The Call to Pursue Holiness

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THE CALL TO PURSUE HOLINESS
 
If you were required to name the one thing which you pursue, what would it be?  Many men would say that they spend most of their time pursuing success in their business.  Many women would say they spend most of their time pursuing success for their children.  Today's society has people who pursue all sorts of different things.  Some of the things most frequently mentioned are:  (1) business success; (2) success for children; (3) political success; (4) wealth; (5) a good reputation in their community; (6) personal attractiveness; (7) athletic success; (8) pleasure; (9) personal hobby; and, (10) ability to influence others.  There are others, of course, and variations of the aforementioned, nevertheless, numerous surveys and polls show that people usually pursue some variation of power, prestige, or pleasure.  Their one real passion in life may be to become the top hunter, fisherman, tennis player, golf player, salesman, developer, construction contractor, lawyer, doctor, Senator, Congressman or other political figure.  Scripture says: 
 
"Follow [pursue] peace with all men, and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord."  In Leviticus, God says, "For I am the Lord your God:  Ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy, for I am holy:  Neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  For I am the Lord that bringeth you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God:  Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."  (See also Leviticus 20: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16)
 
"Holiness denotes a state of inward or internal purity (Ephesians 1:4). 'Without blame' means an outward or external condition of purity.  Holiness is the greater and stronger term because it is concerned about the inward condition; but the outward condition is also important."[1] 
 
I.           THE CALL TO HOLINESS
 
The Lord God repeatedly calls His children to be holy.  The Apostle Peter, when writing his first Epistle, called the Christians to whom he was writing to be serious and sober.  Obviously, in the context in which Peter was writing, he was not merely calling the recipients of the letter (and us) to abstain from drunkenness, but to be serious minded Christian children who are to take particular care to conduct themselves as the Lord commands.  The Apostle writes the following:
 
"Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance, but as He which has called you is holy, so you too are to be holy in all manner of conversation (living).  [You are to do this] because it is written, be ye holy for I am holy."
 
This is not a new admonition, nor is it a new call to holiness.  Moses, addressing the people as God had instructed him to speak, specifically addressed their conduct in their manner of living, telling the people that they were not to do anything to make themselves abominable.   In the Book of Leviticus, verses 44 and 45, Moses addressed the people as follows:
 
"For I am the Lord your God, you shall therefore sanctify yourselves and ye shall be holy for I am holy, neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.  For I am the Lord that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God.  You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."
One of the first things that we notice here is that Moses is addressing both internal holiness, i.e., sanctification, as well as external holiness, i.e., their manner of life that can be seen.  For example, in the 20th Chapter of Leviticus, the Lord spoke to Moses, and Moses was commanded to say to the people not to give his seed unto Molech, to defile the Lord's sanctuary, or to profane His holy name.  Moses goes on to tell the people not to consort with "wizards," those that have "familiar spirits;" not to curse one's father or mother; not to commit adultery with another man's wife; and many other admonitions that appear in the 20th Chapter of Leviticus, including for a man not to lie with another man as he lies with a woman (i.e., homosexuality).  And the reason that is given is "both of them have committed an abomination."  Indeed, it is put in the same category in Leviticus Chapter 20 as bestiality. 
 
Clearly, God's Holy Word is addressing both internal and external holiness. 
 
Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his great commentary and exposition on Ephesians Chapter 1, says that salvation means "primarily and essentially being in the right relationship with God – nothing less than that!"  Then Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones goes on to say:  "Because salvation refers essentially to our relationship to God, it must, of necessity, always, from beginning to end, be thought of in terms of holiness.  Everything in salvation is destined to bring us to this end of holiness." 
 
In the beginning of the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Church at Ephesus, he tells the church that the church collectively and the church individually have been blessed with spiritual blessings from before the foundation of the world.  Then Paul says:
 
"According as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love."
 
