There is a missing element, a missing piece of the puzzle in modern day evangelicalism. I've always felt that. But I couldn't figure out what it was. I thought for a while that perhaps it was a missional attitude, an emphasis on evangelism. I was really, really sure for a while that it was zealous missional evangelism. But now I realize that I was way off. The missing piece of the puzzle was always right in front of me, actually. It was inscribed on the altar of every Salvation Army corps I attended, where it said: "Holiness unto the Lord."
I never understood what that meant. In fact I asked several people, and they didn't know what it meant either. Holiness preaching and teaching has largely left holiness movement churches. Very, very few pastors preach holiness anymore. It's a lost teaching. It's the missing piece of the puzzle. It's what I've been aching and yearning for in my spiritual life, day in and day out. I've wanted it so badly, but it's always seemed just out of reach. So what does it mean, to be holy to the Lord?
The scriptures say, 1 Peter 1:14-16 (ESV) "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy.""
Holiness is the work of God in us, as we yield to the Spirit of Christ, who conforms the inclinations of our heart, and our outward conduct toward holy (set apart) living.
Too many Christians today are living in active, willful sin. And it needs to stop. This is not how the Christian life is to be lived. We must repent (turn away from evil) and stop sinning. God has called us to a holy life in Christ Jesus.
Jesus Christ has washed away our sins. But we must be careful not to dirty our robes (Revelation 3:4). Thankfully, even if we sin after having come to know Jesus, we can bring those sins before God, ask for forgiveness in Jesus, repent, and we are washed clean once again (1 John 1:9). So it's never too late to repent, as long as we're here on Earth, and still alive in the flesh. But once we stand before God, we will be judged according to how we lived (2 Cor 5:10). And for us pastors and teachers, we'll be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).
So what are the common sins we struggle with today? Sexual sin is the big one, and the various layers of it: Top layer would be adultery (sleeping with another man's wife, or another woman's husband), fornication (having sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage), and masturbation. Repent of those first. And ask God for help in doing that, day and night. The next layer is pornography, get free from that. Finally, the last bastions are fantasizing (playing images through in your mind) and lusting in your heart (indulging in staring at a scantly clothed man or woman). Break free from those.
Sex really comes up first because it's the area most of us try to get away with, because the urges are so powerful. But honestly, if we live in sin like this, we're not going to be going to eternal life in heaven, we're going to be going to outer darkness. We'll be conscious there. And we'll know that we're never leaving. I'm not trying to use scare tactics. I'm just telling you what the word of God says. Take it seriously. I know some teachers may have taught you that you can never lose your salvation. They lied to you, and that doctrine simply isn't in the word of God. The Bible talks again and again about falling away and shipwrecked faith, and we're urged constantly to "continue" in the faith and "abide" (remain) in Christ (1 Timothy 4:1, Rev 2:4-5, 2 Cor 11:3, 2 Peter 2:20-22, Romans 11:19-22, Matthew 24:10-13, John 15).
Other sins that are fairly common are stealing, lying, mistreating parents, being a lukewarm Christian, watching certain R-rated movies, smoking cigarettes, using drugs, drinking to get drunk, manipulation of others, cussing, idolatry (putting something before God), envy, divisions/dissensions, fits of anger, and so on (Galatians 5:19-21).
As it says in the scriptures, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV) "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
We often avoid these lists of sins like the plague. Why do we do that? It's in the word of God. We shouldn't be afraid of it. It's the truth. And if it bothers the church body, so be it, maybe we need to be bothered a bit more.
God has called us to holiness. So we must be holy, as He is holy. That does not mean generating our own holiness through human effort. Not at all! We've been gifted with the righteous, perfect holiness of Christ. We wear it like a garment, like a robe around us each day. We simply must walk in a way that we aren't smearing the mud of sin all over the righteous robe.
We've been adopted by God, and grafted into the body of Christ. We call God daddy! So if we've really received these promises, we should walk in beautiful, humble, meek holiness. As it is written, 2 Corinthians 7:1 (ESV) "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God."
The fear of God has been the greatest strength and weapon toward holiness in my life thus far. And yes, the fear of the Lord is widely mentioned in the New Testament, as well as the Old (Luke 12:4-5, Matthew 10:28, 1 Peter 1:17, 2 Cor 5:11, Acts 10:35, Hebrews 11:7). The fear of the Lord, and the trembling before God, realizing God can send me to heaven or to hell, that has sent me fleeing toward holiness.
For those of you who think God was a consuming fire in the Old Testament, but that he really mellowed out in the New Testament, quick question, have you read Revelation? Yeah, the part where God sends fiery judgments and utterly destroys the world for it's wickedness? God hasn't changed. We've changed, we've become provincial, concerned with what people think, and we want to twist the message of the Bible. But it doesn't need to be twisted. It needs to be preached as it's written.
Holiness is a gift from God. Cry out in prayer for true holiness. Fast and pray for holiness once or twice a week. Invite a mindfulness of God, recognize God's presence with you throughout the day, as brother Lawrence did, and allow that presence to transform your conduct. Pray and then take action. Seek out resources, support groups, accountability partners, Christian counseling, and whatever God may lead you to, to have victory over sin, and receive holiness from God.
Holiness is perfect love, a transformation of our heart, the inclinations of our attitudes toward a great, overcoming desire to do the right and live in the right and walk closely with Jesus, to love Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors deeply, with real love. Holiness is ultimately about true, perfect love. A godly love, for God and the people we serve.
Be patient with this process of holiness. Allow months, and years for it's growth. But do not procrastinate either. Allow God to transform you. Fight for holiness, by yielding to God. Surrender to the filling of God, and invite Him to save you from yourself. Give your whole heart to God, and He will transform you in all holiness to completeness in sanctification. By this, when you stand before God, and your judged or rewarded, based on how you lived, you can be confident to know that God will see you in robes that are unsoiled, and pure, because of our great glorious savior Jesus Christ.