Holiness or Hell

Several years ago I heard a woman, who had what I believe was an erroneous conception of sanctification, use the expression, “Holiness or hell.” While that was a rather strong way of expressing it and I do not believe she properly understood what the Bible means by holiness, she did have a good point. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Those who are unwilling to follow the ways of the Holy One cannot be pleasing to Him. “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15, 16).

What is this holiness God demands of us? It begins when one turns from the life of sin and is baptized into Christ. In this act of trusting obedience one is sanctified or set apart as one of God’s saints. That people are sanctified or made holy by God when they are baptized may be seen in a look at the Corinthians. When Paul wrote to them in 1 Corinthians 1:2 he addressed them as “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11he wrote that these saints had previously been involved in various sins, but were now washed, sanctified, and justified. But when did this sanctification take place? The reference to washing was a clear allusion to baptism (see Acts 22:16) and in Acts 18:8 we read that the Corinthians “hearing, believed and were baptized.” When the Corinthians trusted the Lord’s promise and were baptized into Christ they were pronounced just (i.e. not guilty of sin) and holy (i.e. they were set apart as saints).

As a saint one’s life is to be completely consecrated to God. Submitting to the rule of God becomes the most important guiding principle in one’s life. The kingdom of God and His righteousness are the priorities in his life (Matthew 6:33). Decisions about family, work, study, attendance, contribution; indeed, all of life must be based on the realization that as a saint one is dedicated to God. It is vital that we understand and embrace this principle: holiness in daily practice must flow from a heart that in gratitude for deliverance from sin is single-mindedly devoted to God.

But while holiness begins with an act of God’s grace as we submit to the gospel and is to result in a changed attitude toward all of life, there are many practical ways in which holiness must be seen. Saintly service to God is not limited to the following, but it must include the following four areas that we will explore in this and some future articles. As saints we are to manifest purity in speech, moral behavior, dress, and work.

Because we are set apart to the praise of the Holy One we will use language that causes the name of God to be hallowed,  just as Jesus taught us to do (Matthew 6:6-9). The word hallow is defined as “to make holy.” We are not practicing holiness when we do not treat God and His name as holy. Do not allow God or Lord to become common terms used to express surprise, anger, etc. Sanctified speech must first sanctify God.

Having been hallowed God in our speech, we must then imitate the God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) by “putting away lying” (Ephesians 4:26). Honesty is a rare commodity today, but as God’s holy ones it must be the rule of life and not the rare exception.

Those practicing holiness in their lives and speech will also put away “all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking…with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). James wrote of the folly of seeking to bless God while cursing those who were made in His similitude (James 3:9). It is easy to slip into the trap of speaking evil of others, but saints of God will diligently seek to avoid that deadly trap.

When we think of holiness and speech we must also think in terms of cleanness. Cursing and dirty talk can be heard everywhere, but we read in Ephesians 5:3, 4 that such is not “fitting for saints.” If our Holy God is not amused by filthy conversation and sexual innuendo, should our sanctified lips be speaking such?

Having said that we are not to show disrespect for God’s name; we are not to lie; we are not to speak evil of others; we are not to use cursing or dirty talk; some then conclude that sanctified speech is defined more by what it is not than by what it is. But consider two important positives that must characterize sanctified speech.

Saints seek to speak that which “is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). All too often we do not give enough thought to speaking words that will benefit others. While it is important to avoid speaking evil of others, it is equally important that we learn to use our tongues for the building up of others as we properly season our speech that it might do the most good possible (Colossians 4:6).

When Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:3, 4 that filthy talk was not fitting for saints, he added that “giving of thanks” was fitting or appropriate. Since God has delivered us from sin and condemnation, our tongues should now be devoted to praising and thanking Him. In the words of a song we sometimes sing, “Saints, lift your voices, tho’ dark your days! Lift up your spirits, sing out His praise.”

John R. Gibson

All quotations taken from New King James Version, copyright 1994, Nelson Publishing Company