Therefore, we see very clearly, without any ambiguity, that we are created for the purpose of holiness.  God, thus, does not merely excuse our sin, He actually has become the propitiation, that is, the full and complete payment for OUR sin.  Moreover, we are given salvation (thus, salvation is a sheer gift) for the purpose of making us holy, and, indeed, making us to pursue holiness.  Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says:
 
"We must never think of holiness as something we may decide to go in for; if you're not holy, you're not a Christian.  You are either in Christ, the whole Christ, or you're not 'in Him.'  And if you are, 'in Him,' you are holy." 
 
Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones goes on to say:
 
 ". . . we are not chosen with the possibility of holiness, but to the realization of holiness.  God has not chosen us before the foundation of the world in order to create for us the possibility of holiness; He has chosen us to holiness.  It is what He has purposed for us; not possibility, but realization."
 
Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones states that where the Apostle Paul uses the words that we are chosen, "that we should be holy and without blame," is a use of two different words, both of which refer to sanctification.  Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this is not referring to justification but to sanctification.  "Holiness denotes a state of inward or internal purity; 'without blame' means an outward or external condition of purity."  Continuing, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that it is the same idea that is conveyed in the 5th Chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Church at Ephesus where he says that it is Christ's ultimate purpose for the Church, that she should be not only "holy" but also without "spot or wrinkle or any such thing."  In other words, just as God made known unto Moses for his delivery to the children of Israel, the command to "be ye holy for I am holy" refers both to internal holiness and external holiness, both to sanctification of our inner persons and also bringing our actions, or manner of life, into conformity to God's standard. 
 
Finally, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones makes the point that:
 
"If you knew that you were to be presented to some great or august person, you would prepare yourself for the occasion.  The very realization of the privilege makes you do so; and the more you realize biblical truth and believe it and understand it, the more you will give yourself to striving after holiness.  You will pursue it, as the author of the Epistle to Hebrews urges us to do in the words 'follow peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.'" (Hebrews 12: 14)
 
According to Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
 
"There is nothing that so promotes holiness as this great doctrine and this precious truth, which tells us that because we are chosen of God, we are going to be with Him, and are going to be like Him."
 
II.        THE MEANING OF HOLINESS
 
Holiness means "to hunt peace."  According to a sermon preached at Briarwood Presbyterian Church (PCA) on February 3, 1974, Frank M. Barker, Jr., the Senior Pastor at that time, referring to this passage of scripture in Hebrews, stated that holiness actually means "to hunt peace and to hunt holiness."  This means with our fellow Christians as well as peace with all men.  Of course, as Barker stated at that time, "a Christian is not going to experience peace with all men if he is really living for the Lord Jesus."  The Apostle Paul states in II Timothy 3:12:  "All they that live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."  Jesus Himself said that the servant, that is us, is not above his master.  Jesus also said, "They have hated Me; they will hate you."  Indeed, that is one of the marks of a Christian!  If we are really and truly living for Christ, we will really and truly upset people that are not Christians.  Indeed, the Psalmist says that the wicked plotted against the just (righteous), and they gnash their teeth upon him.  (Psalm 37).
 
Thus, we see that insofar as it lies within me to do so without compromise, I am to pursue peace!  Barker said that we should never compromise on the commands of God, for example, the heart things in scripture such as:  "The fact that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, that unless men repent (surrender their will to the Lord's will), and believe in Him (place their trust or faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation), they are going straight to hell."  Thus, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews states, without equivocation, that we are to pursue peace!  We are also to pursue holiness ". . . without which no man shall see the Lord." 
 
A.  What is Holiness?
 
Bishop J.C. Ryle was an evangelical in the Church of England who had a great power and grip on the Word of God.  One of the number of books that he wrote that is extremely helpful is entitled, "Holiness."  In speaking of this particular passage of scripture in Hebrews, he defines the holy life as follows:
 
"Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture.  It is the habit of agreeing in God's judgment – hating what He hates – loving what He loves – and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word.  He who most entirely agrees with God, he is the most holy man.
A holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment.  He will have a decided bent of mind toward God, a hearty desire to do His will – a greater fear of displeasing Him than of displeasing the world, and a love to all His ways.  He will feel what Paul felt when he said, 'I delight in the law of God after the inward man' (Romans 7:22), and what David felt when he said, 'I esteem all Thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way.' (Psalm 119: 128)
 
A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ.   . . . It will be his aim to bear with and forgive others, even as Christ forgave us – to be unselfish, even as Christ pleased not Himself – to walk in love.  . . . to be lowly-minded and humble. . . .
 
