Chapter OneTHE SPLENDOR
How little people know who
think that holiness is dull.
When one meets the
real thing . it is irresistible.
Holiness isn't exactly an easy subject to
"sell." It's not one of the top ten topics people look
for in a Christian bookstore; there aren't a lot of hit
songs about holiness; and I can count on two hands
the number of messages I recall hearing on the theme.
"Holiness" is discussed in theology classes, but
rarely in dinner table conversations. "Holy" is an
adjective we apply to "Bible," "Communion," and
"the night Christ was born." But how many
contemporary Christians are really interested in devoting
serious thought or discussion to holiness?
We don't mind talking about holiness as an abstract
concept. But if that concept gets too personal
or starts to interfere with our lifestyle, we can quickly
Part of the problem may be that the word holiness
has picked up some baggage that most people
-understandably-don't find particularly desirable.
Does "holiness" conjure up any of these images in
* Somber, straitlaced people with outdated hair
and clothing styles
* An austere, joyless lifestyle based on a long
list of rules and regulations
* A monklike existence-"holy" people talk in
hushed tones, spend hours a day in prayer,
always have their nose in the Bible or a
spiritual book, fast frequently, hum hymns under
their breath, and have no interest in "normal"
* People with a judgmental attitude toward
those who don't accept their standards
* An unattainable ideal that has more to do
with the sweet by-and-by than the real
world, which is right here, right now
Holiness. When you put it that way . who wants
it?! Sounds about as appealing as drinking saltwater.
Holiness may not be at the top of our list of
things to talk about, but let me remind you that
those in heaven never stop talking about it! I believe
we need to "reclaim" true holiness-to see it in all its
beauty, as it is revealed in the Word of God.
I was blessed to grow up in a home where holiness
was emphasized and taken
seriously, while being presented
as something wonderfully desirable
and attractive. From earliest
childhood, I remember thinking
that holiness and joy were
inseparably bound to each other.
My dad longed to be "as pure
as the driven snow" and challenged
us to aspire to the same
standard. He was deeply disturbed by sin-whether
his own, ours, or others'. At the same time, my dad
was a happy man; he actually enjoyed his life in
Prior to his conversion in his mid-twenties, he
had been a freewheeling gambler in mad pursuit of
happiness and thrills. When God reached down and
redeemed him, his lifestyle changed dramatically-he
no longer desired the earthly "treasures" with
which he had been trying to fill the empty places of
his heart. Now he had found "the pearl of great price"
he had been lacking for so many years. He loved
God's law and never considered holiness burdensome
-he knew that sin was the real burden, and he
never got over the wonder that God had mercifully
relieved him of that burden through Christ.
The eighteenth-century theologian Jonathan
Edwards was compelled by a similar vision of
holiness. In his memoirs, written at the age of
thirty-five, he spoke of the fascination and attractiveness
that thoughts of holiness held for him.
It appeared to me, that there was nothing in it but
what was ravishingly lovely; the highest beauty and
amiableness-a divine beauty; far purer than any
thing here upon earth; and that every thing else was
like mire and defilement in comparison of it.
Likewise, A. W. Tozer saw the need to challenge
the misconceptions often associated with holiness.
What does this word holiness really mean? Is it a
negative kind of piety from which so many people
have shied away?
No, of course not! Holiness in the Bible means
moral wholeness-a positive quality which actually
includes kindness, mercy, purity, moral blamelessness
and godliness. It is always to be thought of in a
positive, white intensity of degree.
The beauty of holiness, as it shines forth in the
Scripture, is seen in two related but distinct facets.
The word holy comes from a root that means "to
cut, to separate." It means "to be set apart, to be
distinct, to be different."
Throughout the Scripture, we
find that God set apart certain
things and places and people for
Himself; they were consecrated for
His use. They were not to be used
for common, ordinary, everyday
purposes; they were holy. For
* God set apart one day out of the week and
called it "a holy Sabbath to the Lord" (Exodus
* The Israelites were required to set apart the
first portion of their income as a holy tithe
* God set apart a particular room where He
would meet with His people; He called it
"the holy place" (Exodus 26:33).
In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was set
apart by God to be a "holy nation" (Exodus 19:6).
