[Editor's comment: It is the opinion of this editor that the sermon on Holiness is one everyone will want to read and re-read. It is one of the most definitive presentations on holiness you will ever read. It is vitally important that we understand that the experience of sanctification is subsequent to regeneration or being born again (from above). It is my prayer that God will make this experience of sanctification, both a crisis or definite experience, a reality in each one of us, as well as an on-going growth in holiness. It is a work or ministry of the Holy Spirit with the cleansing blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, as the element for cleansing.]
Introduction: Pentecostal leader Jack Hayford tells of a rabbi, a follower of Yeshua (Jesus), who remarked to him about this passage from Revelation 4:8, 10 - “The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come! . . . The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne . . . . .”
Paraphrasing from memory Dr. Hayford’s recounting of the rabbi’s insights, emphasis was placed on how the twenty-four elders could repeatedly, each time they heard the four living creatures day and night recite the holiness of God, fall down and cast their crowns before the throne of God. This is not a description of robotic actions by mindless creatures who without passion or genuine worship fall before our Holy God. No! The reason the twenty-four elders continually fall down in worship and that each time the triple refrain of God’s holiness is proclaimed, a new and fresh dimension of God’s holiness is revealed. This is not repetitive action; this is fresh and compelling discovery.
When I heard Dr. Hayford give this account, my heart was touched deeply by the overwhelming magnitude of who God really is. The Trinitarian “Holy, holy, holy,” revealing the mystery of one “God in three persons”[i] never ceases to remind us of the grandeur, greatness, love and holiness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Throughout eternity, we will unceasingly discover the holiness of God.
This year the IPHC vision of “A Place of Hope” and “A People of Promise” is highlighted by “We Prayerfully Value Holiness.” Like the worshippers around the throne in Revelation 4, we are asking the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts to the revelation of God’s Holiness. Our approach is to consider The Source, to understand how God Illuminates His holiness in us, and how we Radiate, or display, that holiness to this lost word.
The Bible tells us that God is holy and that He calls His people to be holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 1 Peter 1:16). In a time of great national crisis, the Lord revealed Himself to the prophet Isaiah as “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3). “Holy” describes God’s moral character. It means that all that God is and does is pure and sinless. God is perfect light “with whom is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). God is absolute truth, absolute life, and perfect love. God’s love is perfect because God is holy. God is holy because His love is perfect. There is not a contradiction or conflict between God’s love and God’s holiness.
Millard J. Erickson observes that God’s holiness has these two basic elements. First, God’s holiness refers to His “uniqueness.” God “is totally separate from all of creation.”[ii] This is very important as it conveys the truth that there is no other spiritual being or form of existence like God. It also means that physical nature is not God. Nature proclaims who God is (Psalm 19:1-4) but nature is not God. Thus, those who worship nature are actually practicing idolatry. In light of this, it is important to observe that the first use of words that describe holiness (sanctify, perfect, etc.) is found in Genesis 2:3, “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. . . .” Thus, the whole creation of the universe includes the presence of God’s sanctifying power. The Sabbath is established as the one day of the week when humankind “rests” from its God-ordained labor and trusts the Creator to sustain it for that day. Sabbath is more than the absence of activity; it is an active faith that God will provide because God is holy and good.
Second, God’s holiness denotes his “absolute purity or goodness.” Millard continued with this thought, “God’s perfection is the standard for our moral character and the motivation for religious practice. The whole moral code follows from his holiness.” [iii]
Thus, as God the Father is holy, so also are the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son’s holiness is evidenced by His conception by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:31, 32, 35); by the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus at His baptism (Luke 3:21, 22); and by the “Spirit of holiness” in raising Jesus from the dead (Romans 1:4). Even the demons recognized that Jesus was “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). Throughout Scripture the Spirit of God is referred to as the “Holy Spirit” (Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 63:10, 11; Matthew 1:18; Mark 1:8; Luke 4:1, 2; John 14:26; Acts 1:8; Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 2:13; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:8).
