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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 )



Having considered some things holiness is not, it is now time to ask the question, “What, then, is holiness?” Earlier we found that the word holiness, or holy, meant to be ceremonially or morally clean, or to be in a state of purity. Holiness can be intimidating if we stop with the raw definition and fail to understand the underlying concept of holiness.

Holiness is related to two other words that are equally intimidating. The meanings of these words are closely related to holiness; in fact, they are essentially interchangeable with the word holiness. The first word is righteousness, which means morally right, and the second is perfection, which means complete. The New Testament concept of holiness resulting from salvation is accurately described by all three words. The finished product of salvation is perfection; that is, salvation imparts to a person all that God has for him; he is complete in Christ. While it is true that as mere mortals we are imperfect persons, yet in the plan of God we can be spiritually complete. Being spiritually complete means that God has made us right with Him, in other words: righteous. Finally, being spiritually complete and right with God, we then have the capacity to live right according to God’s plan; that is, to live a holy life.


Modern American Christianity takes two general approaches to the topic of holiness. The first and most common approach is positional holiness. This view of holiness suggests that when God saves a person He places that person in Christ and it is through this position only that a person is considered to be holy. So, holiness is purely theoretical and has nothing to do with a person’s disposition or behavior. The second view is ethical holiness.  This view sees salvation as a moral transformation in the life of a saved person that generates moral and spiritual strength. This strength comes from being in Christ and is actually demonstrated in a saved person’s disposition and behavior.

This second view is often dismissed by modern Christianity as spiritual pride and people that profess to live a holy life are looked upon as liars or fanatics. The modern approach to the gospel is like a customizable personal development program that promotes self-realization. The modern gospel preached by most churches seems to be: God does not think you are half as bad as you think you are; and we don’t either. The truth is that God does not save people to make them feel better about themselves; He saves them to bring them into a right relationship with Himself so that the Holy Spirit can reveal the life of Christ through their everyday lives.


Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:4–7)


The Apostle Paul’s take on salvation seems significantly different than that of modern Christianity. The first thing Paul points out is a direct correlation between the literal resurrection of Christ and the spiritual resurrection experienced by the believer in salvation. Paul calls it newness of life. In the theology of the gospel, salvation results in a new life, not the same old life with religion added to it. This new life springs from the believer’s death to sin. Just as Christ died to save us from sin, we must be dead to that sin for which He died; otherwise His death has no ability to do anything for us. On the positive side, as Christ was raised from death to glory, the believer is resurrected from spiritual death to a glorious life that is in the “likeness of His resurrection.” How can this be? Because in salvation the “old man” is crucified that the “body of sin” might be done away. Being united with Christ in His death and resurrection is more than just a position, it is a cause that has a real effect on the human condition. In the words of Paul, “For he who had died has been freed from sin.”

Christ does not add religion to a sinful life; He causes a moral transformation to take place so that our lives are changed from sinful lives to sinless lives. Modern Christianity would have us believe that God just makes us religious sinners—sinners saved by grace. In verse 11 Paul writes, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Saved people take on a new disposition towards sin: they are dead to sin. Verse 13, “. . . present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Again, the positive side of salvation is that we are resurrected from a life of sin (to which we died) and are alive to God. Being alive to God carries with it both the ability and responsibility to present our “members” as instruments of righteousness to God. In other words, the moral transformation of salvation changes our behavior to conform to God’s righteousness. Verse 19, “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.” Clearly, we are to understand that the holiness that comes from salvation is ethical (real) not positional (theoretical).


 Given the above Scriptural description of salvation it becomes evident that holiness of life is the logical and natural result of salvation. Sin was the main spiritual characteristic of human nature before the experience of salvation. It should not be difficult for people to comprehend that God’s plan for salvation is to deliver people from their sins, not just to add religion to a sinful life.


Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Ephesians 2:3, NASB )


Sin is the natural condition of the unregenerate. We lived according to the lusts and desires of our flesh without regard to the will of God. Paul wrote that this is a natural condition, something that is part of the unregenerate life. Theologians refer to this as original sin, inherited sin, or native depravity. However theologians might define these terms, the effect is the same in all humans. This element of human nature is something within people they willingly follow that takes them farther and farther away from God. It is evident in the lusts and desires of the flesh that contradict all sense of morality and anything to do with the will of God. In following these lusts and desires, all people come under the wrathful judgment of God. Ezekiel 18:4 . . . the soul who sins shall die.


But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)


In this passage Paul calls this condition the “natural man.” This expression is far more accurate than the theological terms original sin, inherited sin, or native depravity for two reasons: First, it is biblical and second, the context describes the condition more precisely than the doctrines expressed by the theological terms. Notice that the natural man has nothing in common with God. He has no understanding or sympathy for the will of God whatsoever. It takes spirituality for a person to discern, or understand, the things of God. The natural man is spiritually dead and has no capacity whatsoever to comprehend the things of God. This is why salvation has to be a miracle of moral transformation and not just the adding of religion to an otherwise sinful life.