A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial.  He will labor to mortify the desires of his body – to crucify his flesh with his affections and lusts – to curb his passions – to restrain his carnal inclinations, lest at any time they break loose. . . .
 
A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness. . . .
 
A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence towards others.  He will not stand all the day idle.  He will not be content with doing no harm – he will try to do good. . . .
 
A holy man will follow after purity of heart.  He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit, and seek to avoid all things that might draw him into it.  He knows his own heart is like tinder, and will diligently keep clear of the sparks of temptation. . . .
 
A holy man will follow after the fear of God.  I do not mean the fear of a slave, who only works because he is afraid of punishment, and would be idle if he did not dread discovery.  I mean rather the fear of a child, who wishes to live and move as if he was always before his father's face, because he loves him. . . .
 
A holy man will follow after humility.  He will desire in lowliness of mind, to esteem all others better than himself.  He will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world. . . .
 
A holy man will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life.  He will try, not merely to fill his place as well as others who take no thought for their souls, but even better, because he has higher motives, and more help than they. . . . Holy persons should aim at doing everything well, and should be ashamed of allowing themselves to do anything ill if they can help it. . . .
 
Last, but not least, a holy man will follow after spiritual mindedness.  He will endeavor to set his affections entirely on things above, and to hold things on earth with a very loose hand. . . .
 
I do not say for a moment that holiness shuts out the presence of indwelling sin.  No:  far from it.  It is the greatest misery of a holy man that he carries about with him a 'body of death;' – that often when he would do good 'evil is present with him;' that the old man is clogging all his movements, and, as it were, trying to draw him back at every step he takes.  (Romans 7:21)  But it is the excellence of a holy man that he is not at peace with indwelling sin, as others are.  He hates it, mourns over it, and longs to be free from its company.  The work of sanctification within him is like the wall of Jerusalem – the building goes forward 'even in troublous times.' (Daniel 9:25) . . .
 
This I do boldly and confidently say, that true holiness is a great reality.  It is something in a man that can be seen, and known, and marked, and felt by all around him.  It is light:  if it exists, it will show itself.  It is salt:  if it exists, its presence cannot be hid. 
 
I am sure we should all be ready to make allowance for much backsliding, for much occasional deadness in professing Christians.  I know a road may lead from one point to another, and yet have many a winding and turn:  and a man may be truly holy, and yet be drawn aside by many an infirmity.  Gold is not the less gold because mingled with alloy, nor light the less light because faint and dim, nor grace the less grace because young and weak.  But after every allowance, I cannot see how any man deserves to be called 'holy' who willfully allows himself in sins, and is not humbled and ashamed because of them.  I dare not call anyone 'holy' who makes a habit of willfully neglecting known duties, and willfully doing what he knows God has commanded him not to do." 
 
B.  THE LOCATION OF HOLINESS
 
"Where can one find holiness?"  Pastor Barker stated: 
 
"It is not something we can generate in ourselves.  It is something that is produced on the branch when the branch is vitally united to Jesus Christ.  And we find it only from our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ."  (John 15: 1-10) 
 
I personally had the privilege of hearing Dr. Barker on many occasions through the years.  I never heard him speak without giving the content of the Gospel of Christ.  He was truly "zealous to tell men of Jesus, who is mighty to save."  He frequently said, in substance, that one must first hear the gigantic claims of Christ, who He is and what He claims that He has done.  Jesus stated that He is God, the Son.  He has made all things, and without Him, was not anything made that was made.  He lived a perfect life without spot or blemish in any way, even though He was tempted in all respects just as we are.  He voluntarily surrendered His life and went to the cross to die an atoning death for our sins, and not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world.  On the third day, he was raised from the dead, and now sits on the right hand of the Father.  Of course, just knowing these claims is not sufficient.  One must surrender one's will to the Lord's will in true repentance and place their trust or faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.  Therefore, we find holiness when we surrender to Christ, trusting as our Savior, as the one who died for our sins and who unites us to himself in a vital union.  He will work within us to produce holiness, but . . . WE ARE TO WORK OUT WHAT HE WORKS IN!  ". . . Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you both the will and to do of His good pleasure."  (Barker, February 3, 1974)
 
