Understanding Christian Holiness

The Believer’s Call and Destiny

By Pastor Al Stefan, 1999.


Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all the defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.     

                   2 Corinthians 7:1                       


To the serious follower of Christ the scriptural call to holiness is a real one.  It is something that is not taken for granted and dismissed, but prayed over, discussed, sought after, and agonized about.  It is also true that the deeper sincere believers walk with the Lord, the more they realize how far from holiness they are.  Although they watch and pray, keeping themselves pure in all manner of behavior and speech, and continue to grow in thankfulness to Christ for all he has saved them from; yet, in their spirits they find themselves lacking in inward holiness.  During the natural course of life they often experience an inward pull towards self and this world.  In the middle of situations where they know what the will of God is, they find an inward pull to self-will and or another way.  Or, when they interact with their “neighbor,” they at times do not find an inward love, but wrestle with jealousy, envy and even hatred.  These natural inward tempers are just some examples of the tendency to sin and self each of us are born with.  We might fight this inward pull to self and sin with our best efforts, yet continually we find ourselves in a state of defeat more often than not.  So, many believers have agonized and prayed that somehow they could be free from these unholy tempers and desires and find a peace to the war within.  Not content to live this way, the serious believer cries out with the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”  Romans 7:24.


We have come to define this inward war as remnants of the  “old man” or “carnal nature” that was passed on to all humanity in the “Fall.”   Many have discussed the remains of the “carnal nature,” its ramifications and how to deal with it in our lives.  Unfortunately, many of the common remedies are less than effective in curing or at least conquering these inward tempers.  In fact, some have come to the opinion that God has ordained or cursed humanity, so that we must struggle with the “old man” until this body puts on immortality.  However, the serious believer is never content with this kind of thinking, realizing that in its essence it places God not as a deliverer of evil but as a co-conspirator with it; therefore, making empty the words of Christ when he prayed, “Thy kingdom come they will be done on earth as it is in heaven… and deliver us from evil.”  No, as followers of Christ, we are admonished time and again through scripture and confirmed by the teaching of the Holy Spirit to: “Be holy, as your Father is holy.” Matthew` 5:48.  The scriptural directive to “Be holy” is not something we can argue away or pretend does not exist.  It is a clear pronouncement and one God has intended for all his children here on earth.  


Our question then becomes: “What can we expect a holy person to be like, and how is one delivered from the evil tempers of our nature?”  Well, before we can begin to understand the grace of God as it relates to our personal holiness, we need to draw a distinction between perfection and holiness as they relate to God, angels, Adam, and the believer.


It is commonly understood to even the beginner in religion that God is Holy.  In confirmation of this we read in the scriptures what his holiness means and that in every part of his being he is perfect, for as the Apostle James said:  “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” James 1:17.   From his nature to his actions, he is perfect through and through.  We say God is “absolute perfection.”  Therefore, whatever he thinks, is perfect “yesterday, today and forever!”  He will never be any more than he always has been, for you cannot improve on absolute perfection.  It is a difficult concept and hard to wrap our minds around the notion of absolute perfection when we live in such utter imperfection.  Yet we have glimpses of God’s perfection in his created order, his Word, his grace, his love and his justice.  So, while we cannot understand absolute perfection as God understands it, he has given us the ability to at least discuss what he is with some sense of intelligence. 


It is reasonable to believe that nothing will ever rise to the standard of God’s perfection.  That since he is God and creator of all, then he will always be in the first position of creator, and his creations will always remain beneath him.  Therefore, it is also reasonable to believe that his standard of perfection as in regards to his creation might be limited to their created ability.  So then, angels would have a degree of perfection different than humanity and humanity would have a degree of perfection different from that of animals.  Each part of his creation then would represent a complete perfection in that it would be totally compatible with God’s perfection, but subservient to him or each other in order of their created design.  We can therefore draw a simple conclusion that God is the absolute of all perfection and holiness, and nothing created by him was ever meant to rise to his level of absolute perfection, even though he created them perfectly and holy in the context of their created design.


