The articles published by Berean Holiness have been met with a plethora of responses, most are super positive: upbeat, encouraging, and kind. However, there are also many which include personal attacks, all capitals, excessive exclamation points, lots of talk about rebellion, accusations of doubt and confusion, and very rarely (if ever) engage the content of the articles. In fact, it’s quite common that these commentators have not even read the articles. The gist of their messages could be summed up as follows, “You’re COMPROMISING HOLINESS!! You’re DOUBTING HOLINESS, that’s turning people away from Christ and you’re NOT going to make it to heaven like that!!” These responses are driven by fear, a fear of compromising holiness and losing one’s salvation because of it. And, do you know what? That’s a legitimate fear.
Thankfully, the Bible does not leave us to live in insecurity. There is a sure way to know that we are pleasing to Christ and walking in His holiness. Unfortunately, the danger of compromising holiness still does exist. Compromised holiness slips in by subtly replacing biblical holiness, just as carbon monoxide replaces oxygen. It’s no less deadly. We must stay so closely aligned with true holiness, that we will immediately be able to recognize the counterfeit.
Catching A Vision of Holiness
Defining God’s Holiness
Our translation for holiness comes from the Hebrew word qadowsh which means “to cut.” To be holy means to be cut off, or separate, from everything else. It means to be in a class of your own, distinct from anything that has ever existed or will ever exist. Qadowsh means a second thing: to be holy means to be entirely morally pure, all the time and in every way possible.
When you put these two elements of holiness together, you’re left with only one conclusion: that the Lord of hosts is the sum and definition of what it means to be holy. He occupies a moral space that no one has ever occupied before, and as such, we have no experience or frame of reference to understand what he is like because there’s nothing like him.
Holiness is not merely an attribute of God, it is His very essence-His otherness. Holiness is everything that makes God different from ourselves and our fallen world.
Everything God thinks, desires, speaks and does is utterly holy in every way.
God is holy in every attribute and every action: He is holy in justice. He is holy in love. He is holy in mercy. He is holy in power. He is holy in sovereignty. He is holy in wisdom. He is holy in patience. He is holy in anger. He is holy in grace. He is holy in faithfulness. He is holy in compassion. 
Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? -Exodus 15:11
The holiness of God is so radically different from everything we know that it can be hard to comprehend or even imagine. God’s holiness is utter, dazzling, moral perfection. It carries divine transcendence of beauty and glory far beyond anything we’ve ever seen. Spotless, pure, blameless, righteous, magnificent, awesome, wonderful…holy, totally holy, that’s who God is.
Encountering God’s Holiness
The holiness of God is not a concept to take lightly. In 2 Samuel 6:3-7, you will find the account of Uzzah, a man who was struck dead because he touched the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s holiness, to keep it from falling. The Ark was normally kept within the tabernacle’s Holy of Holies; only the high priest could enter these quarters, and he could only do so once a year. Even then, a rope was tied around his ankles just in case he was struck dead (this would allow the body to be removed without someone else going in). Thankfully, there are some Old Testament saints which God allowed to encounter His holiness and live to tell about it. Let’s hear Isaiah’s story:
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. -Isaiah 6:1-8
Realizing Human Wretchedness
Isaiah’s response to God’s holiness was a frightening realization of his own unholiness, his sinfulness and unworthiness. As he later explains it:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. -Isaiah 64:6
This innate wretchedness of man is also taught in the New Testament:
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? -Romans 7:18-24
Notice that Paul says “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” Unbelievers do not delight in the Word of God. Paul is not telling about what it was like before his salvation, he is describing himself in the present time, while he was an apostle and author of the New Testament.
I remember testifying in church when I was around 15. I was excited and overwhelmed as I tried to put into words just how incredible it is that the God of the universe would want me. I made the mistake of describing myself as, “just a wretched sinner.” Oh, boy! The congregation visibly cringed, as lips pursed to silence. Afterwards, I was taken aside by an older Christian and sharply rebuked, “Why on earth would you say something like that?! Did you see Sis. So-And-So’s face?!” I was frustrated and confused. I had to smile, though, when a visiting minister from Kentucky thanked me for the testimony, saying, “Wretched! That’s exactly what I am!”