As the Source of what is holy, God calls for His created order to reflect that holiness. God’s actions towards us in bringing this about is called sanctification. This is God’s active, grace-filled work in our behalf conforming us to the image of His Holy Son.
It is God’s uniqueness (sometimes called ‘transcendence’ in theology) and God’s absolute purity that constitute the “beauty of holiness.” When we worship the Lord, we are worshipping Him as He has revealed Himself to us. When we focus our minds and hearts on His Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister in our spirit, we discern God’s essential holy beauty. Our response is a mix of awe (trembling) at the magnitude of such love. There is nothing else like this in the world. The world cannot duplicate this, though it tries. Only God, revealed in Jesus Christ, demonstrates such “beauty of holiness.”
How do we personally and corporately experience transformation in light of the beauty of holiness? The IPHC was formed in the Wesleyan tradition of holiness. Thus, we affirm that the work of sanctification has its beginning in the reality of the new birth and justification by faith. We also affirm that the Holy Spirit leads us to a place of clear decision regarding victory over our carnal nature and full surrender to the will of God. From this, there continues a growth in holiness that ultimately finds its fulfillment, or glorification, in heaven and in the resurrection.
The IPHC declares God’s sanctifying work in us in Articles of Faith 9, 10. Article 9 affirms “that Jesus Christ shed His blood for the complete cleansing of the justified believer from all indwelling sin and from its pollution, subsequent to regeneration (1 John 1:7-9).”[iv] It is important to note several significant parts of this confession.
First, it is the blood of Jesus Christ that not only brings about forgiveness of sins and justification but also “complete cleansing.” It is God who sanctifies us through the blood of His beloved Son. The blood of Jesus is sufficient to completely cleanse us so that we have union with God through Christ. This is the meaning of the phrase “the justified believer.” Justification is God’s act of declaring us “not guilty” in response to our response in turning to Christ through repentance and faith in Christ. Our union with Christ is the basis for regeneration (born again; John 3:3, 5, 6; Galatians 4:29; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 5:1) whereby the life of Christ is imparted by faith to us.[v]
Second, this “complete cleansing” is related to “all indwelling sin and from its pollution.” This is another way of referring to our carnal, or fallen nature. Sometimes the Apostle Paul calls this aspect of our fallen nature “the old man” (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9). In justification and regeneration our actual sins are forgiven, pardoned, by the covering of the blood of Jesus. Spiritually we are born again (regenerated) as “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Peter 2:2). But we are not meant to remain “babes in Christ.” We are meant to grow in the grace that Christ continually gives us.
Third, Article 9 clearly states that sanctification is “subsequent to regeneration.” This is important for two reasons. The first is that only a born again person can be sanctified. An unregenerate person cannot be sanctified, though that person may live a high moral life that conforms to outward displays of holiness. As Noel Brooks wrote, “We know that the ‘flesh’ can be very refined and cultured, very moral and religious. It is ‘old man’ refinement; ‘old man’ culture; ‘old man’ morality; and ‘old man’ religion. It is not holiness.”[vi] Many people, including Christians, are confused at this point. They believe that if a person is “good” in some way that is pleasing, then that person is reflecting holy characteristics. Often we excuse those living in clear violation of God’s word because he or she is “such a good person.” Sadly, we fail to recognize that our own righteousness, seen as good by men, is but “rubbish” before God (Philippians 3:8).
The second reason for this portion of the Article of Faith is that regeneration deals with the life of Christ being imparted to us. The Father’s will is that we be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Sanctification, the death of our carnal nature, is the will of God (1 Thessalonians 4:3). This part of sanctification, which deals with our carnal, fallen nature, can only occur following regeneration. As Christ’s life is imparted to us, we are set apart as living sacrifices who are able to fulfill the will of God, that is, God’s destiny for us in Christ (Romans 12:1, 2).
