Holiness

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Hebrews 12:14

The most desirable thing in all the world is to see God, and those who someday will do that, though they will differ in many ways, will all be alike in one crucial respect.

I’m starting at a disadvantage. It’s the word I want to talk about. This is the last in a series of four messages about four indispensables, four things that the book of Hebrews tells us we absolutely can’t do without if we want to be saved. The first three indispensables are atonement, faith and discipline, but the final one is holiness, and I’m afraid that’s something many people find off-putting.

Holiness gives the impression of being dull and glamourless, unappealing, even boring. People generally don’t lie awake at night thinking up ways to become more holy with each passing day. If asked the question, “What is your greatest ambition in life?” I doubt that very many folks would respond, “I want to be the holiest person on earth!” We spend a great deal of time, energy and effort to make ourselves more educated, more attractive, more successful, and certainly more wealthy. But how many of us are striving to make ourselves more holy?

AN IMAGE PROBLEM

As usual, when we have trouble with a word or a concept like holiness, it’s because we have a wrong idea about what it means. Behind the negative popular image of holiness lies a collection of stereotypes. We think, for example, that holiness means a rigid and mindless conformity to a set of rules governing behavior, that it demands adherence to a tiresome list of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts!) Or we picture a holy person as a kill-joy, someone who can’t laugh himself and who hates it when anyone else laughs too. Holiness is thought to be incompatible with pleasure and happiness and even with joy itself.

Holiness is also equated with hypocrisy and arrogance. We speak of people having a “holier-than-thou” attitude, by which we mean the sort of sickening assumption of moral superiority that looks down its nose at all lesser mortals. Or we think of holiness as the specialized pursuit of a tiny minority of super-religious people. Holy men and women – shamans, gurus, saints, mystics, and such – are a small and unusual group. They’re the professionally religious, the spiritual equivalent of elite athletes, with whom ordinary folks like you and me have no more in common than we do with the competitors at the Olympic Games.

But none of these stereotypes about holiness is accurate. People who are genuinely holy are not hypocrites or frauds or spoil-sports. Real saints are not glum, sullen, lifeless, joyless legalists. On the contrary, those who have made genuine progress in the pursuit of holiness are the most attractive, the most appealing people in the whole world, full of goodness and kindness, bubbling over with delight, a pure pleasure to know and be with. Nor is becoming truly holy a hobby for a few cranks and misfits. It is rather the main business of every Christian’s life.

HOLINESS DEFINED

If holiness is so important, perhaps it would be good to ask what it is. The best way I know to answer that question is to say that holiness is what God is like. Holiness is everything that distinguishes God and sets him apart from all others. (Actually, the root meaning of the biblical word for holiness is to be “set apart.”) Holiness refers first of all to God’s goodness, his absolute moral beauty, his utter purity and perfection. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” cry the angels who are closest to his throne. Those angels don’t sing that way just to make the text of their song fit the music, the way we sometimes repeat a phase from a chorus to fill out all the notes in the tune. No, their thrice-thundered “holy” is for emphasis, to draw attention to the primary element in God’s nature. God is holy. For us, to be holy means to be like God.

But that still leaves us a bit short of full understanding. We can say, “God is holy”; we can speak of his purity and majesty and the splendor of his perfection; we can sing about his goodness, his grace and love. But these terms are all abstract. It’s difficult for us to know just what they mean in real life, let alone to try to live them ourselves. Very few of us, I think, could form a clear mental picture of God’s character and say with enthusiasm, “I want to be like that.”

There is, however, someone whose character does generate genuine enthusiasm and admiration. There once lived a man who made such an impression upon his fellows that the accounts of his life are still read avidly now some twenty centuries later. His character still attracts admirers and wins praise even from those who do not choose to become his followers. That man, of course, is Jesus Christ. And he remains today, some two thousand years after his death, the ideal of the human race, the supreme model of what it means to be a good man, to be, in fact, holy. But Jesus is much more than just the ultimate human being. He is also the living embodiment of God himself.

So if holiness is what God is like, and God is what Jesus is like, then Jesus is what we will be like when we, too, have become holy. Put most simply, holiness is to live the life Jesus lived. His every word, every gesture, every action is a demonstration of goodness personified. For us, to be holy means to love what Christ loves and hate what he hates, to do what he does and to not do what he condemns. To be holy is to be like Jesus Christ always, in every way.

