If we are truly born again, there is a desire for the image and likeness of God. There is a desire for likeness to Jesus. The question is, How are we made holy? How does God make us holy?
When man sinned, he lost his innocence – and became guilty. He lost his spiritual life – and became dead in trespasses and sin. He lost his power – and instead became enslaved to the devil and to the world. The greatest loss, however, was the loss of heart-holiness.
But God’s so-great-a-salvation is equal to every need of fallen man, and He has made provision for our recovery (for restoration of heart-holiness) in this present life, as well as for other perfections in the life to come. Shall we consider carefully the different agencies employed in making man holy? In God’s great redemptive program, there is both the instantaneous aspect and the progressive aspect.
Made Holy by the Blood
First of all, we are made holy by the blood. Christ shed His blood on Calvary’s Cross as the only and perfect basis for the forgiveness of our sins. According to God’s own word, all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ will be forgiven. The animal sacrifices typified this wonderful fact throughout the whole Old Testament, beginning immediately after the Fall. In the New Testament, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus Christ as the One typified in the Old Testament sacrifices. He said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
The Apostle John in his first letter says, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9).
Sin is removed and holiness made possible by the blood of Christ. The blood is God’s agent in making us holy. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). For Jesus’ sake, God forgives and cleanses the repentant believer. Such a one will be born from above and should from that moment on have the assurance of eternal life.
Made Holy by the Cross
But the blood of Christ is not the only agent used by God in making us holy. We are also made holy by the Cross. Sin has infected every part of man. Redemption is not a simple but a rather complex problem requiring the wisdom and power of God. One who has received forgiveness and assurance of eternal life soon discovers a deeper need than forgiveness, for sin is twofold. Besides acts of sin, there is also the inner principle of sinfulness. This cannot be forgiven. It must die.
Isaiah explains best the corruption of human nature. He says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way…” (Isa. 53:6). This “own way” (selfishness) is the basic element in man’s sinfulness. It cannot be forgiven; it must end; it must die. The “I want my own way” must be put on the Cross. It must be crucified.
God can and will forgive selfish acts. But God cannot forgive selfishness while one persists in wanting his own selfish way. This must end. The provision for this deep need in man’s nature is not the blood; it is the Cross. Jesus said so in the words, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24).
The Apostle Paul stated this provision so plainly in Romans 6. In the first verse he asks the question, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Then he answers, “God forbid.” The rest of the chapter reveals in detail God’s method of dealing with inward corruption of the self-life.
In verse 6 he says, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6). If this verse says anything at all, it says that through our crucifixion with Christ, sin’s power is broken. We do not have to sin!
This means more than Christ, our Substitute, dying for our sins. Christ did take our sins to the Cross. But more than that, He took us there as well. That is God’s provision for sinfulness of nature.
Later, in verse 11, Paul tells us to “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We are to know this truth; we are to believe it; we are to count on it. Unless we reckon on the fact of our union with Christ in death to sin as our death to sin and in His resurrection as our resurrection, we will never know the reality of victory over sin.
It is a crisis experience which can be followed by daily obedience in dependence on the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul knew this in experience and gave testimony to that great fact: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Our side is to know this great fact, to believe it, to accept it, to make the necessary moral adjustments – that is, to turn completely away from the world, from the flesh and from the devil and to turn to God in total surrender, a surrender so complete, so irrevocable that the only word which can properly describe it is death – death to self.
The Cross is God’s method, His agent in making us holy. It is union with Christ in His death and in His resurrection. That which is positional for all must become experiential and personal.
Made Holy by the Spirit
These two aspects of God’s work in making us holy – that is, forgiveness and cleansing through the blood and the Cross of Christ – are both negative. There is also a very definite positive side, another aspect, being made holy by the Holy Spirit.
On resurrection day Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22), and at Pentecost fifty days later, they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God is holy and He imparts holiness. God not only counts us righteous; He makes us righteous. He not only counts us holy; He makes us holy. Unless the Holy Spirit fills us with resurrection life, the life of holiness will not be a reality in our lives.
