Holiness – Purity

… to be a conduit of God’s love. 

Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:3  

According to James V. Brownson there are three aspects to holiness:  

  • Differentiation, or being set apart from the world 
  • Openness to God, an availability to God’s presence, or being set apart to God 
  • Purity  

We looked at the first two aspects in Holiness – Set Apart. Being separated out, or chosen, and setting our hearts and minds on obeying God leads to a passion for purity. Holiness, in the purity sense it seems to me, is becoming “like Jesus,” conformed to his image. It is “the restoration of the image of God,” as Wilberforce described it. Brownson defined purity as finding our true identity in Christ: 

“In the broadest sense, purity consists in actions that are in accordance with our God-given identity. The life of faith is the life that lives out our identity given to us Christ. ‘Seek first God’s kingdom,’ says Jesus, ‘And everything else will be yours as well.’ Or as Kierkegaardi paraphrases the same notion, purity of heart is to will one thing, to consistently set one’s will toward being the child of God that God has called you to be … To allude to the words of Jesus: the soul preoccupied with many things can miss the one thing that is necessary. To live by the one thing that is necessary is what purity is all about.”ii 

The purity of holiness means to be “set apart” to God. It means God is our focus, our pursuit, our “one thing.” And it is not primarily for ourselves, but for others. It is not so we can pat ourselves on the back, but because when Jesus is lifted up, all men are drawn to him. When we are truly like him, people see what God is really like; they know his love for them; they experience all that God yearns for them: the healing and restoration and being set free, loosing of bonds, breaking of chains. Jesus wants to become “the firstborn of many brothers.” Holiness is submitting ourselves to that passion, dying to ourselves to help make that happen. 

“As reflected in the life of Jesus, spiritual formation, or sanctification, is the growth we are to experience as people who believe in Jesus—growth that moves us toward the image of God.” — J.D. Walt iii 

Holiness means obedience to the will of God which is all about love; it’s about doing the good works that we were created to do, which are all about helping to bring his lost children home. 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8 

Jesus’ command was not you will witness – not you will knock on doors, or hand out tracts, or however people witness in our day – or not even that you will write blogs. But that you will be witnesses. That word translated “be” – eimi – means to be, to exist. In other words, you will exist as a witness to God’s glory, it will have become part of your being. When people look at you, they will see Jesus in you. 

“It is through Christian people that the Lord Jesus is glorified; that is why he is concerned about these people. Let us remember that the world knows nothing about him apart from us; it gets to know him through us, and judges him by what it sees in us. Indeed, he put it still more specifically by saying that even as God had sent him into the world to manifest the glory of God, now he sends his people into the world in exactly the same way, so that he may thus be magnified and glorified through them.” — Martyn Lloyd-Jones iv  

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you– from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. 1 Peter 2:9-10 (Message)  

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29 (ESV) 

So, there are two reasons to pursue holiness which correspond to the two consuming passions of God. First, that we might see and know and love him as our Father, and second, to love our fellow humans with God’s love so that they might be brought into his family too. 

Holiness as purity is not so we can be “holier than thou.” It means to be holier and holier toward God, holier and holier because of God’s work in us, holier and holier for others, holier and holier for love – to be a conduit of God’s love.  

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength … Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-31 

 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV)  

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. John 12:32 (ESV) 

i Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. Sören Kierkegaard. 1938.  https://www.religion-online.org/book/purity-of-heart-is-to-will-one-thing/  

ii Holiness and Hermeneutics. James V. Brownson. Western Theological Seminary. 1999. 

iii The Image of God and the Quest for Holiness. J.D. Walt.  https://www.seedbed.com/the-image-of-god-and-the-quest-for-holiness/  

iv Sanctified Through the Truth. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Crossway Books, 1989. 

Image from FreeBibleimages.org

Holiness – Set Apart

We are called by name.

