Biblical Holiness

Biblical Holiness
By: David K. Bernard

The Source of Holiness Teaching

The supreme source of holiness teaching is the Bible itself, which is the inspired Word of God. It contains everything we need to know concerning salvation and godly living (II Timothy 3:l5-17).

All holiness teaching must come from the Bible. A true holiness standard is either (1) a specific biblical statement or (2) a valid application of a biblical principle. For example, the Bible specifically teaches that drunkenness is sinful, so we must acknowledge and teach that truth. In addition, the underlying biblical principle is that all intoxication is wrong; therefore we should abstain from  intoxicating drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, even though the Bible does not mention them by name.

The Bible is not merely a collection of rules. It does not try to give specific answers to the countless situations that may face an individual. Rather, it contains basic guidelines that apply to people of all cultures, times, and situations.

To help His people understand and live by scriptural principles, God has given the church spiritual leaders. Their task is to equip the saints for the building up, maturing, establishing, and growth of the body (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Spirit-filled pastors and teachers proclaim God’s Word, explain it, and apply its principles to the situations of contemporary life.

Finally, the Holy Spirit teaches us directly through internal promptings and convictions. The Spirit is given to teach and guide us (John 14:26; 16:13). The Spirit writes God’s laws upon our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). We have an anointing – a fundamental nature of holiness and truth that resides within – that no one has taught us (I John 2:27). In times of decision, struggle, crisis, or uncertainty,  we should be sensitive to the still, quiet voice of the Spirit.

The three holiness teachers – (1) the Bible, (2) spiritual leadership, and (3) the indwelling Holy Spirit – work together in harmony and complement one another. The Bible is our final authority. God does not give human beings the right to change His message, nor will the indwelling Spirit speak contrary to the written Word He Himself inspired.

The Motivation for Holiness

Holiness is not a means of earning salvation but a result of earning salvation. As such, it comes by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Holiness does not come by works of the flesh but only by submission to the Holy Spirit’s leadership. We cannot manufacture our own holiness; we can only be partakers of God’s holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

Holiness is both instantaneous and progressive. As Christians we received immediate sanctification (separation from sin) when we repented, were baptized in Jesus’ name, and received the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6: 11). God counted us as holy by imputing the righteousness of Christ to us. Even so, we must follow after holiness (Hebrews 12:14). We are already sanctified, but we are also called to be saints (sanctified, holy ones) (I Corinthians 1:2).

Holiness comes by (1) faith,(2) love and (3) walking after the Spirit, which provide the basis, foundation, motivation, and power for holiness.
First, genuine faith in God inevitably results in obedience to God (Acts 6:7; Romans 1:5; 10:16; 16:26; James 2: 14-26). If we believe God we will believe His Word, and if we believe His Word we will accept its teachings and apply them to our lives. By faith we accept Christ’s atonement as sufficient for our salvation and apply His death, burial, and resurrection to our lives. Specifically. by faith we die to sin in repentance, are buried with Jesus Christ in baptism for the remission of sins, and receive new life through the Holy Spirit, who enables us to live holy. By faith we continue to walk with God until the ultimate work of salvation-glorification.

Along with faith in God, we need a love for God, His Word, and holiness. Without love, all attempts to live for God are vain (I Corinthians 13:1-13; Revelation 2:1-7). If we love God, we will obey His commandments and seek to implement holiness in our lives (John 14:15,23; I John 2:3-6). When we truly love God, we will actively hate evil (Psalm 97:10) and we will seek to become like our holy God. The greater our love for God, the greater our desire for holiness.

Love is far stricter and more demanding than law, for love always goes farther than duty. Love for God will cause someone to draw much closer to God than legalism will, both in attitudes and in disciplined living. Love rejects everything that is not clearly compatible with godliness, or that is not conducive to Christianity, even though no rules have specifically labeled these things as sin. In this way, the principle of love leads to greater holiness than does the law of Moses or a codification of rules.

Love dominates all actions and all relationships. All the law is summed up in love: we are to love God with all our being and to love our fellow humans as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:9-10). Instead of the law of Moses we have “the perfect law of liberty,” which is the “royal law” of love (James 1:25; 2:8; 2:12).

Since holiness is God’s very nature, when we receive the Holy Spirit of God we receive a holy nature. Through the Spirit’s power, we can overcome sin and live righteously (Romans 8:2-4; Galatians 5:16; I Thessalonians 4:7-8). We have freedom from sin’s dominion – the power to choose not to sin (John 8:34-36; Romans 6:11-25). We will not continue to live in sin, and in fact our newly given nature cannot sin (I John 3:9). We still have the ability to sin and we still have the sinful nature subdued within us (Galatians 5:6-17; I John 1:8; 2:1), but the born-again nature restrains us from habitually committing sin. As long as we let the Spirit lead us we will not sin.

