By Dan Mayfield
Moses and Israel sang, “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). What does the holy God want of His people?
Peter said, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Our heavenly Father’s desire is clear and straightforward that He wants His people to be like Him and share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).
Holiness has to be pursued. The Hebrews writer says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification (holiness) without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). To pursue the holy life necessitates that Christians abandon the pursuit of anything unholy.
The church is to be the pure bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:27; cf Revelation 19:7). Only by faithful obedience to the Gospel, being purchased by and washed in the blood of Christ, is it made holy (Mark. 16:16; Titus 2:11-12). Should the church be unfaithful, it will become unholy.
The Corinthian church was an example of how a congregation could be unholy. Because of fleshly attitudes and practices, Paul says, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly …” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). The Corinthians were not moving towards holiness.
How does the church move away from holiness?
The church moves away from holiness through immoral influences, as Paul said, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Individually this is a concern because as the individual member goes, it affects the church. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6). And more broadly, if the church broadens its fellowship with denominations, it is as dangerous as mixing the holy with the profane. To remain holy, the church steers clear of unholy associations.
The church moves away from holiness by compromising the Word of God. Remember, “all scripture is inspired of God …” (2 Timothy 3:16). If the Bible is compromised and treated without respect, something has to give. Human error and immorality will creep in if the Bible is not respected. Therefore we believe the miracles. We believe the genealogies. We believe the history and the prophecies. From front to back, we respect God’s holy Word. So do not ignore that Jesus taught some hard things, (Matthew 19). Faithful preaching means people are going to walk away sad. Faithful preaching means some will have to practice celibacy. It would be unholy to lessen the impact of such teachings.
Busy schedules and limited time for God are hindering true holiness. From what did the “hour of worship” originate? The clock has become the master. Sitcoms are 30 minutes and primetime shows an hour, but what do modern time constraints have to do with the church? Who determined and bound the rule that sermons should be carefully crafted to be 30 minutes and the worship fit in an hour? Would you chastise the preacher if he regularly taught for 45 minutes? Would it be a sin for Wednesday evening classes to go 90 minutes instead of 60? Putting the clock in charge represents an unnatural constraint on deeper devotion. The world is in a hurry. The church should not be.
To be holy, let us not moderate the message to appeal to the unconverted, non-seeking public. Paul said, “But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Denominational terms are creeping in. And the world is silencing the message that needs to be heard. The church should not worry that people might be turned off. Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John. 7:17). Sincere seekers won’t be impressed to hear motivational speeches. The lost need to hear about Jesus and how to be saved. It is unholy to give anything less.
The church is moving towards unholiness in worship. Jesus says God is seeking true worshipers who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:22-24). The age old principle still applies today that drawing near to God is worship and “By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy” (Leviticus 10:3). The church cannot be holy by sincerely offering God an inferior sacrifice. Our songs need depth. Our preaching needs to encourage and prick hearts. Our giving needs to hurt. Our prayers need more thought and less repetition. And the Lord’s Supper deserves more time. Adding to worship is “will worship” and vain (Colossians 2:23; Matthew 15:9). The New Testament shows Christians what is acceptable worship and to stray beyond it is unholy.
The church is moving away from holiness when the youths are not challenged to follow Christ. Paul says to fathers, “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The reality is that many children are too far gone before we decide to sit down and challenge them to serve their God. The old Jewish way of teaching the children diligently to keep God’s commands is still best (Deuteronomy 6:7). Many are satisfied to try the passive approach when it comes to training children in spiritual matters, when the correct approach is to challenge them to reject the world and believe in Christ Jesus. The passive approach plays right into the pop culture with the attitudes, dress and worldly interests. The church can no longer be afraid to set the youths on the right course. They need discipline. They need strong mentors. They need a clear picture so that they choose God.
The church loses its holiness by measuring itself against the world. The church has fallen victim to the age old problem of comparing itself with the world instead of keeping its eyes on God. This is the way to be holy relative to the world. But holiness is measured by God. If we are only trying to keep arm’s length from the from the world, we still move to unholiness.
J.D. Tant used to say, “Don’t forget brethren, we are drifting.” The church is the reflection of its individual members. When Christians conform to the secular world in their jobs, schools, entertainment, and politics, it reflects on the church. And when the church becomes accepting of traditions and doctrines of men that do not conform to sound words, holiness is lost. Will God bless us if we are unholy?
Paul said, “Therefore, ‘Come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you’” (2 Corinthians 6:17). This lesson needs to be taught again to a new generation. It’s important that the church not compromise, but rather ought always to pursue holiness in all things.