Holiness is perhaps the most neglected of all Christian doctrines, despite being so vital. Holiness provides a particularly apt lens via which to view Christian faith and practice.
“Holy” means, set apart for God. Conversely, then, it also means separated from the common, ungodly, and the selfish. To be ‘holy’ is to be devoted to God and therefore no longer devoted to human desire, will or interests.
A person going into full-time ministry, consecrates ie makes holy, their life to work for God first and foremost; to be God’s person and God’s servant, come what may. Likewise, money given to God becomes money dedicated to God and to God’s purposes. Ditto buildings etc etc.
The Bible makes clear, in fact, that every believer is set apart to God. Every true believer has been purchased by the blood of Christ shed at the Cross. The New Testament makes crystal clear that a convert fulfilling the conditions of conversion is removed from subjection to spiritual evil and becomes instead a subject of God’s spiritual kingdom. And I choose that word ‘subject’ advisedly.
The believer is bound to Christ directly and personally. Any commitment to an organisation or church arises from relationship to Christ directly, not from membership of the organisation. Holiness is unto the Lord, not unto an eccesiastical organisation, denomination, or indeed any particular charismatic personality. God forbid ! If I commit to a particular church, it is because I am already committed to Christ. Christ is the foundation of the church; Christ is the head of the church; and Christ is the object and reward of the church. Where the church fails to function as the body of Christ set apart to obey Christ, then it manifestly ceases to be a church and becomes just another human organisation in this world.
Holiness, then, is a question of allegiance, orientation and action played out in the everyday life of the individual believer.
Such allegiance demands progressive surrender to the teaching of Jesus Christ. A life of self sacrifice and love towards God and towards others. “Love God and love others” lies at the heart of both Moses Ten Commandments and the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Holiness must be central to the Gospel message and to Christian lifestyle. It vital to our understanding of Who God Is; what we are; and what we need to become.
Whether or not a person views the narrative about Adam and Eve as just a story, matters little. The Adam and Eve scenario serves to explain fundamental spiritual reality
- about the love and truth of God, and
- about the treachery and deceitfulness within the human heart
God gave us everything – but human beings want still more ! Human beings want to be god – to determine good and evil; to decide morality: they want something more than God has given to them; they want something more than God has decreed; they usurp the right to break God’s moral bounds; they take God’s place.
The outcome of such disobedience is manifest in our world today in poverty, disease, and war. It is evident in the greed of consumerism in western society. It is blatant in the cancer of increasing crime and social breakdown and individual isolation. This is anti-holiness. This is, ‘love thyself and don’t care about your neighbour’.
Holiness, however, requires a complete change of perspective, of attitude and so of behaviour. It requires a fundamental revolution in outlook and mindset. It requires that God be first and that SELF be subject. It requires that we view life from God’s perspective, not our own.
Now if you are still with me, then you may be thinking that what I suggest is impossible. And you would be right – it is impossible. It is impossible for us to live the spiritual reality of holiness; to face it; to live it; to want it; to do it.
Yet it is possible !
It is possible for two reasons. Firstly, God does it in us ! And secondly, God does it in us over our life time … And please note that it is what God does, not what we do of our own volition, our own ideas, plans, schemes, or indeed of our own human effort and resources. It is all God’s plans; God’s ways; God’s resources. Do I do nothing, then ? Yes – surrender is all that is required. Simple then ? Well, no, as you will find out if you respond to God and decide to surrender your life to God.
Why ? Because Self will rebel – will kick and scream – to keep control of your life, your reputation, your resources, your relationships, your home, your work – over time, you will be challenged to surrender every part of your life to God. And what is more, this process is constant.
The New Testament of the Bible depicts this process as central. The process of living out a holy life is called sanctification, and lies at the heart of what Jesus and his apostles taught as true Christianity.
Too often we witness the warping and watering down of the Christian message by churches, by preachers and by believers themselves. Indeed, the religious are the worst persecutors of Christians – be they the fanatics of false faiths, or the career minded and theologically educated. Indeed professionally trained ministers with real faith in Christ have said to me that Bible college nearly destroyed their faith ….