Perhaps this analogy from the Biblical language of “babes, maturity,” will help us. When a person is born, the expectation and desire is that the child will grow and mature into a fully functional adult. This maturity includes physical, intellectual, emotional, and relational traits. There comes a time in life when the child recognizes it is time to be an adult in the significant matters of life. The person decides to “put away childish things,” thus making clear decisions regarding adult life (1 Corinthians 13:11). From those decisions, the maturing adult continues to grow. But there was a clear point in time and experience when such life-changing decisions were made.
The same is true for the person who is born again in Christ. Though a new creature in Christ in our spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17), Christ’s life begins to lay claim on every area of our lives. This is why regeneration is the starting point for the Spirit’s sanctifying work in making us into the image of Christ. But there comes a time when we realize we are fighting a battle between our new-born self and the “old man” of our fallen nature. Historically IPHC theologians have understood Romans 7 to describe this war between our spirit and our flesh.[vii] If we are to mature into the persons for which we have been redeemed, there must come a time when our old fleshly desires are “crucified” with Christ (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20; 5:24). This is the spiritual “crisis” where the attractions and pleasures of the flesh are put to death (Colossians 3:5). This is the crisis of sanctification. Once made, and we consecrate ourselves by faith to Christ’s sanctifying power, our maturing in Christ continues and manifests itself more fully in Christ’s love and mission.
Though our will is involved in this surrender, we must remember this is only because God’s grace has been extended to us, even in sanctification. We are not sanctified by works any more than we are justified by works. We are justified and sanctified by faith: by believing God’s word and promise to us accomplished in Jesus Christ.
The Bible uses several overlapping terms to describe how God deals with our fallen, carnal nature: holy, sanctified, perfect, and mature. Each describes the real victory we can experience in this life over the dominion of sin (Romans 6:11-23). Many stumble at this point by thinking that the sanctified life is free from temptation or from further growth. Both are incorrect and Satan uses these distortions to cause many to remain frustrated in their walk with Christ. We will always face temptations in life as Satan constantly seeks to frustrate the Father’s plans in us. But the awareness of temptation is not a sin in itself. It is the decision to act upon a temptation, to allow it to remain in our thought-life that gives Satan a foothold in our hearts. But God has provided a way of escape from every temptation and victory over Satan’s schemes (1 Corinthians 10:12, 13; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; James 1:12-16).
We are always to grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:15; 2 Peter 1:5-11; 3:18). We do this through prayer, constant study of God’s Word, and through the authentic and holy relationships we have with brothers and sisters in Christ.
Before closing this section, it is important to address the power of Christ to deliver us from those sins which so easily ensnare us (Hebrews 12:1) and become addictions and strongholds over us. Our fallen condition, into which all of us are born, leaves us with emotional, relational, psychological, and even physical wounds. Satan seeks to establish strongholds in those places where we are vulnerable. Sometimes we are victims through abuse; but there are other times when we engage in sinful actions that lead to addictions. Such is the case with drug and alcohol abuse, pornography and other sexual addictions, as well as destructive relational behavior. The Bible refers to this as “iniquity”; that is, a twisted condition of what was intended. Such iniquity affects individuals, families, and entire societies (Genesis 15:16; Exodus 20:5; 34:9; Leviticus 18:25; 26:40; Numbers 14:19; Psalm 51:2, 5; Acts 8:23; 2 Timothy 2:19; James 3:6).
It is God’s desire that in Christ we be made whole. Holiness is God’s prescription for all the wounds and addictions of our lives. Even when sinful addictions have reached the level of psychological and chemical dependence in the brain, God still seeks to bring wholeness to us. For those who have been ensnared by addictions, this may be a lifelong battle requiring much grace and intense discipleship. But in the end, it remains God’s will to bring victory through grace, hope, and love to all whose lives have been damaged by Satan.
