These are just my notes. Please buy the book. A good place to buy older books is Abebooks.com.
8 – Be Ye Holy
Christians in the early church were called saints. Today people refer to a saint as a “super-spiritual” person, and the Catholic Church has made saint a title for spiritual heroes. The New Testament saint simply refers to the everyday believer. All God’s people are saints. The word means “holy one.”
The letters of Paul to the New Testament churches were full of saints who struggled with all types of sin. It seems odd that these people would be referred to as saints since Paul has to rebuke them of all their foolish and sinful behavior.
These New Testament believers were called saints not because they were already pure but because they were people set apart and called to purity. The word holy has two meanings when referring to God or to men. The first meaning of the word holy says that God is “transcendent—far above and beyond us, different, set apart from us,” and the second meaning refers to “absolute purity.”
If we are not transcendent and certainly not pure, how can the Bible call us saints or “holy ones”? We can look back to the Old Testament and to the nation of Israel. When God led Israel out of Egypt, He set them apart to be a special nation. They were His chosen people. He told them, “Be ye holy, even as I am holy.”
God also told this to Adam and Eve. Humans were created in the image of God. This meant that we were to mirror and reflect the character of God. We were created to reflect God’s holiness to the world—that’s the very reason we were created and why we exist.
The Westminister Catechism of the Presbyterian Church says that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” I had a hard time with that statement when I was a boy. I was unable to see how enjoyment fit in with glorifying God. I knew that obedience to His law had a lot to do with glorifying God. That didn’t seem like much fun. I already realized a conflict with what I thought of as fun and obeying the laws of God. I saw God as a barrier to joy.
A big problem was that I did not understand the difference between happiness and pleasure. I have committed many sins in my life. Not one of those sins has ever made me happy. On the contrary, sin has added an abundance of unhappiness to my life. Now, my sins have brought me pleasure. Pleasure can be great fun. And not all pleasures are sins. There is much pleasure to be found in righteousness.
If I am well aware of the fact that sin is pleasurable but it does not bring happiness, then why do I still sin? It seems stupid to do something that I know will rob me of my happiness, yet I still do it anyway. I smoked cigarettes for years—knowing that they were bad for me, yet I still did it anyway. That’s sheer madness, and that is what sin is.
We all do things that we know are wrong. We feel like doing what we want rather than what we should do. That’s why Paul said, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” We have a problem—we have been called to be holy, but we are not holy. And if we are not holy, then why does the Bible call us saints?
The Bible calls us saints or “holy ones” for two reasons. First, we are holy because we have been consecrated to God. We have been set apart. We have been called to a life that is different from the average person. We have been called to non-conformity.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Romans 12: 1-2
Instead of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, Paul calls for a new kind of sacrifice—a living sacrifice of our bodies. This living sacrifice should look like non-conformity, but not the sort of shallow non-conformity that we often see in Christians today. God is not concerned with what we eat or drink. This call of nonconformity is a call to a deeper level of righteousness that goes beyond externals. Jesus said in Matthew 15:11 that it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of his mouth.
Why do we focus on external aspects of non-conformity? It is sin. The things we do or do not do to display our “righteousness” betray our unrighteousness. When we major in the insignificant things and neglect the major things, we imitate the Pharisees. Anyone can avoid dancing or going to movies. These are no great feats of moral courage. What is difficult to do is to control the tongue, to act with integrity, and to show the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Anyone can avoid dancing or going to movies. These are no great feats of moral courage. What is difficult to do is to control the tongue, to act with integrity, and to show the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their preoccupation with the insignificant:
"How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you ignore the important things of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things.”
We are called to more than non-conformity, we are called to transformation. The prefix con means “with.” Someone who conforms goes with the things of this world. The prefix trans means “across” or beyond.” Someone who is transformed rises above this world. We are called to transcendent excellence and a high standard of self-discipline. We are not to be satisfied with superficial forms of righteousness.
The way we are transformed is by the renewing of our mind. We must devote ourselves to the disciplined study and mastery of the Word of God. Our lives on the outside cannot change until our minds have been transformed by God’s Word. True transformation comes by a new understanding of God, man, and the world. If we are to be like Christ, we must know the mind of Christ, and the only way we can do that is through His Word.
It takes sacrifice to know the mind of Christ through His Word. This is the call to excellence we have received. We are not to be like the rest of the world who are content with a superficial knowledge of God.