Denying our wretchedness and sinfully-inclined nature is very dangerous for 2 reasons:
- It indicates that we haven’t encountered God’s holiness
- It creates an unhealthy dependence on ourselves, turning into self-righteousness
The book of 1 John includes specific warnings:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. -1 John 1:8
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. -John 1:10
God is holy. Humans are wretched. End of discussion.
Even after salvation, Natalie Mayo, in and of her human self, is not holy. I am wretched, I am wicked, and I have a sinful nature which must be crucified every day. There is absolutely nothing I can do to create my own holiness. How then, can I obey the command to “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16)? Where can my holiness come from? How will I know when I have it?
Finding the Source of Holiness
Not of Works
First off, where does holiness not come from? Not works. This should be easy to agree on.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9
If works are not sufficient to make us holy for salvation, then works are not sufficient to make us holy after salvation (for sanctification). And, yes, following rules, also known as obeying the law, would be considered as “works.” The only way we could receive holiness through following rules would be to perfectly kept all of the rules. However, we have all broken God’s laws, and as a result, anyone who seeks to be holy through laws is putting themselves under the curse of the law.
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. -James 2:10
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: -Galatians 3:10-12
In summary: humans are commanded by God to be holy, but we cannot attain holiness through works or through following rules. In other words, we’re sunk.
In Christ Alone
Thanks be to God! He has made a way for us to live in holiness:
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. -Hebrews 12:10
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. -Romans 3:20-28
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. -2 Corinthians 5:21
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. -Galatians 2:21
If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. -Galatians 3:21-22
For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. -Galatians 5:5
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: -Philippians 3:9
Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: -2 Peter 1:1
Scripture could not be more clear; righteousness, moral perfection, holiness-they absolutely, positively cannot come through our own works or through obeying rules. They only come through faith in Christ alone. We have no holiness; we are partakers of His holiness through faith. He became sin for us, that we could share in His righteousness.
Look at the life of Abraham. After choosing to serve God, he straight-up lied about his wife, not once but twice, and was willing to stand back and let pagan authorities help themselves to her (Genesis 12:18, Genesis 20:2). Then, when Sarah suggested he have relations with her servant, he didn’t protest one bit, he went and slept with her. If you’d like to say these things weren’t sin for Abraham because he predated the law, think again, Jesus taught the doctrine of marriage out of the first chapters in Genesis (Matthew 19:4-9). The point is simple, Abraham is biblically known as a righteous, holy forefather, but there is no way his holiness came from his works. So, how can we call Abraham holy?
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. -Galatians 3:6
And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. -James 2:23
Abraham believed God, and his faith was counted for righteousness; faith not following rules.
The sole source of holiness is faith in Christ. At salvation, sins are forgiven, the Holy Spirit indwells us (Ephesians 1:13-14), and from that point onward we are called to pursue holiness as we walk in the Spirit and study the Word. It is crucial to remember that, just as holiness cannot be attained by works before salvation, holiness will not be grown in by works after salvation. The idea that holiness can be attained through things, doing things or not doing things, is the definition of legalism. Legalism is a dangerous theology that our human natures are heavily bent towards. Earning favor with God makes sense to us; we’re arrogant enough to think we’re capable of such, and almost all of the world religions are built upon this concept-except Christianity. Christianity is radically different because it teaches that holiness and favor with God will never be earned through works and rules. Does this mean that we are free to sin? In the words of Paul, “God forbid!”
If holiness cannot come through works or rules, then what is the purpose of such? Where do they fit in the picture?
The Danger of Compromising Holiness
The Relationship of Holiness and Rules
God is holy, and He is the only being in the universe who IS holiness. In fact, when I was originally asked to leave a holiness outreach I served with, the reactions of my non-denominational and Baptist friends were worthy of recording. I told them exactly what I had been told by my church authorities, “We’re holiness from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet…We can’t have you working here because you’re not 100% holiness.” “Not 100% holiness?!” My other Christian friends sputtered, as their mouths dropped open, “What on the earth?! Only God is 100% holiness! You can’t be expected to be a walking, talking attribute of God!” I had to laugh at their misunderstanding. I tried to explain that the authorities really only meant I was required to believe their standards were biblically mandated. However, the dynamic reactions did make me start thinking. In all my Holiness Movement lingo, was I guilty of undermining the biblical definition of holiness?
