Fighting Tooth and Claw for our Holiness

Fighting Tooth & Claw for HOLINESS

I am making a call to holy living this morning
And in preaching a sermon on such a subject
* I must be careful not to take you to a place I shouldn’t take you
* Although holiness is a biblical virtue to be pursued
I must not overstate my case / and end up moralising holiness

Moralism is never a good thing
If idolatry is satisfaction in everything but Jesus
moralism is virtue without satisfaction in Jesus
And I don’t want to take us there this morning

And in preparing this sermon / I have had to ask myself this question:
“How do I commend a biblical virtue without preaching moralism?

Well / I want to be able to get there / at the end of the sermon
and I’ve prayed much for the Lord’s help

Now with that / let me proceed

Just what is holiness?
The Hebrew word in the Old Testament is the word “qadosh” (קדושׁ)
It means to be set apart / distinct and separate
The Greek word in the New Testament is the word “hagios” (ἅγιος)
In the same way it means “to cut off” “to separate” “to be distinct”

So it is not strange to find in Scripture / a number of people / things / places
that were deemed holy
There are things “set apart” / “separated from common use”
and dedicated to God for a special purpose

* His work is holy / Psalm 145:17   / His arm is holy / Psalm 98:1
* the ground around the burning bush on which Moses stood is holy
* The land of His people / is called “the holy land” Zech 2:12
* God dwelling place is called a holy habitation / Deut 26:15
* Jerusalem, where God’s temple stood / is called “the holy city” Rev 21:2
* His foundation / “is in the holy mountain” / Psalm 87:1
* The promise God makes / is “his holy promise” / Psalm 105:42
* His law is holy / His commandment is “holy”
* His apostles are called “holy apostles”/ Eph. 3:5
* God’s Word is called “the holy scriptures / 2 Timothy 3:15

* The temple / is the Holy Temple – with its Holy Place / and Most Holy Place

You get the drift / someone / something / some place is deemed holy
if it is separated from the ordinary / if it is set apart for something

So you have holy priests / holy Sabbaths / a holy covenant
holy angels / and the holy vessels / holy garments

But supremely / it is God Who is holy / in His separation and transcendence

The Word of God defines God as “the Holy One” / Job 6:10
He is referred to as “the Holy One of Israel” / Isa. 1:4
John says: “God is light / and in Him is no darkness at all” / 1 John 1:5
Habakkuk says God is “too pure to behold evil” / Hab. 1:12-13
Moses and the sons of Israel said of God
“Who is like You among the gods / O LORD?
Who is like You / glorious in holiness” / Ex 15:11
It’s a rhetorical question / The answer is nobody
And Hannah / in her song of thanksgiving / extolled the Lord saying:
“There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you”
David says:  “Holy and awesome is His name: / Ps 111:9

When we speak of God’s holiness / it is easy for us to think of His holiness
as simply one of the many attributes of God / – like in the same way
that He is just / or that He is merciful / so we say He is holy
But that wouldn’t be a correct way of understanding God’s holiness
God’s holiness / is not just another attribute among His many attributes

What then is God’s holiness?

The 17th century / English Puritan divine / Stephen Charnock has helped me most
In his two-volume classic / The Existence and Attributes of God / Charnock says
* that God’s holiness is “qualitatively distinct and original” to God
* that there is a qualitative difference between God’s holiness and our holiness

Only God is “essentially” “indispensably” “necessarily” holy
in the very depth and core of His very being
You could say / that God’s holiness
is another name for His deity / His holiness is Who He is

* Thomas Brooks says it well: “God’s holiness and his nature
are not two things / they are one
God’s holiness is his nature / and God’s nature is his holiness

It is totally impossible / that God could be unholy
Holiness is the sine qua non of the being of God
an indispensable essential  part of God – inseparable from Him

In fact God singles out His holiness / as representing His very Being
For example / whenever God takes an oath
He takes an oath / not by His mercy / not by His justice
not even by His power / but whenever God takes an oath
He would take an oath / by His holiness

Amos 4:2 / “The Sovereign Lord has sworn / by His holiness”
Psalm 89:35 / “Once have I sworn / by My holiness”

God swears by His “holiness” because His holiness / more than any
other single attribute / is the fullest expression of Who He is

* A. A. Hodge puts it beautifully: “The holiness of God is not to be conceived of
as one attribute among others; it is rather a general term
representing the conception of his consummate perfection
and total glory / It is his infinite moral perfection
crowning his infinite intelligence and power”

You could say:
Holiness is the crown over all His other attributes
Holiness is one attribute of God
which spreads itself throughout all the other attributes
His power is holy power / mercy – holy mercy  wisdom – holy wisdom
love – holy love / justice – holy justice

So / as someone has rightly said / that if God’s many attributes
could be thought of as the various facets of a diamond
then holiness would be the combined brightness of those facets
shining out in radiant glory

