A Plea for Holiness

For this reason, brace up the hands that hang down and the feebled knees, And make straight paths for your feet, so that the lame limb will not be dislocated, but rather healed. Pursue peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord, Looking after one another less anyone fall back from the grace of God – unless any bitter root spring up trouble you, causing the many to be defiled, Less anyone be a fornicator or a profane person like Esau, who for one piece of meat sold his birthright. For you know how that later on, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected, for he could find no way for repentance, although he pleaded with tears. (Hebrews 12:12-17 CTV-NT)

Holiness  is the manifestation on the outside of the hidden things of the heart. We are called to pursue peace, to strive to maintain it, with all men. This is easily possible, if we give in to all manners of vices and all the wickedness that is common to the sinful nature of humanity, yet the writer of Hebrews cautions us to temper this with holiness, without which no one will see God. Calvin says,

“…(F)or holiness has an especial regard to God. Though then the whole world were roused to a blazing war, yet holiness is not to be forsaken, for it is the bond of our union with God.”

The Apostle Paul said that God did not call us to uncleanness but to holiness (1st Thessalonians 4.7). What provides us with holiness? The hedonists among us would have us celebrate all manners of wickedness in dress, trends, fashion, in styles, in relationships, in friendships, in music, in the things set before our eyes. These hedonists would have us worship at the alter of excuses, thronging ourselves about with selfishness, disregard for Tradition, for sense, for class, for a sanctity of body, mind, and soul.

They would use life circumstances – age, perhaps – as an excuse to allow, to promote an unholy lifestyle. And they would allow the Church to be infested with all manner of wickedness to satisfy pride, encouraging an unsanctified life in order to prove quantity over quality, to capture the souls that desire not God, but the world.

The idea of holiness has a Christian institution is not limited to Paul and the writer of Hebrews, but can be found in Revelation and indeed, the Prophets.

But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Revelation 21:27 NKJV)

A highway shall be there, and a road, And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, But it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, Shall not go astray. (Isaiah 35:8 NKJV)

We must understand the idea of holiness by the unknown author of Hebrews in the light of 10.14,

For by one offering he has perfected for all times the ones being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14 CTV-NT)

Both phrases,  ‘being sanctified’ and ‘shall see the Lord’, refer to the eschatological consummation. We are not made perfect at the Cross, but it is a life lived in service of the Lord which brings us a complete holiness. It is a life set apart for God, like the priesthood of the Temple. We strive for holiness, indeed, but it is life lived apart, and see apart, from the world.

Barclay,

He must aim at holiness (hagiasmos). Hagiasmos has in it the same root as the adjective hagios, which is usually translated holy. The root meaning is always difference and separation. Although he lives in the world, the man who is hagios  must always in one sense be different from it and separate from it. His standards are not the world’s standards, nor his conduct the world’s conduct. His aim is not to stand well with men but to stand well with God. Hagiasmos, as Westcott finely put it, is “the preparation for the presence of God.” The life of the Christian is dominated by the constant memory that its greatest aim is to enter into the presence of God.

Westcott is correct, it is a preparation for the presence of God,

The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8 NKJV)

And you shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Leviticus 20:26 NKJV)

What then is holiness if it is not the individual attempting to make him or her self able to stand in the presence of God? Or, what end is holiness?

But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. (Romans 6:22 NKJV)

I find myself attempting to live a life set apart from the world, not in isolation or seclusion, but in service to God. It is not out of legalistic fear, but because of the love that I have, and should have, for God. What then is required, if I love God?

Jesus said to him, “”You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37 NKJV)

If the love of God is to encompass our entire being, what then of our body? Does our flesh exist outside of the love of God? When we were yet sinners, we yield our bodies up to sin, and served sin in our flesh and with our flesh. What then of righteousness?

(I speak in words common to you all because of the weakness of your flesh.) For even as you have presented your members as slaves to uncleanness and to iniquity that results in yet more iniquity — even so now present your members as slaves to righteousness resulting in holiness. (Romans 6:19 CTV-NT)

If we once yield our flesh to unrighteousness while we were sinners, then perhaps we are to serve God with that same flesh? Does that mean that we deny every good pleasure? Do we live in seclusion? No, instead, we must represent God with out flesh and become Incarnational in thinking. We must remember that this same flesh that we wear, this same flesh which we are bound, was the same flesh that Christ clothed Himself in,

Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT)

Should we not then yield – and teach others to yield – our flesh in the same manner? Do we decorate it as a pagan temple? Do we worship ourselves and the talents that God have bestowed upon us? Do we partake of our age, and gender? Do we allow the love our our own flesh to rise above the love of God and the things of God? I have to remember the King of Babylon who abused the things of God – even when those things were captured due to God’s wrath,

Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone. (Daniel 5:1-4 NKJV)

The story we know from memory, but this pronouncement let us read again,

And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. (Daniel 5:23 NKJV)

Belshazzar, the (grand)son of the great King who had conquered Israel, had abused the things of God. Even today, without the gilded Temple and ceremonial instruments, we too have the things of God. We have the things dedicated to Him – a building, the things inside the building, times, season, lives. What if we misuse these things?