That didn't mean their conduct was holy or that they
were inherently more upright than others who were
not set apart. God called them "holy" because He
had set them apart from other nations, and with that
distinction and privilege came the obligation to live
Not only were the Israelites set apart by God-they
were also set apart for God. "I the Lord am holy
and have separated you from the peoples, that you
should be mine," God told His people (Leviticus
20:26). The biblical concept of holiness carries with
it a sense of belonging to God, much as a mother
might claim, "These children are mine."
In the New Testament, God set apart a new body
comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. He called it thechurch. The Greek term ekklesia means "a called-out
assembly." The church is not a building or merely an
institution; it is a body of believers who have been
called out of this world and set apart for God's holy
I remember first discovering as a child something
of what it meant to be "set apart" for and by God.
Based on their understanding of the heart and ways
of God, my parents established what they felt to be
wise practices and limitations for our family. At
times, wewould complain, "But everybody else .!"
My parents' response was along these lines: "You
don't belong to 'everybody else'-you belong to
God!" They convinced us there was something really
special about being set apart for God rather than
being squeezed into the world's
I learned early on that to be
"set apart" is not a punishment; it
is not an attempt on God's part to
deprive us or to condemn us to a
cheerless, joyless lifestyle. It is a
priceless privilege-it is a call
* to belong, to be cherished, to enter into an
intimate love relationship with God Himself,
much as a groom declares his intent to set
his bride apart from all other women to be
his beloved wife
* to fit into the grand, eternal plan of our
redeeming God for this universe
* to experience the exquisite joys and purposes
for which we were created
* to be freed from all that destroys our true
The second facet of holiness has to do with being
pure, clean, free from sin. In this sense, to be holy is
to reflect the moral character of a holy God.
If you've ever tried to wade through the book of
Leviticus, you may have found yourself wondering, Why did God bother to give all those detailed
instructions about cleansing and ceremonial purity?
God intended those regulations to be an object
lesson to the children of Israel-and to us. He wants
us to understand that He is holy, and that holiness is
not an option for those who belong to Him. He
wants us to know that He is concerned with every
detail and dimension of our lives. He wants us to
understand the blessings of holiness and the
consequences of unholy living.
When we come to the New Testament, we find
that God's standard has not changed. Over and over
again, Jesus and the New Testament authors call us
to a life of absolute purity:
"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father
is perfect." (Matthew 5:48).
Keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 5:22)
Awake to righteousness, and do not sin. (1 Corinthians
Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart
from iniquity. (2 Timothy 2:19)
Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (Romans
Holiness is not just for some select few spiritual
giants; it is not just for pious people who sit around
all day with nothing to do but "be holy."
Holiness is for moms who battle a sense of
uselessness and discouragement and who are tempted
to escape into self-pity, romance
novels, or the arms of an attentive
man. It is for students who are
constantly bombarded with
pressure to conform to the world and
to indulge in ungodly forms of
entertainment. It is for lonely
widows, divorcees, and singles who are struggling to
stay sexually abstinent. It is for husbands and wives
who wrestle with bitterness toward mates who have
abused or abandoned them. It is for men who are
tempted to cheat on their expense reports or their
wives or to abdicate their spiritual leadership in the
"Everyone who names the name of the Lord" is
called to live a holy life!
We're going to explore how we can be holy, but
it's important to realize that God would not command
us to do anything without also enabling us to
do it. He knows we cannot possibly be holy apart
from Him. That's why He has made provision for us
to overcome sin through the cross of Christ. That's
why He has sent His Spirit to live in our hearts. And
that's why He has given every believer a supernatural
resource called grace that gives us the desire and
the power to be holy.
The Fruit of Relationship
True holiness is cultivated in the context of a
relationship with God. His love for us moves us to reject
all lesser loves and all the fleeting delights sin can
As our love for Him grows, we are motivated to
aspire to holiness. The fact that He is our Father and
we are His beloved children makes us long to be
close to Him and compels us to avoid anything that
could cause a breach in the relationship.
Yes, holiness involves adherence to a standard,
but the obedience God asks of us is not cold, rigid,
and dutiful. It is a warm, joyous, loving response to
the God who loves us and created us to enjoy
intimate fellowship with Him. It is the overflow of a
heart that is deeply grateful to have been redeemed
by God from sin. It is not something we manufacture
by sheer grit, determination, and willpower. It
is motivated and enabled by the Holy Spirit who
lives within us to make us holy.