To be a saint means to be separated. It also means more than that. The saint is to be one who is in the process of sanctification. This means we are to be purified daily as we pursue holiness. If we are justified, we must also be sanctified.
There is a Latin phrase that describes the saint: simul justus et peccator—at the same time just and sinner. We are just and sinful. We certainly still sin, yet we are just because we have been justified. In and of ourselves we are not just. We are justified by the righteousness of Christ. This is what justification by faith is about. When we trust in Christ and His righteousness (and not our own “righteousness”) for our salvation, then God transfers Christ’s righteousness to our account.
We certainly still sin, yet we are just because we have been justified. In and of ourselves we are not just. We are justified by the righteousness of Christ. This is what justification by faith is about. When we trust in Christ and His righteousness (and not our own “righteousness”) for our salvation, then God transfers Christ’s righteousness to our account.
This all sounds fraudulent, like God is playing legal games with us. How can God count us righteousness when we are not righteous! This is the Gospel! This is the good news! We, as unjust sinners, have been provided a way to stand in the presence of a just and holy God by Christ’s righteousness.
How can God count us righteousness when we are not righteous! This is the Gospel! This is the good news! We, as unjust sinners, have been provided a way to stand in the presence of a just and holy God by Christ’s righteousness.
Not only are our sins taken away by Christ, but His righteousness is transferred to us. This transfer of righteousness is a concept that is easily confused and seriously abused. Some people think that all they have to do is believe in Jesus without repenting and changing their life. Others view justification by faith as a license to sin.
Luther said, “Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” James, the brother of Jesus, said in James 2:17 that “faith without works is dead.” True faith is what Luther called a fides viva, which means a “living faith.” It is a faith that immediately brings forth the fruits of repentance and righteousness.
If a man says he has faith, but no works follow, that is clear evidence that his faith is not genuine. True faith always produces real conformity to Christ. If justification truly occurred, then sanctification will be its result. If there is no sanctification, then there was no justification. The two will always go hand in hand without exception.
We are immediately justified the instant we believe. God doesn’t wait for our good works before He declares us just. Our sanctification begins the moment we are justified, but this process of sanctification and of our becoming holy is a long, long process.
Luther compared this to a sick patient who is declared well by the doctor the moment he takes the medicine to cure his illness. He is not cured right away, but as soon as the medicine enters his body, he begins to get well. It is the same with us: the moment we believe by faith, we start to become sanctified and holy. The process has begun and this process will certainly be completed.
The goal then of Christian growth is to become righteous. This sounds strange since Christians seldom talk about righteousness. People talk about being ethical or spiritual, but never righteous. It is probably because we know that it is a sin to be self-righteous. The word righteous sounds a bit pharisaical, however, this must be our goal as Christians. Christ tells us in Matthew 6:33 to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you.” Our goal is righteousness.
We can know if we are achieving righteousness if there is fruit in our life. Matthew 7:16 says, “You will know them by their fruits.” A person becomes more righteous and holy by the Holy Spirit working to sanctify him.
Let’s look at the fruits of the flesh vs. the fruits of the Spirit:
Fruits of the Flesh
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Fruits of the Spirit
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
All of us sin, but it is important that we are aware of the warning in verse 21. Those who practice the fruits of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. The word practice describes continual, habitual action. If our lives can be characterized by the fruits of the flesh, then the Holy Spirit has not regenerated us.
There are degrees of sin where some sins are worse than others. Jesus said that to lust is to violate the law against adultery. That is not to mean that lusting is as bad a sin as adultery, but that the law has a broader spectrum than the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees thought that since they never committed adultery that they were sinless, but they ignored the fact that they had lusted after a woman and had indeed violated the commandment.
The same principle applies with murder. The Pharisees thought they were okay since they never killed anybody, but Jesus said that a man was guilty if he had unjust anger and hatred against another. Jesus said that to hate is a sin against another person’s life. Hatred violates people. It is not as bad as murder, but is still a sin.
All of our sins are acts of treason against a holy God. We need to be aware of the major sins and stay away from them so we do not major in minors like the Pharisees. What good does it do to stay away from gluttony and be in good fitness if we cannot control our tongue and we slander our neighbors? A sin against another is much worse than a sin against only ourselves.
The process of sanctification and becoming righteous and holy is not easy, but God shows us the fruits of the Spirit that we are to focus on and strive for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul follows up the fruits of the Spirit with these directions:
“Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.”