Having established the absolute perfection of God, we turn to the perfection and holiness of angels.  Now, we understand through scriptures that angels were created perfect and holy.  They were designed to be in the presence of God and to work in the service of God.  In Psalm 103:20-22 we read: “Bless the Lord, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word! Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, you who serve Him, doing His will.”  And as to their character we read in Revelation 14:10:  “…in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”  Angels are holy not only in behavior but also in character as well.  We can also see from the scriptures above that they have the choice to continue in a state of holiness through obedience.  Since they stand in the very presence of God and view his glory face to face, they do not have the guarantee of salvation as a remedy for their sin.  For Jude 1:6 tells us: “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” 


It is a reasonable statement that although humanity can think clearly about many things, the holiness and perfection of angels is something we cannot grasp completely.  But what we do know is that they are perfect and holy enough to be in the very presence of God, and are perfect and holy enough to complete every task God asks of them to his satisfaction.  They are also powerful and possess great ability for they can move in and out of our world by the will of God as recorded in scripture. Their power is not just limited to their strength but includes their mental acumen, for they surpass every human in thought and knowledge. Therefore, they are in a class of creation and possessing a “perfection and holiness” we might call “angelic perfection.”  They alone are in this class created by God for a distinct purpose and holy in character and conduct through and through while they submit to God’s commands.  Though not absolutely perfect and holy as God, for they require the constant presence of his glory to remain so, they are much higher in perfection than humanity.


Now that we have begun to understand the absolute perfection of God and “angelic perfection” we must turn to God’s design for human perfection and holiness.  To begin our discussion in this arena we must turn to our first parents, their creation and fall.    It is in this arena that we can begin to see our present call to holiness. 


Genesis 1 – 3, gives us a clear picture of humanity’s design and creation.  We were not created to be angels or little gods or anything other than flesh and blood.  In fact our bodies and all the systems that they contain were designed to interact with this world, and during this interaction we would live, learn, grow, and develop, in all the ways God had intended.  Adam and Eve, as our original parents were created perfectly.  The systems in their bodies worked perfectly.  Their minds worked perfectly.  Their reasoning skills worked perfectly in accordance to their knowledge.  In human terms they were completely perfect in all that God had designed them to be.  Their physical creation, though perfect, did not stop at this point.  God had also designed humanity with an inward nature possessed of a spirit and a soul. This inward nature was a copy of God’s nature or “image.”  So, the result of this image of God upon the soul of man meant that Adam and Eve filtered all they experienced through the matrix of God’s holiness.  Their tempers were in fact fashioned after the very tempers of God. Their natures possessed the very essence of God’s pure love.  Therefore, they were not only perfect in physical terms; they were completely holy in their inward natures as well. 


This spiritual condition of holiness produced in Adam and Eve all those spiritual fruits of God’s own nature: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, patience, gentleness, kindness and self-control; in a word, all that was good and holy.  Adam and Eve never experienced from within even a glimmer of thought to jealousy, pride, hatred, murder, envy, sexual impurity or any other temper we consider evil.  No, they existed in a realm of ultimate human innocence and holiness, a condition we call “Adamic Perfection.”  They lived not only in perfect harmony with the world; they lived in perfect harmony with God.  They loved him and experienced absolute fellowship and acceptance from him.  They existed perfectly, right where he created them to exist.  They did not concern themselves with the perfection of angels, for they were not created to be angels.  They operated in perfect holiness inside and out, living perfectly according to their created design. As long as they chose to live in harmony with God’s law, they remained in all ways perfect.  In fact, their introduction to evil was from an outside source, Satan.  It was not something innate in them to choose evil.  When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and his will they poisoned their natures and broke their relationship with him.  The curse of the “Fall” of our first parents not only placed the judgment of death on each of us, both physically and spiritually, but also, passed on to us a rebellious and self-willed nature.  While a remedy for our full spiritual redemption came in the Atonement of Christ, humanity will never regain their original state of Adamic perfection on this earth. 


If humanity will never regain its original designed perfection, how then does a Christian today walk in that “holiness without which no one will see the Lord?” Hebrews 12:14.  At this point we need to draw a distinction between “perfection” and “holiness.”  Perfection has to do with our ability to perform with a complete constancy and faultless ability.  Holiness has to do with the condition of our spirits and souls, or in other words, our inward nature.  Therefore the former is a process never to be completely accomplished in this world, so that every day I need the atonement of the blood of Christ for my misjudgments that occur as a result of my infirmities, or this broken flesh.  The latter refers to the restoration of my inward nature back to the very image of God and the holiness designed for me from the beginning of creation, creating in me the “clean heart” that King David cried for.


