The God of the Bible is a holy God. His appearance is awesome. It drained the color from the face of one godly prophet (Daniel 10:8 NASB) and caused another to cry out that he was ruined (Isaiah 6:5 NASB). Yet another fell at His feet as a dead man (Revelation 1:17). The angelic guardians of this holiness incessantly cry before His throne, “Holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). Nothing that defiles can enter the place where He dwells (Revelation 21:27). Without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Therefore the people of God must be a holy people and He has called us to that (Ephesians 1:4). He says, “Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16; cf. Leviticus 11:44; 19:2).
Unless God’s holiness is firmly implanted before the mind’s eye, we will be prone to low standards in personal living. “We have learned to live with unholiness and have come to look upon it as the natural and expected thing,” says A. W. Tozer.7 This laxness causes us to suppose that sinful living and easy forgiveness are perfectly acceptable. Those who continue in sexual immorality, drunkenness and such behavior will not inherit the kingdom of God, no matter how secure they feel in their prayers and church attendance (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 22:15). The believer is warned to flee immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18). Since the word “holy” is applied to the Spirit, to the Scriptures and to Christ Himself, it does not have an inferior meaning when applied to the kind of people we are to be.
Such varied words as “sanctify,” “saint,” and “consecrate” come from the same root as “holy.” The fundamental meaning is “set apart.” The words occur more than 800 times in the Bible. Non-living things, such as the vessels of the temple, were considered to be holy when set apart for God. Israel was set apart for God’s purposes in the Old Testament and therefore called a holy nation. The people of God in the New Testament are called a holy nation as well. God speaks of sanctifying Himself, for He is the Holy One. This indicates the absolute purity of His being and His separateness from the slightest taint.
Aspects of Holiness
1. Positional Holiness. We are brought into a position of eternal sanctification when we trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (Acts 26:18; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 6:11; Hebrews 10:10,14). We are made holy by being “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore God calls every believer a “saint,” or holy one, as the salutation of almost every Pauline epistle makes clear (1 Corinthians 1:2). By grace we are given a holiness which would otherwise be impossible to attain.
2. Progressive Holiness. “Progressive” implies a process of becoming holy in practice. This is the holiness that Christ prays for (John 17:17). God intends for our positional holiness in Christ to stimulate us to practice holiness in our daily lives. Unholiness is a mark of corrupt men bound for God’s eternal judgment (1 Timothy 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 3:2-5). We are called to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). There are stern warnings and strict penalties connected with unworthy practices (1 Corinthians 11:27-31). We are called to sanctification in this life, not simply in the one to come (1 Thessalonians 4:7; 2 Peter 3:11).
This practical, or daily holiness, involves both separation unto God and separation from evil. We are called to be set apart for God’s purposes and for the Master’s use (2 Timothy 2:21). This is a holy availability to God. We are also called to be separate from defilement in any form. This includes such things as fornication (1 Thessalonians 4:3), “fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11) and “every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22 NASB). We are not to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” but we are to be separate from such alliances (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).
3. Perfect Holiness. We will not be set apart from all defilement forever until we see the Savior in heaven. After death we will have ultimate, final, perfect holiness in all aspects (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; 1 John 3:2; Jude 24). We cannot expect perfection in this sense until then.
Errors About Holiness
1. Perfection After Conversion. Some groups have taught the doctrine of instantaneous and “entire” sanctification in this life, based upon Romans 6:6 and Galatians 2:20. Believers are urged to seek an experience whereby the “old man is crucified,” and the “body of sin … destroyed.” By seeking this experience believers are said to find and enjoy a perfection not possible at regeneration. They are said to achieve, all at once, a holier life than ever before by reason of this experience. However, this doctrine is at variance with the Scripture’s teaching of a moment-by-moment walk with Christ, rather than a once-for-all “crisis” (Luke 9:23). No single experience produces consistent, perpetual holiness or “sinless perfection.” Walking in the Spirit and abiding in Christ is a day by day matter.
