Be Ye Holy For I Am Holy

“Be ye holy; for I am holy”

A corollary of the truth of the holiness of God is that of the holiness of God’s people. Because God is holy, His people must be holy. God cannot be associated with anyone or anything which offends His holy character - “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity”. Alone among the nations, Israel was chosen by God to be “a holy nation” in order to express the divine character to the nations - “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be … unto me … an holy nation”. They were separated, even in their diet, from all other nations by the fact of God’s choice. Because they were associated with a holy God, they were required “to make a difference between the unclean and the clean” in their food. It was in this connection that God said “I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy … ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy”, Lev. 11. 44, 45. Because the Lord had espoused them to Himself, they were expected to be different from the other nations. God does not expect unsaved people to be holy: they are incapable of this. The Lord reminded Nicodemus “that which is born of the flesh is flesh”. Like begets like and the flesh cannot be expected to produce holiness. Paul likewise wrote “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God”, Rom. 8. 7, 8 R.V. The flesh is not amenable to God’s law, which is holy. But God does expect holiness from His people, else they cannot claim to be His.

In his first Epistle, Peter, quoting Moses’ words in Leviticus 11, wrote “like as he which called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy”, 1. 15, 16 r.v. Christian behaviour must be modelled upon the divine pattern. To be holy is to be like God, who loves good and abhors evil. By that measure the Lord Jesus was holy, in that He “loved righteousness, and hated iniquity”. Accordingly, we are holy, by our attraction to the good and our recoil from the evil. Holiness is therefore both positive and negative; what we are and do, and what we are not and do not. A holy person is therefore a separated person – separated unto God and separated from evil. In the Old Testament the Nazarite was a separated person. He was required to separate himself from strong liquor, from shaving his head and from death in any form; to disregard this was to defile his Nazariteship. Conversely, he was required to separate himself “unto the Lord”.

God’s choice of His people had several ends in view. They were chosen for salvation, 2 Thess. 2. 13, to be conformed to Christ’s image, Rom. 8. 29, to fruitful, John 15. 16, but above all, to be holy - “he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame”, Eph. 1. 4. This is assuredly God’s ultimate purpose for the Church, which Christ will present to Himself “holy and without blemish”. But it would be wrong to relegate this wholly to the future; it is God’s present purpose that His people should be holy; it is the reason for His choice.

In Bible sequence, God’s choice is followed by His call. If God has chosen us to be holy, then He has called us to be such. Holiness is God’s vocation for His people. The Christian vocation may contain other elements, but all pervaded with the quality of holiness. We fail in our Christian vocation if we fail to be holy. Thus Peter wrote “like as he which called you is holy”. The scattered believers to whom Peter wrote were indeed chosen - “elect”. A call to holiness followed. In 2 Timothy Paul wrote “God … hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling”. This is the purpose of salvation. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul urged to purity of life those who had been delivered from paganism with all its attendant vices by reminding them that personal holiness was the essence of their Christian calling - “this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification … For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness”. Holiness extends to every department of life -“be ye … holy in all manner of living”. We must be holy in private as well as in public; not having one standard in one sphere and another elsewhere; holy in our home life, as in our secular calling; holy in recreation, as in work. There must be no inconsistency; no unsanctified areas. We must be “wholly holy”, as Paul’s words to the Thessalonians suggest “the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless”. Corresponding to the Holy Trinity, man is also a trinity, a tripartite being composed of spirit, soul and body. We are required to be holy in all of these spheres, in thought, affections and behaviour. Left to ourselves, this would be a utopian conception, a mere figment of the imagination lacking any possible basis in fact. But Paul disposed of the suggestion of impossibility in the following word - “Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it”. God’s call is His enabling, in this as in everything else. What is impossible with men, is possible with God.

Christianity does not consist in a “packaged deal” of every Christian virtue, made over to the Christian at conversion. Every virtue is given in embryo, to be developed. We are capable, by divine help, of growing in the knowledge of God and in spiritual grace. We should likewise grow in holiness. In a practical sphere, we do not become holy all at once; it comes of practice. Thus Paul wrote to the Corinthians “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness …”, 2 Cor. 7. 1. He enjoined them to holiness by reference to God’s promises to those who separate themselves from the unclean thing - “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters”. These are promises indeed to encourage us in the growth of holiness.

The Corinthians were carnal in their behaviour, as Paul needed to make clear: carnal in their divisions and in their incapacity to receive advanced truth. Nonetheless, Paul addressed them as “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints”. The meaning of the word “saint” has come to be obscured by the custom to refer to the apostles as Saint John, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, etc., and further beclouded by the canonisation of “saints” of the Roman Catholic persuasion. In New Testament usage “saints” is almost exclusively Pauline. It simply means a “separate” person, one “set apart” by God’s choice, to be like Himself in holiness. It does not connote an habitue of the cloister, nor a person with an aura; a saint can be at home in the market place, juxtaposed to human needs and yet remaining separate from the world’s defilement. “Called saints”, 1 Cor. 1. 2 j.n.d., stresses the fact that the Christian vocation is one of holiness. God’s nature demands that His children be holy. As God’s “obedient children”, Peter’s readers were exhorted to holiness. God’s children must resemble their Father in this virtue, as in every other. Contrariwise, the Lord Jesus alleged that the Jews of His day resembled the devil in their hostile characteristics, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do”, John 8. 44. With them, it was a case of “like father, like son”. In God’s family, His sons and daughters must be seen to be like Him in every virtue and not least in holiness.

To be continued.


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