The Necessity of Holiness
Extracted from "Living For God"
Holiness! Does the very word make you draw back? What do you think of when you consider it? Perhaps it fills your mind with thoughts of some aged recluse, living a lonely life of prayer and meditation. To some young people it brings to mind visions of older believers hopelessly out of touch with life today, and constantly frowning on every activity that creates joy and laughter. Have you before you the thought of some self-righteous zealot who constantly criticises the behaviour of others and considers himself to be on a higher spiritual plane? Does it fill your mind with a picture of living in "No" land where negatives are the order of the day, or do you see it simply as a standard of behaviour to which you can never attain? If any one of these is your concept of holiness you are completely out of touch with what the Bible has to say.
How then do we define holiness? It is separation from evil, from everything that is not in accord with the character of God. The first lesson to learn is that God is holy. In 1 Peter 1.15-16 this point is emphasised as the foundation on which our conduct should be built. If we love God we will love holiness. There is therefore nothing mystical about this, for a desire to lead a holy life is simply a desire to live a life separate from what is evil. It is here that we discover the very first desire of God for those whom He has redeemed. Not that we should be great preachers, great personal workers, or great teachers, but primarily that we should be holy. Without that desire we have missed the main point of salvation. Remember that we have been called to be saints, to be holy ones (1 Cor 1.2). The question, however, is that if God has called us to be this, how do we put it into practice?
Paul exhorts us to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor 7.1). Here we have good advice, and note that even Paul included himself in the exhortation. This verse is the closing call in the section which has dealt with the subject of the unequal yoke with unbelievers. We are taught to cleanse ourselves externally (the flesh) and internally (the spirit) from all filthiness, that is, from all that contaminates. A believer who desires fellowship with God can quickly discern contaminating influences. Conversation that is unseemly, the company of those who have no interest in the things of the Lord Jesus, listening to, watching, or even reading of behaviour or language which we would shun ourselves - all this contaminates and leaves its mark on us. Scripture does teach us that we will rub shoulders with the world, and for us that may be at school, at college, or at work, where we should seek to commend the gospel by our lives. We are faced with choices - of friends, of how we spend our time, of what we read, and of so many other issues. Make sure that you never yoke yourself with unbelievers, in marriage, in business partnerships, in politics, in social activities. Such yokes will pull you into ways that will cause you grief and diminish any desire to live a holy life. Remember that even although you may not regard yourself as "yoked" you may still come under these influences.
At the beginning of each day pray that your life might be holy and that you will be able to resist the temptations placed in front of you. You will find that the Adversary works in a very subtle way. The world teaches that an action is wrong if it harms someone else. God is left out of the calculation. Perhaps a situation may arise where you can make things easy for yourself by telling a lie, and it appears to you that no one will ever know and no one will be harmed. But you know that this is not the way of holiness. Again, you may have opportunity to take something to which you are not entitled and no one will ever be aware of the loss. Holiness, however, is incompatible with this. Should you succumb, the Holy Spirit is grieved. The desire to please God must be greater than the desire to take the easy or seemingly profitable path.
If that is the negative side we must consider the positive. Paul tells us why we should stay clear of contamination. It is to leave the way open for us to perfect holiness in the fear of God. To perfect holiness is to see it increasing daily in our lives, to see it growing and becoming our standard of behaviour in everything. Go in for actions and activities which you know are pleasing to Him. We please Him by not becoming enmeshed in the world and therefore leaving ourselves free to direct our energies to the work of God (2 Tim 2.4). We do well to take note that obedience to parents is noted as being pleasing to the Lord (Col 3.20). Keeping His commandments leads to our doing those things that are pleasing in His sight (1 Jn 3.22). How much of your life must be lived in this way? All of it! "Be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Pet 1.15) teaches us that God intends every part of our lives to be included. If we would present our bodies to Him they must be holy (Rom 12.1). Prayer must be marked by holy hands (1 Tim 2.8). Men can be holy (2 Pet 1.21), as can women (1 Pet 3.5).
Behind this desire for holiness there is a fear of God. This fear is not one of terror, but of reverential awe. It is awareness of the greatness of God, a realisation of all that is enjoyed by acting in accord with His will, and of what can be lost through acting contrary to it. Bring the fear of God into every consideration and determine to please Him in all that you do. The blessings now are incalculable.
We can therefore see that holiness, rather than being some mystical higher plain on which a few live, is very practical and involves every believer. Go in for it and make it your ambition to see it working out as each day passes. In His Kingdom it will mark everything, in the houses, in the streets, and in the temple (Zech 14.20-21). Let us ensure that we make it a reality now.