This is where the power of a “holy people” is so important. Sanctification is an invitation to abundant life with one another in the body of Christ. It is not a life of isolation. It is a life of communion together where holy transformation occurs. This is why the church must learn to be a holy church, learning how to live as Jesus lived among us, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Did you notice that Psalm 96:9 moves from the beauty of holiness to “all the earth” trembling before God? The revelation of God’s holiness leads to awe, humility, and worship as our response. “All the earth” includes people and the natural order. The Apostle Paul tells us that the created order is longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:14-23). This is due to the fact that in Jesus Christ we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” The work of redemption extends to everything and everyone that God has created. The majesty of such a calling, of such love, leads an Isaiah to humble himself before the revelation of holiness (Isaiah 6:3-7). It leads to the Apostle John falling as if dead before the glory of the eternal Son of God (Revelation 1:17, 18). It leads the four living creatures around God’s throne never to stop proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 4:8).
As God’s holy people in the earth, we are called to demonstrate what it means to live in the blessings of Christ’s kingdom. We do this in several ways.
First, the book of Ephesians tells us that God “chose us in Him (Jesus Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (1:4). From this we discover what Christ has accomplished for the sake of the whole cosmos (1:19-23) and how that has been accomplished through Him who “is our peace” and reconciled Jew and Gentle together in Himself (2:14-22). In making a new humanity, a redeemed people sanctified for His glory, God desires His church to be the mechanism through which the world experiences this truth: “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (3:10).
The church is called to be that communion where men and women who are born again, who are set free from the bondage of sin, and who are released in holy living will show the “manifold wisdom of God” to the world. God’s revealed way of life is meant to be demonstrated by and through the church! We are a genuine “counter-culture” to the world, demonstrating what it means to live in the promised blessings to the seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:2, 3), promises made sure through Jesus Christ for all who will believe in Him (Romans 4:13 through 5:1).
The “beauty of holiness” is manifested to the world as we live together in the Body of Christ. This “beauty” is shown to the world as the church lives loving every person, regardless of race, title, economic and educational status. The church is holy as she shows that racial pain and injustice can be healed. The church is holy as she shows that the poor are not only fed and clothed but also given place and opportunity for upward mobility. The church is holy as she confronts the injustices in her own midst with truth and righteousness. The church is holy as she faithfully preaches repentance and shows mercy and grace to those destroyed by sin. The church is holy as she lifts of Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, before the powers and principalities of her community, city, state, province, and nation.
Second, the beauty of holiness leads people to the reality of a changed life. This is a very effective form of evangelism, a holy life lived without condemnation or self-righteousness before the world. In this sense, the beauty of holiness is evidenced through genuine humility and strength of character. We don’t have to be “perfect” in man’s definitions for this reality to manifests itself. Even sinners discern genuineness and can easily spot hypocrisy. A holy life reflects grace, mercy, truth, love, peace, reconciliation, and hope.
This is powerfully illustrated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:14 in his discussion of marriage, the most intimate of human relationships. Paul boldly writes that a sanctified spouse has greater spiritual power in a home than their sinful spouse and even their children. This is why the New Testament tells godly spouses to make every effort to remain in a marriage: holiness releases a sanctifying presence that gives life, hope, and love to the lost and to children. It may takes years for this to bear fruit, and there may be much tribulation and sorrow. But the power of holiness is greater than the power of unbelief and actual sinful behavior.
Third, and somewhat related to Paul’s understanding of the power of sanctification in a home, the apostle unequivocally connects holiness with sexual purity. Moderns often complain that sexual restraint is all that Bible-believing Christians know how to talk about; and sadly, many Christians who accommodate to the world make the same accusation. But the truth is that this most intimate aspect of our lives is directly related to wholeness in our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives.
This is why in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 the Apostle Paul unashamedly calls us to live holy lives in this dimension of our thought life and in our actions. Paul wrote these verses to people who had been followers of Jesus for less than a month (Acts 17:1, 2). He did not wait for them, Jews and Gentiles, to grow before they learned about holiness in this dimension of life. Paul was not concerned that he be “seeker-friendly” and try to softly win them to a faith in Jesus that actually had no repentance.
