The Theology of Holiness

The Theology of Holiness
By: David K. Bernard

Holiness is an old-fashioned, irrelevant concept to most people today, even in Christendom. Yet God has always required His people to be holy; holiness is essential to biblical Christianity. Oneness Pentecostals have traditionally emphasized holiness, rejecting as unholy various aspects of modern lifestyle. In recent years, most Pentecostal groups have discarded these teachings. Even some Oneness believers are rejecting important holiness standards of dress and conduct.

This paper attempts to formulate a biblical theology of holiness and, in so doing, to address several key questions: Are the traditional Oneness Pentecostal standards of holiness biblical or man-made? Are they universal and unchanging or cultural and temporary? Is the movement neglectful or inconsistent in some important areas of holiness? How can it maintain scriptural holiness while avoiding legalism and while granting Christian liberty? How can it preserve holiness uncompromisingly and yet retain and increase its constituency? How can it attract and establish converts when other groups offer the baptism of the Spirit without practical holiness?

The Call to Holiness

The Bible stresses the essentiality of holiness. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Just as a man must be born again to see the kingdom of God, so must he follow after holiness to see the Lord. Holiness is an integral part of the work of salvation, which begins at the new birth and leads to sinless perfection in the life to come.

God commands His people to be holy in all conduct because He is holy (I Peter 1:15-16). Christians must obey this command in order: (1) to please God, for they belong to Him, (2) to communicate Christ to others, and (3) to benefit themselves, both now and for eternity.

Definition and Fundamental Principles

God is holy; holiness is His essential nature. With respect to Him, it means absolute purity and moral perfection. For man, holiness means conformity to God’s character-thinking as God thinks, loving what He loves, hating what He hates, and acting as Christ would act.

The Old Testament concept of holiness is “separation from and dedication to.”‘ For example, the Sabbath was holy because it was separated from work, travel, and other mundane activities and dedicated to rest. The tabernacle vessels were holy because they were separated from all ordinary use and dedicated solely to sacred use. God commanded His people to be holy (Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:7)-separated from all other peoples and dedicated to the worship of the one true God. The Levitical laws separated the Israelites from all other nations in diet, clothing, appearance, farming practices, sabbath observance, sanitation, and morality. These laws taught a clear distinction between the clean and unclean, the holy and profane (Leviticus 11:47; Ezekiel 44:23). The doctrine of holiness made Old Testament Judaism unique among ancient religions, particularly in its concept of separation and in its linkage of morality with religion.

The ceremonial law foreshadowed greater spiritual truths, teaching spiritual principles in physical types (Galatians 3:24-25; Hebrews 10:1). The new covenant abolished the ceremonial types, while retaining the moral law and spiritual holiness (Colossians 2:16-17).

Building on the Old Testament concept of holiness, the New Testament teaches a corresponding twofold definition of moral holiness for God’s people: (1) separation from sin and the world system and (2) dedication to God. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2).  “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you … Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (11 Corinthians 6:17; 7:1). “Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind … Put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NKJV).

Christians must not love this ungodly world system, identify with it, become attached to the things in it, or participate in its sinful pleasures and activities (James 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15). They must avoid three major areas of temptation and sin: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:16). They must discipline themselves, and they must abstain from the appearance of evil (I Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Thessalonians 5:22).

Holiness involves both the inner man and the outer man (I Corinthians 6:19-20; 11 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). For example, lustful thoughts are as sinful as an act of adultery, and hatred is as sinful as murder. Holiness includes attitudes, thoughts, and spiritual stewardship on the one hand and actions, appearance, and physical stewardship on the other. Both are necessary. Inward holiness will produce outward holiness, but an outward appearance of holiness is of little value without inward holiness.

The life of holiness is a continual striving for perfection (Matthew 5:48; 11 Corinthians 7:11; Philippians 3:12-16). No one is absolutely perfect, but each can be relatively perfect or mature. The Christian is holy if he places faith in Christ, lives a repented life according to God’s Word, and grows progressively more Christlike (Ephesians 4:13). God expects continual growth in grace and knowledge (11 Peter 3:18) and increasing production of spiritual fruit (John 15:1-8).  Holiness is a daily walk, with the daily goal of overcoming sin (John 5:14; 8:11). Christians are not to sin; if they do they can receive forgiveness by repentance and confession (I John 1:9; 2:1).

