Holiness is Not Optional

7343174816_9d67d74f5a_mEvangelicals speak often of the forgiveness of sins (justification) as the fundamental element in God’s gift of salvation. And so they should.

Justification is a legal term and it represents our acquittal as abject penitents before a holy God. Our forgiveness is assured by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He paid our sin debt on his cross, so that by faith we can be pardoned of all our sins. Justification stands for what God has done for us. Christ’s atoning sacrifice is the focus.

But evangelicals do not speak often enough of the companion doctrine – the doctrine of sanctification. If justification borrows its language from the law court, sanctification borrows from the terminology of the temple and its holy rituals. Justification stands for what God does for us, while sanctification stands for what he does in us in his setting-us-apart ministry.

Justification means that we are pardoned–and thereby saved from the judgment because the shed blood of Christ makes possible acquittal for all our sins. Our sin record is erased.

Sanctification means that God begins to transform our characters. To sanctify means to make holy — to set apart and form the life of God in us. In the original languages the two words – sanctification and holiness — come from the same root.

The two elements – justification and sanctification — can be considered separately to help us in our understanding, but they cannot exist or function separately, for in the moment we are justified, our sanctification begins. That is, the moment we are forgiven in a genuine conversion experience, in that moment in an evangelical sense the Holy Spirit imparts Christ’s life in us.

I find the call to sanctification clear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians (Ephesians 4:25—32). First, he exhorts these “born again” members of this young church to participate in a full transformation. Using the analogy of changing one’s clothing, he exhorts them to “put off” the badly soiled old life in its entirety and to “put on” the new life. That is, dress in the fresh clean garb of Christ’s holiness.

This can only be possible by energy made available by the mighty Spirit of God, but Ephesian believers are required to cooperate, though not as a means of adding virtue to the process. All is of grace. Yet the Apostle Paul’s appeal is for their response.

Then he mentions some characteristics of the old life they should guard against: They should put off falsehood, anger, stealing, and unholy speech. The suggestion is not that these are still rampant in the church but that such remnants of the old life are sure to be hanging on in some cases because awareness has not yet been awakened that such conduct does not fit the new life.

Paul’s list might leave his readers thinking that only sins committed that others can see are at issue, so he adds, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with all malice.” The work of sanctification confronts sins of the disposition, too.

Because it is only by the energy of the indwelling Holy Spirit that such transformation of character is possible, nestled in amongst these exhortations Paul makes another appeal: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

The Holy Spirit does not seal us as God’s possession by stamping some detached insignia on us; he himself and his indwelling presence are our seal. We are to avoid grieving him by our disobedience because he is real, personal, and the one who now graciously owns us.

It is clear to Paul that good can be expected from all this and it will manifest itself in the church. For one thing, holy relationships are sure to form between believers, as the Holy Spirit enables and supervises the church. In the words again of Paul, we will — “Be kind and compassionate to one another.” What a gracious result to expect!

But with this concern for God’s sanctifying work, Paul, does not forget that our grounding is in our justification. He writes: “Forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Photo credit: McKay Savage

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One thought on “Holiness is Not Optional

  1. At creation,God gifted us our very being .In the persons of Adam and Eve we messed things up,through disobedience and through pride of wanting to know as much as God.Pride comes before a fall,in this case The Fall. Thus things went awry in Eden .

    .Death and sin entered the world and the first of our kind were expelled from the Paradise of Eden.In the poet John Milton’s words, we lost Paradise.

    So that we may regain Paradise, that perfect life of Holiness,free from sin and death,God gave us the gift of Salvation. He gave us His only begotten Son ,who in His Passion,laid down His life for us to pay our sin- debt.

    In this way God offers us the assurance of Forgiveness. Jesus taught this during His life ,paid for our atonement through His sacrificial death ,and showed us the way and the Hope ,through His Resurrection.

