Why Is Holiness So Important?


Previously published in Pulpit Helps, March 2004.

Can holiness save us? Can holiness put away sin, cover iniquities, make satisfaction for transgressions, or pay our debt to God? No: not a whit. Holiness can do none of these things. The brightest saints are all "unprofitable servants." Our purest works are no better than filthy rags. The white robe which Jesus offers, and faith puts on, must be our only righteousness; the name of Christ our only confidence; the Lamb's Book of Life our only title to heaven. "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" (Eph. 2:8-9).

Why then is holiness so important? Why does the Apostle say, "Without [it] no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14)? Let me set out in order a few reasons:

I. We Must Be Holy Because God Plainly Commands It
The Lord Jesus says, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Paul tells the Thessalonians, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1 Thess. 4:3). And Peter says, "As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Pet. 1:15).

II. We Must Be Holy Because This Is One Grand Purpose for Which Christ Came into the World
Paul writes to the Ephesians: "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it" (Eph. 5:25,26). And to Titus: "He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).

Are believers said to be elect? It is "through sanctification of the Spirit." Are they predestinated? It is "to be conformed to the image of God's Son." Are they chosen? It is "that they may be holy." Are they called? It is "with a holy calling." Are they afflicted? It is that they may be "partakers of holiness."

III. We Must Be Holy Because This Is the Only Sound Evidence That We Have a Saving Faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ
James warns us there is such a thing as a dead faith (James 2:17). True faith will always show itself by its fruits. It will sanctify, it will work by love, it will overcome the world, it will purify the heart. I suspect that, with rare exceptions, men die just as they have lived. The only safe evidence that we are one with Christ, and Christ in us, is holy life. If we would die the death of the righteous, let us seek to live His life.

IV. We Must Be Holy Because This Is the Only Proof That We Sincerely Love the Lord Jesus Christ
This is a point on which He has spoken most plainly: "He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me" (John 14:21, cf. also 15:14). It was sin that wove the crown of thorns. It was sin that pierced our Lord's hands, and feet, and side. It was sin that brought Him to Gethsemane and Calvary, to the cross and to the grave. Cold must our hearts be if we do not hate sin and labor to get rid of it.

V. We Must Be Holy, Because This Is the Only Sound Evidence That We Are True Children of God
Children in this world are generally like their parents. It is seldom indeed that you cannot trace a kind of family likeness. And it is much the same with the children of God. The Lord Jesus says, "If ye were Abraham's children ye would do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39); "If God were your Father ye would love Me" (v. 42). If men have no likeness to the Father in heaven, it is vain to talk of their being His "sons." "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they," and they only, "are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). "Say not," says Gurnall, "that you have royal blood in your veins, and are born of God, unless you can prove your pedigree by daring to be holy."

VI. We Must Be Holy, Because This Is the Most Likely Way to Do Good to Others
Our lives will always be doing either good or harm to those who see them. You may talk to persons about the doctrines of the Gospels, and few will listen, and still fewer understand. But your life is an argument that none can escape. They may not understand justification, but they can understand love.

I believe there is far more harm done by unholy and inconsistent Christians than we are aware of. They supply the children of this world with a never-ending excuse for remaining as they are. Let us take heed lest the blood of souls should be required at our hands. From murder of souls by inconsistency and loose walking, good Lord, deliver us! Oh, for the sake of others, if for no other reason, let us strive to be holy!

VII. We Must Be Holy Because Our Present Happiness Depends Much upon It
We are sadly apt to forget that there is a close connection between sin and sorrow, holiness and happiness, sanctification and consolation. God has so wisely ordered it, that our well-being and our well-doing are linked together. Oh, for our own sakes, if there were no other reason, let us strive to be holy! He that follows Jesus most fully will always follow Him most comfortably.

VIII. Lastly, We Must Be Holy Because without Holiness on Earth We Shall Never Be Prepared to Enjoy Heaven
Heaven is a holy place. The Lord of heaven is a holy Being. The angels are holy creatures. Holiness is written on everything in heaven. The Book of Revelation says expressly, "There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie" (Rev. 21:27).

People may say, in a vague way, "they hope to go to heaven;" but they do not consider what they say. There must be a certain "meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light." To reach the holiday of glory, we must pass through the training school of grace. We must be heavenly-minded, and have heavenly tastes in the life that now is, or else we shall never find ourselves in heaven, in the life to come.