That is because colleges are academic places operating according to the pagan thinking of Greek Philosophy. By applying the intellectual terms of this fallen world, they divert attention away from the actual, spiritual and psychological dimension which Jesus Christ and his apostles are concerned to address, namely:
the rupture of relationship with God our creator, and the desperate need
- to restore, and
- to reinforce that relationship
otherwise called salvation and sanctification.
Restoration and reinforcement of relationship with God can never be obtained by any way other than the cross and the resurrection of Christianity. But other ways abound. For example, New Age spirituality is dressed up in Christian terminology, and techniques derived from marketing and psychological manipulation are applied to evangelism. We witness formulaic presentations and practices characterised by practices such as “ask Jesus into your heart” or “invite the holy spirit to come” – some have even resorted to “commanding the holy spirit” …. Tell almighty God what to do !
By contrast, the New Testament record of Peter’s preaching at Pentecost makes clear the characteristics of true revelation and true conversion: people are confronted and convicted of their state of sin before a holy God; and they are then commanded to “repent and be baptised” ! The message is clear: human beings must recognise their state of moral filth before God; they must turn away from it in revulsion; and they then respond in obedience to the ordinance of full immersion baptism to signify
- the washing away of their sin, and
- their spiritual identification with Christ’s death and resurrection.
This is one critical example of the need to see Christian faith via the perspective of Holiness – devotion to God, on God’s terms only and not our own. Holiness demands we see our own ideas, resources and plans as contrary to God and therefore useless. In the Bible, the temple was to be built according to God’s design, with the materials God provided, in God’s timing, and by God’s chosen agents. All is of God and nothing of us. Jesus made very clear that apart from him, we can do nothing. Yes, we can do plenty according to the ways of this fallen world – but we then end up with the same corrupt outcomes manifest in this fallen world.
To undo the damage of separation from God and to rectify it, we must understand how the damage came about. The vital clues are in the story of the Fall from Grace and the estrangement of Adam and Eve from God. Now, whether or not you wish to believe that story, it does depict spiritual truth in a manner which fallible, feeble human beings of all types can grasp.
The story of the Fall in Genesis describes for us the fundamental issue of obedience to Satan and disobedience to God. This disobedience came via doubting God’s command. Now, it is axiomatic that Ethics must be determined by God, not us. But because we doubt God, we live instead by our own moral code. The dire state of this world testifies that we are spiritually deceived about our moral degeneracy.
Human beings live in this state of spiritual deception about the truth of their condition and its causes. Instead they resort to all sorts of human derived foolishness to try to solve the manifest problems of this world. Such foolishness ranges from drugs, to consumerism, to religion, to philosophy, to appealing political ideas like Marxism and its variants such as critical race theory. This last constitutes yet another solution to the human condition proposed by atheistic intellectualism. In reality, of course, it is a counterfeit solution manifesting warped religious practices like white people apologising to non-whites for the things done by long dead white people. In place of human sinners confessing to God their Creator, we see a racial category of human beings vilified by a deified racial category of human beings to whom white sinners must atone for their sin. Obligatory Confession to now deified non-whites.
Utter blasphemy !
The actual answer, of course, is in Jesus Christ – and in Christ alone. The means to that answer is via confession to God and obedience to Christ’s teaching – not man’s. The substance of that answer comes via the power of the true Holy Spirit at work in human lives. We can only gain access to that spiritual life in Christ via the way he commanded. Obedience to God; and conversely disobedience to self-centredness.
We must therefore reverse that inherited process of corruption. We must begin the life-long process of reversing the serious corruption which came via the Fall. We must progressively correct what is wrong.
With the Fall, the order of God within our human nature was inverted. That order should be:
But in our state of manifest sinfulness resulting from our exclusion by God [curse] that is now:
It is evident that human life is now dominated by the Body; body dictates the desires and inclinations of the soul. The soul dominated by the body warps our spirit to serve our bodily functions, not God. This reality is reflected in today’s culture of consumerism: the advertiser’s panacea is to feed the body’s demands for pleasure and stimulation. In truth, the television and the internet are now the pulpit from which spew forth the preaching and teaching of today’s Materialist religion.
