Holiness Means What Again?

Author and friend Mike Duran commented to my last post, “Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word” in part with this line: holiness for many well-meaning Christians, boils down to a series of thou-shalt-nots that involve things like make-up, jewelry, tattoos, alcohol, R-rated movies, cigarettes, etc. etc.

I submit, those external things have nothing to do with holiness.

To understand holiness we need to start with God because He alone is holy. Jesus, who is the exact representation of God (“And He [Jesus] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” – Heb. 1:3a), gave us the insight we need in His “Sermon on the Mount.”

In part He said the following:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court …

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, … But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, …

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [selected verses from Matt. 5, emphasis added]

The point I’m making is that Jesus set the bar where it belonged — at perfection, starting not with our external actions but with our thoughts and intentions and desires.

In so doing, He exposed us all because none of us is perfect. We all know this, even the most convinced atheist who doesn’t even believe in a moral standard. But because our hearts are desperately wicked, because we are so easily deceived, Jesus laid it out for us.

Now we can’t think evil thoughts about another person, but on the outside smile and help him fix his flat tire, then come away with a sense of goodness. Those evil thoughts pin us to the wall. Sure, we might fool others, and even ourselves if we refuse to look closely, but we aren’t fooling God.

The very pride we might feel at living an externally moral life, or at pointing out someone else’s activities we categorize as moral failings, shows the real problem. We are, at heart, people who want to be God. That’s the sin the Fall infected us with.

We Christians are missing the point if we look at drug addicts or homosexuals or rapists or corrupt politicians or corporate criminals and think their problem is their external behavior. No doubt their external behavior complicates their lives, but their problem is their rejection of the grace of God He has lovingly and generously supplied through Christ, that which would provide the forgiveness they need.

No amount of “clean living” will change what they need — substitutionary payment for the insurmountable debt they owe. Their lives are forfeit. Putting away cigarettes, unplugging from pornography, taking the four-letter words out of their vocabulary, or any other external and all of them combined, isn’t going to change their standing before God.

Or mine.

We can enter His presence, enjoy a relationship with Him as His child, by grace alone.

But what about holiness? That’s where this started. Holiness is my response to my holy God.

Since this post is already long enough, I’ll take another day to complete my thoughts on this topic. As always, I look forward to reading what you have to say on the matter.
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For related posts, see “Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word” and “Inside Out – The Way Of Holiness”

Published in: on May 31, 2011 at 6:23 pm  Comments (12)  
Tags: , , , , , ,


  1. Aw, Becky,

    But… “I don’t smoke an’ I don’t chew, an’ I don’t go with guys who do…!” Not that I’d go with a guy who DIDN’T, either!

    And… I really LIKE all those externals! While they’re not “heart-holiness,” they sure do make the world a cleaner place. I think, that if you find someone breaking all of “the rules for clean living,” the chances are that the external filth is indicative of filthy living on the inside, whether or not they are saved and forgiven.

    God wants us to cast off our bad habits and sins that so easily entangle; not wrap ourselves more tightly in them. It’s not a matter of “Thou Shalt Not,” it’s a matter of, “God paid for your freedom; rejoice, dear Redeemed One, and be free!”


  2. Aren’t we getting tripped up over things that doesn’t matter, like smoking, tattoo’s and nose piercings, etc.
    It is the heart, our inner person that matters to God.
    And the state of our inner person spills over into our actions–in our ability to love the unlovable, in forgiving others, in our humbleness, and in our obedience to Him.


  3. Great post, Becky.

    Jesus did make a big emphasis that following the Law was not the way to God, but instead what the Law represented. I appreciate that you show that with the verses that contrast the violation of the Law before Man, and before God.

    A few things I would like to mention:

    While your article shows that we’re not to judge each other based on our behavior, I think that inside of the church, if someone is committing sin and unrepentant of it, then it is alright for another believer – obviously one who DOES follow the Commandments – and call them out and tell them to turn away from it, on the basis that sin contaminates the church.

    The Old Testament Laws and traditions were put in place as a reflection of the future covenant and the nature of God. The sacrifices at the tabernacle pointed to the future sacrifice of God’s begotten son that would cover the sins of all, and its design had only one way in. The problems with the Pharisees was that they focused too much on the laws and not enough on what the Laws pointed to.