We must find holiness not only in our flesh but in things devoted to God.

I find myself withdrawing from more and more because of the things that I cannot associate myself with – and if I claim to be a servant of God, and if my flesh is in His service, and my talents His, then I cannot bring myself to be associated with Belshazzar. If we are called to be separate from this world, and we as the Church understand this not to be to the isolation from the world, then what is our separation?

Therefore, I call upon you, brethren, through the compassions of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice — dedicated and well-pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not fashion yourselves according to this world; but continue to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for then you will be able to discern what is the will of God — what is good, what is well-pleasing, and what is perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 CTV-NT)

The Greek word here translated as ‘fashioned’ is συσχηματίζω, meaning ‘to conform one’s self (i.e. one’s mind and character) to another’s pattern’ (Thayer’s). It is about trends – whether style, perhaps, or theology.

Pride, luxury, vanity, extravagance in dress, and riotous living, prevail now, as they did then, and are as unworthy of a Christian’s pursuit as they are injurious to his soul, and hateful in the sight of God. – Clarke

When I arrived to this part of Romans in my translation, I immediately thought of ‘trends.’ Trends are most predominate in fashions, in hair styles, in physical decorations – in lusts, desires, and fleshly surrenderings. Paul warns us of making our character, our mind, our life from the pattern of this world. The worldly pattern that surrounds us is not to me imitated but shun and despised. Are to look and dress like the world? Are to allow them to use the things of God? Calvin labors the point,

We know that unholy men, in order to gratify the flesh, anxiously lay hold on whatever is set forth in Scripture respecting the infinite goodness of God; and hypocrites also, as far as they can, maliciously darken the knowledge of it, as though the grace of God extinguished the desire for a godly life, and opened to audacity the door of sin.

Grace does not allow hedonism, impurity, or an excuse of sin; Tertullian would agree. Simply because we have forgiveness readied for us, it in no way allows us to live a life in constant need of repentance. This is not to say that we do not constantly need forgiveness from God, but to abuse the grace of God is to call upon us the prohibitions found in the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapters 6 and 10). If we are to live a life sanctified (in holiness) to God, then how can we rightly allow ourselves a fashioning to this world?

How far do we go in proscribing prohibitions to those inside the Church, after all holiness is demanded only of those inside the Church? Can we rightly demand that those that would purport to be a Church member live by a certain set of standards – especially if they are in front?

Now I call upon you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and lead others astray contrary to the doctrine which you have learned and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience became known to all. Therefore, I rejoice on your behalf — yet I want you to be wise as to the good and innocent as to the evil. (Romans 16:17-19 CTV-NT)

Paul does not command those that cause division because of doctrine and because of God to be avoided, but those that are contrary. A man can cause division in the congregation because of what he sees as contrary to the doctrine and good order of Christ – to him avoid not, but to those that would usurp a righteous place to display their unrighteous life, to them that cause divisions, mark them and avoid them.

Further,

And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. (2 Thessalonians 3:14 NKJV)

In this, Paul commands us to admonish the person as a family member, but we cannot allow unholy behavior in the house of God, as he reminded Timothy,

These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15 NKJV)

There is a conduct required in the house of God, in His Church, and it more than silence here or silence there – obedience, or praise. There is a holy conduct required by the sanctified,

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.  Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (Colossians 3:5-14 NKJV)

Is this a sermon? Perhaps. I no longer preach sermons, not for a disqualification or the lack of call – there are times then I feel the call so strongly that it bears as a millstone. So, I choose this place to share and to steer, to doctrine, and to holiness. I try to abide in holiness – in a life that is without thought of the the cares of this world, but with the constant thought that I must serve a holy God, and God has yet to offer an excuse for those that do not measure up – to those who know to do good and do it not – that do not measure up to His holiness.

Holiness is not isolation from the world, living in seclusion until the End – it is living in this world as a citizen of a heavenly home. This world and all manners of wickedness is not ours, so should we clothe ourselves in them?

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