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Everything God does in our world is aimed at glorifying His name through the salvation of sinners like us. He declared his saving intentions right after the Fall, in the first pages of Scripture. He unfolded more and more details as the era of the patriarchs and prophets went on, and then, when it was time for the curtain to rise on the gospel itself, Zechariah and Elizabeth heard the overture, and then Gabriel himself appeared to Mary. But why? What was the point? The point was to deal with sin.
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21)
“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3)
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14)
Summary of the Texts
When Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, and he knew that he was not the father, he was mulling over what to do (Matt. 1:19). While he was considering these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and reassured him. That which is conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit, the angel said. The name of her son will be called Jesus, and the reason for this is that He will save His people from their sins. The Greek name Jesus is the equivalent to the Hebrew Joshua, which means God is salvation. And so the angel said to Joseph, you shall call His name God is salvation for He will save His people from their sins.
The apostle John notes that God has shown us great love in that He has called us sons of God. Because the world doesn’t know Him, it doesn’t know us (1 John 3:1). We have just begun our transformation to be like Him, and when He comes again, that will happen (v. 2). Everyone who hopes this way is hoping for that final purification. And you cannot hope for purification this way without it having a purifying effect (v. 3).
God has decided not to purify us all in one instantaneous moment. He has determined to do it over time, subjecting us to His loving discipline. He disciplines us so that we might be partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12:10). So pursue peace, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (v. 14). The direction is real holiness.
We are told in Scripture, in no uncertain terms, that God’s whole point in sending His Son into this world was to accomplish our salvation from sin. He liberates us from sin, which is the condition of not being like God at all, to holiness, which is the condition of partaking in what He is like. This is a momentous liberation, and for it to occur it was necessary for Jesus to take on a human body that could die, live a perfect, sinless life in that incarnate state, die on the cross, and to come back from the dead. The reason He did this was to bring you from somewhere to somewhere. He did not do all this aimlessly.
But holiness has somehow gotten a bad reputation. Who wants to be a holy Joe? It has gotten this reputation because we have not looked at the scriptural descriptions of it, and have allowed certain posers to step in. We pretend that we don’t like those posers, but they are really very convenient for us.
If someone, a preacher, say, declares that “without holiness no one will see the Lord,” we say, “yes, but . . .”
- Yes, but I don’t want to be like those dour people in that legalistic church I grew up in. Well, who asked you to?
- Yes, but I don’t want to be like that smarmy goody two-shoes who is photogenic enough to garner every faculty award known to man. Well, who asked you to?
- Yes, but I don’t want to slip into a works-righteousness mentality. Well, who asked you to?
Holiness is not what we sometimes want to pretend it is. Holiness is being like God. Does He have issues? Does He have problems?
Understanding the Options
Think of it this way; let’s look at teenagers growing up in biblical homes in order to make the point stick. There is actual holiness and there is looking like you are pursuing it. Given these two variables, we have four options.
- Someone can want to not be holy, but want to look like he is pursuing it. This is the hypocrite, Pharisaism junior grade.
- Someone can want to not be holy, and want to look like he doesn’t want to be holy. This is the open heathen.
- Someone can actually want to be holy, just so long as it doesn’t look like he wants to pursue it. This is the poor white kid who tries to stay out of actual big-time sinning, and who gets a nose stud five years after the trend-setters among 7-11 clerks quit wearing them.
- Someone can want to be holy, and he doesn’t mind who knows it. This is the open Christian. He doesn’t want to sidle into holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. He doesn’t want to sneak into holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. He wants to be with the Lord, and to be like the Lord. There is nothing to be ashamed of here.
What Holiness Is
We were told earlier that the Lord disciplines us so that we might become partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12:10). His holiness is the pinnacle of all His attributes. The seraphim do not cry out, Patience, patience, patience, or Righteousness, righteousness, righteousness. Rather, they cover their faces and feet and cry out Holy, holy, holy. As white light is the sum total of all the colors in the spectrum, so holiness is the sum total of all that God is like.
Among other things, personal holiness is the point. Jesus did not come into this world in order to create a bunch of boring little Christlings, ashamed to be with Him. No, we are after Christians. How does Paul labor? “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (Col. 1: 26-29).