Be holy, because I am holy. 1 Peter 1:16 

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. Ephesians 1:5 

What exactly does it mean to be holy? According to James V. Brownsoni there are three aspects to holiness:  

  • Differentiation, or being set apart from the world 
  • Openness to God, an availability to God’s presence, or being set apart to God 
  • Purity  

Being Set Apart from the World 

Brownson writes that “[i]t is important to note that this setting apart is never a withdrawal from the world, but rather a differentiation for a particular kind of service to the world.” Being set apart from the world, or chosen, is mentioned a lot in the Bible. 

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 
1 Peter 2:9  

The Greek word translated “chosen” in the above verse is eklegomai, which means to be chosen and set apart from the rest of the world. It comes from two words that literally mean to call out. To speak, to call by name, to name out of, away from. You are chosen, set apart, called by name out of, away from, the world and into God’s glorious Kingdom. God called my name fifty years ago (He Knows My Name).  

The Greek word translated “called” in 1 Peter 2:9 is kaleo. It also means to invite, as in “Go therefore to the main roads and invite (kaleo) to the wedding feast as many as you find (Matthew 22:9),” and to name, as in “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call (kaleo) his name Jesus (Luke 1:31).” 

So, the first part of holiness is answering God’s call to “come out” of the world. We are called by name. We are invited to the eternal banquet. This is the first step to holiness. 

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. John 10:3 

He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Song of Songs 2:4 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Psalm 23:5 

Set Apart to God 

If the first part is turning from the world, the second part of holiness is turning toward and focusing on God, knowing him more and more deeply. As Brownson writes, “We are not only set apart from the world; we are set apart to God. There is an openness to God, an availability to God’s presence, which is also central to holiness.” Brother Lawrence called this The Practice of the Presence of God. Being in his presence makes possible the “unrelenting, uncompromising obedience to God” that Pastor Troy spoke of (see the first blog in this series, Holiness). 

“His [God’s] greater purpose in bringing them [Israel] out of Egypt was to take them into Canaan, his land of fullness. In short, he brought them out of slavery in order to bring them into his heart and into his love. He wanted a people who were totally dependent on his mercy, grace and love. The same is still true for his people today.” — David Wilkerson  

A.W. Tozer wrote that “we are saved [or brought out] to know God, to enter His wonder-filled Presence through the new and living way [Jesus] and remain in that Presence forever.” So, to me, this is the first reason to pursue holiness, to submit to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Holiness is required to see God and He desires passionately to be seen and known, to be with us. The second reason for pursuing holiness has to do with becoming like him. 

William Wilberforce wrote that “the nature of the holiness, to which the desires of the true Christian are directed, is no other than the restoration of the image of God.”ii 

I love that – “the restoration of the image of God.” This happens as we behold him, as he is our focus, our one thing, as we begin to dwell in the Presence. 

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) 

And this leads us into Brownson’s third part of holiness – purity – which we will look at in the next blog. 

J.D. Walt has a wonderful series called The Second Half of the Gospel which I highly recommend. You can read it here: https://www.seedbed.com/?s=second+half+of+the+gospel  

Until next time, let us not stop at being separated from the world, at “being saved,” but “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD!” (Hosea 6:3a) 

“The truest way of delighting in the Lord is to obey him in our coming and going, at home and on the road, in our lying down and rising up, by impressing it on our hearts and heads and hands and expressing it through every word and deed. The only way to love the Lord our God is with our whole hearts, minds, and strength. Holiness is full surrender to the unrivaled reign of Jesus over every part of who we are. It is all of you delighting in all of him.” — Matt LeRoy (The Only Way to Love)

i Holiness and Hermeneutics. James V. Brownson. Western Theological Seminary. 1999. 

ii A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System. William Wilberforce. 1820. 

Image of sheep in pasture by Sheila Bair

Holiness

God invites an intense, earnest, and continued inspection of Himself.

