In this so-called “age of tolerance” it’s amazing that “holy” and “pure” are two of the most vilified words in the English language. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a well-intentioned teenager or an all-pro quarterback and his celebrity fiancé who make a commitment to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence until they enter a Biblical marriage relationship, the few who try to adhere to traditional concepts of purity and holiness are ridiculed and scorned. Articles are even written in progressive media describing the harm such pledges cause.
“In the interest of love” has become the catch phrase to justify society’s attacks on this most-despised characteristic of our God. The phrase was invoked recently by a Supreme Court judge to justify the majority position on gay marriage, and it has been repeated often by the American President, politicians of both parties, the news media, and even religious leaders to stifle discussion on a broad spectrum of moral issues.
The Church in the declared interest of casting a broad net over nonbelievers to expand its “circle of love” often finds itself echoing the language of the world. The call to their congregations to love and respect every man and woman whether or not they agree with the others lifestyles are of course legitimate and well intentioned. But the definitions of love and the motivations behind the call to “love” for the Church are significantly different than for society in general. For those whose hearts are in the world, “love” implies freedom to exercise one’s prurient interests, constrained only by socially accepted customs and norms. While for the true follower of Christ, “love” is defined by the character of God, unconditional and selfless; for God is Love and Christians are admonished to be known by our love.
There’s no question that the only people we can ever truly influence to the betterment of their lives are those that fall within our “circle of love.” This is a point that I’ve focused on in a number of recent blogs. However, I wonder if the Church (and I include myself as one of its minor representatives) has put too much emphasis on love to the downplaying of other important characteristics of our Lord. Scripture commands that we are to emulate His holiness in our day-to-day lives. The Apostle Peter among a hosts of prophets and disciples of Christ removes all ambiguity when he says in his first letter: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
Still, even though the words “holy” and “holiness” appear over 600 times in the Bible, and even though “unclean spirits,” the adversaries of holiness are referenced another 36 times, we don’t speak about either very much in public. Some would justify avoiding language that the world finds uncomfortable actually opens doors that would otherwise be slammed in our faces. Others insist that we use that as an excuse because of an anticipated fear of being persecuted for adhering to strict standards of morality. Regardless, there’s no question that the words “holy” and “pure” and “undefiled” as related to sexual conduct and attitude most separate the Christian character from the character of the world. Holiness has become a characteristic of derision to our modern culture, because we live in a hedonistic society where life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.
Is a Holy and Pure Life even Possible?
Nearly every human being has tripped and fallen into the slime of immoral conduct – so it’s only natural to question: Is a pure and holy life even possible, and worth seeking? I am convinced that anyone whose conscience has not yet been seared by unconstrained immorality understands the value of all that is good and pure, and even longs for a life that is better than what they have known in the past. Those who scorn those who would try to seek that life are convinced that such a life has passed them by and they have no hope of ever attaining it. So vilification of its proponents is a protective mechanism.
It’s no wonder that so many feel so lost with no way out of a self-indulgent lifestyle. With perversion all around us, made to seem normal and good, one is told that purity and holiness are impossible. And it is, if we’re left to our own devices. Proverbs 13 tells us that “Lust indulged starves the soul.” King Solomon who wrote those words knew what he was talking about, for he lived the epitome of self-indulgence with hundreds of wives and concubines. He had the knowledge, but he sure didn’t know how to control his passions. And the prophet Isaiah had his own struggles with holiness as he saw the Lord’s holiness and threw his hands up in frustration declaring: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” God, the creator of the universe, is unlike any created being. He alone is perfectly holy.
God’s holiness shed upon one of His followers is perfect freedom
God’s holiness shed upon one of His followers is perfect freedom from evil. It’s only through the act of Christ’s redemption that we are able to overcome the draw of fleshly behavior. But we have the promise that the Lord will make us holy if we thirst for holiness.
Every person needs to hear the encouraging message that regardless of what they’ve been through and into in the past, God is the One who purifies and makes holy. Think of those who Jesus ministered to. Nearly everyone was a walking mess before He entered their lives: Mary Magdalene carried seven demons, an adulteress was caught in the very act, a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and who was now living with a man not her husband, Saul the murderer of Christians, Paul’s converts in Corinth who formerly practiced every form of sexual perversion, and the list goes on and on. After they met Jesus and made Him their Lord, every past blemish was washed away and they were able to go forward in life as if they were virgins in Christ. Though new temptations would come along, believers have the promise that God will provide sufficient grace to overcome each one – and forgiveness and a renewed cleansing if and when we fall.