III.     THE FAILURE TO PURSUE HOLINESS
 
The consequences of not living holy lives are truly awful.  Scripture says, "Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord."  Of course, that means that without holiness, a person will not go to heaven.  That does not mean that we earn heaven by our holiness, for salvation is a sheer gift.  John Owen said that "God has, by an eternal decree, ordained that the road that leads to heaven is holy."  Ephesians 1:4 tells us that Christ died to make us holy!  Barker states that the whole purpose of Jesus in dying for us would be frustrated were we without holiness.  Jesus "gave Himself for us . . . that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.  Heaven is holy.  God is holy.  Heaven is going to be extremely holy, said Barker.  "God is of pure eyes than to behold iniquity and cannot look on evil."  (Habakkuk 1:  13)  There shall in nowise enter into heaven anything that will defile it.  It is simply the nature of things that we MUST BE HOLY in order to go to heaven.  This holiness is the product of that vital relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the vine and we are the branches, and we must be united to Him.  When we are united to the Lord Jesus Christ, He produces the holiness that is required. 
 
Barker asked the question:
 
"Are you holy?  Do you fit the description of holiness as given by Dr. Ryle, the great Biblical scholar who lays before us what the Scriptures teach?  Is your life the kind of life in which the light can be seen and the salt tasted?  The question is a solemn one.  It is the most solemn question I have ever asked from this pulpit.  It is crucial that we ask it of ourselves."
 
IV.       THE CALL TO WATCH OVER AND PROTECT OTHERS
 
The Lord God calls us to salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ through the miracle of His atoning death by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone.  He gives us the gift of repentance unto life.  The surrender of our will to His will.  He does these things, as we have seen, to make us holy.  We are called to be holy, for He is holy.  In doing that, we see here in verses 15 and 16 of the 12th Chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews that we no longer live unto ourselves.  The writer calls us to watch over others: 
 
"Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright."
 
Clearly, we are to be on the lookout for professing brothers in Christ.  It is our job to do what we can (the use of the means of grace, God's Word, prayer, confrontation, etc.) to keep anyone from "failing of the grace of God."  What this is really saying is if they fail of the grace of God, it means they're not going to heaven.  The writer to Hebrews in Chapter 4 says:
 
"Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it."
 
We are charged with the responsibility to make sure that no man fails of the grace of God.  Are you seeking to make sure that no member of your family "fails of the grace of God?"  Do you pray diligently and instruct diligently your children and your grandchildren?  Do you watch carefully over those who are not of your family by blood, but are professing Christians?  We are to try to make known unto others this great grace which brings salvation and is a gift of God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is available to us and to others.  We must take particular care to try to make sure that not only have we laid hold of and hold onto this great gift, but that those that we know, all that we can reach, are laying hold of and holding onto the Lord Jesus Christ.  Dr. Frank Barker in commenting on these verses in Hebrews said:  "When we see anyone beginning to stray, we're to go after him.  Don't let any person among us stray without somebody going after him and saying "Brother!  Come back!  It is dangerous over there on the edge of the road.  Get back in the middle.  Come on with me!"  Look, put your arm under him, lift him up, bandage his knee and arm, pray for him and encourage him.  Take heed!  Look diligently for those lest there be any among us who fails of the grace of God. 
 
Is this not the same call that God gives to the prophet Ezekiel in the 3rd Chapter of the Book of Ezekiel?  There we see the Lord God saying to the prophet the following:
 
"And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the Word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 'Son of Man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel:  Therefore, hear the word of my mouth, and give them warning from me.'  When I say unto the wicked, 'thou shalt surely die'; and you give him not warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at your hand.  Yet if you warn the wicked and he turn not from his wickedness nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your soul.  Again, when a righteous man does turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die:  Because you have not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at your hand."  Nevertheless, if you warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also you have delivered your soul."  (Ezekiel 3:  16-21).
 
