CHRISTIAN LIFE- A CALL TO HOLINESS
Dr. C. T. Luiskutty
"God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness". - 1 Thess. 4:7.
"So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me His prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace…" - 2 Tim 1:8,9.
"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, purifies us from all sin".- 1 John 1:7.
According to these verses, Christians are called with a holy calling to holiness and are given the Holy Spirit to assist them in leading a holy life. For Christ’s disciples, holy living is not optional but mandatory. John exhorts us to walk in light just as the Lord walks in light. In 1 John 3:3 the children of God are told that those who have the hope of seeing Him when He returns in glory must keep themselves pure even as He is pure. The disciples of Jesus are exhorted to be pure as the Master is pure. Purity implies freedom from contamination or adulteration. A person is pure when he is untainted with evil or guilt, is spotless and unblemished in character, and physically chaste. Holiness and sanctification are theological terms closely related to purity. ‘Holiness’ means cleansing from defilement and has ceremonial significance to the Jews. The word ‘holiness’ (hagios) strongly implies separation or being set aside exclusively for the use of God. Barclay communicates the depth of its meaning in the following statement:
"The word 'hagios' always has in it the idea of difference and separation. A thing which is 'hagios' is different from ordinary things. A temple is holy because it is different from other buildings; a priest is holy because he is different from other men; God is supremely holy because God is different from men; the Sabbath day is holy because it is different from other days. So, then, God chose the Christian that he should be different from other men."
(Barclay, William, Letters to Galatians and Ephesians. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1970: p. 89)
In order to understand the seriousness of the call to holiness, we should remember who issued the call and what price was paid so that we could realize the call. The call was issued by Jesus Himself. He showed us how a holy life can be lived in this wicked world and then shed His blood so that we can achieve holiness by faith in Him.
It is the will of God in general that we should be holy, because He that called us is holy, and because we are chosen unto salvation through the sanctification of the Spirit; and not only does God require holiness in the heart, but also purity in our bodies, and that we should cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1). Whenever the body is, as it ought to be, devoted to God, dedicated and set apart for Him, it should be kept clean and pure for His service; and, as chastity is one component of our sanctification, so this is one thing which God commands in His law and what His grace affects in all true believers.
Peter exhorts us, "But as he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:15-16). Three important principles about holiness are evident in this passage: (1) Our standard of holiness is God Himself; (2) Our reason for holiness is the Father’s holiness itself; and (3) The extent of our holiness is universal, i.e. in all manner of conservations. This may seem to be a tall order. But God has made not only the call, but also the provision for holiness. As already mentioned, Jesus died on the cross so that we could be sanctified; as a man He lived a holy life so that we could emulate Him; and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to lead us (Romans 8:14) and to help us (John 16:7) and provided the Word of God to guide us.
Jesus lived among people of all backgrounds. His circle of friends often brought the ire of the religious ones who wanted to earn the favour of God and respect of people through their good associations and good behaviour. Jesus’ mission was to help those who are in need; He carried out that mission while He was on the earth and then commissioned the disciples to continue it. Sinners are the people with greatest needs and they can be helped only when the saints are willing to reach out to them and help them extricate from their pathetic condition. This does not mean that we should participate in their sin to get them out of sin, but we should reach out to them while they are in need of salvation. Holiness is the ability to reach down to the pit to bring a person out of the mire of sin without being defiled by it. That is exactly what Jesus did, and He was holy.
The Bible says, "For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but in all we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin." (Hebrews 4:15) Though Jesus did not sin (and could not because He was the perfect God and the perfect Man), He endured the extreme pressure that was placed on Him by the temptations (i.e., trials) that came His way. Holiness of Jesus is exemplified by the fact that "He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth" (Isaiah 53:9), "He knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21), and "loved righteousness and hated lawlessness" (Hebrew 1:9). According to Peter, "(He) committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously"(1 Peter 2:22-23).
It is difficult to isolate one attribute of Christ from others and study it individually. Holiness of Jesus is one part of the aggregate nature of Jesus and there is considerable overlapping among holiness, integrity, humility, and love. Apostle John asserts the fact that Jesus is pure and demands that His followers should be pure as He is.