“The pursuit of holiness is an unrelenting, uncompromising obedience to God.” — Troy Gentz 

The above quote from our pastor really got me thinking about holiness. “… unrelenting, uncompromising, obedience.” Wow, in this day of deciding everything about ourselves for ourselves, does anyone do this anymore? Does anyone even think of obedience? Isn’t that an archaic word? An oppressive concept? Does anyone pursue holiness? Yet, God commands and, I believe, yearns for us to be holy.  

But just as he who called you is holy, so be (ginomai) holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am (eimi) holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 

This above verse emphasizes how, for us, holiness is a pursuit or goal, the moving toward, the ongoing conforming and allowing ourselves to be transformed. There are two different verbs translated “be” and “am” in this verse. One is more like “to become” and the other one is “to exist.” We are called to become – ginomai – holy; but God is – eimi – holy. The Greek word ginomai means to become, to come into existence, begin to be, receive being. It points to our journey toward holiness, our willingness to receive a new being, become a new creature.

In contrast, the Greek word eimi means simply to be, to exist, to happen, to be present. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the word is in the first person singular present indicative and expresses, “I exist” or “I AM.” God always has and always will exist as Holy – unchanging, unfailing – the One we can fix our eyes and our hearts on, the objective, the goal, the ultimate destination of our pilgrimage here on earth. 

But why does God yearn for us to become holy? I believe at least part of the answer is in this verse: 

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 

The Greek word translated “see” above is optanomai. It meansto look at, behold, to gaze (i.e., with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable).” It does not denote “simply voluntary observation,” or “merely mechanical, passive or casual vision.” It is emphatic and intensive, signifying “an earnest but more continued inspection.”i That is our part – to gaze at our remarkable God with wide-open eyes. Or, as A.W. Tozer put it, “We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.”ii 

But the word also means to allow one’s self to be seen, to appear, and that is God’s part. God wants to be seen. God wants to be known. God invites an intense, earnest, and continued inspection of Himself. Doesn’t that sound like a best friend? Like a lover?  

You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends. He has done this through his death on the cross in his own human body. As a result, he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. Colossians 1:21-22 

And there resides, in that verse, another fundamental truth about holiness – that we can’t do it ourselves. It is because of what Jesus did on the cross that we can pursue, or even think about pursuing, holiness. It is only because of Jesus’ death on the cross that we can come into His Presence and gaze in wide-eyed worship at the lover of our souls.  

“Here is the truth, plain and simple. Without the holiness that’s imparted by Christ alone—a precious gift we honor by leading a life devoted to obeying his every word—none of us will see the Lord. This refers not just to heaven but to our present life as well. Without holiness, we won’t see God’s presence in our daily walk, our family, our relationships, our witness or our ministry.” — David Wilkersoniii  

So, there seems to be this tension between receiving holiness as a gift that has already happened – “I have been crucified with Christ” – and something I must also pursue.  GotQuestions explains it this way: 

“Like righteousness, holiness is a gift from God. The process of becoming holy is called sanctification, and God promises to complete His sanctification in us because of Christ’s work on the cross. The writer of Hebrews explains positional sanctification: “By [God’s] will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” and also alludes to progressive sanctification, speaking of “those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:10, 14). We are perfected and sanctified by one event: Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross for our sin. As we live our lives in Christ, our holiness increases as we yield to the work of the Holy Spirit within us and follow this command: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12–13; see also Romans 12:1–2; Hebrews 12:1–2).”iv 

Let us, then, receive the amazing gift that Jesus gave us on the cross, but let’s also pursue holiness as an unrelenting, uncompromising obedience to God as he reveals his will to us. Let us run swiftly to catch, press on, press forward, seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor to acquire holiness that we might behold Him, that we might know Him. This is the first reason to pursue holiness. I would like to explore more about holiness, including the second precious reason for pursuing it, in following blogs. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8

i Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Greek and Hebrew Dictionaries 

ii A.W. Tozer. That Incredible Christian. “We are Saved To as Well as From.” Compiled by Anita M. Bailey. 1964.

iii David Wilkerson, Our God-given Escape Plan https://worldchallenge.org/devotion/our-god-given-escape-plan?ref=devos 

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