Holiness (1)

Holiness is about being good it’s not about doing good. Some people confuse holiness with Salvation by works. They believe that holiness encourages us to do good in order to win God’s approval but as I have already said holiness is not about doing good it’s about being good. Of course doing good things will always be the result of of holiness, but such good works are the end of holiness and not the means.  That’s why the bible prefers to talk about fruit. Fruit is easily understood as a product.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:21)

“By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them. “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:16-21)

Knowing that holiness is his biggest threat Satan has invented a holiness clone; he call’s this forgery “Salvation by works”. The two are almost identical and to the untrained eye the fake is often mistaken for the real thing. Evangelicals often excel at tearing down “Salvation by works” whilst failing to build up personal holiness.

When a person goes out into the world determined to be good; a good parent, spouse, employer, employee whatever, and sets about achieving his intentions through his own efforts that’s Salvation by works. Salvation can never be earned or won it is a free gift. There is nothing, no motive, no power, and no means within us that can either obtain Salvation or maintain holiness. Some through, self-denial and determination may produce a somehwat distorted and ugly likeness to holiness but it will never be holiness. Holiness is the work of God and comes to us by living in Christ and is activated by belief.

However, if the same person in prayer hears the Holy Spirit come and say to them”go out and be a good parent, spouse, employer, employee whatever” and they set about achieving the Spirit’s intentions in the Spirit’s power because the Spirit told them to do it – that’s salvation by faith.

In its simplest form holiness is about accepting what God says about us! If God says we are righteous – then we are. When we accept that what he says is the truth, then that truth will set us free.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it for ever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ” (John 8:32-36)

When we recognise that his promise is more powerful than our habits and desires then our belief will save us. It really is that simple. The Father says “Be holy, as I am holy”  A good father does not give his children impossible tasks. If God says we can be brave, determined, righteous, self-controlled, patient, loving, understanding etc. then we can! Who should we believe God or our past inability to perform? Holiness is about what God promises to do in us and has nothing to do with what we can do for him. As the old gospel song says;

“If you want holiness walk in the light,
If you want victory take part in the fight,
If you want liberty shout and be free,
Enjoying a full salvation.”

Holiness starts the moment we believe and it stalls the moment we doubt. Remember in all things it will always be our faith that makes us well.

Holiness is an experience not a doctrine, it’s not about theology it’s about practice. It can and should be taught but is never fully comprehended unless it is lived. The aim of holiness teaching is to get people to experience holiness not to understand it. Some things will always remain beyond our comprehension. Holiness is about experiencing the full love of God even though it can’t be understood. This is what Paul hopes for;

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16)

Some people within the church get hung up on trying to define holiness. They want to appreciate its theological framework before they experience its “perfect love”. Very few theologians are militant soul-winners (there are of course exceptions like Wesley, Finney & Mrs Booth). We should not be concerned with whether respected academics feel that the holiness movement has made any contribution to Christian Theology. What should concern us is how many thousands of souls the holiness movement has won for Christ!

C.S.Lewis gives a wonderful picture of theologians in his classic book “The Great Divorce.” The narrative describes a theological debating circle sitting in Lewis’s version of purgatory debating in what way Christ’s views would have developed and matured had his life not ended prematurely!  Theology is all about knowledge and understanding whereas holiness is to do with experience and action.  All the great revivals within the pages of Christian history have been the result of believers rediscovering the joy and power of holiness.

Holiness is about breaking free from strongholds. It’s about clambering over stumbling blocks. Anything that stops us obeying God is a stronghold – holiness demolishes strongholds!

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

It doesn’t matter what that stronghold is, it might be cakes or ice cream, it might be lust, pornography, gambling – it might be gossiping, jealousy or anger. It could be almost anything but if it stops us being useful to God then Holiness will get rid of it.

 The Devil understands what threat holiness poses and therefore tries hard to discredit it with lies.  When God forgave our sins he forgave them all, those we’ve committed and those we will commit. There is only one unforgivable sin and that’s “grieving the Holy Spirit”. How do we upset the Holy Spirit? By disbelieving him and by failing to accept that he can do exactly what he says he is going to do.  This sin isn’t unforgivable because God has decided not to forgive it; it’s unforgivable on the basis that by removing belief we remove God’s ability to forgive.

 If we are truly living in grace through faith and we are led astray God doesn’t see this as sin. As Wesley, the father of modern holiness understood, true sin is the wilful disobedience of a known law of God. Tripping or falling over in our eagerness to run along “the path of duty” is not sin. Such momentary failure has no eternal consequence and not only is Christ standing by waiting to forgive us he already has forgiven us. Look at the position this puts in. No wonder Paul sees us as more than conquerors and John wonders what we will become?

 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)

 The problem is that Satan, the accuser of the brethren rationalises, compromises and teases us into disobedience and then having fooled us has the gall to call our act sin and condemn us. This is a lie and the whole purpose of the truth which Paul and John preach is to set us free from this deception. Holiness is realising that such a state of affairs exists, accepting God’s word, dismissing the enemy’s lie and living accordingly. The enemy has lost and God is eager for his people to realise this fact.

Let’s pursue holiness!

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About Andrew Bale

I am a Salvation Army Officer based in Southend on Sea in Essex, UK. I am passionate about personal holiness and how that is reflected in a 'career of interrupted victory over temptation.' I am married with 4 children (2 grown up and married, one at University and one about to start University.)
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