I should take a time-out here, and clarify that I don’t believe any of my Christian friends in the Holiness Movement would disagree with the above portion of this article. However, there is a very common abuse of the Holiness Movement’s doctrine, which I have seen over and over and over again. It is this wide-spread abuse of their doctrine (not the proper use of it) which I would like to tackle in the remainder of this article. To all my friends in the Movement, if I’m wrong and what I address next is actually the proper use of your doctrine, please correct me!
Moving on. If Christians can’t be be the essence of holiness, what can we be? We can be in a deepening, daily relationship with the source of holiness, our holy God. As we grow in this relationship, He will continue to draw us to Himself and conform us into His image. One of my favorite definitions of holiness, as it pertains to humans, was given in a sermon by Jeff Pollard:
“Holiness is a progressive and on-going work of God’s Spirit in which He continually renews and transforms us into Christ-likeness…Holiness in this sense is empowered by the Holy Ghost, informed by the Word of God, and manifested by faith, repentance and loving obedience.”
Because of how much God loves us and how much He desires what’s best for us, He has given us His Word and commanded us to obey it. God is the ultimate authority. So, if we believe on Him it only follows logically that we will make a significant effort to obey Him. Studying and living out the scripture will be an outflow of an authentic relationship with God. Don’t be confused, it is still not obedience that holiness comes from, our relationship with Christ is where holiness comes from, and loving obedience is just the evidence of that relationship. One cannot say they love Christ and then continually choose to break His rules. This would be as ridiculous as a wife who says she loves her husband, but then continually has adulterous affairs.
Biblical Rules Vs. Personal Applications
There are two primary categories of obedience to God:
- There is obedience to the clear rules of scripture.
- There is obedience to the Spirit of God as He convicts us on how to apply the principles of scripture.
There are many sin-lists in the New Testament which are very clear rules that apply to every single believer. For example:
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: -Colossians 3:4-10
Equally important, there are lists of rules for what believers must do. Here is one from the same passage as the above sin-list:
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. -Colossians 3:12-16
Every believer with a genuine relationship with Christ will make a continual effort to follow the above rules and many more like them (to see more, check out New Testament Evidences of Personal Holiness).
In contrast, the applications of biblical principles may very well differ from Christian to Christian. For example, I know of many Christian women who believe they should apply the biblical principle of modesty/simplicity by only wearing plain, home-spun dresses. I commend the heart behind this practice. However, I have no such conviction, and believe I am sufficiently applying biblical principle of modesty/simplicity by wearing store-bought clothes that keep me covered and aren’t flashy or overly expensive. We are both applying the same principle, and obeying our application as an outflow of relationship with Christ. Does my liberty to wear store-bought clothing make them any less holy for wearing home-spun clothing? Absolutely not. Does their conviction to wear home-spun dresses make me any less holy for wearing store-bought clothing? Absolutely not. We are both holy through faith in Christ and Christ alone, we merely have come to different conclusions about how to apply a biblical principle. Since scripture does not mandate or forbid either application, both options are totally legitimate and within the bounds of Christian liberty.
Stricter Doesn’t Mean Holier
It is very important to realize that the stricter/harder application is not necessarily the “holier” application. If stricter is holier, then gloves are more holy than only long-sleeves, veils are more holy than only uncut hair, burkas are more holy than only high necklines, covering feet is more holy than only covering legs, closed-toed shoes are more holy than sandals, going to church daily is more holy than three times a week, tithing 70% is more holy than 10%, and the list could go on and on and on.
In the above example, my Holiness friends would agree that wearing home-spun dresses would not make me any holier or any more pleasing to Christ. They realize that I have absolutely no conviction or logic or prodding of the Spirit which makes me believe I should apply modesty in such a manner. So, for Natalie Mayo, wearing a home-spun dress would not be an outflow of my relationship to Christ. It wouldn’t bring me an iota closer to Him, or help me to obey Him the slightest bit more, it would just be an unnecessary burden, a meaningless work, and make me feel pointlessly odd.
