there are some things the Holy Spirit will teach us. He will not lead us into a sensual, self-serving lifestyle; He will lead us into holy conduct: al life that Jesus lives in our lives.

 

Fanaticism is not holiness. Fanaticism is defined as wild and often dangerous enthusiasm, especially in politics and religion.  The Bible gives a clear rule that eliminates fanaticism from the Christian life.

 

But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (1 Corinthians 14:40, NASB )

 

Where the NASB uses the word “properly,” the KJV and N KJV use the word “decently.” In New Testament Greek, the word means “with decorum; conformity with conventional social manners.” The expression “orderly manner” means the “regular arrangement, fixed succession, official dignity.” Christian behavior is to be decent behavior that does not violate social norms and decency.

Fanaticism tends to focus on one thing at the expense of everything else. In religion, this can be a certain doctrine or behavior. It can also be unwarranted devotion to a person such as a cult leader. Christians are different from non-Christians in much of their behavior, but they are still normal people who do normal things. Fanaticism stresses certain behaviors that marginalize the followers of some preachers or church groups.

I certainly believe that the Bible reveals that God can and does heal through His miraculous intervention. However, there are well-meaning Christians who believe that all medical practice is sinful and that for Christians to be Christians they cannot use medicine or the services of a doctor to treat physical problems. To them, faith is the only curative and people who do not have faith to be healed are not “saved” people. I do not mean to be harsh or judgmental of people that take this position, but this is one example of fanaticism.

What makes fanaticism so bad is that fanatics see themselves as the only people who are right. They see all others who do not follow their narrow point of view as being wrong. It seems to me that fanatics concentrate on their one point, relying on it as their claim to salvation while ignoring many other things clearly taught in Scripture that have to do with real holiness.

 

Emotionalism is not holiness. Emotionalism is a tendency to delight in, give way to, display or appeal to emotion (strong feeling). Among some Christians there is an attitude that an intimate relationship with God cannot but stir the human emotions; and that when the emotions are stirred, a person is close to God regardless of failings and faults that person may have with regard to God. I have know people who would curse, lie, or act in other non-Christian ways who could go to a church service and have their feelings stirred and believe that just because they have an emotional experience, they are in good relationship with God.

In 2 Corinthians 5:7 the Apostle Paul writes, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” He is writing about living life with eternity in view and not by the everyday circumstances we face. It is not much of a stretch to apply this to our emotions. We do not have to have the feelings and demonstrations to know we are “saved,” we simply have to possess the faith and assurance of our salvation whether or not we have any feelings. This is not a blind faith, it is a faith by which we live our everyday lives.

 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

 

As He who called you is holy, you all be holy in all your conduct. (1 Peter 1:15)

 

There is absolutely nothing ethical or moral about feelings; they cannot be the evidence of holiness. Behavior, conduct, is evidence of holiness when the behavior is anchored in the Person of Jesus Christ.

 

We have considered some things holiness is not. Holiness is never theoretical, it is always ethical. The ethic of holiness does not lie in the strict observance of some external code or set of rules. The ethic of holiness lies in the transforming experience of the new birth.