The Fact And The Challenge Of Christian Holiness
By: Joseph Howell and Daniel Lewis
According to Paul’s theology, salvation can be viewed in three tenses: Salvation as a past event (we have been saved based on the past redemptive act of Christ – Romans 8:24), salvation as a present event (we are being saved – I Corinthians 15:2), and salvation as a future event (we will be saved – Romans 5:9). New Testament salvation is both a fact and challenge to the believer.
New Testament salvation, as it is based on the life and death of Christ and received into the believer’s life through faith, is an unquestionable fact. This salvation is real, already existing, and already occurring. The believer need not doubt his experience in Christ.
John states as a fact,
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God…” I John 3:2
Paul adds in the same factual tone,
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
“Our old man is crucified with him…” Romans 6:6
“There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus…” Romans 8:1
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves…” Ephesians 2:8
The Christian believer has experienced God’s salvation, not as the product of human merit, but by the free gift of God’s grace. Salvation is a fact, not just a hope, dream or aspiration.
New Testament salvation, as well as being a settled fact, also includes a challenge to the life of the believer. Paul states factually that sin no longer dominates the Christian life because of God’s saving action (Romans 6:6). In the same breath, he challenges the Christian to realize this blessing in his practical life. Paul not only states that we are free from sin, but he calls us to live and act as if we were free from sin (Romans 6:12,13). Salvation is not just a divine fact, for it must demonstrate itself in everyday life. Again, Paul argues that the Christian is “dead to sin”, and to continue to live by sin’s principles involves a basic contradiction (Romans 6:1-2). Salvation is more than the fact of forgiveness and “death to sin”, it also challenges the Christian to be “alive to God”, not dominated by sin’s principles. The “oldness” of sin’s way is past, for the believer should now “walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4-6). New Testament salvation is both fact and challenge!
This two-fold fact and challenge of salvation also applies well to the issue of Christian holiness. The believer’s holiness, as we have seen, is derived from God’s holiness. No human merit or accomplishment can produce true holiness. Isaiah states that before God “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Christians become holy as God’s Holy Spirit is freely received into their lives. Our holiness rests in His gift of holiness. At the same time, the scriptures record an abundance of imperatives for the Christian life.
“As he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of life,” 1 Peter 1:15
The Christian is not called to merely rest on the fact of his holiness, but rather is called to demonstrate that holiness daily among men. Christian holiness is both fact and challenge. Peter records that God has made the church “a holy priesthood” and “a holy nation” by His own free will action (I Peter 2:5,9). This is a fact. But the writer in Hebrews adds this challenge to the fact of Christian holiness, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
The New Testament records the fact and challenge of Christian salvation and holiness in many descriptive terms, Among these, Paul’s understanding of the believer’s “union with Christ” and “the indwelling Spirit” stand out prominently.
In several passages, Paul contends that in light of the fact that Christians are united with Christ, they are also called to practically demonstrate this union. To the Corinthian extremists who took their newfound Christian status as a license for sexual immorality, Paul corrects:
“Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined (united) unto the Lord is one spirit.” 1 Corinthians 6:15-17
To be joined in Christ meant to live in a certain way, in this case avoiding illicit sexual relationships.
To the Romans, Paul again addresses the question of sinning Christians: does salvation by God’s grace permit the Christian to live by sin’s principles? Paul answers with the emphatic negative (Romans 6:1-6). To be united with Christ meant especially to be united with His death (i.e., His victory over sin.) The Christian believer should experience a new ethical “walk” due to his union with Christ.
To the Ephesians, Paul argued that although our salvation was not a matter of human merit, to be joined to Christ meant to be open to a new ethical motivation which of its very nature produce good works.
“For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God before hath ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10
Union with Christ, therefore, meant only a change in status (the fact of salvation), but also the imperative to live in light of that change (the challenge of salvation).
Paul’s doctrine of the indwelling Spirit also demonstrates the fact and challenge of salvation. The Christian is clearly the recipient of God’s gift of the Spirit.