And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)


Just prior to writing this statement, Paul gives a long list of sins in verses 9–10. This statement is in contrast to this list of sins and it points out the ethical change brought about by salvation in the lives of Christians. The change is not the result of joining a church, making a decision, or subscribing to a certain set of doctrines. This change results from God acting on the individual and doing for him what he cannot do for himself. God’s action is described by three words: washed, sanctified, and justified.

Washing refers to the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ applied to the human spirit. “. . . the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. . . . If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7, 9 ) In the act of salvation God first removes, or washes away, the sins we have committed by forgiving them and then He removes, or washes away, the cause of sin: unrighteousness. He then sanctifies us by causing us to be born again and receiving the Holy Spirit so that our lives are truly made morally pure enabling us to live a holy life. Then he justifies our lives, that is, He cancels the record of all our past sins so that our entire life is made acceptable to Him in all ways.

Jesus said the same thing in another way. John 3:3 , “I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God .” The word “again” is actually the Greek word an-ō-then, meaning “from above.” Jesus actually said that people need to be born from above. This rendering makes absolute sense in the light of Jesus’ reasoning. Verse 6, “That which is born of the flesh . . .” Natural birth is a birth in the flesh. It is defective in that we are born in the condition the Bible calls “the natural man” (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14 ). The fleshly birth leaves us spiritually dead and in a condition where we can follow only the lusts and desires of the flesh. Verse 6 (continued), “. . . that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” By this Jesus means the birth from above. It is a spiritual birth that corrects the defects of the fleshly birth. In this experience, people are given spiritual life so that they can comprehend the things of God. Verse 7, “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again ( NASB ).’”

According to Jesus, people are spiritually dead if they have not been born from above. Again this points out the moral transformation of salvation. Salvation is not just adding religion to one’s life, going to church, or intending to do the right things. It is an act of God on the human life that corrects the fundamental wrong in human nature and brings people into a right relationship with God. It enables people to give up sinning and to live in complete obedience to everything they know God requires of them.


Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:4–9, NASB )


The Apostle John contrasts the lives of Christians and the unregenerate in no uncertain terms. No one who is born of God practices sin and he cannot sin because he is born of God. Defenders of the sinning Christian explain away this passage with reasoning that really does not make sense in the light of the context.

In verse 4 the King James Version uses the expression “committeth sin,” whereas many modern versions use the expression “practices sin.” The sinning Christian position says that it is one thing to commit sin and another thing to practice sin. In their thinking anyone can commit a sin and that is the end of it; however, to practice sin means that one habitually commits a sin, or certain sins, over and over. Notice that I have used the NASB text, which uses the word practice. Is there really a difference between the words commit and practice? The Greek word is poy-eh-ō, which is the prolonged form of an absolute primary: to make or to do. In English this could be rendered as “is doing the sin.” Commit and practice mean essentially the same thing. Opponents of holiness would say that if a person tells a lie every once-and-a-while he is not practicing sin, he only commits a sin; whereas a person that habitually tells lies is practicing sin. This is vague at best because it does not provide a frequency that can help us to distinguish between the two. Suppose the person that tells a lie every once-and-a-while does so every other week and the person that habitually lies tells a lie every other week, how is it possible to distinguish between the two?

Young’s Literal Translation captures the essence of the Greek context for this passage. Notice the words in bold print as they emphasize the grammar and clarify the meaning.


Every one who is doing the sin, the lawlessness also he doth do, and the sin is the lawlessness, and ye have known that he was manifested that our sins he may take away, and sin is not in him; every one who is remaining in him doth not sin; every one who is sinning, hath not seen him, nor known him. Little children, let no one lead you astray; he who is doing the righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous, he who is doing the sin, of the devil he is, because from the beginning the devil doth sin; for this was the Son of God manifested, that he may break up the works of the devil; every one who hath been begotten of God, sin he doth not, because his seed in him doth remain, and he is not able to sin, because of God he hath been begotten.


The New International Version, which seems to be the favorite of modern American Christianity, is even stronger than a literal translation from the Greek.


Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning.


The clear sense of this passage is that salvation causes a radical break from sin in the lives of people who are saved. While the possibility of sinning always exists, the truth is that people in Christ do not continue to sin; on the contrary, they do what is right because they are righteous, just as Christ is righteous. Salvation causes a moral change to take place in the nature of people. The works of the devil are destroyed and replaced with the righteousness of Christ.

People who have been born of God cannot go on sinning because the nature of God in them, the seed of God, is incapable of sin. Certainly, holiness is the logical and natural result of salvation.