God evaluates each person on the basis of where he has come from, what God has given him, and what his potential is (Matthew 13:23; 25:14-30).  Two Christians can both be perfect in God’s sight even though they have attained different levels of perfection in an absolute sense, just as two children at two different stages of growth can both be perfectly normal and healthy.

Christians must not judge one another or compare one with another, but must be patient and tolerant of different levels of perfection, endeavoring to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
(Matthew 7:1-5; 11 Corinthians 10:12; Ephesians 4:1-3). In particular, they should take care not to condemn, intimidate, or offend visitors and new converts.

In sum, holiness means to imitate Christ, to be Christlike. The holy person will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature, but will put on the personality and mind of Christ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 4:19).  He will judge every decision and every action by one question: What would Jesus do?

The Basis of Holiness

Holiness is not a means of earning salvation but a result of 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. Holiness is both instantaneous and progressive.  Christians receive immediate sanctification (separation from sin) when they are baptized in Jesus’ name and filled with the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:11). Even so, they must follow after holiness (Hebrews 12:14). They are already sanctified but are also called to be saints (sanctified, holy ones) (I Corinthians 1:2).

Holiness comes by faith, love, and walking after the Spirit. By faith a person receives the Holy Spirit, making holiness possible. True faith in God inevitably includes obedience to God. If someone believes God he will believe God’s Word and obey its teachings.

Love for God and His Word provides the motivation to be holy. Without love, all attempts to live for God are vain (I Corinthians 13). If someone loves God, he will obey God’s commandments (John 14:15, 23; 1 John 2:3-6). He will actively hate evil (Psalm 97:10) and he will seek to become like his holy God. The greater his love for God, the greater his desire for holiness at all costs. 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 life.

Since holiness is God’s very nature, the Holy Spirit imparts a holy nature. Through the Spirit’s power, the believer can overcome sin and live righteously (Romans 8:2-4; Galatians 5:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8).  He has freedom from sin’s dominion-the power to choose not to sin (John 8:34-36; Romans 6:1-25). He will not continue to live in sin, and in fact his newly given nature cannot sin (I John 3:9). He still has the ability to sin and he still has the sinful nature subdued within him (Galatians 5:16-17; 1 John 1:8; 2:1), but the born-again nature restrains him from habitually committing sin. As long as he lets the Spirit lead him he will not sin.

Holiness is not an external law but an integral part of the new nature.  The Spirit writes God’s moral law in the heart (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 10:16). Living for God is not merely following an outward list of rules, but following the inward nature of the Holy Spirit. No dictator imposes rules on the Spirit-filled man; he imposes restrictions on the sinful nature because he wishes to follow the Spirit.

F.F. Bruce 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 enablings.2

The Holy Spirit teaches holiness by (1) the inspired Word of God, (2) spiritual preachers and teachers who proclaim and apply the Word, and (3) internal promptings and convictions.

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. The Christian must open his life to the working of God’s Spirit and actively implement spiritual principles. The Bible commands him to reckon himself dead to sin but alive to God, yield his bodily members to God instead of to sin, resist the devil, draw near to God, subdue the sinful nature, discipline the flesh, kill the deeds of the body, cleanse himself, labor to enter the rest, lay aside every weight and sin, and run with patience. “Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (11 Peter 3:14, NIV).

“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” (Philippians 2:12-13). God actually performs the work of salvation, providing the desire and the power to live righteously, but the believer must reverently and watchfully implement holiness in his life. As Jerry Bridges 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.3


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;

(2) imposing nonbiblical rules. The Bible strongly condemns legalism (Matthew 23; Romans 3-4; Galatians 3).

To be biblical, a holiness standard must either be a specific biblical statement or a valid application of a biblical principle. For example, the Bible explicitly condemns drunkenness. It also opposes marijuana, even though it does not name that drug, because the biblical principle excludes all intoxication.

Sometimes leaders present biblical standards of holiness as 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 wrongly 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. Intellectual freedom is not freedom from truth, but freedom to know and submit to the truth. There can be no real freedom outside truth (John 8:32). Genuine spiritual freedom is not freedom to commit sin, but freedom from sin’s bondage.

Christians still have commandments to obey (John 14:15, 23; Matthew 28:20). The ceremonial law has been abolished, but Christians still must not participate in spiritually unclean things (11 Corinthians 6:17). The Christian life is like a game, with spiritual rules to obey. “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (11 Timothy 2:5, NKJV).

