by Russell Young [Note: This is part one of two]
It is often accepted that the person who has confessed faith in Christ has been made holy and that his or her state of holiness will last forever; consequently, not much thought is often given to it. Being holy in God’s sight at the end of a person’s life is extremely important.
The writer of Hebrews has recorded, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see [put eyes on] the Lord. (Heb 12:14 NIV) Without holiness no one will be in close proximity to the Lord. Since he will dwell in the Holy City, the New Jerusalem and those who are not holy will not make it into the city, they will be separated from him. Each person needs to consider whether or not their state of holiness will allow them into the presence of God or will keep them separated from him.
Peter has recorded that we are to be holy just as God is holy. (1 Peter 1:15) ‘Holy’ means “(an awful thing); sacred (physically pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially, consecrated):- (most) holy (one, thing) saint.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #40, hagios) God is morally blameless and so must be those who are to dwell with him. Paul revealed that God’s adopted children will be in the likeness of his Son (Rom 8:23, 29) and the Son is in the likeness of the Father. (Jn 14:9)
Isaiah had a glimpse of the heavenly realm in which he saw the Lord (Isa 6:1-4) The God of creation was seated on a high and exalted throne with his train filling the temple. Above him seraphs with face and feet covered were flying about. They were calling “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV) Because of God’s holiness the seraphs in his presence dared not look upon him and hid their feet. John has also recorded a vision where four living creatures around the throne never stopped saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” (Rev 4:8 NIV) And the twenty-four elders fell down before him and worshiped him when the creatures gave him glory. These visions reveal a God who is truly awesome and who is to be honoured for his holiness.
God is pure, morally blameless. When Isaiah saw him he cried, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and living among a people of unclean lips.” (Isa 6:5 NIV) True believers, those who know the Lord, will recognize in their hearts the cry of Ezekiel. How can they be like him?
The awesomeness of God is beyond our comprehension and like Isaiah should draw humankind into a state of reverence and fear. The wonderful grace of God cannot shield the confessor who entertains sin from the reality and awfulness of God’s holiness. The Lord’s grace is intended to prepare people for holiness, to return them to the image of humankind at creation and to the likeness of their creator. God is holy and those who will be privileged to dwell with him must be holy also. Isaiah was disarmed and defeated before the Lord and so was Paul as he revealed, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death [that brings about death]?” (Rom 7:24 NIV)
Paul was not writing about the physical mortality of his body as some suggest, but his anguish was over the fact that he could not prevent the interests of his body from enticing him to sin which would result in unrighteousness and in his death. His response was, “Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 7:25 NIV) The rescue that he required was not only from sin but from his body’s interest in sinning.
The interest of Paul was not just in having the record of his past sin cleansed, it was in gaining victory over the body that causes sin in the first place so that he would be holy in his heart, in his mind and in his actions. He is not stating that the righteous life lived by Christ as he walked this earth has become the righteousness that will save him eternally. Many fall into this error and rest their hope in it, in what the Lord had accomplished in his own body. To accept such teaching requires a person to abandon much of the gospel of Christ and the truth of the Word. It allows no value to the provision of the New Covenant or of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But isn’t the believer’s holiness achieved by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness? No! It is achieved through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
In Hebrews we read, “He sets aside the first [covenant] to establish the second [covenant]. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:9-10) The words “for all” are not in the original Greek and their inclusion may mislead the reader. The sacrifice of Christ was offered ONCE and will not be offered again. Availability to the New Covenant was made once and will not be made again. Accordingly, the writer of Hebrews has admonished that “[i]t is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Heb 6:4-6 NIV) Following the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, there is a life to be lived and a death to be lived if holiness is going to be achieved.
The person who trusts in the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as his hope for holiness will be greatly disappointed. This imputation made him or her holy ONCE by cleansing all of their past sins. (Heb 9:15) Following that cleansing holiness is to be attained and maintained through obedience to the Spirit. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV) If the believer’s eternal hope rests in his “sowing,” How is anyone to meet the requirements of God?