PURSUING AND PERFECTING HOLINESS: THE THEME OF THE APOSTOLIC LETTERS

Pursue … holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

The subject of holiness has taken a bad rap. It has almost become a dirty word, an outdated and primitive theme in many Christian circles. Nowadays Christians equate it with living by rules and dos and don’ts. Many equate it to legalism, salvation by works, or attempting to earn God’s approval from a system of works. But what does the Bible say about true holiness?

First of all, holiness is not salvation. Holiness is not something you pursue in order to obtain salvation; it is something you are set apart for after salvation. It is what true converts pursue and perfect in their new life and walk with God.
Holiness is the likeness of God. It is the total summation of all His attributes.

One of my favorite definitions of holiness as it applies to believers is that it is a moral dedication and a life committed to purity of thought, word, motive and deed. At the center of that definition is the fact of being set apart or consecrated to God’s purposes.

Holiness means that just as God is otherworldly, we as His chosen people are to be distinct and set apart from this world. In other words, we are not to be conformed to its ideals, patterns, and standards. Holiness is conformity to God’s nature and God’s will.

But even more importantly, holiness has to do with whom we belong to. To whom do we give our loyalty, love, and allegiance to? To be holy means that all we are and all we have belongs to God, not ourselves, and is set apart for His purposes. It means that every aspect of our lives is to be shaped and directed by God. He is our Lord and Master.

Is that not a beautiful thing? Why then has there been such a hush-hush and a deafening and even demonic silence about it in our modern day churches?

Before we were saved we served sin, the flesh, the world, and our own pleasures, but now that we’ve been saved we are to serve the Lord and His will and pleasure.

What many Christians fail to realize is that holiness, like a lively flowing stream that cuts through a dense forest, is the theme that runs through all the epistles. It is to be our post-salvation and post-Pentecost life and walk with God. It is what one Pentecostal scholar called “Pentecostal Pedestrianism” or “rule of the road”. It is the walk in the Spirit so that we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16) (Rom. 8:13), and the pursuit of God and sanctification that we are to walk in for the rest of our lives, especially as the Lord’s coming draws nigh (1 Thes. 5:23).

The Christian life is not one of constant ecstasy where after being baptized in the Holy Ghost you live in a glory cloud. As much as I am a strong proponent of revival, if it does not lead to individuals walking in the Spirit, which is the essence of a holy life, it is not worth much.

We are not to reflect back on our own personal Pentecost and build a shrine around it as if to memorialize the experience as the peak of our entire Christian experience. Our calling is to live always in the now with God and press forward toward perfection, being conformed daily into His image. Simply put, the post-Pentecost calling is to “abide” in Him.

“Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 Jn. 2:24).

The “afterward” of a Pentecostal blessing is walking in the Spirit. It is not the receding glow from a past day of an emotional high; it is a path where you maintain that glow “that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day” (Pr. 4:18). That abiding is to be so until He comes so that we will have confidence before Him and not be ashamed.

“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 Jn. 2:28). That “abiding” is the ongoing practice of righteousness (v 29) through the obedience of His Word.

“But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 Jn. 2:5-6).

It is certainly good and right to reminisce, rehearse, and rejoice in the sacredness of our new birth, the glory of our own personal Pentecost and baptism of power, but the danger is to live in the memory of it only. Let us remember that the years passed for those early Christians who participated in that glorious initial promised outpouring in the upper room (Acts 2). Those early years passed for Peter and John who were pillars in the Church. The years passed for Paul and Apollos, and all the others who shared in the blessing of a Pentecost as at the beginning (Acts 11:15). Unquestionably and undeniably, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a vital essential and a requirement for all those who believed, and still is (Acts 8:15-17; 18:24-26; 19:2). However, it did not make them perfect for the post-Pentecost epistles and that which came “afterward” are full of practical exhortations to holiness and warnings against sin.

We affirm again that indeed holiness and sanctification are the supreme themes of the apostolic letters to the churches. The emphasis being on the gracious sufficiency of every saint to live a life of victory over the flesh, the world, and the devil in every area of life – whether it be at home with family, at work with employers and employees, or within the church and community. The epistles are full, full, full of such instructions while many churches today are nearly empty of any.

The overall body of teaching in the New Testament epistles implicitly implies that believers who had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit still needed to “put off the old man and put on the new man”, “be doers of the Word and not hearers only”, “be diligent to make your calling and election sure”, “contend for the faith”, and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. There was no automatic rule that once they had started well they were certain to go on well and finish well. The very opposite was true – their going on was dependent upon a constant appropriation of sanctifying grace and power through a continually renewed fullness of the Spirit, and faithful obedience to the Word.

It was also the regular care of the ministers of Christ to remind and exhort the believers in the various local assemblies to “not receive the grace of God in vain”, to “not be deceived”, “to not drift away”, “to stir one another to love and good works”, and to “be rich in good works”. Even in Christian churches that were throbbing with the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit it was the habit of its ministers to expound on sound doctrine and teach and exhort the saints with all authority on living an exemplary life of holiness lest their testimony spoil their witness.

By the time the last books of the New Testament were being written, many already had fallen asleep in Christ; those that remained were “elders” in the most literal sense of the word. The last writer John used the term frequently. And what was his own personal attitude and teaching concerning the fullness of the Spirit that had come to him so long ago in Jerusalem? Simply this, as we’ve already made mention – that the anointing they had received of Him proved to be abiding; and that it was the calling of the anointed ones to abide in Him (1 John 2:27).

That, my friends, is holiness. And that is what the Church is to major on. It’s about time every church got that right.

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9 thoughts on “PURSUING AND PERFECTING HOLINESS: THE THEME OF THE APOSTOLIC LETTERS

  1. Thank you for this clear explanation. I think, if believers understood more of the positives of trying to live wholeheartedly for God…the peace, and confidence, freedom from guilt, etc…. and isn’t it necessary, if we are to truly walk in faith, and experience victories! I remember, you said it goes back to the heart, and will — we need an undivided heart!

  2. There is definitely a price and priority to holiness as many virgins preparing for the bridegroom understand in this night season. Great word Bert

  3. If we are true followers we should long to be like Him and do whatever it takes to be like Him, living right in this sin-sick world, being examples of His goodness!

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