This is a solemn responsibility.  Look around you and see who may be in danger of failing of the grace of God.  Do not let any root of bitterness spring up and trouble you, but look to see if there are any who have a root of bitterness springing up to trouble them.  We have been given a great gift.  Our sins have been forgiven.  We have been given eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ alone.  We know the secret that will cure the greatest disease in the history of the world.  Sin!  The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.  We cannot sit idly by while others perish.  We are charged with the responsibility to go and reach those that we can reach. 
 
In his sermon in 1974, Dr. Barker pointed out, as this verse talks about, the danger of a root of bitterness, people who are just bitter, putting out poisonous fruit, poisoning the water so to speak.  Also, one whose heart turns away from the Lord to serve other gods; pursuing pleasure, power, position, any other thing that takes first place in our life other than the Lord Jesus Christ; false teachers, who are open and notorious in their preaching of openly immoral conduct; of another gospel; of alleging many ways to salvation; of alleging that light and darkness such as Christ and Mohammad can have fellowship together.  No such thing can happen.  We are to be careful, for "a little leaven leavens the whole lump." 
 
The writer of Hebrews refers to Esau as being one who lives in open immorality.  He sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.  Barker says that Esau is a "type . . . a symbol . . . of those people within the church who do not value their spiritual heritage." 
 
In a book called, "The Arena of Faith," Eric Sauer says that
 
"Esau lived for things visible and bartered them for things spiritual.  Esau lived for human enjoyment and bartered away God-given blessings.  Esau lived without discipline and self-control and bartered away his position of authority and honor.  He despised God's promise of an offer of dignity and brought himself thereby into shame.  He lived for his own ego and bartered away the high-calling of his family.  Through all of this he proved himself a godless and profane man.  He was a worldly minded descendent of a God-devoted bearer of high, divine promises.  He esteemed a passing enjoyment above the most noble, permanent privileges ordained of God."
 
That is what we must avoid.  That's what we must assist others to avoid.  Call their attention to it.  Call them to repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Church of Colossi:  "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom:  Teaching and admonishing one another . . . ."  (Colossians 3:16(a))
 
This applies to every Christian, not just to the officers and pastors of a particular church.  We are to exercise this mutual discipline in love toward one another when we see someone beginning to go astray.  "Exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."  (Hebrews 3:13)
 
Thus, we see that we are called to be watchmen over the flock.  Do not let anyone fall by the wayside.  Pick him up and help him get back in the race.  God expects us to bring him back.  That's part of our call to holiness, for God is holy. 
 
In J.C. Ryles' book, "Holiness," he says:
"Are you holy?  Do you know anything of the holiness of which I've been speaking?  . . . Alas, what searching, sifting words are these!  What thoughts come across my mind, as I write them down!  I look at the world and see the greater part of it lying in wickedness.  I look at professing Christians, and see the vast majority having nothing of Christianity but the name."
 
"You may say, if I were so holy, I would be unlike other people.  I answer, 'I know it well.'  It is just that you ought to be.  Christ's true servants always were unlike the world around them – a separate nation, a peculiar people; - and you must be so too, if you would be saved!"  You may say, 'at this rate, very few will be saved.'  I answer, 'I know it.'  It is precisely what we're told in the Sermon on the Mount. . . ." 
 
"I fear it is sometimes forgotten that God has married together justification and sanctification.  They are distinct and different things beyond question, but one is never found without the other.  All justified people are sanctified, and all sanctified people are justified.  What God has joined together, let no man dare to put asunder." 
 
Be ye holy as God is holy!  
 
May Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we even ask or think work in you both the will and to do of His own good pleasure.
 
Your Friend and Brother in Christ,
 
William Gray


[1]   Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones – an exposition of Ephesians 1, p. 96.

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