    We are offered Forgiveness and Redemption , pardon and eternal life, by Christ’s sacrifice at Golgotha. Our debts are paid in full. We can receive this precious gift through faith and repentance.
    I am very grateful to this Just Call Me Pastor blog for reminding me to focus on the doctrine of Sanctification .

    John Wesley’s clear exposition of God’s grace, leading to Christian perfection , showed us the importance of Holiness. This inspired great Christian thinker, writer and preacher, worked during nearly all his adult life, at perfecting his great book ‘A Plain Account of Christian Perfection’.

    The great awakening of Methodism in England in the 1700s was spread by Methodist evangelists to America.This led to a Second Great Awakening in the Americas.In the last decade of the 18th century and through the 1800s, a great Revivalism ,the Camp Mettings movement,flourished.

    Bishop Francis Asbury ,and many later church leaders , evangelized the idea of entire sanctification through experience of new birth.By the 1840s the ideas of Holiness and Christian Perfection were central in American Methodism.

    Phoebe Palmer,her husband Dr Walter Palmer, and her sister Sarah Lankford promoted the Holiness Movement .Holiness gatherings were held in New York ,led eventually by Phoebe Palmer herself. Women played a great part in this Holiness movement , which inspired much of the Methodist clergy and laity. Two Free Methodist women attended one of the meetings of American evangelist Dwight L Moody.He state that d he felt endowed with power by their prayers.

    Womens ministry is one feature common to most Holiness movement churches.The founder of The Free Methodist Church ,Benjamin Titus Roberts ,among his Holiness teachings,wrote ‘Ordaining Women’, published in 1891.This treatise,carefully and meticulously argued from scripture, is the earliest book on the subject I have read.

    Overseas mission work is another prevalent and important feature of Holiness movement churches. The Free Methodist Church places great emphasis on mission and has spread the gospels to every corner of the globe.

    A periodical called ‘Guide to Christian Perfection’ was started ,later renamed ‘The Guide to Holiness’. The Wesleyan Christian Holiness message spread wider and wider.

    Very soon the movement spread to Canada , first in Ontario ,both in rural areas and in the cities, where very many commited their lives to the Lord .Next it spread to the western provinces of Canada.
    Lives were inspired,opened to the Holy Spirit and changed , and the Christian Holiness movement even spread to non Methodist denominations, including Congregationalists ,German Pietists and Roman Catholics.The Holiness movement became an ecumenical movement.

    This led to the movement for the abolition of slavery to spread beyond Wesleyan Methodist folk. More and more people became baptized by the Holy Spirit.The old phenomenon of backsliding soon after conversion, lessened with this new emphasis on Holiness and Christian Perfection. Holiness had a great cleansing effect on peoples lives , enhancing steadfastness among Christians.

    By the end of the American Civil War a great Revival was in progress, many lives changed and became directed wholly to God. Camp meetings continued and there were many more lasting conversions , lives newly directed to God.

    Two new Wesleyan Methodist denominations were formed ,deicated to newness of life based on Holiness and Christian Perfection.

    The Wesleyan Methodist Connection was founded in New York at Utica , in 1843 ,by Orange Scott.
    Then, in 1860,also in New York ,The Free Methodist Church was founded by Benjamin Titus Roberts ,with enormous support from his wife Ellen, a relative of writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.

    The Free Methodists brought the firming of ideals such as the abolition of slavery,social inclusion , social justice and the insistence on the essential blessing of Holiness . They advocated freedom from the corruption of Mammon,freedom from entanglements with sinister organizations like Freemasonry and freedom of access to church pews.

    The Free Methodists shared the same concerns as the very early churchas it was around the time of our Lord, with healing and bettering of the lives of the poor, and with a reliance on the authority of Biblical scripture.

    Some in the old Methodist church,who had strayed from the Holiness of the earliest Christian church, which the first Methodists had revived,bitterly opposed the Holiness revivalists.Some early Free Methodists were verbally assaulted ,locked out of church ,set upon by dogs and worse.Suffering like Jesus Himself had suffered and later John Wesley in England.

