By Dan Jenkins
After the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea, God set before them the high calling He had in view for His people. "Ye shall be holy, for I am holy… " (Leviticus 11:44). In a world that was given over to the ungodly living that often characterized pagan nations, a holy God called upon His people to set new standards of righteousness — holiness as He is holy!
Should it be any surprise to us that the same language is used in reference to His church in the new covenant! God is unchanging and He asks the church, His people today, to partake of His nature (2 Peter 1:4), to follow His teachings on holiness. "But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation: because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16).
WRONG STANDARD OF HOLINESS
One's daily life demands that he seek some standard for righteousness, but what is that standard? Men often use the wrong standard for righteousness.
It would have been so easy for the nation of Israel to have sought to be like the nations about them. However, the Lord reminded them that they had been called out of Egypt (Lev. 11:45), and that they were not to determine righteousness simply by being like those nations. "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do, and after the doings of the land of Canaan whither I bring you shall ye not do, neither shall ye walk in their ordinances" (Lev. 18:3). As the history of man has been a history of men not abiding by God's teachings, it is folly to think that righteous standards are to be found in following what others are doing. God's instructions, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil" (Exodus 23:2), should remind us that the standard of righteousness is not to be set by doing what most people are doing. Jesus himself shows that most people will not live by God's teachings (Matthew 7:13-14).
Some set as a standard of righteousness the standard taught them by their parents. If parents were sinless then they could serve as the standard, but this simply is not the case (Romans 3:23). Jesus envisioned that following him would sometimes mean turning from parents (Matt. 10:37). Parental teaching, as important as it is, cannot be the standard.
Some have thought that learned men should be the standard. However, Paul states the impossibility of men knowing the things of God apart from God. "What man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him, even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:12). No man knows the things of God! Man cannot determine righteousness!
THE ONE STANDARD OF HOLINESS
There is only one standard and that is God! God created man in His image (Genesis 1: 27) and when man fell, God brought about Christianity and designed it so that we would be conformed to His image. As we behold the glory of the Lord we"… are changed into the same image (2 Cor. 3:18). God wants us to be like Him! We are to partake of His nature! He is the standard of holiness!
WHAT HOLINESS ISN'T
Galatians 5:19-21 lists many of the ungodly practices that have destroyed men of long ago and are yet prevalent in our day. To show how serious these practices are, the list ends with these words, "They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:21).
Christ's church must abhor these, for to be found guilty of them will bar the doors of heaven. These are the words of a holy God telling us exactly what He wants us to avoid.
There are sexual sins listed — adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness. Adultery is unlawful sex between two people, with at least one of these being married. Fornication is immorality of every sort. It is the Bible word to describe any sort of sexual sin. Uncleanness literally means impurity and refers to those thoughts and actions that lead to immorality. Lasciviousness means absence of restraint, indecency, and includes unchaste behavior of dress, speech and action. How unfortunate that men have left God's wonderful design of sex and have perverted it and set up their own standards in this area.
There are the sins of idolatry and witchcraft. Idolatry can be either the outward worship and service of an image made with hands (see Psalm 115:3-7 for discussion of the folly of such worship) or the covetous service of any material thing (Colossians 3:5). Witchcraft refers to sorcery, superstition, the occult and horoscopes. To follow such is to deny that God controls this world, that He determines what happens in our lives (Daniel 4:17).
There are sins of attitudes – hatred, variance, emulations, wrath. Hatred is the opposite of love and refers to bitterness of spirit and hostility toward others. Variance is the strife that results from hate. Emulations means jealousy and the uncontrolled desire to have what others have. Wrath is violent anger. Jealousy smolders in the heart, wrath is the same attitude outwardly shown.
There are sins of false teaching and division – strife, seditions, heresies. Strife often brings about factions, and taking of sides and divisions into parties. Seditions literally means "standing apart" and refers to the divisions into selfish groups. Heresy is the teaching of one's opinions that give rise to division.
There are the sins of drunkenness and revellings. Drunkenness is the indulgence in strong drink to which so many are addicted. Revellings are the wild drinking parties that are found in every society.
There are other lists in the Bible (Rom. 1:26-32; Col. 3:5-10), but this list should help us to see that God expects His people to be holy, to have as their standard of righteousness His holy nature.
AN EXAMPLE OF HOLINESS
In the same section of Galatians the Holy Spirit has another list that shows us much of what is involved in holiness. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5:21-22). These are attributes of our God that He expects us to have. Take each of these words, read the Old Testament and you'll find they describe our God. Take each of these words, read the New Testament and see each of them displayed in the life of Jesus. God's standard for holiness has been lived on this earth, we can see it without fault in our Savior. As he was tempted in every way we are (Hebrews 4:15), it makes no difference when we live or where we live – we have the example of holiness we need! Peter describes this perfect life in these words, "… Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow his steps; who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not… " (1 Peter 2:21-23). Christ our example – this is God's visible standard of holiness! We are to be like him!
THE CHURCH AND HOLINESS
Many today have lost sight of God's holiness and the result is a world of sin. Some who claim to be religious may condone sin but the true church cannot be of this nature. She serves the Lord, she seeks his way and lives by his teachings of morality. When she ceases to do this he rejects her (Revelation 2:5) and she is as worthless salt, useless in his hands (Mat. 5:13). In an age when society is seeking new lifestyles, when it is seeking a new morality, the church of Christ upholds His standard of holy living.
To what two groups has God said, "Be ye holy, for I am holy?"
What are some wrong standards of holiness? Why are they wrong?
What is the one standard of holiness?
Discuss sexual impurity and examples in our own society.
Give illustrations of idolatry in our own day. Of witchcraft.
Define some sins of attitudes.
What is the fruit of the Spirit? Give examples from the life of Jesus.
What happens when a church ceases to live and teach God's standard of holiness?