“…the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.” Romans 5:5
“Know ye not… that the Spirit of God dwells within you?” I Corinthians 3:16
“…the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us.” II Timothy 1:14
The gift of the Spirit was not given to merely produce a change in status from “lost” to “saved” for the believer. The Spirit was given rather to lead the Christian into new life. New birth without new life is pointless. The new life of the Spirit evidences itself in the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), all of which are concrete actions and relations in the human realm. Although Paul did not argue that the indwelling Spirit would act as the sole ethical guide for the Christians, thus making all external truth-standards obsolete, he does imply that the Spirit empowers the believer to act and live in accordance with God’s revealed will. Paul summarizes his teachings in Galatians 5:25,”If we live in the Spirit (a status), let us also walk in the Spirit (an imperative of action).”
Concrete Imperatives Of Salvation
The new life experienced by a Christian is demonstrated by ethical renewal. Value changes occur at conversion, and with maturity, these values grow into action and involvement. The demands of God are not made of none effect by his gracious salvation, but rather, the gift of the Spirit empowers and
enables man to deal with God’s demand. Both Jesus and Paul summarized God’s imperative for Christians in the single concept of love:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” Luke 10:27
“He that loveth another has fulfilled the law… (the law) is comprehended in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself… therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:8-10
The love ethic of Jesus is not to be confused with its many twentieth century counterparts that use Christ’s terminology while avoiding His meaning. To Christ, “love” was not a feeling without content. Neither was “love” merely a verbal expression of affection. “Love” differed from religious devotion (as demonstrated by the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan parable). “Love”, to Christ, was seen clearest in the capacity to give, the readiness to serve, and above all else in the willingness to forgive. The commandment to love, although expressed many times before (i.e., Deuteronomy 6:5), took on a new meaning with Christ, for Christ called men to love beyond standard boundaries, to love those not deserving love.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Matthew 5:43,44
The Great Commandment of Love (Luke 10:27) irreversibly linked the love for God with the expression of love to our neighbors. Further study of Christ’s teachings seem to indicate that men do not show their love for God through ritualistic worship, but rather through concrete acts of love toward neighbors. Christ depicts the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-40:
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
The righteous are received by the great king due to their involvement with human needs. To meet a human need was to minister to God. To love man is to love God. To ignore man is to ignore God. We are reminded by Christ that not all who say “Lord, lord,” that is, the religiously inclined, are received into his kingdom (Matthew 7:21-23). Rather, those finding and meeting needs among men are alone accepted.
Jesus further demonstrates the practical imperatives of the love ethic by the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The self-justifying lawyer sought to free himself from love’s obligations by clouding the issue with a question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus related the simple story and called the lawyer to decide. The answer is obvious: whoever has a need is my neighbor. Christ appears to argue that man is capable of discerning the correct action of love by merely observing his neighbor’s need. This “love” which Christ spoke of is not theoretical, but expresses itself as action in concrete situations.
The gift of the Holy Spirit not only changes the believer’s status (from impure to holy), but also calls the believer into the action of holiness, that is love for the weak and helpless. Paul states that “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). This is the same holy-love that commended itself to us by Christ’s dying for sinners (the weak and helpless – Romans 5:5). And God has committed into the hands of the church that same holy ministry,
“By this we perceive the love of God; because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren…” I John 3:16
God’s gift of holiness provides men with salvation and sends them out to service.
The Fact and The Challenge
God has never spoken so clearly to man as from the cross. The message of holiness, with all its variety and dimensions, is found nailed to a tree. Our righteousness is not the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-19), which although painfully exacting in particular areas, missed the entire purpose of God’s kingly rule. We do not – we cannot – earn holiness. We receive it as “good news to the poor.” Christian life must begin, not end, with this reception.
“Freely ye have received, freely give,” Christ compels. From a cross, He calls, “Whoever would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
“Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free?” the old hymn asks,
“No, there’s a cross for everyone, And there’s a cross for me.”
God gives the gift of holiness and then calls men to holiness, that is, holy involvement, not secluded isolation, in a world filled with sin and need.
(The above material was taken from the book “A Call To Holiness.”)
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