Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD
Director, Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference
- Part 2 -
In the previous article, we discussed holiness as a forgotten Christian identity. We looked at the three groups that often emerge in discussions about holiness. I refer to them as: (1)”Boasting Be”—those who make presumptuous claims about their holiness; (2) “Skeptical Be”—those who essentially deny that God expects His people to be holy today; and (3) “Uncertain Be”—those who are not sure how to answer.
In this follow-up article, we shall provide some Biblical answers to the “Uncertain Be.” In this way, we shall be revealing the identity of the “Forgotten Be.”
A Dynamic "Be"
Be-ing holy is not static or stagnant. It is dynamic. Thus, the Bible uses the imagery of a “walk” to emphasize this spiritual motion.1 The Christian life is a movement towards a particular goal. It is a journey towards a particular destination. That destination or goal is to be Christlike. It means reflecting Christ’s life of love and humility, courage and self-control, and His compassion and purity.
In other words, the Christian walk or Christian life is a process of spiritual growth. The person who is born again as a child of God does not remain a baby. As he is nourished by the Word of God, the child grows day by day until he matures into the full stature of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christian experience is never flat or at a plateau. Either you are growing up or growing down. If you are not growing, you are regressing. Other expressions and imageries used in the New Testament for this Christian walk are: “following after righteousness” (1 Timothy 6:11), being “transformed” (Romans 12:2), “perfecting holiness” (2 Corinthians 7:1), “growing up . . . into the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:15), “pressing toward the mark” (Philippians 3:12–15), being “built up in Christ” (Colossians 2:7), becoming “complete in all the will of God” (Colossians 4:12), fighting “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12; cf. v. 11), “partaking of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and “growing in grace” (2 Peter 3:18).
In short, the Christian walk refers to living a holy or sanctified life. This walk of holiness is the only kind of life that fits a person for Heaven. Thus, we find in the Old Testament that “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).
The noun holiness, together with the adjective holy and the verb sanctify (the word “holify” does not exist in English), belong to a single word group in Hebrew and Greek. In both Biblical languages the words carry the meaning of setting something apart, either because it has extraordinary value, or because God intends it for some extraordinarily special purpose. Thus, although scholars sometimes make a distinction between sanctification (the process of becoming holy) and holiness (the state of being sanctified), the two terms may be viewed as functional equivalents.2
When Scripture repeatedly emphasizes holiness as an attribute of God (Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), it means that “God is pure and morally perfect, with a purity beyond any conception that we have. He is ‘set apart’ in the sense that He is removed from sin or evil; He is morally flawless. Therefore, He is the ultimate, perfect standard of right and wrong.”3
Things and people are not holy in themselves except as they are associated with, or consecrated to the service of, the Holy God. For example, the seventh-day Sabbath is a holy day because it is set aside by God (Genesis 2:1–3); a place is considered holy because it manifests God’s presence (Exodus 3:5); the tithe is holy money because it belongs to God (Leviticus 27:30–33; Malachi 3:8–10); the tabernacle or Temple was holy because God’s glory was revealed there (Exodus 28:29; 2 Chronicles 35:5); and its priests (Exodus 29; Leviticus 8; Hebrews 5:1, 4), sacrifices (Exodus 29:33), ceremonial materials (30:25; Numbers 5:17), and utensils (1 Kings 8:4) were holy because they were all consecrated to God’s service.
As far as human beings are concerned, God’s people are called the “holy ones” or “saints” because they have separated themselves from the world and its ways to a life of service and obedience to God (Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 20:24; 1 Peter 2:9; Colossians 3:12).
How can a drunkard, a liar, prostitute, adulterer, proud, bad-tempered individual become holy? How does a sinner become holy? And how does he/she remain holy? Twins called justification and sanctification provide the answer.
Justified “Be.” You become holy, the very moment the Holy Spirit leads you to repent of your sins and to surrender your life to Jesus Christ. At that very instant, your sins are forgiven, and you are saved from sin’s guilt. You are declared “not guilty,” not because you are innocent (in the sense of being “not guilty as charged”), but because you have been pardoned. Christ’s perfect and blameless life is credited to your account. No longer condemned to die, you are “justified” by God’s grace and restored to favor with God. Justification cannot be earned—it is a free gift (Romans 5:16) that can only be received by faith.