    These incidents can be read of in the history of the early years of the Free Methodist church.B.T.Roberts himself ,was expelled from the old Methodist church in New York.After his death,apology for this was made to his son.

    But the Free Methodist church grew , evangelizing and outreaching year by year.

    Later,at Vineland,New Jersey, in 1867,the first Holiness Camp Meeting convened and the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness was formed. This became known as the Christian Holiness Association then the Christian Holiness Partnership. Tens of thousands attended the camp meetings and the spiritual power at these meetings was such that one such was called ‘A Pentecost’.

    Lives were inspired,opened to the Holy Spirit , changed ,and the Christian Holiness movement even spread to non Methodist denominations including Congregationalists ,German Pietists and Roman Catholics.The Holiness movement became an ecumenical movement.

    This led to the movement for the abolition of slavery spreading beyond Wesleyan Methodist folk. More and more people became baptized by the Holy Spirit.The phenomenon of converts backsliding lessened with this new emphasis on Holiness and Christian Perfection. Holiness had a great cleansing effect on peoples lives , enhancing steadfastness among Christians.

    The American camp meetings captured the imagination of the whole nation and by the mid 1870s the movement spread to England then Scotland. The Holiness Movement in Britain was known as The Higher Life Movement and the meetings as Higher Life Conferences.

    With the Higher Life Conference at Oxford in 1874,the Methodist Holiness Revival had come full circle, back to place of it’s birth. For Methodism itself was founded on Holiness.The first meetings, held by John Wesley and his brother Charles and others, were in Oxford,England in the early 1700s.They were known as Holy Club meetings.

    The doctrine of sanctification , which I know through John Wesley’s ‘ Plain Account of Christian Perfection’ and one or two of his sermons, I understand as the way God’s grace through the Holy Spirit , works in us to create a saving, new birth experience ,physically experienced in each of our hearts and souls. It is like an entry of Christ into our selves.

    I am reminded of the English Pre Raphaelte painting depicting Christ,carrying a light,knocking at a door for entry,the door being a Christian’s heat.

    If we accept His entry,if Christ knocks on the door to our heart and we bid Him welcome,come in, we are saved, cleansed of the habit of sin.Sometimes some are reluctant to admit Christ at first.
    The Angican pastor and ,poet George Herbert wrote ,in his volume of poems ‘The Church’ in the poem Love (111) wrote of Christ’s couteously,kindly , seeking admission to a heart –

    ”Love bade me welcome but my soul drew back”

    The person’s heart is reluctant to admit Christ who reminds the heart it’s sins are atoned..Love,of course,is Christ Himself –

    ”And know you not ,sayes Love,who bore the blame ? ”

    We become entire Christians,entirely sanctified, by admitting Christ,enabling our new birth. We become able to live in the beauty of holiness, free from willful sin. Christ’s very presence in us,if we accept Him,sanctifies us ,makes us holy. A process of transformation begins.

    Sanctification means holiness.Sanctus is the Latin word for Holy.

    Christ’s sacrifice transforms us if we take the leap of faith.We become cleansed,renewed,liberated from the old sin.This newness,freshness,cleanness ,is often called the beauty of holiness.

    Sin, in all it’s forms –dishonesty,theft,carelessness in speech,angry thoughts and words, will repulse us ,after the new birth, invoking natural shame and penitence.

    Slips may still occur,trespassing into areas off the Godly path,but these are instantly checked by awareness,by conscience.Such trespasses off piste , feel instantly wrong and uncomfortable,ill fitting.
    The Holy Spirit indwells us , is built into every new born person.The instant we stray or trespass ,the Spirit grieves and we know it. As Paul said –

    ‘’And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. ‘’ Ephesians 4:30 AV

    The new born in Christ , have inbuilt insurance against trespass : the indwelling Holy Spirit.The indwelling Holy Spirit beatifies us,sanctifies us,makes us holy.God’s gracious gift makes us whole ,healed,saved,new !

    Holiness is not optional.It is essential to salvation

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