WHY WE MUST BE HOLY

Such holiness, such Christlikeness of character, speech and behavior is indispensable. It’s the last of the four indispensables, the things we absolutely must have. We have to make the imitation of Christ the daily goal of our lives. The writer to the Hebrews tells us why this is so: “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord“ (Heb. 12:14).

Holiness is indispensable because holiness, according to the Bible, is the condition for getting to heaven. No one can ever hope to see God without it. One of the greatest things about heaven will be its amazing variety. Every imaginable kind of person is going to be there, people from every tribe and language and race and nation, from every culture, from every economic condition, from every sort of background. What a scene that will be! Rich and poor will be there, brilliant and ignorant, gifted and untalented, old and young, male and female, ancient and modern, but all, all, will be alike in one respect. All will have this one thing in common: every person in heaven will be holy. Holiness is a condition for seeing God. “Nothing impure will ever enter it,” says the apostle John of heaven at the end of the book of Revelation. “Nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful but only those whose names are written in the lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).

It’s not that our holiness saves us, but rather that we cannot be saved without it – an important distinction. God’s grace is what saves us, his pure, unmerited favor toward us for the sake of Jesus Christ. The only way to get to heaven is by faith in Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. I hope you understand that, and that you are indeed trusting in Christ above for your salvation. But holiness is a necessary condition of salvation for two reasons. First, because holiness is the one thing that proves the reality of your faith. You can’t really have saving faith in Christ without loving him, and you can’t really love him without obeying him, following him, imitating him in holy living. And second, because God himself is holy. You must be holy if you ever hope to see God, because nothing unholy could ever abide his awe-full presence; as Hebrews reminds us, “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).

A CRUCIAL COMMAND

Now perhaps we’re ready to listen with sufficient attention again to the command which the writer to the Hebrews addresses to every follower of Jesus Christ, for you notice it is a command: “Pursue . . . holiness.” This is not a command for non-Christians, for they can neither understand nor obey it. They need to hear a different word. They need first to be brought to faith in Christ. But if you are a Christian, if you do trust in Christ, if your hope of salvation is in him alone, then this command is for you. Listen to it again: “Make every effort . . . to be holy” (niv). “Pursue . . . holiness,” (nrsv) for “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (niv). We’re told to strive for it, make a decisive commitment to it. We must set ourselves to imitating Christ and fixing our eyes on this goal, dedicate all our strength to reaching it.

This command is in the present tense. It could be translated, “Keep on pursuing holiness,” which indicates that holiness is a life-long pursuit. There’s no sign or evidence anywhere in the Bible that we’ll ever be able to retire from the chase, no hint that we’ll actually arrive at the goal in this life. No, we must go on pursuing it always, even if we fail to reach it. Holiness doesn’t just sort of happen to us if we hang around churches or associate with other Christians long enough. It doesn’t come through a special technique or by reciting a formula or by waiting for some kind of spiritual experience or blessing to happen to us. No, it is something we have to work at. It’s true that God’s Spirit is the One who gives us the strength and power to do that work. It’s also true that whatever advances we make will be due more to his help than to our own efforts. But still, we are the ones who must do the striving.

WHAT IT TAKES

How do you do that? What sort of things do you do to become more holy? It’s no secret – holiness comes by practicing all the old-fashioned spiritual disciplines, and by making use of what past generations of Christians called “the means of grace.”

Here are some practical questions you might want to ask yourself: Do I give myself time for God, time for studying his Word, time to spend in his presence? How can I ever expect to grow more like God if I don’t know what he’s like? God has promised to give his Spirit to those who ask him. Am I doing that? Do I pray regularly, not just for things, but for growth in Christ-likeness? Do I make an effort to associate with the people of God? Do I meet regularly with other Christians for worship, for prayer, for mutual encouragement, and service? Holiness grows best when it’s cultivated in the company of like-minded believers. Finally, am I consciously making it the goal of my life each day to grow more holy? Is the focus of my life as I go on with the Lord Jesus “To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day”?

Personal holiness is the single most precious thing you can have. You will lose everything else, everything that belongs to this world. But holiness endures. It’s the one thing you can take with you, and the one legacy you can leave behind. Greatness will be forgotten. Kings and princes, presidents and generals, they and all their works will turn to dust. But those who are holy will shine like stars. They will live forever in the sight of God.

Few of us will ever be great, but we can all be good. And I’d rather be good than great any day, wouldn’t you? You may be happy, or not. You may be well off, or not. You may be healthy, or not. But are you holy? All around you, you can watch people striving for popularity, pleasure, fame, or fortune. Are you striving for holiness? I would remind you of just one simple truth. Without it no one will see God.