Modern technology is a particular curse: by making everything instant, it feeds immediate gratification. As I have said on my website at http://www.Philotheos.org, “Speed is greed”; speed feeds greed, an issue never talked about in today’s self-centred world of self indulgence. Instead, consumption and speed are assumed to be morally desirable and good. This betrays our obsession with bodily demands which in turn corrupt our will and desires – our soul – to serve self-centred ends.
The process, then, which God would have us submit to as the central, strategic priority throughout our lives is the reversal of this subjection of spirit to soul and to body.
Once the Holy Spirit has entered us, God seeks to restore the spirit over the soul, and the soul over the body. The body and its wants are to be submitted to the will of our souls; and the soul’s inclinations are to be re-trained to the commands of Christ’s teaching so that God’s Spirit is in control – not our bodies ! Christ’s teaching is spiritual – Christ’s words are spirit and they are life. Christ always addresses the fundamental issue, in a real and practical way, with a very real and practical aim, namely:- Restoration of our lives to Godly obedience.
The route is always via the Cross, and only via the cross. Those techniques and teaching which tell us that there is another way to Christ are manifestly false; they pander to the problem of Self instead of challenging the power of Self. Jesus, however, was very clear: Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me !
Death to self so that the resurrection life of Christ can be mediated to us by the true Holy Spirit – not the unexacting counterfeit invented by modern, marketed religion. Like the advertising of this corrupted world, marketed religion always emphasises the benefits, not the price tag. It glosses over the essential and vital Christian truth about the narrow, exclusive way ordained by God – the way of the cross and resurrection. The true believer is called to live out daily the way of the cross in order to live the ressurrection life ordained by God.
Viewed this way, the New Testament and the Bible make perfect, practical sense. Those who live obediently, find the reality of Christian spirituality in their lives [eg Psalm 25, especially verse 14]
Why else does Jesus talk of denying self, taking up the cross and following him ? Why do the apostles talk about dying to self and living for Christ ?
Why does Jesus command baptism by full immersion in water ? Why does the apostle Paul talk about being baptised into Christ’s death and about walking in newness of life ? Why does Peter say that baptism now saves us ? Why does James say that faith without works is dead ? Why does the apostle Paul say that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to the clever people of this world’s system ?
Because by acting on God’s terms, we enter true Christianity. We lay aside the self-centred, ‘fallen’ lifestyle, and are diligently retrained to live increasingly in the resurrection life of Christ supplied by the Holy Spirit.
We are called to live for God the Father, in Christ the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit unleashed in our lives when we obey God’s Word, Jesus Christ himself, the living embodiment and example of the spiritual truth.
Be ye holy for I AM holy the apostle Peter urges us, citing Leviticus in the Old Testament.
There are far wider, serious implications when we adopt the perspective of holiness. So far I have talked about the view and practice of individual believers. But let me point to consequences at 3 corporate levels, namely in
- the church
It is plain to us all, that the Christian church all too often bears little resemblance to the faith and practice manifest in the Bible. The organised, ecclesiastical structures are failing; church membership declines as the older generation dies off. So too does the general public idenitification with Christianity as the national religion. Evidence for this is clear in the 2021 population census in England & Wales. For the first time, the proportion of those identifying as Christian has fallen below 50% of the population. This is down some 13% on the 2011 census. Conversely the proportion identifying as having no religion has grown by a similar percentage and now constitutes the second largest group under the category of religion.
The organised Christian church is failing. The question arises then, “Just how holy is the Church?”. Does it do what God says, in God’s way ? Or is the Church too preoccupied with human oriented agendas and human ideas ? Is it submitting to what the New Testament identifies as “the spirit of the age” when it should be submitted to the Holy Spirit and should be challenging the anti-God system of this world ?
