Dr. R. C. Sproul penned the following,“If you don’t delight in the fact that your Father is holy, holy, holy, then you are spiritually dead. You may be in a church. You may go to a Christian school. But if there is no delight in your soul for the holiness of God, you don’t know God. You don’t love God. You’re out of touch with God. You’re asleep to his character.”*
To this one might add, “If you don’t desire to be like your Father who is holy, holy, holy, then you are spiritually dead. You don’t know God.”
In the Old Testament, holiness was a big deal. In Leviticus, the Lord commanded his people, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (19:2) After this edict, numerous chapters followed describing holy places, holy priests, holy worship, holy living, holy food, holy dress, holy hair, holy beards, holy skin, holy sex, and holy cows. God would have his people be distinctly holy. He would tolerate nothing less.
When one arrives in the New Testament, nothing has changed. Paul tells Christians the purpose of God is to make his bride holy. (Ephesians 5:25-26) Holiness appears to be God’s mission statement. In another letter the Apostle Paul states, The will of God is the sanctification of man.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) Simon Peter follows suit, “But as he who called you is holy, you be holy.” (1 Peter 1:15) The inspired author of Hebrews warns his readers, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) And the Apostle James teaches that faith without holiness is really no faith. (James 2:14-26) All of these men learned from the Master who proclaimed, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8) From the beginning to the end, the Bible is consistent. God is holy, and he has holy expectations. Personal holiness does not save, but the pursuit of such is a necessary characteristic of all who are freely saved by the grace of God.
Therefore, the question needs to be asked, “What is holiness?” The following definition may suffice, “True holiness is doing what God would have one do, while thinking that which God would have one think.” Holiness includes both doing rightly and loving rightly. Not only must one not do that which is wrong, but one must loath that which is evil. If an individual is merely concerned with external purity, then he is merely an unholy Pharisee. Contrarily, if one says, “I love God,” but remains unconcerned with external purity, then he is an unholy Corinthian charlatan. True holiness has both external and internal dimensions. True holiness is a matter of body and soul. True holiness is exemplified in both the habits and heart of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This leads to the next question, “How then can a man be holy?” The short answer is, “True holiness is impossible apart from the constantly saving work of Jesus Christ.” Fairly easily, one can say “no” to external, sinful actions. However, one is almost powerless to change his internal, sinful affections. One can keep his fist from striking someone in the face, but he cannot keep his heart from wishing he had done so. One can say rather quickly and piously, “I forgive you.” But to leave the matter in the hands of God is an entirely different matter. One can attend church on Sunday and sing with gusto, “Blessed be the name of the Lord, who gives and takes away.” But he is unable to squelch the internal discontentment that results when God takes something dear away.
As a minister, I understand this tension as well as anyone,. You see, I am a professional. I get paid to look and sound holy. I do it for a living, and I pay my family’s bills by pulling it off long enough to keep my job. Believe me when I say that external holiness is not that difficult. If someone pays you enough money and gives you enough praise, you could do it too. However, to hate wickedness and love righteousness through and through, that is an entirely different matter. So what ought I to do? What ought you to do?
1. One must be acquainted with the Scriptures. Within the Bible, the Law of God is found. The perfect standard of holiness is laid out for all who are interested.
2. One must become a Christian. Perhaps the words of J.C. Ryle will be of some assistance?**
Would you be holy? Would you become a new creature? Then you must begin with Christ. You will do just nothing at all, and make no progress — until you feel your sin and weakness, and flee to Him. He is the root and beginning of all holiness — and the way to be holy, is to come to Him by faith and be joined to Him. Christ is not wisdom and righteousness only to His people — but sanctification also. Men sometimes try to make themselves holy first of all — and sad work they make of it. They toil and labor and turn over many new leaves, and make many changes; and yet, like the woman with the issue of blood, before she came to Christ, they feel “nothing bettered — but rather worse” (Mark 5:26). They run in vain and labor in vain, and little wonder — for they are beginning at the wrong end. They are building up a wall of sand; their work runs down — as fast as they throw it up. They are baling water out of a leaky vessel; the leak gains on them — not they on the leak. Other foundation of holiness can no man lay, than that which Paul laid — even Christ Jesus. Without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).
3. One must rejoice in the fact that they have a longing to be more holy than they are. This is abnormal. This is a gift from God. This is a sign of true conversion. The natural man does not care about living a holy life.
4. One must regularly confess his sin. The saving relationship can never be severed, but the sweet communion is harmed by unconfessed sin. All men and women should acknowledge their unholy condition. They should confess their sins of not hating evil as they ought. They should then be warmed by the promises of Christ toward the penitent sinner.
5. One must abide in Christ. They must stay connected to the vine. The man making progress in holiness prays without ceasing. He walks in the Spirit, lives in the Spirit, and keeps in step with the Spirit. Constant communion is the key to advancing in holiness.
6. One must find friends who have the same ambition. Together, such friends pray with and for one another. Change takes place in community, and there is no better community than the local body of Christ.
7. One must set up fences. Ungodly fools are to be avoided. Unhealthy places are to be abandoned. The young man flees and the young woman veils herself. According to Christ, faithful worshipers ought to be willing to sacrifice their God-given rights (eyes, hands) in order to make better progress in living a holy life.
8. One must not accept spiritual mediocrity. Any compromise should be feared. Never should one be satisfied with mere external conformity. One must not commit adultery, and one must not lust. One must not murder, and one must not hate. One must give tithes and offerings to God, and one must hilariously enjoy doing so. Do not allow yourself to be satisfied with only outward obedience, for it is the little inward transgressions that will stifle progress in holiness.
* R. C. Sproul, Choosing My Religion
** J. C. Ryle, Holiness