Sanctification means separation from the world "unto the Gospel of God" (Romans 1:1). Thus whatever is considered as a mark of holiness should remove us from the mould of the world and make us look more and more like Jesus. Apostle Paul exhorts, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). Conformity to the world or conformity to the rules of some organization or church may make a person popular, but that is not real holiness; conformity to the will of God constitutes holiness. While the world judges us by what it sees externally, God evaluates the internal state. The external may be a real reflection of the internal or just pretence. If modesty and other healthy habits are the result of a genuine desire to please God and to manifest His nature in the world, then there is holiness; if not, there is conformity to legalism.
Some people resort to legalism and physical isolation in order to achieve holiness. It is evident that these were not the methods Jesus used. Legalism means adherence or conformity to a set of rules - "do’s" and "don’ts" without sincere commitment to the spirit of the rules and agreement to achieve their goals. This can be good for the society because a community that submits to the rule of law will have fewer problems than a community where anarchy prevails. But legalism leads to hypocrisy which was abhorred by Jesus. Isolating oneself from the world and living in a community of likeminded people may minimize the occasions for activities that will defile a person. But it is not this kind of purity that Jesus practiced, modelled, or advocated. In other words, law and legalism can reduce a person’s unholy behaviour, but cannot make him/her holy.
Man’s role in holiness is clearly delineated in the Bible. God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world with a purpose - that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4). We have to accept God’s provision and make an effort to be holy and without blame. A sanctified person will not be involved in sexual immorality. The abstinence is practised by the individual, not by the Holy Spirit. We should know how to possess our own vessel in sanctification and honour (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4). Paul said, "Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter (i.e., from being a vessel of dishonour), he will be a vessel for honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Timothy 2:21). A double-minded person is not pure and so James admonishes him to purify his heart (James 4:8). The 144,000 saints who came out of the great tribulation "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14).
When we earnestly desire to do the will of God and honour Him, we will avoid any behaviour that will draw attention to ourselves. This can be illustrated with an incident on a Bible college campus. One day a young female student was walking across the campus when the dean noticed that her dress was not long enough by the college’s standards. He called her to his office and informed her of the violation. After a while he noticed the same student walking across the campus—this time she was wearing a longer dress, with full sleeves, having paper attached to the hem and the sleeves so that her ankles and hands would be covered too. The dean informed her that she was still in violation of the dress code. She replied, "My dress is very modest; you cannot see any part of my body except my face!" His response was, "Either way you draw attention to yourself. That is not modesty."
Spurgeon’s advice was that Christians should not be the first in fashion or the last. The first in fashion draws attention from others, as does the last. It is improbable that Jesus wore some special kind of clothes as a mark of holiness; He wore the same kind others of His period wore. That is why His captors were willing to pay a substantial amount of money to the greedy Judas, just to point Him out in a crowd.
Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit with our co-operation. This ongoing process transforms us completely. When we realize what the Holy Spirit is doing in our life and submit to Him, our desires, ambitions, goals, and priorities change from a selfish perspective to pleasing God. A saint is willing to pay the price so that God’s will for his life will be fulfilled, because he "is set aside for the sole use of God." He belongs to God; the ownership has been transferred. It is no wonder that when such a transformation occurs, there will be external manifestations and the world will notice them. This is achieved by faith or absolute trust in God.
A saint has the hope of seeing the Lord. Holiness is a pre-requisite for seeing the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).ÿþ The mortal body will be replaced with an immortal body; the corruptible will be changed to the incorruptible. This hope and assurance serve as the motive for keeping oneself pure as the Master is pure. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
In summary, we have been called to holiness. In other words, holy living is a call, actually a high call from God. Therefore: (1) It is not merely a responsibility, but a privilege. (2) God has made the provisions for a holy living; we do not need to struggle with hard task. We may consider ourselves incompetent to meet the standards of God. But the grace of God empowers us to meet the requirements of the call. According to Matthew Henry, "The grace of God in calling a sinner is a powerful engagement to holiness. It is a great favour to be called effectually by divine grace out of a state of sin and misery into the possession of all the blessings of the new covenant; and great favours are strong obligations; they enable as well as oblige us to be holy."