* Thomas Watson says something similar along this line:
He said:  “Holiness is the most sparkling jewel of God’s crown
It is the name by which He is known”

* And Charnock drops this nugget:
He said: “Holiness is God’s beauty and glory
When God would be drawn / as much as He can be
He is drawn in this attribute of holiness
Power is God’s hand or arm / omniscience [is] His eye,
mercy [is] His bowels / eternity His duration
but holiness is His beauty”

Further / when we say that God is holy / we are not saying
that He conforms to some holy standard out there
No No No / He is the standard by which all holiness is measured

And further / there are no degrees to His holiness
He is not holier this century / than He was seven centuries ago
He is at all times / in all places / ever / eternally / perfectly holy

God’s holiness tells us that supremely He is infinite in moral perfection
The prophet Habakkuk says of God:
“You are of purer eyes than to see evil / You cannot look at wickedness”

In fact the very existence of hell is proof of God’s moral perfection
Because no unholy person can stand in God’s presence / hell has to exist
Hell exists because God is holy / He cannot behold sin

Now / if God is “essentially” “indispensably” “necessarily” holy
in the very depth and core of His being
then / it follows that we are never going to be holy / the way God is holy
If you and I are holy / we are holy only because God made us holy
Our holiness is “derived” / Its “derivative”
Now / what’s the upshot of this?
It is this: Because our holiness is derived / it is possible for us to be “unholy”

And it is for this reason that God calls us again and again / to BE holy
We are simply not “essentially” or “necessarily” holy

This command is found in countless places in the Bible

* Through Moses / God says:
“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them,
You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Lev. 19:2
* Lev 20:7 / “Sanctify yourselves / and be holy”
* Deuteronomy 18:13, “You shall be blameless before the LORD your God”

In the NT:
* The Lord says it again: “You shall be holy / for I am holy” / I Peter 1:16
* “Strive for holiness / without which no one will see the Lord” / Heb. 12:14
* “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God” / Matt 5:8
* “Everyone who names the name of the Lord
is to abstain from wickedness” / 2 Tim 2:19
* “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified:
that you should avoid sexual immorality” / 1 Thess 4:3

And we need to see that God is not mere “suggesting” that we be holy
He “exhorting” us to be holy
You can’t read Hebrews 12 / and not notice
that the language the writer uses there / smacks of exhortation
“lift your drooping hands” / “strengthen your weak knees”
“make straight paths for your feet”

Romans 8 sums it up best / “Put to death the deeds of the body” / v.12
The verb “put to death” “mortify” is in the imperative mood
That should tell you that it’s a command
In Owen’s words / there is “a duty prescribed”

And the call to be holy is a call to be holy in every part of our lives
Paul prays: “May your spirit /and soul /and body be preserved blameless”
The spirit must be consecrated / the body must be cleansed
and the mind dedicated / to God’s purpose” / 1 Thess. 5:23

But the call to holiness does not sit well with the average Christian
In fact there is little appetite for holiness in our time

I’m going to give you an example of a man passionate for holiness
not so as to crush you / but to encourage you

I’m talking about John Owen  / Owen is probably
the greatest pastor-theologian among the puritans in England

* Packer referred to him as “the tallest among the Puritan redwoods”
* Jerry Bridges says John Owen’s treatises on The Mortification of Sin
is “the most helpful writings on personal holiness ever written.”
* Keller tells us that he discovered John Owen in 1972
And this is what Keller said of Owen’s book The Mortification of Sin
Keller said “I wouldn’t be in the ministry [today]
my life would be a shipwreck / if I hadn’t read that book”

See Owen was Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain / a frequent speaker to Parliament
He was dean and vice chancellor in the University of Oxford
He served in churches in and around London
Tragically he lost his wife / and ten of his eleven children died young
and the last child died when she was a young adult
Talk about Job losing all his ten children!

But what is amazing is that
in the midst of all his busy schedule and personal tragedy
Owen’s passion was not public performance but personal holiness
He said: “My heart’s desire unto God / and the chief design of my life
. . . are that personal holiness may be promoted in my own
and in the hearts and ways of others”

Piper says of Owen: “Not many leaders today
state the goals of their lives / in terms of holiness”

But today / there’s a gap between our passion for Christ and our pursuit of holiness

J.C. Ryle wrote a 333 page book called Holiness / and when he put his pen down
You know what he called it? / He called it “a mite”
You’ll remember the widow’s mite / a mite is a small contribution
This man wrote a 333 page volume on holiness / and he called it “a mite”
Today the average Christian in the pew
can’t write a short 300 word paragraph on the subject

And among people of the Reformed faith / there is this huge chasm
between our passion for the gospel / and our pursuit for holiness

We think that because we embrace a Gospel-centered theology
we don’t really need worry about rules or commands
We have the idea that any call for diligence / effort and duty
will only promote legalism