Unfortunately, it can be much harder for someone from a church with strict externals to apply this concept to other areas. Take the issue of women’s pants (Can a Godly Woman Wear Pants?). In scripture, there is a very undefined concept of modesty, as well the general teaching that we should embrace our biological gender. Many Holiness Christians would believe that the best way to apply these principles is by women wearing skirts. That’s a legitimate application, and I commend them for following through with their personal discernment. However, there is a vast majority of Christians who have no such belief. In biblical times, men and women wore the same type of garment (robes) and many Christians find no reason to believe men and women ought to wear different types of garments today.
There is still much backlash from Holiness Christians, saying, “No! If you really loved Jesus, you would choose the holier option!” My question is, “How is it holier?” The fact that things cannot make us holy seems to be lost when it comes to any controversial standards. Holiness only comes from a relationship with Christ, and obedience to Him is an outflow of relationship with Him. If any standard is not directly in the Word of God, and a person has absolutely no conviction/belief that the best way to apply a biblical principle would be with that standard, then how on earth could following that standard make them holier? It can’t. Unless wearing skirts is an outflow of a relationship with Christ, then to do such a work is merely to pleasing men. That’s not holiness, that’s peer pressure.
From beards to wedding rings, from makeup to cap-sleeves, any item preached against without a scriptural rule will be adamantly condemned as “less holy,” thus, it is assumed that giving it up is more pleasing to Christ. How? If giving such up was best for every believer, why didn’t God add these things to the sin lists? Makeup, beards, rings-these were all very popular in the New Testament era. Any of the New Testament authors could have easily taught against these things. But, they didn’t. So, why do we? Even if they aren’t the best options, the only way that giving them up is more holy is if a person does so out of genuine conviction. If they give them up because everyone else in their church does, that’s not holiness. That’s social conformity. (Does Jesus Obscure His Commandments)
Works cannot make anyone holy, rules cannot make anyone holy, things cannot make anyone holy. Holiness comes from Christ. If there is a person who is not led by Christ to give up beards, makeup, rings or cap-sleeves, then, for that person, giving them up is a meaningless work.
The Danger of Enforcing Personal Applications
If there is one thing I have witnessed over and over in regard to holiness standards, it’s been good-intentioned Christians handing a list of extra-biblical rules to someone who (they believe) needs some more holiness. The thought behind this practice is, “Here, just follow all my opinions about how to apply biblical principles and you’ll have holiness.” Can you spot the danger? This idea precariously teeters over the chasm of being made holy through works. It’s especially harmful to young people and new converts who are not spiritually mature. Too often, their relationship with Christ, the real source of holiness, is short-circuited and traded off for a list of rules. Instead of learning to grapple with scripture for themselves, instead of learning to study deeply, pray fervently, develop their own convictions, and be led by the Spirit, they are very conveniently supplied with “the end goal.” Spiritual maturity is skewed into being defined by things, things you do, things you don’t do, and this nicely formed list of things is received as a fantastic short-cut to spiritual growth. This results in young Christians living in a shell of other people’s opinions, deceiving themselves and others with facade of spiritual maturity. Meanwhile, their walk with Christ suffers greatly and their muscles of discernment lie shriveled in atrophy. Time and again, I’ve seen these Christians fall into terrible sin, go off the deep end, only for their authorities to say, “And that’s what happens when you leave holiness.” No! My insides would scream, “That’s what happens when you hand someone a list of your opinions instead of ever discipling them!” (Replacing Rules with Discipleship.)
