“The fate of the Christian church in America and around the world depends upon what the church does with the biblical doctrine of holiness.” So said Dr. John Oswalt in his book Called to be Holy: A Biblical Perspective.
Near the beginning of each new year, I try to be objective as I attempt a spiritual inventory of my walk with Christ. Was I faithful last year? Did I grow in my faith? How do I improve? What do I change? As I consider these questions, one principle that always surfaces in my mind is that of personal holiness.
The apostle Peter gave a mighty challenge to strive for holiness in his first letter to the churches in Asia Minor:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16 NASB).
Oswalt, an Old Testament professor at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, said this passage defines holiness as a behavior that is determined by the character of God, that is to be demonstrated by all Christians, and that is “markedly different” from the behavior of unbelievers.
Just being transparent here – one holy irony still puzzles me. I know the Bible teaches that we’re to be holy, but I don’t fully understand how holiness captures my heart and then results in changing my behavior. I just can’t quite get a grip on how the Spirit gets a grip on me. However, I confess I do find some small consolation in my discovery that I’m not alone.
None other than noted author Jerry Bridges has said, “As we grow in the knowledge of God’s holiness, even though we are growing in the practice of holiness, it seems the gap between our knowledge and our practice always gets wider.” Now, that’s a statement I can understand! The more I learn and grow, the greater is my realization of how much learning and growing I still have to do. And here’s another sentiment I fully understand from another great voice of 20th century Christianity. “My life is such a contradiction,” said Mother Angelica. “My soul yearns for holiness and then runs from the mortification necessary to attain it.” Mother Angelica founded the internationally broadcast cable television network Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).
Knowing that others have struggled with the same issue gives me hope that I can make progress not only in greater understanding, but also in greater evidence of holiness in my attitudes and behaviors.
Again leaning on the wisdom of others, I am comforted to be mentored by the words of spiritual giants who reassure me that my small measure of holiness is not something I create or attain by my own effort.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “If you think you can walk in holiness without keeping up perpetual fellowship with Christ, you have made a great mistake. If you would be holy, you must live close to Jesus.”
And here’s a gem from A. W. Tozer: “Holiness, as taught in the Scriptures, is not based upon knowledge on our part. Rather, it is based upon the resurrected Christ in-dwelling us and changing us into His likeness.”
So, it comes down to this: Live close to Christ; let Christ live in me.
Citing Jerry Bridges again: “We are one-hundred percent responsible for the pursuit of holiness, but at the same time, we are one-hundred percent dependent upon the Holy Spirit to enable us in that pursuit.” (Emphases added.)
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty…” said the four living creatures in Revelation 4:8. I’ve read and heard a few teachers who point out that when Scriptures specify the attributes of God, only one attribute is repeated in this manner.
In other words, the Bible never says that God is “love, love, love” or “Great, great, great is the Lord.” But He is “holy, holy, holy.”
A few summers ago, I attended an old fashioned camp meeting at Brasher Springs near Gadsden, Alabama. Evangelist John Barrett delivered a sermon titled “Holiness Bears Fruit for All Seasons.” He proposed that the fruit of the Spirit cited by Paul in Galatians 5:19-26 are virtues by which we might measure the depth and breadth of holiness in our lives.
Good thoughts – and maybe inspiration for me this year. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control – all of these virtues are rooted in the character of God. Barrett's insights seem an apt complement Oswalt’s thoughts above. Holiness begins in the character of God Himself, and only as I cultivate such virtues in my life, will I manifest any degree of holiness.
Speaking of inspiration, I’m often lifted up by music. The traditional “Holy, Holy, Holy” was written by Reginald Heber (1783-1826). It's still inspiring. Here’s the King’s College Choir in a pure and moving cover of that rich old hymn:
In recent years, countless churches and Christ followers have been inspired by Kari Jobe’s “Revelation Song” based on the Revelation passage above. The artist offers a strong and soaring rendition of it.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord. Maybe I’m off to a better start in 2017 than ever before. Live close to Christ. I know how to do that – study and read the Bible, pray, praise Him, worship and serve in my church. Let Christ live in me. He already does that. My challenge is to let His holiness be my strength day by day.