But as Kevin deYoung rightly observes:
the imperatives of God’s Word are as important as the indicatives
Just because we’re gospel-centered
it doesn’t mean that we cannot talk about imperatives

Our lack of desire for holiness could be due in part to our misunderstanding
of the difference between justification and sanctification
It is one thing to be justified / It is another thing to be sanctified
It’s a distinction between positional holiness / and actual holiness

Positionally / we are already made holy in Christ

As Packer puts it / justification frees you forever from the need to keep the law
* You don’t get right with God / by being holy
* You’re saved by grace through faith / Ephesians 2:8
* you “have been sanctified through
the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” / Heb 10:10

Faith is the fundamental means for getting right with God
Nothing else / absolutely nothing else / contributes to our salvation
The only ground of your salvation / is the righteousness of Christ

The one single offering Christ made / has perfected you for all eternity
* The power of sin that shackled you has been broken
* You now stand righteous through His imputed righteousness

In short / if you are a Christian / you are positionally holy

But that said / as we’ve seen / the Bible repeatedly exhorts us to live holy lives
and warns us against unholy living

* Galatians 5:21 / “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality
impurity / sensuality / drunkenness, orgies, and things like these
those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”

* 1 Corinthians 6:10 – “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral
nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers,
nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”

Now / you might be asking / “If positionally we are already holy in Christ
why is God calling us to live holy lives?”

The answer is rather simple: / Because fundamentally it is holy living
that confirms that your faith is genuine

Yes / we’re all agreed that the gospel is the ground of our justification
Yes / we’re saved by faith / totally apart from any human effort or good work

But that does not invalidate God’s clear call to strive for holy living
because there is an evidence of holiness that is required of you
NOT so that you might be made justified
but to validate and confirm / that you ARE indeed justified

The Word of God is full of exhortations to pursue holiness
because holiness is the fruit / of our union with Christ

God’s good news must lead to our good conduct
The faith that justifies is the faith that bears the fruit of holiness

Didn’t Jesus say:
“If you abide in my word / you are truly my disciples”/ Jn 8:31

Now / what’s the upshot of this?
It is this: People who are genuinely born of God do not continue in sin
Not that they will not sin
but that they will resolutely not give up the fight for their holiness

A true Christian will fight sin / with tooth and claw
He knows that if he is justified / He needs also to be sanctified
It does not mean that he will succeed flawlessly in his fight for purity
But it does mean that true believers / are those
who have a stubborn resolve to fight fearlessly for their purity

And the issue is not how many sinless days you’ve clocked in since your last fall
Its the reality that maters / and this is the question:
Is there reality in your life to authenticate that you are indeed born of God

Perhaps the clearest verse that connects Gospel-centered preaching
with the call to holiness is 2 Cor 7:1
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves
from every defilement of body and spirit,
bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God”

The faith that justifies is also the faith that sanctifies

We are not sure whether it was Calvin or Luther who said this
But one of them said: “We are justified by faith alone,
but the faith that justified us / is never alone”

So yes / the gospel is the ground of our justification
but holiness / is the fruit / of that justification

What is eternal security after all but this: that those whom God justified
He will sanctify and ultimately glorify

I think we’ve largely forgotten the purpose / for which we are saved:

God redeemed us so that we might be holy!

Packer puts it simply “In reality holiness is the goal of our redemption”

See: It is one thing to talk about / what God has saved us from
It is another to talk about / what He has saved us to

* Romans 8:29 / He predestined us to conformed to the image of His Son
* Ephesians 1:4 / He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world
[so what?] so that we would be holy and blameless before Him
1 Thessalonians 4:7 / For God has not called us to impurity / but to holiness

When you’re tempted to sin
remember He redeemed you that you might be holy

J.C. Ryle in his book Holiness says:
Holiness “is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world”

All right if we’re to be holy / just what is personal holiness?
People my age group / grew up in churches / where we’re told that holiness
* was men not growing long hair / or listening to rock and roll
* was women not wearing jewellery / makeup / high heels and pants

In general / for everyone / holiness was
not going to the movies / not watching TV / not dancing / not drinking
not playing cards / or smoking cigarettes

In short / holiness was a whole long list of other “no-no’s”

But / it also included a lot of “do do’s”
do read your Bible / do pray / do witness
do go to church every Sunday / do memorise scripture

If you didn’t do the do’s / or if you didn’t avoid the don’ts
you weren’t holy / that’s that

But that is far too simplistic / that’s a kind of a check-list spirituality:
Just because you’ve dealt with your anger and temper / been regular at church
read your Bible regularly and memorised scripture
says nothing of the deeply-entrenched idolatrous nature of your heart
which is much harder to detect and uproot

It is simply the case / that no one becomes holy by following a set of rules

What then does it mean to be holy?
I could say / to be holy is to be morally blameless
to be holy is to be separated from sin and consecrated to God
to be holy is to be conformed to the moral teachings of God

I could say all that and I would be right
But how much more helpful and clear / if I just said
“To be holy / is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ”
Or clearer still / “To be holy is to be like Christ”

And that / is what you and I are called to!