It turns out that I am not the only person this practice has frustrated. Let’s take a look at Paul’s reaction when he found out Peter had began practicing unnecessary rules in the Old Testament, and even worse, handing out these rules to others:
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. -Galatians 2:11-16
Were the rules addressed in Galatians different from the rules typically handed out today? Yes. However, the concept is the same. There were “spiritually mature” elders who were cherry-picking and dictating which parts of the Old Testament the new converts should follow in order to be holy and pleasing to Christ. (Note, these were at least Old Testament rules, not extra-biblical ones.) Peter was afraid, so he switched behaviors and started practicing rules that were not an outflow of his relationship with Christ, but rather an attempt to please religious men. Worst of all, he compelled other believers to also follow Old Testament rules and please these men. Paul was outraged, and rightfully so. What Peter was doing was not pursuing holiness, it was distorting holiness and undermining faith in Christ. Furthermore, please note that the bad doctrine was not salvation by works, but rather sanctification/maturity by works. Check out a following section:
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? -Galatians 3:1-3
Talk about a scathing rebuke. Paul thought this idea of obtaining Christian perfection through following religious leader’s rules was ludicrous, and he had no qualms about saying so. It makes you wonder what he would think of the way certain standards are taught today. There’s more, though, look at the way he described this teaching, as well as the concept of pleasing men, in the first chapter:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. -Galatians 1:6-10
Paul didn’t just think following rules to please men was a bad idea, he slammed it as contrary to serving Christ. Oh, yeah, and the whole idea that we can be made perfect through rules? He called it a perversion of the gospel and put it under a curse. That’s as serious as the epistles get.
The Danger of Expecting Others to Develop Your Convictions
Many Christians who emphasize a strict outward standard would agree with the statements so far, and yet, they’d add a serious caveat, “It’s true that we must let young Christians discern how to apply scripture for themselves, and not just given them our own rules. But, as they grow in Christ, they’ll come to be convicted of the same things we have been. We’ll know they’re mature when they look like us.” Knowing they’re mature because they are following biblical rules is one thing, claiming that they’re mature because they’ve come to have the same extra-biblical opinions as ourselves is circular reasoning. It goes like this, “Spiritual maturity includes having the same opinions on holiness standards that I do, I know this because every Christian that becomes spiritually mature comes to these standards; I know they’re spiritually mature when they have them because spiritual maturity includes having the same opinions on holiness standards that I do.” Dizzy yet?
In contrast to this idea, Romans 14 blatantly teaches that spiritually mature Christians will come to different conclusions on how to apply biblical principles. Check it out:
Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks…But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. -Romans 14:3-6, 10
This passage is chock full of contradicting applications of biblical principles. And, do you see how Paul responds? He doesn’t set everyone straight on which person’s convictions are the holiest. He says for each person to be fully persuaded of his own belief, and to respect his brother’s contradicting belief. That’s a day and night different from expecting your brother to “grow up” and look like you.
The Danger of Backwards Emphasis
It wouldn’t be fair to close this article without pointing out something extremely important. The Holiness standards, which immediately come to mind as a measuring stick of maturity, actually have a completely backwards emphasis from the scriptural standards. Holiness standards have everything to do with externals, and it would be easy to claim that 80% of them have to do with personal appearance. Have you ever compared this to what the biblical authors emphasized in regards to holiness? Easily less than 5% had to do with appearance. And, no, this was not because the first century had such holy cultures that there was no need to dress more modestly than the average Joe. These were cultures that embraced public, mixed bathing, as well as many other forms of nudity, not to mention rampant sexual immorality. Have you ever seen statues from this time period? Enough said. Inspired by the Holy Ghost, the biblical authors still spent very little time on outward appearance. Instead, they placed heavy emphasis on love, peace, unity, truthfulness, thankfulness, faithfulness and many more internal virtues. When they spoke of things to abstain from, they spoke against pride, promiscuity, greediness, idolatry, covetousness, gossiping, lying and other such sins. (For a detailed study, check out New Testament Evidences of Personal Holiness.) What would happen if we only preached against beards as much as Paul did? What would happen if we only preached against makeup as much as Peter? What would happen if we only preached against jewelry as much as James and John? Would we still be able to keep our churches up to par with Holiness standards? I think not.
A Deadlier Compromise
Holy, holy, holy… Holy in love, holy in power, holy in justice, holy in mercy. His majestic, dazzling purity fills the universe. His glorious righteousness transcends anything humans can imagine. Utter perfection, divine splendor, breath-taking beauty. Totally separated from everything fallen and sinful, completely in a class of His own. This is the Almighty God, Creator of the universe, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. He IS holiness.