2. Pharisaism. The members of a religious party of Jesus’ time were called “Pharisees,” meaning “separated ones.” They based their holiness before God upon meticulous observance of ceremonials, such as the washing of vessels and hands. They paid tithes (a tenth) even of the vegetables in their gardens (Luke 11:42 NASB). But they disregarded justice and the love of God. They would “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). The Pharisees were extremely judgmental of Jesus for His contact with sinners and outcasts and for His indifference to their ceremonials (Mark 7:2-5). If we seek to achieve holiness by ceremonials or religious duties that do not touch the inner life, then we are guilty of pharisaism. Today, this form of “holiness” is manifested in an extreme judgmental spirit toward other believers in matters of dress, hair style, customs or perhaps in minor details of doctrine. Yet the critics often lack genuine love and true spirituality in their own lives.
3. Elitism. Sometimes believers think they have arrived at spirituality because they have had a certain experience, or have developed a certain lifestyle (such as living in poverty), or have gathered around a certain school of doctrine that is THE truth. These are the ones to whom the phrase “holier than thou” so well applies (Isaiah 65:5). When we are guilty of elitism, we focus on our attainments and compare ourselves with those we think have not come so far (2 Corinthians 10:12). Our attitude is “there is one class of believers, namely ‘us,’ with our doctrines, our lifestyles, our special training, our leader—then there are all the other poor unenlightened souls.”
4. Isolationism. It is easy to think that if we could just get away from the world and keep to ourselves, then we would be holy before God. We can stay away from sinners. We can live in the mountains or in a remote spot. We can adopt special dress, to identify ourselves as different. We can spend all our time with believers. We can refuse to read or hear any news from the general world. We might do all these things to try to achieve holiness. However, the example of the Lord Jesus forbids this. He ate with sinners, visited among all the people and was fully aware of what was going on. Yet He never compromised His personal standards. Our calling is rather to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-16). If the Lord wanted otherwise, He would remove us.
Areas of Holiness
Personal holiness involves every aspect of a believer’s life. Some of the more notable areas, particularly evident to others, are our speech, disposition, moral conduct, personal relationships, outward appearance and dietary practices.
1. Speech. Our speech should be worthwhile. Gossip and meaningless chatter should be avoided. Our words should be not only honest (Leviticus 19:11; Proverbs 12:22), pure (Ephesians 5:3-4), and gracious (Colossians 4:6), but also edifying (Ephesians 4:29). We should speak with reverence about the things of God, particularly avoiding puns or jokes about the Bible or spiritual matters. Perhaps we would be more mindful of our speech if we kept the admonition of Jesus Christ ever before us: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
2. Disposition. Concern for others should dominate the Christian’s personality. We are exhorted to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32). Our temper must be held in check (Ephesians 4:26). Righteous anger is anger for God’s cause, not for our own. A crabby, grouchy, critical, complaining, jealous, vindictive, contentious, covetous or stubborn disposition cannot be justified in believers as “human nature.” It must be condemned in our lives as carnal nature and as sin. The adage, “sinners at home, saints abroad,” indicates that the great proving ground in this area is in the home or with the people we rub shoulders with day by day.
3. Moral Purity. Although God created sex, He also limited it to the security of marriage (Proverbs 5:18-20). The world clamors for a modification of God’s standards, saying, “It’s all right if you love each other,” or “Homosexuality is the way I am.” Yet the consequences remain. Improper use of sex can destroy a man both mentally and physically (Proverbs 5:1-11; Romans 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:18). Samson and Joseph in the Old Testament are contrasting examples of defeat and victory in the area of moral purity (Judges 14—16; Genesis 39). Samson lost his testimony and his life; Joseph lost a job, but ended up as a leader in a kingdom. Moral purity begins with purity in the thought life (Matthew 5:28) which must be controlled by an act of the will (Job 31:1). Our thoughts must be redirected to that which is worthy (Colossians 3:1-5; Philippians 4:8).
4. Relationships. The Lord Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, since He came to call them to repentance. He was in contact with them, but He did not allow Himself to be compromised by their conversation, sinful practices, or worldly orientation. How is this delicate interaction achieved? First, He made no alliances of any kind with them. The Scripture says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). True fellowship between light and darkness, between believers and unbelievers, is spiritually impossible on any righteous grounds. Second, He did not engage in defiling practices or descend to the level of sinners in order to witness. In summary: Have contacts with the unregenerate that have an impact on their lives by your testimony. Never compromise standards of holiness to do so.
