George Booker
A New Creation

14. “Be Ye Holy”

“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance; but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:13-16).

Peter is quoting a series of passages, from Leviticus (11:44,45; 19:2; 20:7,26; 21:8). After the verses cited above, Peter reminds the believers that they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ out of their former “useless way of life” (1 Pet. 1:18,19), so as to be a holy nation, a purchased people, kings and priests who have been delivered out of darkness into light (2:9,10).

The basic ideas of both the Old and New Testament words for “holy” (Hebrew “kadesh” and Greek “hagios”) are quite similar: they signify “set apart, pure, sanctified”. This process of being called out to form a distinct community or congregation is the means by which the ecclesia is formed.

Under Christ’s law, the ecclesia is to be a congregation of “called out” and “set-apart” ones. They are to be a “city set on a hill”, an “island” of light in a sea of darkness (Matt. 5:14-16), harmless and blameless in the midst of a crooked and perverse people (Phil. 2:14,15). Their “holiness” is to be not merely one established by physical barriers between themselves and that which is unholy (such as was the essence of the Law of Moses), but it is to be a spiritual separation and preparation of mind, attitude and conduct.

1 Peter 1:16 is an echo of Matthew 5:48:

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

The word “perfect” (again, both in Hebrew and Greek) means “to be complete or finished”, as a “perfect heart” — one that is whole and undivided in its loyalties, and complete in its integrity. A consideration of holiness, therefore, leads us naturally to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: the living heart of the Truth. “If ye love me,” said the Master, “keep my commandments.” And here they are: prayer, self-denial, loving one’s enemies, giving, preaching.

“Be ye therefore perfect.” Does Christ really expect us to be “perfect”? What he does require is that we exert every effort in that direction. He requires no more than the very best we can do, but he expects no less. His words leave us absolutely no excuse for relaxing our efforts at any point short of perfection, or complete holiness. The great example is God Himself, awesome as that example may be:

“Be ye holy, for I am holy.”

“Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Holiness is both a state of mind and a series of acts. It cannot be one without the other. Growing complacent in our reliance on the mercy of God, we may come to accept “holiness” as nothing but a state of mind — a vague “feeling” of “righteousness” — without being over-concerned with “deeds”, because after all Christ can forgive and has forgiven us!

It is true that Christ can and will forgive, and that salvation is by grace. But our works — our acts of “holiness” — are the only means of putting ourselves in the position where we may hope for forgiveness when we fail. The crucial truth is that God will not forgive our shortcomings unless we are seriously striving for holiness and perfection!

Making Provision for the Flesh

It is common, however, for man to offer objections (even if subconsciously, and only to himself) to a life of practical holiness. Such objections fall into several categories:

(1) “All people fall short of perfection and holiness, so I am content with my failings.” But the question should not be: “Is absolute perfection possible?” but rather: “Do I come as near perfect holiness as sincere intention and careful effort can take me?” Jesus has said,

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).

Many will at the last fail to obtain salvation, not because they made no effort, but because they did not make effort enough!

(2) “I am so much better than most people; surely that is enough.” This of course was the common mistake of the Pharisee, concerned as he was with the outward appearance. But it may be our mistake also. Are we, perhaps, “better” than the world in externals only? A little more Bible reading? more regular attendance at “church” meetings? a little more care in refraining from the grosser and more obvious sins? Such a self-perception may be terribly dangerous, because it can lull us into a complacent, sleepy satisfaction. And we shall find at last that we have been no more than “white-wash jobs”!:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and ini-quity” (Matt. 23:27,28).

(3) “Love is the important thing; works are secondary.” But Jesus has said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Where in the Bible is love an emotion, and not an action? What is love, after all, if it is not obedience? Can disobedience be a manifestation of love?

Seeking Christ’s Mind

It is evident, then, that Scriptural holiness is the mind of Christ, assimilated to ourselves (Phil. 2:5). To the degree we make his mind ours, we are united and single and “perfect” in our loyalties (Matt. 6:21-24). Life is too short to serve two “masters”, whether it be God and business, or God and gardening, or God and physical fitness. Holiness, then, involves the first step of “choosing the Kingdom”. If we have not chosen first the kingdom of God (v. 33), it will make no difference what we have chosen instead!

Is this last statement true? Will it really make no difference whether we choose drugs, or a business promotion? Whether we choose politics, or football? Money, or family? A life of fornication, or a life of public service? Whether we choose, in short, the “disreputable”, obviously unworthy pursuits — or the “respectable”, society-pleasing pursuits? Surely it will make no difference that really matters, for we will have missed the purpose for which we were formed, and rejected the one thing that has any lasting value. Does it matter to a man dying in the desert, by which wrong road he missed the only well?

A Constant, Consistent Effort

It has been well said that “ecclesial membership does not make one a ‘Christadelphian’ any more than owning a piano makes one a musician”. There must also be a constant, consistent effort toward the holiness exemplified by Jesus — expressed in both its positive and negative aspects. The story is told of an old man, an accomplished artist, who was applying the finishing touches to a sculpture. He kept filing, scraping, and polishing every little surface of his masterpiece. “When will it be done?” asked an impatient observer. “Never,” came the reply. “I just keep working and working until they come and take it away.” And so it should be with our lives: we must continue working toward that perfection of holiness, never achieving it but at the same time never ceasing our efforts until Christ comes to tell us that our work is finished.

Can We Have the Best of Both Worlds?

Acts 5 records the sad tale of Ananias and Sapphira, early disciples who pretended to be something more than they were. Caught between two worlds, desiring to have one foot in each, imperfect in their devotions, they lied to the Holy Spirit. They kept back part of the sale price of their possessions, and were struck dead for their pains.

We have “sold” the “old man” and laid the proceeds at the feet of Jesus. Have we also kept back part of the price? — “I will do this and that for Jesus and then something else for myself.” If we have taught ourselves to think this way as a matter of course, then we will never be “holy”. We will never even be really happy. The “natural man”, like a little parasite, just will not quite let go. The less he is “fed”, the more he will complain and make a muisance of himself — until he is truly killed!

Surely, if the cross of Christ is worth anything, it is worth everything. Surely, if Jesus is the Son of God, we must serve him and him alone. Surely, if we recognize that we need the “cure” for sin and death, we must sign up for the “full treatment”. Surely, there can be, in this war, no battles of “containment” or “limited objectives”, but a fight to the finish:

“Be ye holy, as I am holy.”

“Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

That demands our complete dedication.

Others May! You Cannot!

If God has called you to be really like Jesus in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility, and put on you such demands of obedience, that He will not allow you to follow other Christians, and in many ways He will seem to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.

Other Christians may push themselves forward, pull strings, and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot do it; and attempting it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.

Others may brag on themselves, on their work, on their successes; but the power of God’s spirit will not allow you to do any such thing. And if you begin it, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.

Others will be allowed to succeed in making money, or in having a legacy left to them, or in having luxuries, but it is likely God will keep you poor, because He wants you to have something far better than gold: a helpless dependence on Him, that He may supply your needs day by day out of an unseen treasury.

The Lord will let others be honored, and put forward, and keep you hidden away in obscurity, because He wants to produce fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.

He will let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him, and get the credit for it, but He will make you work and toil on without knowing how much you are doing. And then to make your work more precious still, He will let others get the credit for the work you have done, and this will make your reward ten times greater when Jesus returns. He will put a strict watch over you, with a jealous love, and will rebuke you for little words and feelings or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over.

So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign, and has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and that He will not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you. He will take you at your word; and if you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love, and let other people say and do many things that you cannot say or do. Settle it forever, that you are to deal directly with Him, and that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes, in ways that He does not use with others. And then, when you are so possessed with the living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management by God’s Spirit in your life, then, and only then, will you have found the key to the Kingdom of God!

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