It is reasonable to believe that “holiness,” as it relates to Absolute Perfection, is not the attainment of what the scripture call us to, since that is reserved for God alone.  It is also clear that Angelic and Adamic perfection are also not attainable, seeing the former is a created order that is completely different than flesh and blood and the latter was a perfection that existed while humanity was in its innocence and not affected by sin.  Yet in spite of the destructive effects of sin in the human body, soul and mind, God still calls us to a life of inward holiness, in spite of our current human limitations, to a holy perfection, that we might for the case of discussion, call “entire sanctification.”  The term “entire sanctification” is used to denote an inward personal experience that completely heals and or cleanses the diseased or unholy nature of man.


If we are to fully understand entire sanctification as an obtainable spiritual experience for the believer, we must understand what it is not.  Entire sanctification is not”perfection” from common human imperfections.  In other words, perfecting limitations regarding mental and physical defects is not the aim of entire sanctification.  Nor is an absolute perfection in performance or thinking to be properly considered under the umbrella of entire sanctification.  The reasons for these distinctions are important as we view the present condition of our world and the judgment of sin evident in our bodies.  That is not to say that our bodies are considered evil, but they are diminished greatly by the ravages of sin.  Disease and physical limitations have caused a dramatic drop in our motor and mental capabilities.  Our ability or disability to understand or perform what in Adam’s innocence might have been “normal,” humanity cannot regain.  And while today we are able through various means to combat disease and delay death, eventually we will die.  Therefore it is important that we draw a clear distinction between those actions and thoughts that do not involve the will of man, and those that do involve the will.  It is in the will of man, or the seat of his nature, that we find the will involved in selfish ambition and set against God.  As the Apostle James records: “But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15. 


We need to recognize that we will never reach a physical or mental perfection on this earth.   This is not only a reality experienced by us daily but also a fact.  This fact is illustrated by God’s action when he saw the “Fall” of humanity and made the choice to keep humanity from the “Tree of Life,” Genesis 3:22, which was Adam and Eve’s key to eternal life.  His reason was simple: love.  It would be cruel to let humanity live forever with the destructive effects of sin in their bodies.  God determined that our bodies would die but our spirits would live forever.  He also decided that those who believed in him and accepted his plan of salvation would receive a glorified (i.e. perfect and holy) body to house his children’s spirits in the world to come.   So, once again we come back to the issue before each of us, that in spite of human limitation and the destructive force sin has had on our flesh, God still calls us to be holy.  Therefore, if he calls us to such a spiritual state, he must have a plan to see it accomplished in the believer’s heart.


God’s planned path of holiness must then come through a different way than either a physical or mental path.  Much like our personal “born again” experience, to find holiness we must move beyond mere fact and principle, to faith and experience.  For our initial and complete salvation was destined to come through one Person, Jesus Christ, and our salvation in him begins in faith and is perfected through faith.  He becomes our righteousness and hope.  Through him we have our being and it is by him we live and move.  We regain in salvation a relationship with him not based on the fear of judgment, but on love and freedom.  It is in this continued walk of freedom, through the Holy Spirit who is sent to lead us into all truth, that our inner natures are exposed.  This enlightenment from him is not so much to convict us, for we were born with this condition, although we do feel a sense of remorse that we do not love God with our whole hearts.  He is aware that we cannot change from this self-centered nature that has been passed on to each of us, through our natural father, Adam.  As the scriptures state: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12.  This “death” is the loss of our spiritual holiness or the image of God, which led each of us to rebel against the laws of God.  It was not only for those acts of rebellion that Christ came and died but also to restore the image of God in the human heart, in fact “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”  “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh,” declares the Lord in Ezekiel 36:26.  His plan for believers is to conform them to the image of His Son, and we know in John 1, that Christ is the very image of God.  His will for us is this conformity, “for this is the will of God, even your sanctification.”  1 Thessalonians 4:3.  Entire sanctification then, is a restoration of inward holiness purchased by Christ for the heart of every Christian.


Entire sanctification or holiness of heart is not something to be attained through acts of contrition or repentance, but something to be experienced by faith.  Like justification by faith, no works of righteousness can effectively deliver the soul.  No, there is only one way and that is through the atonement of Christ.  For it is by that same Grace by which you were saved that you find your heart renewed in the image of God.  As Paul says in Romans 2:29: “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”  This application is not something that can be accomplished through knowledge and learning, but it is attained only by faith and submission.  Faith and submission to the One who brought you this far in your Christian walk, for “Faithful is he who promised, who also will do it.” 