There must be a time when we deliberately nail to the Cross the disposition to have our own way, which disposition is in enmity with everything God wants to do in us. And God has put that disposition to death in the crucified body of Jesus Christ on the Cross. We are also raised with Christ. We can now walk in newness of life. We have the disposition of Christ. Therefore the ready, trusting believer can lead a holy life. The Holy Spirit comes upon such a one to give him power for service.
On the evening before the crucifixion, Jesus prepared His disciples for this great experience (John 14-16). Just before His ascension, He again assembled His disciples together and charged them “not [to] depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:4-5). This experience became theirs at Pentecost. It is available today for any and every one who is “thirsty” enough to come to Christ and drink, to receive the blessings which He has promised – a personal Pentecost.
Though historical Pentecost will not be repeated any more than historical Calvary will be repeated, yet we must become related personally to what has been given both at Calvary and at Pentecost. God’s desire is to pour out the full blessing of both Calvary and Pentecost, and He will do so upon every penitent, surrendered, believing soul.
Thus the Holy Spirit is one of God’s agents in making us holy. Peter in relating the experience of Cornelius and his household said, “And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).
Progressive Side of Holiness by the Spirit
When the conditions are met, God’s work in making us holy through the blood and through the Cross and through the Holy Spirit can be received instantaneously, but after that there is also a progressive side in God’s recovery program. The Holy Spirit not only applies the blood and the Cross for the cleansing away of sin, but He also sets about to conform the yielded, trusting one to the image of Christ. He will help in the changing of habits, traits and characteristics which may not be sinful in themselves but which are not fitting for the new man.
This work goes on continually, and is properly called “growth in grace.” The Holy Spirit is our guide, our teacher, and our molder of character. If we remain trustful and yielded, the Holy Spirit will be able to perform His wonderful work.
Progressive Side of Holiness by the Word
There is another aspect of our progressive holiness: we are made holy by the Word. Jesus said, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The Apostle Peter refers to this aspect in these words: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth…” (1 Pet. 1:22).
The psalmist has this to say, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psa. 119:105). “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy word” (Psa. 119:9).
We continually need the Word of God, for it is the only safe rule for faith and Christian walk. The Word of God is a means of grace in Christian growth.
Progressive Side of Holiness by Discipline
Another aspect of our progressive holiness is “discipline.” It must be understood that this does not refer to the discipline of the “old man.” The Bible reveals but one provision for the old Adam life and that is death on the Cross with Christ.
Hebrews 12 speaks of discipline very definitely and relates it to holiness (Heb. 12:1-13). It says that our fathers “verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He [God] for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). We need discipline (chastening). We need exercise, for we are perfected by exercise. If we want to grow, we must exercise.
Even in the land of Canaan Israel had opponents. To us Christians these Canaanites stand for the world, the flesh and the devil; or we may recognize them as evil spirits and old habits. All these must be conquered. God does not want flabby holiness. He wants us to be strong, and has therefore left opponents in the field. He Himself watches over us carefully, and if we fail, as did Israel, He chastens us.
I suppose that much of the mystery in the circumstances of life would be explained if we knew how God was arranging things and circumstances for our good (the experience of Job, for instance). Often He teaches us through persons who are unworthy. Job had to learn from the accusations of his three friends, Peter from a rooster, Balaam from a donkey, Paul from a thorn. Abraham had to learn that he loved Isaac more than God, and Elijah that he had a hidden weakness, a fear – he ran from a woman.
Even Jesus “learned He obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Jesus was holy through and through; but He also had to go through the fire. What we all must learn is absolute and instant obedience.
In this aspect of God’s great work of recovering and restoring fallen man – made holy by discipline – there are two things we must avoid: not to kick and not to despond. There is a great danger either of rebelling against circumstances that may be God’s method of disciplining us, or else giving up in despair or despondency.
Both are wrong and either one would cause us to lose not only the benefit of this progressive aspect of God’s sanctification but also what we have received instantaneously through His perfect method in making us holy.
God makes us holy by the blood, by the Cross, by the Holy Spirit, by the Word, and by discipline. We must neither kick nor despond but yield in faith and trust Him to do His own wonderful work, so that it might be fulfilled in us that which is spoken in Ephesians:
“…As Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
– From Message of the Cross.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon