In the Pursuit of Holiness!
By Raymond D. Sopp
Isaiah 64:6: "All of our righteous deeds are as filthy rags." I wanted to start with this verse of Scripture so we can begin to understand what really defines holiness. As we can see, this Scripture does not say our EVIL deeds are as filthy rags, but our RIGHTEOUS deeds are as filthy rags. We must come to an understanding that our righteous deeds as compared to another man's righteous deeds may indeed have an allusion of being righteous; yet those same "righteous" deeds when compared to the deeds of a Holy God are as filthy rags. Hence, it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that our deeds of "righteousness" will never allow us to be, or cause us to be, holy. Now you may ask, "If our deeds of ‘righteousness' cannot make us holy, why then do we have the Law of Moses? Inasmuch as, the Law of Moses, or any law for that matter, is based solely on our deeds, or works." This question is a good one, and it is answered in Romans 7:13: The Law was given to make sin utterly sinful.
Jesus, knowing the Law's purpose, used the Law to demonstrate our hopelessness in regards to holiness through the Law. Jesus pointed this out to us in Matthew 5:21-22, "You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder' and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." And verse 27-28: "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." Again we read in James 2:10, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." Indeed, the Law was given to us to dramatically prove to all that none is righteous -- no, not one!
For those who would misuse the Law to gain an appearance of holiness for themselves, Jesus had this to say in Matthew 23:25-28, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." Wow! That sure does not leave much room for debate.
In essence, the Law became an immense stumbling block to those who wish to misuse the Law as an instrument to become holy in the eyes of man and/or God. Instead they should have allowed the Law to expose their own hopelessness, and their great need of mercy and grace, just as the Law was designed to do. The greatest problem Jesus had (and still has) is convincing mankind that we cannot reach heaven by our works. I pray you can begin to see that it is impossible for any of us to achieve holiness, which is essential for entering into heaven, by our works. That being the case, how can we sit in judgment of our brothers and sisters concerning salvation when we see only their works? I know a lot of people which "appear" on the outside more righteous than I, but does that alone make them holy, and assure them a place in heaven? Definitely NOT!
Now, since we cannot achieve holiness through our works of righteousness, how then can we achieve it? First, we must define the word holiness as the Bible defines it. Holiness is defined as something that is set apart for a particular use. When something is holy, it can never be used for common everyday use, or for more than one purpose. Let me give you an example. The temple utensils were not holy because they were made of pure gold (works), but they became holy only when set aside for God's use by the sprinkling of blood. This is so essential to understand, please allow me to say it again! The temple utensils were not holy because of their outward pureness (works), but became holy by the setting apart for God's use by the sprinkling of blood. Can you see the awesome symbolism in this? It was not the level of "worldly" purity that accomplished the holiness, it was the act of being set aside for God's use by the sprinkling of blood.
Another area in which we must have an understanding is that God is Spirit, and being Spirit, He looks past our works and looks directly into our hearts (spirit) for holiness. Or you can say it this way: God looks into our hearts (spirit) for that setting aside unto Himself. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about with the story of King Saul and King David. In 1 Samuel 15:10-33, we see Saul bringing back the best of the Amalekites after God had told him to utterly destroy everything. When confronted, Saul said, he did obey, but it seemed "right" to him to bring back the best for the Lord. Samuel's response was, "It is better to obey than to sacrifice, and rebellion is as witchcraft."
Saul, fearing punishment said, "I sinned, because I feared the people and listened to them." Saul was after man's heart, not God's! Samuel's response was, "Because you have rejected the Word of the Lord, He has also rejected you." You see, Saul's heart was not broken because he disobeyed, nor did he seek forgiveness through repentance, i.e., have a change of direction. If Saul had desired in his heart to truly do God's will (repented), he would have carried out God's command and killed King Agag instead of allowing Samuel to do it. We can see by Saul's actions that his heart was not after God's. We find Saul being double minded as he wanted to please both man and God, whereas, God's holy temple utensils had only one purpose, i.e., to serve God.
In contrast, the Scriptures describe King David as a man after God's own heart. Although, David actually committed "greater" sins than Saul, inasmuch as, he committed adultery and then murdered to cover it up, yet King David still found grace in God's eyes. Yes, there were grievous consequences to David's lawless actions, but David never lost his throne, nor God's favor. King David severely missed the mark (sinned) many times, yet he always repented from his heart, because in his heart, he truly wanted to do God's will. Once again, we find that God does not look at the outward appearance, but He looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7: "But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'"
What does this all mean for us? First, we cannot win God's favor by our works, as our works of righteousness are as filthy rags. Second, God is Spirit, therefore, He looks at our spirit (heart) to see if it has been set aside for His use, i.e., a heart after His own. Third, if our heart is after God's, how can we habitually sin without being convicted within our heart, and then ultimately repent as King David? Finally, no matter how pure you appear to be on the outside, you still must be sprinkled with blood in order to be set aside for God's use. In other words, as we, through the Law, realize that our heart misses the mark for holiness, God who is great in mercy and grace sprinkled us with His Son's blood and created within us a new heart (spirit), set aside for just Him, i.e., we are literally born-again -- if we accept God's gift of eternal life, by accepting Jesus' sacrifice.
We all must come to terms with the fact that our fallen nature (spirit) is simply incapable of being set aside for His use, i.e., made holy. But we do not lose heart, because now through the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus upon our heart through the acceptance of God's plan of salvation, our spirit is reborn unto God, set aside for His use -- a holy spirit -- a heart (spirit) which naturally seeks after God's own heart. Why? Because He replaced our heart of stone with His holy heart -- His Holy Spirit!
Although, God only looks at the heart, we now also realize that a holy (set apart) heart will only produce good fruit. Although, works of righteousness cannot produce holiness, holiness will always produce righteous works. First, we must clean the inside; then and only then is the outside considered clean or holy (Matthew 23:26). We are now doing works of righteousness not because of the Law, but because we have a DESIRE to do so from within our heart -- from within our born-again spirit. The times we do fall short of the mark (sin), as we all do, we simply cannot continue to sin, because God's seed (spirit) is now within us (1 John 3:9). As with King David, if we happen to miss the mark (sin), we will also remain in God's love as He looks at our heart -- His own heart reborn within us through the blood of Jesus our Lord and Savior. An innocent holy blood which continually atones for our sins, past, present, and future. If, and only if, we accept the works of God, which is Jesus!
Being reborn with God's Holy Spirit is a supernatural work of the most majestic kind. How can we turn away from such a magnificent gift and work of God!? You may ask, "How do I know if I'm born-again?" Let me ask you, "How do you know when you are in love?" The answer is the same for both: When you have it, you'll just know! Furthermore, we have God's word on it: Acts 2:21, "And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." It's real, supernatural, and free to whosoever will come. Be honest with yourself and see that by the law everyone falls short of the mark; and then accept the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin, and receive it as sprinkling upon your heart to set your heart (spirit) apart unto God -- a new born-again heart (spirit), in essence, making you holy.
Ask God to give you His heart, and become born-again. Then watch your life change from glory to glory, as you are now no longer in pursuit of holiness, but you are holy through the rebirth. Yes, reborn holy in God's sight, not by looking at our works, but by looking at His own heart (Holy Spirit) reborn within us, ready to do His will. No, we Christians have nothing to boast in, nor can we look down on anyone, because at one time we were also sinners; yet now we're saved by grace -- born-again in holiness through the blood of Jesus, producing the fruit of holiness as described in Galatians 5:22-25; not by our own will or effort, but by His Spirit which now resides within us. Our pursuit of holiness is finally over, for in Christ Jesus -- IT IS FINISHED!
Galatians 5:22-25: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is NO law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."
From my heart to yours,
Raymond D. Sopp
All above Bible references are from The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.
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