Paul understood that sexual immorality is related to idolatry (Romans 1:21-28) and that the false gods who desperately desire to be accommodated in our fallen condition must be rejected, and the true and living God established as the Lord of our lives. Thus, in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7 Paul clearly states, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality . . . for God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.”
Southern Baptists' writer Russell Moore wrote in response to the June, 2015 United States Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, “The church must prepare for the refugees from the sexual revolution. We must prepare for those, like the sexually wayward Woman at the Well of Samaria, who will be thirsting for water of which they don’t even know.”[viii]
We must not be ashamed to live holy, to proclaim holiness, and to trust holiness in these matters. It is this kind of holy love that enables us to be a place of hope manifested with people who live by the promises of God!
As Pentecostal Holiness people, we are not ashamed of the term “holiness.” We know that “holiness” is not legalism or judgmentalism. We know that holiness is beautiful because God is holy love. We know that it is God’s will for His children to live holy in this world as a witness to His glory and love. We know that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is victory over guilt, condemnation, and the dominion of sin in our lives.
We close as we began by affirming from Revelation 4 that the holiness of God is never-ending in its manifold manifestations. That means that in each of us, God wants to uniquely display His holiness. That means that God’s beauty knows no limits or end.
God is calling us to renew our hearts in His holy love. This is a year for us to boldly declare that the sanctified life is a reality for all of God’s people. It is a year for us to preach to the captives the liberty that is in Jesus Christ. This is a year for us to experience that liberty in our minds, attitudes, actions, and relationships. This is a year for us to encounter the Living God and the Beauty of His Holiness! Amen.
[i] Reginald Heber line from the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
[ii] Millard J. Erickson, “Christian Theology,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1985), p. 284.
[iii] Erickson, p. 285.
[iv] IPHC Manual 2013-2017, p. 46.b
[v] This is not a variation of the heresy of Pelagianism. This 5th century teaching included a rejection of original sin and the view that man on his own initiative and will could turn to Christ without aid of the Holy Spirit. Thus, divine grace is not necessary for salvation. When Jesus preached that “the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), our Lord was indicating that through His message the Holy Spirit revealed divine truth to the sinner. In the light of this revelation and conviction brought by the Spirit (John 16:8), the sinner (whose will is not denied or neglected) turns to Christ (repentance) and believes the message of salvation. This leads to union with Christ. The human response in light of revelation and conviction by the Spirit is not semi-Pelagianism. Spirit initiated and revealed grace provides the basis for the human response. This is why IPHC stands in the Arminian tradition (as did Wesley) rather than a Calvinists view of limited atonement. See Noel Brooks, “Scriptural Holiness,” for a fuller description of the order of salvation in these matters (Franklin Springs, GA: Advocate Press, 1967), pp. 41-47.
[vi] Brooks, p. 45.
[vii] This is evidenced in N.J. Holmes, W.H. Turner, and Noel Brooks.
[viii] The Washington Post, June 26, 2015, sourced at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/06/26/why-the-church-should-neither-cave-nor-panic-about-the-decision-on-gay-marriage/. Moore is the President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Sources for Additional Reflection
Noel Brooks. “Scriptural Holiness.” Franklin Springs, GA. Advocate Press, 1967.
Kevin DeYoung. “The Hole in Our Holiness.” Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012.
N.J. Holmes. “God’s Provision for Holiness.” Greenville, SC: Holmes Bible College, 1952 reprint.
Asa Mahan. “Misunderstood Texts of Scripture.” London, England: The Salvation Army, 1876.
Andrew Murray. “Holy in Christ.” Jefferson Publication, 2015 reprint.
W.H. Turner. “How May the Experience of Sanctification Be Obtained?” Franklin Springs, GA: The Publishing House of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, 1947.
W.H. Turner. “What the Churches Say about Sanctification as a Second Blessing.” Franklin Springs, GA: The Publishing House of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, 1947.
W.H. Turner. “The Sanctified Way of Life.” Franklin Springs, GA: The Publishing House of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, 1948.