In justifying the sinner God acquits him, declares him to be righteous, regards him as righteous, and proceeds to treat him as a righteous man. Justification is the act of acquittal and the accompanying declaration that a state of righteousness exists. Charges of wrongdoing are cancelled, and the sinner, now justified, is brought into a right relationship with God that
Paul describes as being at “peace with God” (Romans 5:1).4
Sanctified “Be.” But the Holy Spirit does more than just saving you from your past sin. He also saves you from the power or dominion of sin. He begins another exciting work of keeping you day by day from falling into sin. The process is called sanctification, and the purpose is to make us “partakers of holiness” (Hebrews 12:10; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:2).
Justification and sanctification—two processes in salvation—are the means by which a person becomes holy and is kept holy. A person becomes holy through justification, and he remains holy through sanctification. Both processes in salvation are the operations of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person. Justification describes the Spirit’s work for us, and sanctification is His work in us.
Note that while the terms justification and sanctification describe two different operations of the Spirit, the two are always together. Responding to those who were in the habit of speaking loftily about justification at the expense of sanctification, one Christian scholar wrote poignantly in 1879:
I fear it is sometimes forgotten that God has married together justification and sanctification. They are distinct and different things, beyond question, but one is never found without the other. All justified people are sanctified, and all sanctified are justified. What God has joined together let no man dare to put asunder. Tell me not of your justification, unless you have also some marks of sanctification. Boast not of Christ’s work for you, unless you can show us the Spirit’s work in you. Think not that Christ and the Spirit can ever be divided.5
There never comes a time when a person can claim he or she has arrived. While the Christian’s salvation is assured (through the justifying grace of Christ), and while the believer’s salvation is being sustained (through the sanctifying grace of Christ), there is a future aspect of salvation—when our Lord and Saviour will come and save us from this world (an act that we may call the glorifying grace of Christ).
Here’s how the apostle Paul describes these three tenses of salvation through Christ: “Who deliveredus from so great a death, and doth deliver: in Whom we trust that He will yet deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:10). Salvation has three tenses: past, present, and future.
In short, “holiness is the goal of our redemption. As Christ died in order that we may be justified, so we are justified in order that we may be sanctified and made holy.”6
Another way we may think of holiness is as a school from which we never graduate. Holiness is an educational process designed by God to rebuild, reshape, and refine us progressively into conformity with His Own character.
Like every good school, we need some good teachers, textbooks, standards, goals, companions, helpers, and role models in our school of holiness.
- Our teachers in this school of holiness are the Holy Trinity; because God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are holy. They can make us holy if we maintain a right relationship with Them.
- Our textbook is the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15), not some human books, opinions, junk magazines, sleazy magazines, etc. (we must preach and study from the Word, not Internet sermons, jokes, etc.).
- Our standard is the holy law (Romans 7:12), not comparing ourselves to others.
- Our goal for this education is holy service (Romans 12:1, 2; Luke 1:74, 75); our professions, occupations, and talents are all for holy service.
- Our helpers and companions are the holy angels (Revelation 14:10), and
- Our Role Model is Jesus Christ, “the Holy One” (Acts 3:14; cf. 4:30; Mark 1:24; 1 Peter 2:21–23).
In God’s school of holiness, everything we experience in life—its joys and sorrows, its fulfillments and disappointments, its hopes and despair—are all part of God’s curriculum to mold our character into conformity with the moral image of our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:5–11; Romans 8:28–39).
Therefore, when a Christian is described as holy, it means that he has enrolled in a school that is making him day by day to be Christlike. Instead of being absorbed with self, a holy person seeks an attitude and lifestyle that imitates Jesus.
We may also describe holiness as a spiritual walk using two legs: Spirituality and Ethics. Without one of these legs, a person either limps in his spiritual walk or is crippled.
On the one hand, spirituality (or Christian piety) concerns itself with the things that encourage and enhance the development of a meaningful relationship with Christ. It includes such inward aspects of the Christian life as prayer, meditation, fasting, music, worship, devotional study of Scriptures, simplicity in life, etc.