Moral law is a restraining force, but the sinful nature needs a restraint upon its desires, while the spiritual man needs protection against evil. Holiness teachings do not curb freedom in Christ but preserve it. They bind the Christian closely to the holy God-the source of life and strength. They keep him on course, preserve his identity, and channel his spiritual energy.

Christian Liberty

Biblical Christianity is not a life of bondage but of liberty. This liberty does not, however, eliminate the call to holiness. There are three aspects to Christian liberty:

(1) Freedom from sin. This automatically means submission to God’s will, since the two are mutually exclusive. To exercise Christian liberty means to break free from sin’s bondage, which means to obey and serve God, which in turn means to serve “righteousness unto holiness’ and to bear “fruit unto holiness” (Romans 6:15-23).

(2) Freedom from the law. God has not abolished moral law, but Christians are free from Old Testament law in several ways:

* Freedom from the penalty of the law-death. Christ’s death was substitutionary, so the law has no power to condemn the believer.
* Freedom from the attempt to fulfill the law by human effort alone.  Old Testament saints were bound to the law like children under tutors and governors (Galatians 4). They could not fully overcome the flesh and keep God’s moral law, but the Spirit now gives power to do so (Romans 8:2-4).
* Freedom from the destructive power of the law caused by man’s abuse of it. The law, which was good in itself, actually became a harmful force because men erroneously relied on it for justification and so rejected faith in Christ (Romans 9:31-10:3).
* Freedom from the ceremonial law (Mark 7:15; Acts 15; Galatians 4; Colossians 2:16-17).

(3) Freedom in non-moral matters. Christians can participate in any activity that does not violate biblical teaching. They have freedom to follow individual judgment, desire, and conscience in morally neutral areas such as eating of meat and observance of certain days (Romans 14). In these matters, they must not judge each other, but should be true to their own convictions.

Christian liberty does not negate the responsibility to obey scriptural holiness teachings (Romans 6:15; Galatians 5:13). Nor does it eliminate the responsibility to follow godly leaders when they apply biblical principles of holiness to contemporary issues (Acts 15:28-29; Hebrews 13:17).

The Bible gives four guidelines for the proper exercise of Christian liberty in non-moral matters.4 The Christian should:

(1) Do all to God’s glory (I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).
(2) Avoid anything not beneficial (I Corinthians 6:12; 10:23). He should abstain from things detrimental to him physically, mentally, or spiritually. He should lay aside every “weight,” or hindrance, as well as outright sin (Hebrews 12:1).
(3) Avoid anything that will gain dominance (I Corinthians 6:12). He must not let any thing addict him, rob him of too much energy, time or money, or interfere with his relationship to God.
(4) Avoid harm to others (Romans 14:13-21; 1 Corinthians 8:9-13; 10:32-33). He should avoid things that could cause someone to stumble.

If the Bible condemns a practice either specifically or in principle, obedience is necessary. If the four basic guidelines for exercise of Christian liberty point to a certain course of action, then again obedience is necessary. For example, eating meat offered to idols fell under the scope of Christian liberty, yet the apostolic church absolutely forbade the practice because it was a stumbling block. If an issue is morally neutral and the four guidelines do not define a certain response, the teachings of Romans 14 apply.

The Practical Application of Holiness

It is possible to classify holiness standards in two categories:

(1) Clear teachings of Scripture. Bible believers should agree on these. The new convert should begin to obey them immediately. The pastor should refuse to baptize someone who does not manifest willingness to conform. Examples are fornication, lying, and drunkenness.

(2) Practical application of scriptural principles to modern situations. The new convert usually understands and implements these gradually as he grows in grace and knowledge. Christians can have legitimate differences of opinion, not on principles, but on a precise application in a specific situation. Examples are various details of godly adornment and dress.

New converts may not conform immediately, especially if they lack a strong biblical background. The pastor should lead them patiently into further truth, relying on scriptural teaching, Christian example, and the work of the Spirit. God has justified them by their faith, but they must submit to the progressive work of sanctification. The pastor should not use them to lead or represent the local church until they implement these teachings.