The congregation of the Gustaf Adolph
Evangelical Lutheran Church, located in a small
town in northern Maine, learned just how dangerous
a little bit of impurity can be. On Sunday, April
27, 2003, the church council gathered after services
to discuss the installation of a new heater. Several in
the group stopped by the kitchen to grab a cup of
coffee on the way into the meeting. Within hours
more than a dozen people were gravely ill, and
within days one man had died.
Investigators discovered that a man with a
vendetta had dropped a handful of powdered
arsenic in the church's coffee urn. No one had
noticed the small amount of poison-until its
consequences became apparent. Like the bit of leaven
that leavens a whole lump of dough, tolerating "just
a little sin" in our lives can be deadly.
The makers of Ivory soap pride themselves on
their product being "99 44/100% pure." When it comes
to holiness, however, if it's only 99 44/100% pure, it's not
A commitment to be holy is a commitment to be
clean through and through-to have no unholy part.
True holiness starts on the inside-with our thoughts,
attitudes, values, and motives-those innermost parts
of our hearts that only God can see. It also affects
our outward and visible behavior: "Be holy in all
your conduct" (1 Peter 1:15).
This passion for purity is what I saw in my dad's
example that made holiness so compelling to me as a
young person. Of course, he often failed (and was
willing to admit it when he did); but he sought to live
a life that was morally upright and completely above
reproach: in the way he ran his business, used his
time, conducted himself with members of the
opposite sex, treated family members and employees,
talked about other people, responded to his critics,
spent his money, and honored the Lord's Day; in his
work habits, leisure activities, and entertainment
choices-what he read and listened to and watched.
He so loved God that he wanted holiness to
characterize every area of his life.
He believed, as did Helen Roseveare, a missionary
surgeon in (then) Congo, that "there must be
nothing, absolutely nothing, in my daily conduct
that, copied by another, could lead that one into
I have a friend whose ninety- and ninety-two-year-old
parents recently moved out of the house
where they had lived for fifty years. My friend spent
an entire month sorting through a lifetime of their
accumulated "stuff"-correspondence, financial
data, clippings, photos, and on and on. "It was a
complete record of their lives," my friend reflected.
After poring through the massive collection of
memorabilia and paperwork, this son observed with a
sense of wonder, "There was not one
single thing in my parents' belongings
that was inconsistent with their
profession of their relationship with Christ!"
How would you fare if someone
were to go through the record
of your life-all your possessions,
the books and magazines you've
read, your CD and DVD collections,
checkbooks, tax returns, journals, daily
planners, phone bills, correspondence, past e-mails, a
record of all your Internet activity?
What if the person could also review a photographic
replay of the choices you've made when you
thought no one was watching? Add to that a script
of your thought life . your attitudes . your
Does the thought of such "extreme holiness"
seem burdensome to you? If so, you may never have
considered that holiness and joy are inseparable
The Joy of Holiness
What words do you associate with "holiness"?
Would gladness be one of those words?
Think about it the other way around. When you
think of things that make you glad, do you think ofholiness?
Surprising as it may seem, holiness
and gladness really do go
hand in hand.
In both the Old and New
Testaments we find a wonderful
description of the Lord Jesus that
makes this connection:
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of
gladness beyond your companions.
-Hebrews 1:9; see Psalm 45:7
We might picture someone who has a passionate
love for holiness and an intense hatred for sin as
being joyless, uptight, and rigid.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
The result of Jesus' holy life was overflowing gladness
-gladness surpassing that of anyone else around
Him. It was true of Jesus. And it will be true of
anyone who, like Jesus, loves righteousness and hates
I remember the first time I heard Calvin Hunt
share his story. For years, this young man lived an
irresponsible, destructive lifestyle as a crack cocaine
addict. Then he encountered the irresistible,
transforming grace of Christ. To this day, Calvin exudes
irrepressible joy as he testifies of the purifying work
of God in his life and then lifts up his powerful tenor
voice and sings what has become his trademark
song, "I'm clean! "I'm clean! I'm clean!"
Why do we make holiness out to be some austere
obligation or burden to be borne, when the fact is
that to be holy is to be clean, to be free from the
weight and the burden of sin? Why would we cling
to our sin any more than a leper would refuse to part
with his oozing sores, given the opportunity to be
cleansed of his leprosy?
To pursue holiness is to move toward joy-joy
infinitely greater than any earthly delights can offer.
To resist holiness or to be half-hearted
about its pursuit is to forfeit
true joy and to settle for
something less than that
God-intoxication for which we were