5. Dress. The Christian should dress to enhance his testimony, not detract from it. We want to draw attention to Christ, not ourselves. As ambassadors for the King (2 Corinthians 5:20) our dress should not be showy or costly (1 Timothy 2:9). Adornment with good deeds is more important than fancy clothes (Titus 2:10). Luxurious clothes belong to the world (Luke 7:25). Women should take care to be feminine, but not suggestive or alluring. Men should select masculine clothes. God hates both cavorting in nudity and confusion of sexes (Deuteronomy 22:5).
6. Food And Drink. Although all foods are clean (Mark 7:18-29 NASB; 1 Timothy 4:3-5), gluttony (over-eating) should be avoided. The story of Eli (1 Samuel 2-4) is instructive on the result of lack of control in this area and its effect on succeeding generations. As for drink, one cannot make a Biblical case against total abstinence from wine. However, we should avoid stumbling others (Romans 14:21; Galatians 5:13).
Guidelines for Questionable Areas
How does a believer determine proper conduct in areas not specifically addressed in Scripture? What about certain amusements (a word which comes from a root meaning “not to think”)? Are certain habits sinful if not directly forbidden in the Bible? Is any kind of music or television program or practice out of bounds for the one who is serious about following Christ? On matters not directly covered in the Bible, consider the following questions, with appropriate verses, as a test:
1. Would God be glorified in it (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
2. Would I be ashamed to be doing it when the Lord returns (1 John 2:28)?
3. Is it good stewardship of time and money (Ephesians 5:16; Luke 16:9)?
4. Is it addicting or habit-forming (1 Corinthians 6:12)?
5. Does it make provision for my flesh, paving the way for sin (Romans 13:14)?
6. Would my example in this matter cause others to stumble or sin (Romans 14:13; 1 Corinthians 8:13)?
7. Do I have doubts about it (Romans 14:23)?
8. Does it have the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22)?
9. Is it of the world (1 John 2:15-16)?
10. Would it abuse my body, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)?
11. Would the Lord Jesus do it (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6)?
Principles for Holy Living
A holy life must be cultivated as a tender plant in a hostile environment. It takes time, thought and effort. Here are some major principles to consider:
1. Cultivate Godly Habits. Faithfully feed upon the Word of God as food for your soul (Psalm 119:9-11). Apply it obediently to your life rather than skim through it. Meditate upon its precepts (Psalm 1:2-3). Spend time alone with God in genuine supplication before His throne. Maintain a deep prayer life, which includes worship. Practice fellowship with the people of God in their meetings (Hebrews 10:25). Particularly, spend time in the company of the godly. Listen to the preaching (in person, on cassette tape or on the air) of Spirit-empowered men. God uses certain men to change the lives of others. Listen to them. Read their books or articles, especially those by godly men who may now be with the Lord. Avoid the flood of trivial and superficial material coming from the presses. Keep the Lord’s Day for God (Revelation 1:10); otherwise, call it “Your Day.”
2. Develop And Live By Convictions. Determine where you stand in your principles. Then live by them regardless of the cost. That relieves you of making decisions under pressure from others, especially by the world’s standards. Daniel was a notable example of a man of principle (Daniel 1). You must learn to say “NO” to temptation even to the point of taking drastic action (Genesis 39:10-12; Matthew 5:29-30). Seek God’s help by calling out to Him when under pressure (Proverbs 18:10). Remove anything from your life that might be a source of temptation, such as acquaintances, items in the house, or certain job demands. Choose close friends carefully since they can have great influence (1 Corinthians 15:33). Make sure they share your convictions, or at least will respect them.