    Thank you again for your insight, and may you have a blessed night.

    God Bless,
    Pravda Veritas


  4. Great post, Becky. It’s hard for Christians to understand holiness outside of the law but Jesus means us to understand holiness outside of the law. Adam and Eve were holy outside of the law. But Christians tend to fall into the Galatian error of adding laws to grace. The Galatians epistle says there is a curse upon anyone who trusts in the law. So the many Christians who are trusting in any of their works have to tread lightly. Paul wants us to live under the law of love, not judging our neighbors, loving God with all our hearts and minds. The law endures forever but those who trust in Christ’s holiness are free from the law. The Bible equates the law with a schoolmaster and with a marriage. We have died to the law and are married to the true bridegroom now. Born again into the new adam, and married to the Second Man, we are free from our attachment to the law…which was made for the first man. It’s a scary freedom because this freedom is based on love. Most Christians who judge others on externals should learn to love. If we are saying that a person doesn’t follow our rules, or the rules of our particular denomination, we are dangerously close to not being Christians at all and are falling back into the curses of the law. Holiness is nothing more than love and God is the greatest lover. We are holy if God lives and reigns in us.


  5. Good, thoughtful comments. Thank you all.

    Krysti, I’m not sure what all I’ll say in today’s post, so I want to be sure I answer you here. I’m a pretty straight-laced individual. Most of the things Mike listed are things that could be said about me. Many of them I adhere to because I believe that’s the way God wants me to live. I can explain from Scripture my decisions. However, they are still my decisions. I do not see them (no drinking, smoking, tattoos, dancing, R-rated movies, and so on) as law laid down for the church. I’d even go so far as to think they are wise guidelines and would make life better for most everyone. If I’d had children, I would have taught them these same guidelines.

    But I don’t get to play the Holy Spirit in other people’s life. Hence, I can’t say to other Christians, you shouldn’t drink, smoke, go to R-rated movies and so on.

    In addition, I must never rely on such external behaviors, as if they are a means to salvation. Are they sin? They are sin for me because the Holy Spirit has convicted my heart. Yes, Jesus turned water into wine and most likely drank. Does that mean I should? Not if the Holy Spirit has convicted me not to.

    Some people fast because they are convicted to do so. I don’t. Does that mean I am sinning? I don’t think so, any more than I think the person not under conviction to refrain from drinking is sinning for having a drink when the occasion arises.

    I guess my point is this: part of what legalism means is holding other people to the standard I adhere to based on my convictions from God’s Word and His Spirit.

    If I do that, I’m holding myself and my understanding up as What Is Right. The fact is, I am a work in progress and may learn many, many more things about God and His righteous standard before He calls me home. Who am I, then, to make the determination for others? I can live my life as an example, I can even explain my positions to anyone interested. I may not, however, judge another Christian by my standards.

    This gets tricky because there are things in Scripture that are clear commands. There is right and wrong. Jesus did say we are to obey Him.

    So that’s why I have to write another post on this today. 😉



  6. You know, I’ve got some concerns about a couple of these comments. Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets; not destroy them or set them aside. He was very clear on that. I have never understood salvation to mean that we no longer have to pay heed to the Law. The freedom we have in Christ is the freedom not to sin or transgress. It is the freedom of the power of Christ in our lives to enable us to do what is right.

    The Greeks say, “I have been saved (in Western terminology: justification), I am being saved (sanctification), and I WILL BE saved (glorification).” The gift of the cross is the gift that keeps on giving, because it’s not just getting your heart right once with Christ, but over and over–and being rescued from habits and lifestyles that are damaging to you and the people around you, and living redeemed in Him, until finally, He takes you to be with Him!

    While we are freed from sin, we are NOW to be slaves to righteousness, and to find our completeness in Christ. If following Christ means that He orders you as His servant, to tattoo yourself and put in a few body piercings so that you can minister effectively to unsaved people who are into that; this I could see. Although–the last person who claimed this was so in my hearing–turned out to have been dishonest about what was actually going on in his heart. And then he had some serious confessing and repenting to do to get right with the body of Christ. Hopefully, now that he has, God CAN use him for His service more fully because of (and in spite of) his body-art.