Here are important areas in which biblical, and therefore universal and unchanging, principles of holiness apply:5

(1) Attitudes (Galatians 5:19-23; Ephesians 4:23-32). Christians must put away evil attitudes including hatred, wrath, envy, jealousy, covetousness (greed), bitterness, malice, pride, prejudice, vengeance,
and all discord (contention, strife, selfish ambition, dissension, clamor, brawling, murmuring, complaining, rebellion, a critical spirit). The essence of holiness is bearing the fruit of the Spirit including love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), gentleness (kindness), goodness, faith (faithfulness), meekness (gentleness), and temperance (self-control). Christians must learn to forgive, to be obedient to authority, to be thankful, not to let anything offend them, and not to be busybodies in others’ lives.

(2) Thoughts (Matthew 5:18-20; 11 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8).  A man is what he thinks and he becomes what he allows his mind to dwell upon. Christians are to think on true, honest (noble), just (right), pure, lovely, reputable, virtuous (excellent), and praiseworthy things.  They must cast out evil thoughts, taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(3) The tongue (James 1:26; 3:1-12; 4:11; 5:12). Christians must avoid talebearing, backbiting, slander, sowing discord, swearing by oath, using the Lord’s name in vain, pronouncing curses, reviling, lying, idle words, and suggestive, indecent, or obscene speech.

(4) The eye (Psalm 101:3; 119:37; Matthew 6:22-23). The eye is the gate of the soul and the primary source of input for the mind. Christians should not read materials saturated with vulgarity and sensuality. Because violence, illicit sex, sinfulness, and vanity totally dominate television and movies, they should not watch either.

(5) Appearance (adornment, dress, and hair) (Deuteronomy 22:5; 1 Corinthians 11:1-16; 1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:1-6). The appearance reflects the inner self, both to God and to others. Ungodly appearance promotes lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and pride of life, molding both wearer and society in ungodly ways. Important biblical principles in this area are: (1) modesty, (2) rejecting of ornamentation, (3) moderation in cost, (4) distinction between male and female, and (5) separation from worldliness. Thus Christians should abstain from clothing that immodestly exposes the body, ornamentative jewelry, colored cosmetics and hair dye, very expensive, extravagant or gaudy attire, men’s dresses, women’s pants, long hair on men, cut hair on women, and fashions with carnal associations.

(6) Stewardship of the body (I Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:12, 19-20).  The body is the temple of the Spirit, so Christians should not use things that harm or defile the body, cause intoxication, or cause addiction. Alcoholic beverages and tobacco violate this principle.

(7) Sexuality (I Corinthians 6:9-10; Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 13:4).  The Bible condemns all sexual relations outside of permanent marriage of a man and a woman. It opposes lustful thoughts and actions.

(8) Respect for human life (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:44; Acts 15:29).  Christians should not participate in violence or taking of human life; this includes warfare, abortion, and suicide.

(9) Honesty (Mark 10:19). The Bible rejects all forms of dishonesty and corruption. This includes lying, stealing, defrauding, refusal to pay debts, extortion, bribery, and cheating.

(10) Fellowship (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:8; 15:33; 11 Corinthians 6:14). Christians must not become identified with sinful attitudes or lifestyles. They should not fellowship so-called Christians who continually indulge in sinful activities. They are not to become yoked with unbelievers (such as by marriage). In the church, they must resolve all disputes according to the procedure given by Christ, not by suing one another in civil court.

(11) Worldly activities (I Thessalonians 5:22; 1 John 2:15).  Christians must maturely regulate music, sports, games, and amusements, carefully avoiding excessively worldly atmospheres and appearances.  Some amusements are inherently worldly, such as gambling, dancing, hard rock music, and the occult.

Holiness and Culture

These holiness principles have received much endorsement historically. Most or all have been taught by ante-Nicene fathers, Anabaptists, early Methodists, Holiness churches, and Pentecostals. Changing culture has caused spiritual heirs of these groups to abandon many of these teachings. How much should culture affect holiness standards? Several truths must be noted in answering this question:

(1) God’s moral law is unchanging. God’s nature does not change, so moral laws based on God’s holiness remain invariant in all times, places, cultures, and circumstances. God has abolished Old Testament
types and ceremonial laws-such as dietary laws, blood sacrifices,
Sabbaths, and feasts-but He has never abrogated moral law.

(2) Biblical principles are unchanging. The Bible is the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God. It is truth, and truth is absolute, immutable, and constant.

