LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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GOING ON TO PERFECTION

 

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God. (Hebrews 6:1)

 

 In our last message we learned that various words in the New Testament that are translated as “perfect” all indicate essentially the same thing: complete or completeness. By complete, we understand this in the sense that, as Christians, we receive everything God has for us in salvation through the moral and ethical changes that take place in our lives.

John Wesley understood perfection in this sense: A Christian is so far perfect, as not to commit sin. By sin, he meant sin properly so called; that is, a voluntary transgression of a known law of God. He did not believe that mistakes are sins or that people are guilty of sin if they did something without the knowledge they were breaking a law of God.

Wesley believed that holiness is ethical; that it is behavior produced by the moral change worked in the human life by salvation. To him, the ethical response to salvation is the same thing as perfection. We concur. “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” (1 Peter 1:16)

 

In some ways, the concept of perfection can be likened to a coin. A coin has three aspects, each unique, but all necessary for it to be a coin. The first aspect is the coin itself. A coin is usually a metal disc that represents some denomination of money. The second aspect of the coin is that it has a “heads” side, or the obverse, which usually carries the bust of a head-of-state and the date the coin was minted. The third aspect is the “tails” side, or the reverse, that compliments the obverse and makes the coin unique.

Perfection is like the coin in that it is the complete article; but, it requires obverse and reverse sides to make it what it is. Said another way, there is a positive side and a negative side to perfection, and without both, perfection cannot be perfection. The two sides of perfection are righteousness and holiness. Righteousness can be seen as the positive side in that the ability to obey the will of God comes only from a right relationship with God. Holiness can be seen as the negative in that a right relationship with God produces holy living, which stated negatively, is that Christians can live without committing sin.

A scriptural background for this approach can be found in the following texts.

RIGHTEOUSNESS, the heads side of perfection. Philippians 3:9 “. . . not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” 1 John 3:7 “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”

HOLINESS, the tails side of perfection. 1 Peter 1:16 “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”

 

This series of messages has to do with the subject of holiness. As we look into the terms perfection, righteousness and holiness, we find that, while having somewhat different meanings, they all mean essentially the same thing and to some degree can be used interchangeably.

Holiness, at its most basic level, is what results in the human life from the experience of salvation. It can be said that salvation is the act of god whereby He delivers people from the life and bondage of sin. “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness.” (Romans 6:22) Just saying this may appear arbitrary, but there is a cause and effect at work and holiness is God’s intended result. Righteousness is the cause; holiness is the effect. To put it into a catchy slogan, righteousness is being right with God and holiness is living right for God.

 

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 6:18–19)

 

Verse 18 places being set free from sin on the same level as righteousness. This makes sense because as sin separates people from God, the removal of sin from our lives makes us right with God. Verse 19 adds to this by saying that as slaves (or servants) of righteousness we can produce only one result and that is holiness. Therefore, we are to understand that righteousness is the cause and holiness is the effect.

 

Understanding this fact about salvation will help us to see that there are two sides to holiness in its generic sense. Among holiness people, holiness is usually understood in a narrow sense, which is living without committing sin. This is most certainly one sense of holiness but it is not the entire picture. Wesley said that we do not “voluntarily transgress a known law of God.” The Apostle John puts it this way: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in Him and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:9 )

The ability to live without committing sin does not come out of the strength of human character, for this is entirely impossible. Instead, this ability comes from the relationship of being right with God, or what we have called righteousness. “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” (1 John 3:7 ) Critics of holiness accuse people that profess holiness of spiritual pride, at best, or lying, at worst, because they think we think that we are so good and spiritually strong that we live without committing sin by our own strength and ability. Anyone who can properly understand 1 John 3:7 can see plainly that it is only the righteousness of Christ in a person that causes him to live a holy life.

Living without committing sin is the negative side of holiness. While this is necessary it is not to be separated from the positive side of holiness, which is living in obedience to all we know of the will of God. And why would we not want to? While living without committing sin and living in obedience to God’s will are similar, there is a difference. “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him.” (1 John 3:24 ) It is one thing not do something that is morally wrong (that is, not to commit a sin) and it is another thing to obey God in all things. “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

 

The commandments of God is an extremely large topic impossible to cover in one sermon. That is one reason you must be faithful to come to church and to read your Bible. In doing these things, you will become aware of God’s commands, or might we say, His will, and know what God expects of you in every circumstance you will face in life.

There are some rather obvious commands, such as to pray regularly; read the Bible regularly; come to church regularly; and so forth. Then there are the obvious moral issues as outlines in the Ten Commandments. There are two summary texts I’d like for you to consider to help you grasp the positiveness of holiness as it crosses the broad spectrum of your life.

 

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. (1 Timothy 6:11–12)

 

Paul outlines nine things that are the evidence of a right relationship with God and right living. Briefly, those are:  

    1.      Righteousness: whatever it takes for you to be right with God.

    2.      Godliness: gospel piety, devout.

    3.      Faith: moral conviction of truth.

    4.      Love: agape, selfless love for God and others.

    5.      Patience: hopeful endurance, waiting without doubting or feeling sorry for yourself.

    6.      Meekness: humble.

    7.      Fight the good fight of faith: engage yourself in the contest or conflict with all that attacks the moral conviction of truth.

    8.      Lay hole on eternal life: live for eternity and forsake absolutely anything that might get in your way of obtaining eternal life.

    9.      Good confession: honestly and openly acknowledge Christ as lord and savior and openly identity with the saints of God.

 

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12–13)

 

The word of God is clearly the commands of God, that by which God expects us as Christians to live. Live as if you really believe that God sees everything you do, that He hears everything you say, and that He knows exactly why you do whatever you do.

Holiness is far more than just following a religious creed or obeying what a preacher tells you to do. Holiness is, first of all, being saved from sin. Have you been saved from sin? Next, holiness is obeying everything you know to be the will of God. Are you obeying everything you know to be the will of God—all the time? As God looks at your life, you actions, your words and your motives, does He know that it all comes form a true commitment and devotion to Him?

Can you, as a person professing to be a Christian, honestly testify that God in now sanctifying you entirely? “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

The title of this message is Going On To Perfection. Hopefully you now understand what perfection is, what righteousness and holiness are. I trust that you understand that the ability to live a holy life comes from the righteousness of Christ God placed in your life the moment He saved you from sin. Hebrews 6:1 encourages you to put the elementary things behind you; those things are your foundation upon which God expects you to build a holy life. Perfection, complete obedience to all you know to be the will of God, is something that is possible for you right now. It is your responsibility to “go on to perfection,” to make that effort, which the Holy Spirit will bless. The cause, righteousness, is in your soul by virtue of the saving grace of God; let Him make the effect, holy living, obvious in your life.