To many people today, holiness seems to be as unscalable as Mt. Everest. Not that they haven’t tried; but, each time they attempted the climb, their efforts (successful to a level) soon met with frustrations. Sometimes, it was the roughness of the climb, then sometimes it would just be the weather, the winds of circumstances blowing hard on them. Many times, the pull of comfort from the world below is so strong that they turn back too easily. But, sadly, the higher the climb, the more crushing the fall.
The desire for holiness is nothing but the desire for God. God is the source of holiness (Exo.28:36). He alone is holy (Isa.6:3). The holiness of anything is not inherent in itself; it is holy because of its relation with God. Thus, for humans, holiness is a relationship. We are separated from the world unto God. The phrase “unto God” is central.
Also, the very desire for holiness is a characteristic of being born again. When we were sinful humans, our desires, tastes and preferences were different. A smoker could smoke a pipe and feel proud about it. Men and women would flirt and feel nothing bad about it. But, a born again Christian will never be happy with sin (Rom.6:20-22). Because, the new man cannot sin, anyone born of God will not sin (1Jn.5:18). Not that Christians don’t fall into temptation, but, temptation is a struggle for them – they love holiness and desire holiness. It is their high calling. “We are called unto holiness” (1Thess.4:7; 2Tim.1:9). The Holy Spirit is zealous within us to produce the salvation of God (James 4:5). He lusts for our sanctification while the flesh lusts for sin (Gal.5:17). Holiness is not possible without the Holy Spirit (1Pet.1:2).
Holiness is possible only through Christ. Unless He washes us we have no part in Him (Jn.13:8).
There are various views about sanctification. In some way or the other, they are all speaking the truth. John Wesley said that sanctification means perfection in love; when it is impossible for us to not love, we reflect the holy nature of God (1Jn.5:1-4).
There is a story of Richard Wurmbrand, who was pastor of the underground Church in Romania. He was arrested and put into solitary confinement for many years. One of the police officers was surprised that Wurmbrand didn’t hate his torturers; instead he loved them. He asked him why he did that and Wurmbrand answered that it is impossible for him not to love because he is a child of God and God is love. The officer later accepted Christ and went to prison.
The Keswick theologians said that sanctification can only happen when we stop trying to be holy in our own strength and surrender absolutely to God. The well known phrase was “Let Go, Let God”. Certainly, we cannot sanctify ourselves. It is the altar that sanctifies the gift. Many times we struggle against sin with our own power; but, God never meant us to do that. It is like a man sent by his Company on business; the Company covers all his expenditures, but somehow he believes that he has to spend it from his own pocket because he wants to show that he is not so poor; and so is burdened. There comes a time when his pride has to break. In God’s case, it is much more different. He wants us to surrender our pockets to Him. Unless we surrender, He cannot sanctify us. Remember the young rich man who came to Jesus. He was not willing to surrender everything. That was the only thing that hindered him from entering the Kingdom of God. What is it that you love above God? We can only be purified in total surrender, in total love.
Now, while it is true that we must grow on the foundation of faith; it is important for us to understand that there is nothing like partial holiness in the Kingdom of God. From God’s perspective, we are sanctified by faith in Christ. There is nothing like the division between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The Veil has been torn in the Body of Jesus (Mark 15:38; Heb.10:20). We are called the Most Holy Place of God (1Cor.3:16). We are the Temple of God. And, in Christ we are complete (Col.2:10). There is nothing like partially holy and partially unholy things. Something is either holy or unholy. We must believe that holiness is not something that we do; holiness is what we are in Christ. The new man is spotless and sinless.
However, in our practical life on earth, the struggle remains. We are called to pursue holiness (Heb.12:14). Again, this holiness is not separate from Christ. What is meant is that our conduct must align with God’s calling for our lives. If we fail to produce the fruit, there is the danger of being blotted out (Rom.11:16, 20,21; Rev.3:5). There is another picture that comes in here. It is of the Vine and the branches (Jn.15:1).
A branch grafted into the Vine will produce the fruit of the Vine; however, if it doesn’t abide (and the choice is ours), it is cut off. Therefore, the command is to pursue holiness, to hunger for purity, and to be holy and God is holy.
5 Essentials in the Cleansing ProcessThere are many pictures that can be chosen, but let’s chose the Biblical picture of cleansing vessels.
1. We Cannot Be Clean without Christ
We are only clean as long as we are in Christ (Col.1:23). Before we were in Christ we were vessels on the street, full of dust and dirt. But Christ brought us in and cleansed us for His service.
2. Cleansing is both External and Internal (the Internal more Important)
Jesus said to the Pharisees that they were clean outside, but dirty inside. Holiness is both internal and external. The Pharisees thought that Jesus was getting polluted because He was associating with sinners, but Jesus said that He came to seek the lost. They judged His disciples as not fasting, not paying tax, not washing hands, doing work on Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that the internal is more important than the external (Matt.23:25,26). He said that all uncleanness proceeds from within (Mark 7:21-23). The within must be cleansed. Secondly, it should be filled with good things; or else, it will turn worse – the evil spirit returns with 7 stronger ones (the latter state is worse than the former, Matt.12:45). David said that God desired truth in the inner being (Psa.51:6). How is your internal state before God?
3. Cleansing is a Daily Responsibility
Does it mean that we get dirty everyday? Or does it mean that we are getting progressively cleansed so that one day we become clean just before we die? I don’t think the latter is true. God wants to use us today; He wants us clean everyday. We grow in maturity; but, holiness is positional and regular. We need to be continuously clean. (2Tim.2:19-22). In order to be useful, we must be clean. Judas failed to be clean and so fell away from the Twelve (Jn.13:10,11). It is important to ensure that we purify ourselves daily from all defilements of flesh and spirit (2Cor.7:1) because we have been separated for the use of God.
Sanctification positionally is ground for cleansing regularly. We are cleansed by His Word (correction, Jn.15:3). We are cleansed by His Blood (forgiveness, Col.1:14).
4. Cleansing always involves a price
You don’t get anything clean without paying something for it. In the OT, it always involved a sacrifice. In NT, Christ paid the price; however, we need to also understand that discipleship is costly (Lk.14:26,27; Heb.12:1-4). Cheaper things will cost our life. The maintenance charges are high; but, the main price is paid by the Lord. He bought us. It is our responsibility to follow Him. You buy a vessel, but you need to use water and detergent to clean it. If you want to be clean you must spend time in the Word of God, fellowship, prayer. Just 120 minutes on Sunday is not enough. It is not automatic. It involves a price.
5. Cleansing is not always a painless process.
Peter says that he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (1Pet.4:1). The desire for an easy life brings more trouble. David didn’t fall into sin in the battle field; but, when taking a lazy walk. The process does involve struggle against and resistance of sin (Heb.12:4; 1Pet.2:11).
Fire is the purifying agent. Faith-love-works-patience-truth are connected.