I need not repeat what I have already said regarding the individual’s response to Christ. Clearly the same challenge applies to the church corporate. Surely a corporate transformation will take place when the individuals of a local church live the faith portrayed in the New Testament.
Until the Church sees itself as holy unto God, then its decline is inevitable. And the decline of the Church will have consequences for the state of society at large – as indeed it already has.
It is obvious that formerly Christian minded western society is now paganised by the Materialism of Enlightenment thinking. That thinking is manifest in the culture and mindset prevalent in governmental organisations, in politics, in media, in academia and even in formalised Churches.
The dominant elites in western society are manifestly hostile to Christianity – they assiduously promote the extremist individualism of Materialism as religious Orthodoxy. This is affecting the mentality of society as a whole. Today, Sunday as a day of rest and religious observance is just a fact of history.
But God still blesses those who observe God’s ways and thereby honour their Creator. Holiness can be lived even by the unbeliever – and the unbeliever can benefit from the blessing of God for such godly observance. I have in mind the concept called “Common Grace”. It means that anyone observing God’s moral commands will be blessed, not cursed.
I will cite the example of Marriage to illustrate this. Those who remain faithful over their entire lifetime as God ordains, are blessed. I have witnessed it. I believe it. Common sense alone should enable us to reflect that this is likely to be so.
People who remain faithful to each other establish a degree of trust, respect and mutual support which enhances them as responsible and caring human beings. They provide a sure foundation of stability for their children. This constrasts with the manifest insecurity suffered by children living outside the security of the traditional family unit. Indeed when married parents remain loyal, they manifest the godly qualities of loyalty, trustworthiness and harmony.
The so-called ‘one parent family’ is one of the appalling symptoms of the Materialism of our times. It reflects the decline of a Christian culture and mentality, and simultaneously the rise of a materialistic and self centred culture. It is not the only socially negative phenomenon which goes along with this religious, social and cultural revolution. It is but one: the financial costs alone are staggering, even before we begin to consider the psychological and social consequences like serious mental illness and criminality.
Personally I simply cannot dwell on such realities – I find it far too painful …
We don’t need academic studies to tell us what we all know personally from our everyday lives. We don’t need Doctors of Ethics to explain our responsibilities – we all know right and wrong, and we all have a conscience. These simple facts however are airbrushed from the debate by the apostles and priests of today’s Enlightened Materialist culture. At their behest, we must suspend the judgement and conscience which God placed in each of us for our own, and for the common, good. We are required instead to believe what “experts” tell us, and just obey. We are to obey their sacred texts, and their special revelation; their superior calling and their infallible opinions. We are to treat those who consider themselves as gods in their own life, as gods in our lives too. Such arrogant atheists do not begin to imagine the depth of offence they give, nor realise their appalling blasphemy.
And yet western Governments listen to experts.
It is clear from the Bible that when rulers and governments act according to God’s requirements that their nations are blessed by God. The reverse is also true – we live with the horrors of this in western society today. I include here laws passed to appease and to implement those human ideas which contradict God’s declared moral law.
Recorded as the wisest king ever, Solomon is believed to have penned these words in the book of Proverbs of the Old Testament of the Bible:
Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
There is no reference here to a specific people or nation. No, this spiritual principle and its outworking apply to all nations, regardless. Whether you believe in God or not, and whether you wish to treat the Bible as an exceptionally sacred book preserved by divine providence, or not – the truth of this is patent in human history.
Societies overwhelmed by immorality become weak and fail whereas societies with a strong moral code and sense of identity are secure.
Governments have the duty before God to implement the moral code of God, first and foremost. This coincides with their duty to secure the welfare of their peoples. But that will only happen law and policy are no longer based on the spurious axiom of Atheistic Materialism which declares that we are merely soul-less assemblages of atoms existing in a godless universe; basically good therefore, corrupted only by bad environment.
Instead, the Christian analysis must be restored:
We are made in God’s image, but corrupted by sin
Respect is due to all, high or low, rich or poor. But all are capable of doing wrong, and may need correction – governments and self righteous ideologists included.