Does all this seem an insurmountable task? / Sure it does
And if this is all there is to it / a message like this will lead to two very bad ends

One / if you fail / it would crush you and lead you to despair
Two / if you succeed you’ll be very tempted to trump your nose on other people
who are failing morally
And you’ll begin to imagine that God is more pleased with you
than He is / with these other miserable offenders

But we thank God that this is not all there is to it!
We thank God that we’re not left mercilessly without help
Our loving God / Who gives this command to be holy
has also given us the gospel and the help of the Holy Spirit
coupled with such means of grace as the Holy Spirit
the Holy Communion / the Fellowship of Church
to help us in our pursuit for holiness

Remembering the gospel will reminds you
* that you cannot on your own steam / stand before God holy and righteous
* that you cannot measure up to God’s holy standard of morality
* that given an eternity of chances you will only trip up again and again

We desperately need the gospel / because the unpalatable truth
is that before God we stand guilty of our failures

Let me make it clear for us all
You’ll remember the story in I Chronicles 13 / The ark of God was being moved
to its rightful place / to the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle

It was placed on a cart / drawn by two oxen
But at one point in the journey / the ark was jostled on the bumpy road
The oxen stumbled / the ark tilted and came in danger of falling over
And Uzzah reached out / put his hands on the ark
to keep it from toppling onto the mud

And God killed him right there

Now our response is / “God this isn’t fair / He was only trying to help”
But you respond this way / because
* you make too little of God’s holiness and too little of our sinfulness
* you cannot come to grips
with how your sins stack up before God’s holiness

Uzzah might have been a nice person
but the fact remains / that he was still a filthy creature
when compared to the holiness of God

As Hans Kung puts it
The question is not “Is it fair that Uzzah should be struck dead?”
The question is “Why haven’t we all been struck dead
for all our vile offenses”

Jonathan Edwards asks the troubling question
“O sinner / can you give any reason
why since you have risen from your bed this morning
God has not stricken you dead?”

So the bad news is / We all stand filthy before God because of our sins
But the good news is this
There is one person who’s ever walked on this earth
of Whom it can be said / that He was / and is the only Holy One

John Stott puts it eloquently:
We may read of His temptations / but we will hear nothing of his sins
He was continually telling others to repent of their sins
yet never once / did he repent himself
He showed no consciousness of moral failure
He appears to have no feelings of guilt
and no sense of estrangement from God
He exposed the duplicity of the Pharisees
yet his penetrating eyes / could see no sin in Himself

He once asked the people: “Which one of you convicts me of sin?
He claimed to have walked perfectly with God
In fact / at  the end of His life / He could say:
“I have kept my Father’s commandments” / Jn 15:10
“I always do what is pleasing to the Father”

Now the great news is this
This Holy One / who is totally without blemish / pure and sinless
took on our sin and depravity
and absorbed the wrath of God / that rightly should’ve fallen on us

On the cross he had dried Roman spit caking His face because He was spat on
Why was He spat on?
Because He / the sinless One was made to be sin for us
so that we might be accepted as “pure” and “holy”

The Holy One was made vile / that we might be made holy
The Sanctified One was made depraved that we might be made sanctified
The holiest person in all history
The One who deserved our loudest applause
was booed / and mocked / taunted / and jeered
so that we might receive the applause of God

On the cross Jesus received the verdict / that we deserve
On the cross Jesus heard the Father say
“Depart from me / You cursed / to the everlasting fire”
So that when we come to Him / drawn by grace / through faith
we can hear / the Father say “Well done!”

2 Corinthians 5:21 / “God made him who had no sin / to be sin for us
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”

He now calls you to repent of your sins / forsake them / trust in Him
so that you may stand before God holy
having His righteousness imputed upon you

It is true that without holiness / no one can see God
But ultimately / it is only through Christ’s holiness
that you and I could ever hope to see God



About Andrew Lim

When I was pastor of Christ Sanctuary, I’ve always thought “Although I don't have a job, I’ve got this glorious calling I’m eternally grateful.” So I am a pastor. But who am I really? Am I who my flock make me out to be? I am probably not even what I imagine myself to be. Whoever I am, You have searched me and know me, oh God. Whoever I am, You know I am yours” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Wer bin Ich?”] But that said, you may come to know something about me from what I put on “paper” here. I will blog on whatever inspires me or jolts my memory. I’ve been married for thirty-nine years to my level-headed wife, Gloria. We have two daughters Hannah and Rachael, and a labrador called Chutney.
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