3. Control Your Thought Life. The Lord taught that it was from the inner thoughts of men that defilement chiefly came (Matthew 15:19-20). How can your thoughts be kept pure? First, control the input. Censor your reading material or other exposure to the world. The famous phrase of computer experts is “Garbage in, garbage out.” This applies to the mind, which is man’s computer. Do not let your gaze linger on defiling sights or temptations. The nephew of Abraham looked the wrong way and wound up in Sodom (Genesis 13:10-11). David looked wrongly and fell into disaster (2 Samuel 11:2). Keep busy, especially for God. The Bible does not say “an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop,” but the statement has a measure of truth. Focus on the Lord Jesus, the most worthy of all our thinking (Colossians 3:1-2). Think about the pure, the true, the worthwhile (Philippians 4:8). Be persuaded that you can, by God’s enablement, direct your thoughts properly. Do not regard your mind as an open barn in which any flying thought can enter and roost like an unwelcome bird.
We conclude by noting that the soon return of the Lord Jesus Christ is constantly held up in the New Testament as an incentive for holy living (1 John 3:2-3; Titus 2:12-13; 2 Peter 3:14). If He came today, would we want to be found in any condition contrary to His holiness? If not, then we need to begin at once to take time to be holy.
1. Define holiness using the following verses as a guide: 1 Peter 1:15-16; Romans 12:1-2.
2. Identify the reasons for holy living indicated by the following verses. Which of these verses encourages you the most to live a holy life? Explain.
Romans 14:12 Hebrews 12:14
2 Corinthians 5:14 1 Peter 1:15-16
2 Corinthians 7:1 1 Peter 2:24
Galatians 5:13 2 Peter 3:10-12
3.One area of personal holiness is purity. Galatians 5:19 gives a catalogue of sexual sins. Define the vices listed and explain the difference between them. Use a dictionary or Bible dictionary if necessary.
Why is moral purity so important to God (1 Corinthians 6:15-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-9)?
4.Although men and women can both be tempted sexually, the man’s primary temptation is to look (Proverbs 27:20b) and the woman’s main temptation is to allur6 (Proverbs 23:28).
What does Jesus say about mental impurity (Matthew 5:28)?
What effect does a woman’s chasteness (modesty, discretion) have on:
Husbands out of fellowship with the Lord (1 Peter 3:1-6)?
The Christian testimony (Titus 2:5)?
The woman’s own beauty (Proverbs 11:22; Ezekiel 16:25)?
5.Controlling the tongue is another challenge to holy living. What are some of the dangers in speech? Use the following references to list key offenses in speech:
Proverbs 17:27 Ephesians 4:29
6. What principles or separation are detailed in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and what reasons are given?
Considering 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, what counsel would you offer in the following situations:
a. A Christian you know is dating and even considering marriage to a fellow she knows is not a believer. She justifies this on the basis that she is “witnessing” to him and is sure he will eventually become a Christian.
b. A new Christian, recently saved in an evangelistic crusade, discovers that the church he has been attending does not teach people how to be saved and does not even require a person to be saved in order to be a member of that church.
c. A person is considering entering into a business partnership. He is not sure the prospective partner is a Christian.
7. Sometimes the teaching of separation is abused to justify isolation from non-Christians, divorcing an unbelieving mate, or separation from other Christians who hold minor doctrinal differences. How would you confront those issues using the following Scriptures: Matthew 9:10-11; 11:19; 1 Corinthians 7:12-16; 1:10-13.
8. Holiness, in a practical sense, means “being different.” How is your life different from the unbelievers that you know?
a. In your speech? e. In your observance of holidays?
b. In your disposition? f. In your choice of friends?
c. In your dress? g. In your decisions regarding food and drink?
d. In your choice of music? h. In your choice of reading matter, social
9. Review the “Guidelines for Questionable Areas” in the NOTES and explain how you would apply them in the following situations:
a. You are invited to a cocktail party by your boss.
b. You want to buy an attractive outfit, but you are not sure if it is modest enough
c. The store down the street has pornographic magazines openly displayed at the checkout counter. Should you continue to patronize the store?
d. You have some music that you enjoy, but you are uncomfortable about playing it around your mature Christian friends.
10.List an area of personal holiness (purity, dress, speech, temper, food and drink, etc.) that you have struggled with and share how you gained victory in that particular area.
7 The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1961), p. 110.