How shall we ever be at home and happy in heaven, if we die unholy? Death works no change. The grave makes no alteration. Each will rise again with the same character in which he breathed his last. Where will our place be if we are strangers to holiness now?

A Few Words of Application
Do you know anything of the holiness of which I have been speaking? I do not ask whether you attend you church regularly, whether you have been baptized, and received the Lord's Supper, or whether you have the name of Christian. I ask: Are you holy, or are you not? I do not ask whether you mean some day to be holy. I ask: Are you holy this very day?

Why do I press the question so strongly? Because the Scripture says, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). It is the word of God, not of man.

Alas, I look at professing Christians, and see the vast majority having nothing of Christianity but the name. I turn to the Bible, and I hear the Spirit saying, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."

You may say, "It was never meant that all Christians should be holy, and that holiness, such as I have described, is only for great saints, and people of uncommon gifts." I answer, "I cannot see that in Scripture. I read that every man who hath hope in Christ purifieth himself" (1 John 3:3). "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."

You may say, "At this rate, very few will be saved." I answer, "I know it. It is precisely what we are told in the Sermon on the Mount." The Lord Jesus said so 1,900 years ago: "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14). Few will be saved, because few will take the trouble to seek salvation. Men will not deny themselves the pleasures of sin and their own way for a little season. "Ye will not come unto Me," says Jesus, "that ye might have life" (John 5:40). "Let not men deceive themselves," says Owen: "[The Lord Christ] leads none to heaven but whom He sanctifies on the earth. This living Head will not admit of dead members."

I doubt not that many believers know these things, but I think it good for us to be put in remembrance of them. I must frankly say I wish there was not such an excessive sensitiveness on the subject of holiness as I sometimes perceive in the minds of believers. A man might really think it was a dangerous subject to handle, so cautiously is it touched! Yet surely when we have exalted Christ as "the way, the truth, and the life," we cannot err in speaking strongly about what should be the character of His people.

I do not set up myself to be better than other people, and if anyone asks, "What are you, that you write in this way?" I answer, "I am a very poor creature indeed." But I cannot read the Bible without desiring to see many believers more spiritual, more holy, more single-eyed, more heavenly-minded, more whole-hearted than they are today. I want to see a more decided separation from the world, a closer walk with God.

We are all more than half asleep. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand. Let us awake. Let us open our eyes more widely. "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us" (Heb. 12:1). "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).

Would You Be Holy?
Would you become a new creature? Then you must begin with Christ. You will make no progress till you feel your sin and weakness, and flee to Him. "Without Christ we can do nothing" (John 15:5). There is not a brick nor a stone laid in the work of our sanctification till we go to Christ. Holiness is His special gift to His believing people.             Holiness is the work He carries on in their hearts, by the Spirit whom He puts within them. Holiness comes not of blood. Parents cannot give it to their children. Ministers cannot give it to you by baptism. It is the result of vital union with Christ. It is the fruit of being a living branch of the True Vine. Go, then, to Christ and say, "Lord, not only save me from the guilt of sin, but send the Spirit, whom You promised. Make me holy. Teach me to do Thy will."

Would you continue holy? Then abide in Christ. He says Himself, "Abide in Me and I in you, he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit" (John 15:4-5). It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell-a full supply for all a believer's wants. He is the Physician to whom you must daily go, if you would keep well. He is the Manna which you must daily eat, and the Rock of which you must daily drink. Paul was indeed a holy man of God-and what was the secret of it all? He was ever "looking unto Jesus" (Heb. 12:2). "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. The life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God" (Gal. 2:20). Let us go and do likewise.

John Charles Ryle was born in 1816 in Macclesfield, England. The son of a wealthy banker, he was spiritually awakened in 1838 on hearing Ephesians 2 read in church. He was appointed bishop of Liverpool at Disraeli's recommendation in 1880. C. H. Spurgeon called him "the best man in the Church of England." He upheld the Reformation doctrine of grace, and he recommended the English Reformers, Puritans, and eighteenth-century evangelicals as models for both doctrine and devotion. More than 12 million of his tracts were sold in over a dozen languages during his lifetime. Their influence on popular Christianity, like that of Spurgeon's sermons, was incalculable. He died in 1900.

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