The character of the man or woman who believes and experiences entire sanctification is able to fulfill the great commandment to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”  Love becomes the ruling factor of the human heart, not a sensual or temporal love but an eternal and heavenly love found in the very heart of God himself.  Love so great that it conquers every defeat and evil temper in the human heart.  This love is evident in the heart and its desire is to follow whole-heartedly after the commands and directions of God.  Fully cleansed, the heart does not talk back to the will of God.   Now all is right in the heart of man, even in a broken and diseased body.  Now the heart knows with a surety what it means that “nothing will separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” for it has moved from a promise to an experience.  Although temptations come with all their force, the heart is not interested in them for they do not come from within the heart but from without, and now the sanctified man or woman can say with an overcoming strength: “Get thee behind me Satan.” 


As the man or woman walks in this grace it doesn’t mean choice has been abandoned, it means they have abandoned their choice to the will of God.  Self now does not sit in the “driver’s seat” but takes its rightful place as the “passenger,” content to have God lead the way.  While the holy believer knows he walks in a world that is not a friend to grace, he keeps himself pure, abstaining from those things that would draw him back into self-will and rebellion.  He knows he is not safe without the continued power and direction of the Holy Spirit, so with the Apostle John he continues to say every “yes” God asks of him, “and everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”  He also realizes with the Apostle John that “if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Proving in his or her own life the statement: “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him.” 1 John 5:18.


Having established that holiness is a condition of the heart the question remains, “How does holiness work itself out in the life and actions of a believer?”  Not understanding how the believer is affected has been a cause of confusion and even disappointment to those who have found this grace.  Not disappointment in the grace itself, but in themselves for not attaining a standard in deportment they mistakenly believed they immediately should have acquired through their entire sanctification.  It is worth considering then at this point: “What happens to the body and mind when one becomes holy in heart?”


The first question that one might ask: “Does entire sanctification of our hearts mean a total healing of our bodies?”  Let us be clear from the onset God does heal!  Scripture does record, and our own personal experiences verify, that God does, in fact, work miracles repairing our bodies in temporary and even in some cases permanent ways until each of us passes from this world to the next.   It should be clear also that God doesn’t just heal holy people, but he also heals sinners, and that God sometimes does not heal people in spite of the condition of their hearts.  For instance, Paul the Apostle prayed three times for God to touch him.  God’s response was not to heal him but to inform him that, “His Grace was sufficient.”  Therefore healing or restoring our body’s health is not an intended guaranteed outcome of entire sanctification.  Sometimes we must continue to walk with disease, pain and disability, and while this may affect the emotions and feelings, the heart of the sanctified is entirely at peace in the will of God for his or her life.  So that whether healthy or not we can say with the Apostle: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37.


The second question to ask is: “How is the mind affected when one becomes pure in heart?”  It is helpful to remember that the mind is an agent of this flesh.  It holds the memories and information acquired as we live. Therefore, it contains many memories and thoughts we would just as well have wished we never had.  Even as one continues to walk in the grace of a holy heart, the mind is limited and bound to this broken flesh and if not watched will wander back to its old patterns.  The scriptures give us a simple direction at this point. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2.  As an old saint once said: “While the Grace of God might have purified our hearts, our minds might need to catch up.”  It is in this context that the Apostle exhorts us to “renew our minds.”  Sanctification of heart does not preclude one from their freedom to think!  God designed humanity to think, reason, learn and apply.  Where we are to regulate ourselves, is in regards to what we choose to think, reason, learn and apply.  We are given clear guidelines by the Apostle on what to dwell on: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”  Philippians 4:8.  The sanctified person will soon find himself or herself in spiritual trouble if he or she relinquishes his or her diligence to continue to “set your minds on things above.”  So, we are to train our thoughts and minds to conform to the mind of Christ.  Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our studying, learning and applying, we will spend the rest of our lives watching and praying in this area. So with the words of Christ we maintain: “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41.  It remains an observable reality and one the entirely sanctified believer can witness to, that the renewal of their mind is a much easier process without a heart that is bent towards its own desires and wants.


It is to be expected that our minds will not only fail us many times, but will surprise us with memories and thoughts we thought were long dead.  And while the enemy of our souls might raise questions and temptations in our minds, there is no sin in them unless we choose to dwell on them, allowing them to reform our hearts, causing a root of unbelief to spring up.  If thoughts and temptations were sin, then our Lord himself must have sinned when Satan tempted him.  Yet we know this to be false for our scriptures say: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15.  Therefore it is helpful for us to consider that as long as we remain in this broken world, we will be tempted, our minds and bodies will not work as well as we would like, yet God’s Word says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13.