Holiness is not an external law but an integral part of the new nature. The Spirit places God’s moral law within us, not written on tables of stone but written in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 10:16). In living for God, we do not merely follow an outward list of rules, but we follow the nature of the Holy Spirit within us. We live holy because that is what the new man is and wants to be. We abstain from sin and worldliness because it is anathema to our new nature. We still struggle against the continual desires and lusts of the old nature, but it is an internal struggle. No dictator imposes rules on us; we impose restrictions on the sinful nature because we no longer wish to follow the flesh but to follow the Spirit”

One author commented on Romans 8:2-4, “Christian holiness is not a matter of painstaking conformity to the individual precepts of an external law-code; it is rather a question of the Holy Spirit’s producing His fruit in the life, reproducing those graces which were seen in perfection in the life of Christ. The law prescribed a life of holiness, but it was powerless to produce such a life, because of the inadequacy of the human material that it had to work upon. But what  the law was powerless to do has been done by God. . . .All that the law required by way of conformity to the will of God is now realized in the lives of those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit and are released from their servitude to the old order. God’s commands have now become God’s enabling’s.” l

Following holiness requires personal effort; it is not automatic. Some teach that any attempt to live holy is “of the flesh,” but genuine faith always includes obedience and always produces good works. We must open our lives to the working of God’s Spirit and actively implement spiritual principles. The Bible commands us to reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to God, yield our bodily members to God instead of sin, resist the devil, draw near to God, subdue the sinful nature, discipline the flesh, kill the deeds of the body, cleanse ourselves, labor to enter into rest, lay aside every weight and sin, and run with patience. “Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at  peace with him” (II Peter 3:14, NIV).

Philippians 2:12-13 charges us, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” God actually performs the work of salvation, providing the desire and the power to live righteously, but we must reverently and watchfully implement holiness in our lives.

One writer explained, “The pursuit of holiness is a joint venture between God and the Christian. No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life, but just as surely no one will attain it without effort on his own part. God has made it possible for us to walk in holiness. But He has given to us the responsibility of doing the walking; He does not do that for us….We pray for victory when we know we should be acting in obedience.”2

As an analogy, a farmer is totally dependent upon God for sunshine, rain, and the miracle of life in the seed. Nevertheless, he will not have a crop unless he cultivates, plants, tends, and harvests. In short, we cannot do what God must do, but God will not do what we can do.


Legalism means strict or excessive conformity to a legal code or set of rules. In a Christian context, legalism has two negative connotations: (1) basing salvation on good works or on strict observance of law and (2) imposing nonbiblical rules. The Bible strongly condemns legalism in this sense (Matthew 23; Romans 3-4; Galatians 3).

Law is helpful as a line of demarcation, a minimum standard, or a safety net, but ultimately it is insufficient to produce holiness. As we have already seen, true holiness comes by faith, love, and the Spirit. They are the proper alternatives to legalism, and they will actually lead to far more self-discipline that law can.

For example, law, or fear of getting caught, can cause a man to remain physically faithful to his wife and restrain him in a time of temptation, but he may still be very unfaithful in thoughts, attitudes, behavior, and flirtations. By contrast, true love for his wife will drive away all contrary thoughts and desire, and in the long run only love will make the marriage a true success. Similarly, a person who seeks to serve God merely by rules will ultimately fail, because he will face situations that his rules do not specifically address and because he will lack the inward principles and convictions needed to guide him.

Sometimes leaders present biblical standards of holiness as a set of
rules and regulations, justifying them only by tradition and human authority. In rebelling against this legalistic approach. some people discard true holiness principles and valid practical applications. The problem on both sides is a failure to commit quality time in serious, prayerful study of the Word of God.

Many strongly suppose that the proper alternative to legalism is antinomianism (no law). License (freedom without responsibility), or libertinism (no moral restraints). True holiness is not ‘”freedom” to act and look like the world, however, but freedom from the need to conform to the world. Genuine spiritual freedom is not “freedom” to commit sin, but freedom from sin’s bondage.

There can be no real freedom outside truth (John 8:32). Spiritual freedom is not freedom from truth, but freedom to know and submit to the truth. For example, a man who is ignorant of the law of gravity and therefore walks off a cliff unconcernedly is not free. Rather, he is free when he understands the danger of walking off the cliff and has the ability to avoid doing so, thereby preserving his life and liberty. A Christian is free because he knows what sin is and how deadly it is and has the power to overcome it.

As Christians we still have commandments to obey (Matthew 28:20; John 14:15, 23). The ceremonial law has been abolished, but we still must not participate in spiritually unclean things (II Corinthians 6:17). The Christian life is like a contest, with spiritual guidelines that we must follow. “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (II Timothy 2:5, NKJV).

Moral law is a restraining force, but the sinful nature needs a restraint upon its desire, while the spiritual man needs protection against evil. Like a fence around a garden, holiness teachings do not curb our freedom in Christ but preserve it. Like gravity keeping the earth in orbit around the sun, they bind us closely to our holy God, who is our source of life and strength. Like train tracks or the banks of a river, they keep us on course, preserve our identity, and channel our spiritual energy.

(The above material was published by the Pentecostal Herald in Hazelwood, MO)

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