Ethics (or Christian lifestyle), on the other hand, deals with the outward aspects of the Christian life that show a commitment to Christ. It concerns itself with delineating God’s moral standards, determining His revealed will, and the development and display of such divine qualities as truthfulness, honesty, integrity, self-control, compassion, purity, etc.
While ethics deals with the what of holiness, spirituality addresses the how of holiness. Ethics is prescriptive, concerning itself with the basis upon which human decisions and actions are judged as morally right or morally wrong. Spirituality is descriptive, exploring how to live a morally upright life in a sinful world.
Another way of saying this is that ethics is lovingly doing God’s will. Spirituality is appropriating God’s provision to restore us to harmony with Him; it is learning how to obey. Using the analogy of a tree, spirituality is sinking your roots down into the soil and growing deep; ethics is growing tall.
Without ethics, spirituality is corrupted into antinomianism, insensitivity, or a privatized religion that is more concerned with experiencing God’s presence than keeping His law. And without spirituality, ethics is corrupted into formalism, legalism, and pharisaical pride.
In the ongoing civil war (or polarization) within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, each of the warring factions—the “liberal left” and the “independent right”7—tends to emphasize one of these two aspects of holiness at the expense of the other.
On the one hand, the “liberal left” tends to emphasize “spirituality” (the code word is “relationship”). If you love Jesus you can drink alcohol, eat pork, shrimp, cockroaches, and other unclean things. Or they’ll say that if you have a “relationship” with Christ, you can wear jewelry and immodest clothing, go to nightclubs, and play rock music–even in the church. This is spirituality without standards.
In actual fact, such a “relationship” with Jesus is nothing more than a fuzzy, New Age, mystical, or psychic concept of spirituality. Even Madonna claims to be spiritual (she prays before going on the stage). Remember that Satan also has a relationship with Christ—he hates Christ! His “relationship” with Christ is adversarial. It is a relationship that does not serve God. It is a dead faith (James 2:19, 20).
So merely saying “I am spiritual” or “I have a relationship with Christ” or even to have “faith/belief in God” is not enough. The real issue is, What kind of relationship? The evidence of a true relationship with Christ is commitment or loyalty to Him.
On the other hand, the “independent right” tends to focus on “ethics” (the watchword is “standards”). These judge the quality of people’s Christianity by what they wear, eat, or do. For example, some think that anyone who does not go to church on the Sabbath or who is not a vegetarian or vegan is going to Hell. They believe so much in the standards that they give the impression that we are saved by diet or the day of worship, etc.
Such an unbalanced belief leads some to think that to be holy means to be mean-spirited and moody. The “ethics” or “standards” of such people is nothing more than self-righteous, legalistic, law keeping. They forget that we are not saved by diet, and that though the Israelites even ate heavenly vegan food (manna), not all of them made it to Canaan. Theirs is standards without spirituality.
True Bible-believing Adventists walk on both legs of holiness. They reject the unbalanced focuses of the liberal left and the independent right. Instead, as theological conservatives, they insist that the harmony between true spirituality and ethics should never be disturbed. (I say “conservatives” because the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a theologically conservative Protestant denomination. As such, we believe in the full inspiration, reliability, and trustworthiness of Scripture, virgin birth, miracles, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, ascension, heavenly ministry, and literal Second Coming of Christ—Christian doctrines that theological liberals deny.)
Bible-believing Adventists understand that true Biblical holiness is a steady walk using spirituality and ethics as its two legs, and is incapacitated the moment either leg is broken. They worship on the Sabbath, avoid unclean and harmful foods, are vegetarians and vegans, dress modestly, etc. They do so, not in order to earn their salvation by these works; instead they adopt and uphold these Biblical standards as evidence or fruit of their commitment to Christ. It is spirituality with ethics.
Thus far, we have been explaining the meaning of the Christian walk by using different terms: holiness or sanctification. There is one final “Be ye” term we must briefly discuss. It is the word “perfection.”
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Be ye perfect, even as your Father Which is in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). But what does it mean to be perfect?
Perfection simply means walking in the fear of God by living uprightly and avoiding evil. Throughout Bible times, God always expected those who worshipped Him to maintain this kind of walk with Him. If the person maintained such a steady walk with the Lord, the Bible describes that person as perfect.