(3) God has progressively revealed truth from Old to New Testament.  The New Testament does not contradict Old Testament truth, but unfolds God’s will more completely and calls Spirit-filled believers to a higher level of perfection in many areas. In such cases, the Old Testament usually contains indications of God’s higher plan. Examples are incest, polygamy, divorce, warfare, adornment, and use of alcohol.

(4) God had to give His Word in a specific cultural setting, but did not thereby endorse all the practices of that culture. Christians are not bound to follow the culture of biblical times unless it expresses eternal truths endorsed by the Bible. For example, the Bible describes but does not require arranged marriages. Some aspects of culture in biblical times were actually unchristian, but the Bible gave instructions for believers to cope with them. Examples are oppressive government and slavery.

(5) In applying a biblical principle to a modern situation, one must take culture into account, but culture can never abolish the principle. For example, to some degree modesty is culturally relative. In the 19th century it was improper for a woman to expose any of her leg in public, so Christian women of that day should not have worn kneelength dresses. For the biblical teaching on modesty to have meaning,
however, there must be a minimum absolute of modesty. Otherwise, if society condoned total nudity, so could Christians.

How can one determine what is culturally relative? First, the biblical principle involved will point to a minimum standard regardless of culture. Second, the Bible often makes specific applications. If the Bible speaks of something approvingly or neutrally then it is not wrong under all circumstances. If the Bible always speaks disapprovingly of something, then it always violates biblical principles.

For example, what principles ate involved in modesty of dress?  Immodest dress promotes lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. The exposed body tends to arouse improper thoughts in both wearer and onlooker. This indicates that clothes should basically cover the body-the torso and upper limbs. Moreover, according to Isaiah 47:2-3, God considers baring the leg and uncovering the thigh to be shameful exposure of nakedness.

The Bible speaks of beards favorably or neutrally. Thus, they are not inherently evil, but are only wrong if associated with evil attitudes such as worldliness, rebellion, or pride. The church correctly took a stand against them in the hippie era because of their evil associations, but as culture removes those associations, the church need not oppose them.

Culture determines the distinction between male and female dress. For example, the kilt in traditional Scotland was exclusively masculine so it did not violate the principle of separation between male and female.  Women’s pants today violate this principle, however, even though some are designed exclusively for women. They still “pertain to a man.” They are patterned after the masculine dress style, they promote masculine behavior patterns, they do not distinguish gender clearly in the overall appearance (by silhouette or at a distance), and they leave males without a distinctive dress style.

Modern culture accepts makeup, no longer connecting it with harlotry.  The Bible, however, always links makeup with evil. Moreover, makeup still promotes lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life, artificiality, discontent with nature, and false values.

Modern culture accepts cut hair on women, but the Bible always links this with shame and unnaturalness. Moreover, I Corinthians 11:5-6 and 13-16 explicitly teach that all women, regardless of culture, should have long, uncut hair.

Problem Areas Today

In light of these biblical teachings here are some problems, inconsistencies, or weaknesses in the Oneness movement today:

* Lack of commitment to God’s Word. How many preachers fail to study Bible doctrine in a disciplined, systematic way? As a result, they discard holiness under influence from friends, relatives, and other religious groups. They cannot stand against opposition, persecution, and adversity but they compromise truth for social and religious acceptance, material gain, numerical growth, or worldly success.

* Lack of specific, practical holiness teaching. How often does the average church member hear teaching on the fruit of the Spirit, on attitudes, on sins of the tongue, and so on?

* Legalism. How many people base salvation on their works of holiness?  How many preachers enforce rules based on their own authority without providing biblical support? Legalism often promotes a failure to develop inward holiness, failure to understand principles, misapplication of principles, living by minimum requirements, looking for legal loopholes, hypocrisy, inconsistency, disillusionment, rebellion, and judgmental, condemnatory attitudes.

* Failure to emphasize the positive definition of holiness. How many people equate holiness with dress codes and negative rules and not with the fruit of the Spirit and with Christlike attitudes?

* Emphasis on external holiness to the neglect of internal holiness.  How many think they are holy because of outward appearance, but ignore sins of the spirit?

* Judgmental, condemnatory attitudes. These often wound and drive away visitors, new converts, and even fellow believers.