Personal holiness can only happen through the saving work of Jesus Christ and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. (Sanctification is the process of being made or becoming holy.) Being “set apart” is how this process begins, and this is the key to living with sexual integrity. So, let’s bring this truth home to the next generation.
Many will be convicted of the life of holiness that they see before them – which they deep down desire for themselves. But that doesn’t mean they’ll compliment you on it. More likely, at least for a time they’ll try to ridicule you into abandoning what their conscience is telling them is right and proper, but what their flesh and the devil try to get them to see as an impossible goal.
This is nothing new as the history of mankind well knows. Read for example how the Apostle Paul urged and exhorted the 1st Century Thessalonian converts to (1) walk and to please God, (2) based on Jesus’ commandments, and for the will of God and their sanctification, (3) to abstain from sexual immorality, (4) that each should know how to possess his own body in sanctification and honor, (5) not in passion of lust, like those who do not know God, (6) nor draw others back into this lifestyle, (7) for God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness and (8) that whoever rejects this commandment does not reject man, but God.
Called to live holiness and purity, not flaunt it
The Lord commanded us to be holy as He is holy, to be holy in every aspect of our conduct. Holiness is the very character of God and our heavenly Father wants His children to act and look like Him. We are called to be a “holy nation” and the Lord is coming back a final time for a holy Church, “holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.” And we’re told that “without holiness we cannot see God.”
I agree with American theologian, author and pastor Dr. R.C. Sproul when he insists that “The holiness of God affects every aspect of our lives—economics, politics, athletics, romance—everything with which we are involved.” When you commit to personal holiness, you infuse your character with all that it takes to be successful and significant with your life. But one struggling with the temptations of life doesn’t need to be belittled or made to feel condemned by either your words or your attitude. It’s enough to just live that life that is pleasing to our Lord and Savior and reflective of Him.
However, while we may “tolerate” (i.e.: not judge) perversion in unbelievers, “for they know not what they do,” and in the interest of compassion and reaching the lost; we must be cautious to never accept it in the Church body, and certainly not in ourselves.
Six reasons to seek to be holy and pure
- The cross earned holiness for us. There are two conditions for sanctification (the process of being made or becoming holy). First, you must have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Second, you must be willing to change, hungering to become all you have the potential to be. It’s kind of a worn phrase, but true regardless: God accepts you the way you are, but He doesn’t want you to stay that way.
- Without holiness we are driven away from Christ’s nature. When you live a sinful life, then the sin takes away your attention and allegiance from God, and so your relationship with Him suffers. Most people fall into sin because they are not seeking first the Kingdom of God. If we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus, then we must become like Him in character. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Ephesians 1:4
- Holiness gives us confidence when confronting demonic forces in our lives and the lives of others. We cannot act like the devil (i.e.: think and behave grossly) and expect to defeat him. He knows who we represent both by our words and our behavior.
- Holiness improves intimacy – with God and with those closest to us. Holiness is two-fold: it is separation from the world in order to be joined to the Lord. The picture is of a marriage. In a marriage, a wife and husband “forsake all others and cleave unto each other.” A couple is not really joined if all they do is abstain from seeing other people, but never intimate with each other. Holiness has unfortunately been associated with separation from the world and sin, but not being joined to the Lord in intimacy. Intimacy makes holiness enjoyable. If you are always concentrating on what you cannot do, then you will be unhappy with holiness. It is like a married couple that does not cheat, but neither do they sleep with each other.
- Holiness enables you to see spiritually. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. He could have said no one will be “saved”, but instead he chose the word “see”, because this word implies a relationship, not just trying to please God so you can be saved. Holiness will open your eyes to see how great God is and how awful worldliness is. Sin will blind you to several important truths, yet holiness will enable you to see several things. We will see the precious grace of God, see the defilement of bitterness, see the high cost of sexual immorality and see the benefit of faith.
- Holiness prepares us for Heaven – where all is holy.