Entire sanctification is a term I have used in this writing to describe holiness of heart, but many refer to the experience as: Christian Perfection, Pure Love, or the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Whatever term you prefer is not the issue at hand, only that they speak of a “second work of grace” promised to the believer.  “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians. 5:23.  Therefore, what you have read today possibly has brought some light to your situation.  Some of what has been written might have made some sense to you and your heart is encouraged to believe that this holiness of heart is possible.  It is at this point I realize that Satan will also convince some of you to despair, to believe that the gulf between you and a holy heart is just too vast. It is in the context of this argument that I will make some closing comments.


We have come to believe with a surety that all of salvation is God initiated, God directed, God assisted, and God granted.  That even our faith is a benefit of his grace and mercy and that apart from his drawing there can be no salvation.  We believe this, scripture confirms it, and our salvation experience testifies to it.  Yet, when we begin to consider the grace provided to sanctify our hearts from inbred sin, we balk at the very notion of it.  We cry: “How can it ever be?”  We quickly lose the very focus that Christ is not only the Author, but also the One who perfects our faith.   Somehow we miss the fact that it was his faithfulness that brought us this far, and that his faithfulness will bring us home to that spiritual place of rest within.  Faith continues then as the vehicle to full redemption.  It is the belief that in the merits of Christ’s righteousness and atonement I, yes even I, can find a complete reconciliation with God, so that what is impure within can be transformed into all love and holiness.  While there is pain in the thought of my heart still being less than all Christ died for it to be, there is hope, not in my acts of contrition or brokenness, but in his power to deliver!  The heart that in faith takes hold of sanctification for itself and proclaims “not my will but yours be done!” soon finds the holiness it has been seeking.  Strengthen your faith by attending to all gracious means afforded a child of God, such as prayer, meditation on scriptures, communion and worship, all the while patiently wait on God who will testify to your heart of his sanctifying work. 


Do you believe you have already made this leap of faith into God’s sanctifying grace and do you want to be sure?  Then ask yourself these questions:  “Does my heart rise up against the will of God?”   “Does my heart rise up against my fellow man?”  “Do I have affections within that are prone to self and not to Christ?”  “Is my all on the altar of Sacrifice, my heart does the Spirit control?”  “Is your heart full of love towards God and your neighbor?”  “Can you testify that his Spirit assures you of this work of grace?”  “Is the world crucified to you and you to the world?”  “Is God your all in all?”  “Does your heart and conscience, have sweet communion?”   If you can answer a resounding “Yes” to these questions then God has in fact completed his work.  Thank him for his cleansing power and move forward in the might of His Spirit, from glory to glory and from faith to faith. 


Do you doubt this inward sanctifying work?  Do you still feel the desire of self and pride against the will of God?  Then cry unto the Lord for help!  Plead his grace and reach out by faith today, ready to say, “yes” to whatever he asks of you.   He will test your resolve to be completely conformed to the image of his Son.  You will experience the greatest battle of your life.  Your heart and mind will rise up against your spirit. If you ask today, “Lord grant me this sanctified heart,” know for a certainty that his Spirit will lead you to that sanctifying grace.  He will allow situations and issues to arise where we find our hearts rising up with self-will and with unholy tempers.  If you are serious about experiencing this delivering grace then in this moment, pull out the sword of the Spirit and slay the “giant” by faith.  Call out, “Lord, deliver me this moment from my own evil heart that would defeat me!”  Cry out to the Strong for strength, and hold on to the Lord with the tenacity of Jacob until you are blessed!   Let him put you through the fire of his love and he will burn from your heart and life all that displeases him.  Oh my friend, what grace this is, that we should be able to experience all the love of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge, “that we may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:19.  Maintain your constant devotion to God and his Ordinances during this time, wait patiently through the fiery trial that will purify your faith.  Take courage and remember the words of our dear Apostle James,  “let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:4. 


Are you willing to be crucified with him, to give him your old-nature that he might renew it in his love?  Then forsake your way, and put your heart and life on the altar of his Love and you will soon find that “peace that passes all understanding,” and that “holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3a.


"For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the Lord, 
"plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." 
Jeremiah 29:11
Copyright © 2001 Hope Christian Church



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