Catching a glimpse of holiness sends humans to their knees, if they don’t die first. It fills us with a realization of our own wretchedness, sinfulness and unworthiness. There is absolutely nothing we could do to earn God’s favor. Works, rules, things-these will never gain us favor with holiness of this magnitude. The only restoration would be for Him to bear the punishment for our sin, that we might be clothed in His righteousness. Thanks be to God, that’s exactly what He did. Christ was crucified, that through faith in Him, we can be made partakers of His holiness. We are utterly dependent on a relationship with Christ for our holiness, yet, obedience to His clear rules and gentle prodding will be an outflow. By His Spirit and by His Word, God will conform us into Christ-likeness: loving, kind, merciful, gracious, forgiving, selfless, righteous, joyful, generous, truthful, gentle, peaceful… the list goes on and on. A wretched sinner transformed into a holy saint; it’s an incredible sight, nothing short of a miracle.
Tragically, this miracle is often short-circuited and traded in for a list of rules. “Yes, you were saved by faith, but you’ll need to do these things to become holy. No, these rules aren’t exactly in the Bible, but this is my opinion on how you should apply principles-and you’ll follow my opinion if you’re 100% holiness.” What would Paul say? “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you…Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?” Holiness will never come from works, works are only holy if they come as an outflow of a relationship with Christ. If works come as an endeavor to please men, they are nothing but a meaningless burden.
Can you imagine how much it must frustrate Christ to see lists of extra-biblical rules being taught as the means of His holiness? Can you imagine how much it must grieve His heart to see converts base their spiritual maturity off of what they look like, completely short-cutting around a deep, and transforming walk with Him? Can you imagine His disappointment when His body splits and divides itself when one member doesn’t develop identical convictions to another?
This, my friend, is not holiness. This is compromise, deadly compromise.
I ought to clarify one more time that this article was not written against the proper use of the Holiness Movement’s teachings. This was intended to address the abuse of their teachings, but we must admit, it’s a very common abuse.
To answer the question in the introduction, there is a way to know we have personal holiness, and it’s very simple: faith in Christ alone. As we grow in deeper in our relationship with Him, His Spirit and His Word will guide us into truth and convict us of sin. But at the end of the day? We still aren’t banking on our righteousness when death comes knocking. Heaven will only be obtained by His holiness, and we are partakers of His holiness only by faith, never works.
To all my friends who have a genuine conviction towards a strict outward application, I want you to know that you have my utmost respect. Whether it’s a conviction to wear home-spun dresses, to wear veils, to wear skirts, to stay clean-shaven, to not wear wedding rings, to not pluck your eyebrows, to not curl your hair, to not watch movies, to not have internet-whatever it may be, go for it and never back down. If your conviction flows out of obedience to Christ’s work in your life, then for you, it would be compromise to give it up. So don’t, and God will greatly bless your faithfulness. That said, please be careful that you do not expect your personal application of scripture be practiced by others. Don’t force it on someone as a rule, for such rules are only hindrances if they are followed to please you and not Christ. Lastly, don’t look down upon or disfellowship a brother with different convictions from yourself. If he is living in blatant sin or contradicting a clear biblical rule, that’s one thing, but please, stay aware of the distinction between plain biblical rules and your personal application of principles.
In summary, any doctrine which includes rules as a means to holiness, most especially rules which are not taught in scripture, is a not a holiness doctrine at all. Paul would call it a perversion of the gospel. I would call it a deadly compromise. True holiness is a glorious picture of thriving, vibrant, glorious relationships with Christ. He walks with us and talks with us; He loves us and forgives us; He calls us higher and deeper. He opens His Word and He opens His heart. Daily, step by step, we’re transformed into His glorious image. Bit by bit, we become some of the most loving, most compassionate, most forgiving, most joyful, most kind, most caring, most truthful, most pure, most holy human beings this world has ever seen. Christ pours Himself into us, and then we pour ourselves out for the least and the lost, turning our world upside down. It’s a glorious vision, it’s a glimpse of true holiness. It’s a virtue and an attribute of God that we must crave with everything in us. That craving must never be subdued with anything less: not works, not rules, not standards, not pleasing men. True holiness, His holiness, holiness through faith in Christ alone; this must be the only thing which satisfies us. Nothing more, nothing less. No compromise.
For Lance Mackenzie’s full rebuttal to this article and Natalie’s response check out:
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