* Emphasis on emotional experiences to the neglect of godly lifestyle.  Many people judge spirituality by the ability to talk in tongues or “shout” rather than by a life of obedient faith and holiness. There is a generation of professional or social Pentecostals who enjoy the fellowship, music, worship, and preaching, but who are not committed to true holiness. Sometimes family connections, social pressure, or talent cause others to overlook this lack of dedication.

* Greed and materialism (I Timothy 6:7-19). How many people are soft, lazy, and complacent? How many greedily accumulate luxuries and material wealth, often at the expense of spiritual priorities? How many preachers make spiritual decisions primarily on financial considerations? How many feel called only to financially attractive positions? How many follow the “gospel” of material prosperity? How many live modestly and give sacrificially?

* Prejudice and favoritism. God shows no partiality; He does not regard gender, social class, or race (Acts 10:34; Galatians 3:28). Christian leaders are not to show favoritism (I Timothy 5:21). Racial or social prejudice is sinful (James 2:7). How many churches ignore or reject minority groups and condone racial hatred? How many leaders are guilty of nepotism, cronyism, or other forms of favoritism? The business world sometimes has a higher standard than the church.

* Pride. How many preachers follow egotistical patterns of the world (including the religious world) and build personal kingdoms? How many people succumb to a spirit of competition, peer pressure, and accumulation of status symbols?

* Sins of the tongue. Talebearing, suggestive jokes, swearing by oath, and vain use of God’s names are common, sometimes among preachers.

* Television and video. In many cases, longtime church members own a television or watch it habitually. Others use video to watch Hollywood movies or television programs. (There is no need to oppose video technology when used to record training sessions, church functions, or family events.)

* Appearance. It is vitally important to teach principles, not just rules, in this area, because there are many dorse retaliation, revenge, and violence. Despite the UPC Articles of Faith, many endorse the bearing of arms to kill criminals or wartime enemies.

* Honesty. Even in the church, many view lying, cheating, and other forms of dishonesty as very minor violations.

* Disputes. How often do churches follow Christ’s procedure for resolving disputes? Does brother sue brother in civil court?

* Gambling. How can churches sponsor raffles but oppose other forms of gambling?

* Music. Youth must be warned against hard rock music, even “Christian” rock. In church, music should be an aid to spiritual worship, not for entertainment, performance, or promotion of “stars.”

Recommendations and Conclusion

The key to maintaining scriptural holiness is to promote a genuine love for God’s Word. Pastors must stress the authority of Scripture. They must emphasize the principles of holiness, the positive nature of holiness, attitudes, holiness of spirit, spiritual fruit, and biblical reasons for holiness standards. They must spend time, both in quantity and quality, teaching practical holiness. In particular, every new convert and every young person needs specialized teaching from the Bible on the Christian lifestyle.

Preachers must avoid legalism and its dangers. They must confine themselves to God’s Word, preaching neither more nor less. They must be flexible in areas of Christian liberty, not insisting on tradition or personal taste. They must not be harsh, intolerant, or dictatorial, but wise, patient, and loving in presenting holiness.

The movement needs more leadership training and more doctrinal scholarship. Educational requirements for new preachers need to be increased by implementing a thorough, systematic course of Bible and
doctrinal study with written assignments and testing. Bible colleges should be supported financially and promoted from a national level. There should be doctrinal seminars for preachers and their spouses, for
youth, and for lay leaders, such as deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and ladies’ leaders. Greater emphasis is needed on the publication of doctrinal books and articles. Foreign missions should aggressively promote doctrinal publications and seminars, for the principles of holiness apply to every culture.

In conclusion, holiness means to imitate Christ, to be Christlike. It covers the entire realm of Christian living. The basis of holiness is faith, love, and walking after the Spirit. The power to live holy is a
gift from God, but man is responsible to implement holiness on a daily basis. The church can retain holiness if it will teach, preach, study, and love God’s Word.

Holiness is an integral part of the salvation of the whole man from sin’s power and effects. It is a joyful privilege; a part of abundant life; a blessing from God’s grace; a glorious life of freedom and power. The life of holiness fulfills God’s original intention and design for humanity. For the Holy Spirit-filled believer who truly loves God, holiness is the normal-indeed the only-way to live.


1. Isidore Epstein, Judaism (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1959), p. 23.

2. F.F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, Vol. VI of The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, R. V. G. Tasker (ed.) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), pp. 153, 156.

3. Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: Nav-Press, 1978), p. 14.

4. See ibid., p. 91.

5. For a detailed discussion of each of these topics, see David Bernard, Practical Holiness: A Second Look (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1985); Loretta Bernard and David Bernard, In Search of Holiness (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1981).

by James D. Merrick

The author is to be complimented for his scholarly, thorough, and scriptural presentation on the crucial subject of holiness. The depth and clarity in which he presents these great principles of Christian truth is to be commended by all. His presentation evidences not only a sharp, educated mind, but also the very work of the Holy Ghost. He is to be commended not only for the scholarship aspect of his paper, but also for the great attitude with which it was presented-with deep conviction yet no hint of contention. Strength without compromise-with no desire to separate but rather a desire to unite under the principles of God-is very important.

Some of the major points presented here should be reemphasized. The Old Testament concept of separation from and dedication to, as well as the corresponding New Testament twofold definition of moral holiness, is too little understood and too often overlooked among us.  Commendably, the paper addresses both the “thou shalt” and the “thou shalt not” aspects of God’s holiness, mentions the different levels of spiritual maturity, and describes the source of all holiness as the Spirit that works from within. Holiness as a result of salvation, which comes by grace through faith, and not as a means of earning salvation needs to be addressed more today than ever before since we are branded by some as legalists. We must ever be reminded that the only biblical motivation for holiness always has been and always will be a genuine love for God and his Word. It is to be appreciated that the paper refers to many Scriptures, directly and indirectly, concerning the need to strive for holiness and to expend human effort to be found spotless and blameless. Let us be reminded again and again that holiness is not a matter of choice but a command which requires obedience and adherence to the will and pleasure of God. God enables us, but leaves the walking up to us, and this is a matter of importance.

We need a clear understanding of legalism and of Christian liberty.  The author offered us much today in his definition of both of these subjects. He pointed out clearly that holiness standards must be more than a man’s opinion or conviction. To be valid it must be either a specific biblical statement or a valid application of a biblical principle. We need more teaching on the application of godly principles today. His remarks on genuine spiritual freedom being freedom from sin’s bondage and freedom from the need to conform to the
world were very well put. The three aspects of Christian liberty need to be understood by all of us-freedom from sin, freedom from law, and freedom in nonmoral matters. Perhaps the last one gives us more problems than the others. Knowing what activities violate biblical teaching and must be strongly opposed from the pulpit and what activities do not violate Bible teaching and can be left up to the individual saint is not always easy to decide.

The four guidelines for the proper exercise of Christian liberty in non-moral matters are especially helpful, as well as the classification of holiness standards in two categories-the clear teaching of Scripture and the practical application of scriptural principles. We must patiently lead new converts but not use them to lead until they implement the holiness teachings. Much harm is done to the fellowship when a pastor permits involvement by some who do not live by the standard of holiness believed by the majority of his ministering brethren and practiced in their churches. Neither does a pastor help himself or the saints he pastors by ignoring his brother’s convictions and exercising his right to differ to the disunity of the body.

Attitudes, thoughts, the tongue, the eye, appearance, body stewardship, sexuality, respect for human life, honesty, fellowship and worldly activities form a good classification of the important areas in which God’s universal and unchanging principles of holiness apply.

Determining biblical principles on the basis of favorable or neutral references in Scripture certainly serves to clarify God’s intentions in these matters of holiness. We need to pay careful attention to the things brought to our mind today concerning too little study of the Word, too much prejudice and pride, and television and video movies in the homes of our saints, contrary to what every United Pentecostal Church preacher agrees to uphold as part of our manual. These things are not slight personal differences, but could very well be “death in the pot” that must be handled wisely. Who can deny the need for coming together in solving the divorce-remarriage problem as well opposing the moral degeneracy of our day that seeks to infiltrate the church.

When Jesus told a certain man, “This do and thou shalt live,” He made it clear to him that if he did not love God with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength, no matter what else he did right, it would never be enough. Every believing Jew knew what Jesus said was true.  The simple truth of the Jewish Shema was for any human action to have lasting spiritual value, it must emanate from a heart filled with love for God. One could obey and not love, but every Jew knew one could not love and refuse to obey. When a man loved God unselfishly to the point of total surrender to the will of God, the Jews said he had taken upon him the yoke of the kingdom. Possibly our biggest problem, which causes some to struggle with and compromise away our heritage of holiness standards, is the depth and degree of our love for God. The essence of holiness living is simply loving God enough.