For example, in Genesis 6:8, 9 we read: “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a just and perfect [man] in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”
Observe that the reason why Noah was considered a just and perfect man was because he “walked with God.” Having found grace in the sight of the Lord (v. 8), he walked in the fear of the Lord.
Another example we can use is Abraham. In Genesis 17:1 we read: “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before Me and be thou perfect.”
Notice once again that Christian perfection is linked with a steady “walk with God.” Being perfect does not mean that a person has necessarily arrived at the point of full maturity. Rather, it simply means that the individual, by the grace of God, has made a commitment to the Lord, and therefore is living daily up to the light God has revealed to him or her.
One noble example of a perfect man is Job. The Bible explains that the reason God considered Job to be “a perfect man” was because he walked in the fear of God, living an upright life and eschewing evil. He was willing to follow God no matter what (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3).
Rooted in Christ, we must grow like the small seed that germinates from the soil. When it begins to grow, there is first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. As long as the plant is responding to all the resources available for its development, it is considered perfect at each stage of its growth. Thus it is with the Christian life. Ellen White explains:
We cannot expect instantaneous sanctification, but we must grow like the grain, as represented by Christ—first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain—and thus perfect a Christian character. We must become intelligent and earnest to know what our duty is and then walk in obedience to God’s holy will.8
The growth of Christian character is gradual—like the advancement of the natural plant through its various stages of development. But nevertheless the progress is continual. As in nature, so it is in grace, the plant must either grow or die. Day by day the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God almost imperceptibly leads those who love the ways of truth toward the perfection of righteousness, till finally the soul is ripe for the harvest, the lifework is ended, God gathers in His grain. There is no period in the Christian life when there is no more to learn, no higher attainments to reach. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime. First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear, then the ripening and the harvest; for when the fruit is perfect, it is ready for the sickle.9
And so, when the Bible describes a person as perfect, it does not mean that the person has arrived at a stage in his life where he cannot grow any further. Rather, it simply means that that individual walks in the fear of the Lord, living by all the light he knows. That person’s love for the Lord leads him to love righteousness and eschew evil. Such a person will serve God regardless of the trials that will come his way—whether it is loss, illness, or death.
Be-ing holy is not only our forgotten identity as Christians, for the Bible also invites us to “be holy” today because this is the preparation we need to meet our loving Lord. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NIV):
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. . . . How shall we ever be at home and happy in Heaven if we die [permit me to add “live”] unholy?10
In view of the holy home God is preparing for us, we are invited to “be holy:” “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14; cf. Titus 2:11–14).
Through the justifying and sanctifying grace of God, we can experience His glory. We are assured: “We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2). In view of these facts, let’s all strive to be! For being holy is what it means to be Christlike. Be-ing is our Christian identity. Let’s claim it as part of our self-description.
1 Scripture uses several expressions to describe the Christian walk. For example, it is: walking “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), “walking by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7), “walking in Him [Christ]” (Colossians 2:6), “walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7), “walking in truth” (2 John 4), and “walking as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
2 Two sets of English words in the King James Version are used to translate a single word in the Old Testament Hebrew (qadash) and the New Testament Greek (hagiazo). The first is derived from the Germanic roots of our English. It includes the verb to “hallow, make holy,” the noun “holiness,” and the adjective “holy.” The other set of English terms comes from the Latin roots of English. It includes the verb “to sanctify,” the noun "sanctification,” and the adjective “sanctify.” Since both sets of English words are translated from the same term in the Biblical languages, the words “holiness” and “sanctification” may be viewed as equivalent terms.
3 Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, Keeping Your Ethical Edge Sharp (Colorado Springs: Naypress, 1990), p. 38.
4 Seventh-day Bible Dictionary, rev. ed, s.v. “Justification”, p. 635.
5 Ryle, Holiness, p. 47.
6 Packer, Rediscovering Holiness, p. 35.
7 Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, “Crisis Over the Word,” ADVENTISTS AFFIRM, Spring 1996, pp. 14, 15; idem, Receiving the Word (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Berean Books, 1996), pp. 25, 26.
8 Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, p. 68.
9 The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, p. 244.
10 Ryle, Holiness, p. 42.