    Christ absolutely calls us to hold each other accountable. We are not to live in a state of rebellion against Him or against each other. This also precludes engaging to a lifestyle that approves or encourages rebellion in other people.

    I believe that smoking is inexcusably offensive behavior. If you are smoking, the surgeon general’s warnings are clear that you are damaging your body. You are also, through second- and third-hand smoke, causing lasting harm to people around you. This is the epitome of what the Bible calls “transgressing.” Yet God STILL loves you! When you go to Him and confess your sins and transgressions, He forgives you and seeks to turn you to repentance from everything that you are doing that is wrong, including smoking. Repentance means ceasing to commit the offense.

    I don’t at all see that is reasonable or desirable, or praiseworthy for someone to claim that their smoking habit is being used of God to reach other people.


  7. Thank you, Becky, for answering my post. I didn’t see your reply before I posted again.

    I think I’ve made clear in my second post where I’m going to disagree with you.

    I think also, that it would be good for all of us to really study the passages of Scripture that deal with judging or not-judging. The passage that seems to hang a lot of people up: the one about “taking the log out of your own eye,” is often misunderstood. Many Christians seem to overlook that the stated purpose (in that passage) of taking the log out of your own eye is so that you can see clearly to help your brother with the bit of chaff in his eye. Once you can see clearly, why or how could that possibly make you free to walk away and leave him half-blinded? (we had a sermon on this in church recently) Or are we all to assume that the hypothetical log is impossible to remove, so we’re all doomed to walked around blind, and we’ve just got to make shift the best that we can?

    The older I get, the more I see, the more I’m convinced that accusation of legalism or works-salvation is often outrageously misapplied. I think we ought to be honest with the people around us, and call sin–SIN. Not being mean, but doing so in love. And we ought to define transgression like it really is. AND, we ought to hold ourselves and each other in the body of Christ accountable to a higher standard that precludes either one. When Christians, in keeping with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, have refused any compromise with the flesh and the world in the past, they have changed lives, transformed nations, and rocked the world.

    That “my standard of conduct based on what God’s Word says is all about God convicting me and doesn’t apply to you” business; I love you, Becky, as a sister in Christ, and I hope you seriously reconsider it.

    If you’re really serious about doing what God says to do in your personal life, then it ought to make you a leader, a Godly woman other people can look to as an example of Godly living. And you ought to be saying, “I base my standard of conduct on God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s convicting, and you, who are watching me and looking up to me; you should do likewise! (and here is the biblical basis for why I do what I do. I pray the Holy Spirit will convict you to also do it)”


  8. Good thoughts. This world has become upside down, twisted, and knotted so people go with their own idea of what’s good. But I also can’t stand the overly pious, holier than thous that like me forget without God they don’t have any direction and anything done right is only temporary. To get to the heart of the matter their hearts must accept God to correct their standing before Him and to correct the behavior itself that brought them to the pit.


  9. Sin is definitly a sin and shouldn’t be overlooked, Krysti, but we also have to go with telling the truth in love. Before I was saved, I slept around. I knew it was wrong. I asked God for forgiveness and did it again. All the legalists in my family had no problem telling me that I was wrong. No nice man would ever want to marry me if I continued in this behavior, they said. They treated me like I was worthless and I felt worthless. I just had to say no, but I didn’t have the strength because I didn’t have Him in my life. I didn’t feel like anyone loved me until I got to know Him and realize that the only thing that could fill that void in my life was Christ. He made me worth it. The legalists were all right…it’s wrong to sleep around and dishonoring to God, but if someone believes they are worthless they will treat themselves as such and never have the faith or strength through God to say no…to do the right thing. What’s common sense to the rest of us isn’t so with a lost person. We don’t want to go all universalist and NOT speak truth. We want to speak truth, but we want to help them see that they are worth it; they are loved. They need God and when they get the love of God they will want to honor Him with truth. The biggest lie I see is when the people who get saved get told they can have their cake and eat it, too. They think Jesus is the magic ticket to allow them to sin rather than Jesus as a way of life….Salvation…someone who loves us.


  10. […] For a continuation of this discussion, see “Holiness Means What Again?“ […]


  11. […] Previous posts in this series: “Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word” “Holiness Means What Again?” […]


  12. […] order, the previous posts in this series are “Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word” “Holiness Means What Again?” “Inside Out – The Way […]


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