We also need to take another look at Hebrews 12:14, which states, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Perhaps we have looked at this verse too narrowly and
maybe even selfishly. God is concerned about us seeing him, but He is also concerned about the world seeing Him. One of the reasons for a Christian to follow outward, visible holiness is to communicate Christ.  “Without holiness no man shall see Christ” probably relates to seeing the Lord in this world as much as or even more than it relates to us seeing Him in the world to come. More emphasis needs to be put on
God’s holiness principles lived visibly before men as the only means most men have to see or understand God. If we destroy visible holiness, which is simply manifested love, we destroy the opportunity of a lost world to see God in His church in a way that they can identify with and understand. Colossians 1:23 says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ in us is not only our hope, but also the hope of others who look at us. If we obliterate the manifested godly attributes of both inward and outward holiness, the hope of the world is gone.

The subject of holiness, along with the great truth that God is numerically one, is the greatest subject on earth.

Let us have a clear understanding of the principles and the application of biblical holiness, but let us emphasize the motivation and the source of it all. The love of God and the degree to which we love him
will determine our holiness standards and beliefs.

James Merrick is the Superintendent of the Minnesota Manitoba District and pastor of the Apostolic Gospel Church of Duluth, Minnesota.

By Barry King

The author has truly given us a broad spectrum of Bible-based criteria for the theology of holiness, together with supportive arguments from outside sources. He has biblically handled matters of holiness as they pertain to time, things, people and customs; as they relate to the permanent and the temporal; as they relate to “the inside of the cup” and also “the outside.”

The reasonableness of this man’s Scripture-packed thesis is in harmony with our beloved Paul’s imploring to the Roman saints: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed [made like] to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).Several statements in the paper deserve reinforcement:

“Just as a man must be born again to see the kingdom of God, so must he follow after holiness to see the Lord.”

“Holiness means to imitate Christ.”

“Holiness does not come by works of the flesh, but only by submission to the Holy Spirit’s leadership.”

“It is both instantaneous and progressive.”

“Holiness is not an external law but an integral part of the new nature.”

“Living for God is not merely following an outward list of rules, but following the inward nature of the Holy Spirit.”

“The Holy Spirit teaches holiness by: (1) the inspired word of God; (2) spiritual preachers and teachers who proclaim and apply the Word, and  (3) internal promptings and convictions.”

To summarize, holiness is not an act. It is not a tangible thing. It is not a place. Holiness is a Spirit!

It is the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of holiness. And when that Holy Spirit or Spirit of holiness comes into the heart of someone who has been truly converted, that Spirit will begin to bring forth fruit of righteousness and holiness in that life.

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

A companion passage to this is Hebrews 8:8-12, a direct quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34: “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”

The internal condition of a person will have external consequences.  Alcohol taken internally brings forth undesired effects externally. Drugs taken internally produce external results. Some people have
allergies to certain types of food. When these foods are taken internally, they experience the results externally, with the breaking out of a rash or hives.

Likewise, when a Christian internalizes the spirit of the world, he will produce external evidences of the same. On the other hand, when the Holy Spirit seizes the inner workings of the human apparatus, the workmanship of the Holy Ghost will be evidenced in every area of that individual’s life, internally and externally; for holiness is a Spirit that produces acts of righteousness, holiness, and godliness.

In conclusion, the author is to be thanked for his scholarly and biblical declaration pertaining to the theology of holiness.

Barry A. King is pastor of New Life United Pentecostal Church of Beaverton, Oregon, a presbyter in the Oregon District, and the Executive Presbyter for the Northwest Region.

David K. Bernard is the Associate Editor in the Editorial Division of the United Pentecostal Church International and the author of six books and numerous articles. He received his Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Rice University, received his Doctor of Jurisprudence with honors from the University of Texas, and studied at Wesley Biblical Seminary. At the time of the symposium, he was the Assistant Vice President of Jackson College of Ministries.

The Above Material Was Published In A Paper Given At The 1986 Oneness Symposium, St. Louis, Mo, By David K. Bernard, Pp. 259-292. This Material May Be Used For Study And Research Purposes Only.