Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury --http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .
From: Holiness for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1983 Wesley Press
Holiness in the Scriptures
The idea of holiness is virtually everywhere in the Bible and in Christian history. It is
not some new notion dreamed up by John Wesley or the "holiness churches." Holiness is taught
clearly in the Old and New Testaments, and has continually been a concern for serious Christians
through the ages.
The Idea of Holiness
Holiness originates with God. He alone is perfectly holy. His holiness is such an
essential part of His nature that the prophet, Amos, declared He has "sworn by his holiness." All
holiness begins with God. He is the Holy One.
However, the idea of holiness in the Bible is not limited to God. Sometimes places were
considered holy. On the occasion of Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush, he stood on
"holy ground." There are many times which were to be kept holy. The most obvious one was the
seventh day of each week.
Certain objects were considered holy; for instance, the altar, sacrifices, and related items
used in temple worship. Even people could be considered holy, including priests, Levites, or
even the entire nation of Israel. In fact, the idea of separation, purification, and holy living is a
dominant theme of the entire Bible.
Throughout God's Word there is the dual promise of forgiveness for sins and deliverance
from the power of sin. God's Word repeatedly emphasizes themes of individual cleansing from
all impurity, renewing our hearts in righteousness, and conforming human beings to God's
In the New Testament, John the Baptist announced to those repenting of their sins that a
greater One was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, burning away all
the "chaff" of men's hearts.
The hope for true deliverance from sin that would enable a believer to live in obedience
to God's laws is found throughout God's Word.
The Standard of Holiness
Since God is a holy God, what does He expect from His followers? Nothing less than
holiness. Moses prefaced the giving of carious laws to the Israelites with the command that they
be holy because God himself was holy. In the New Testament, Peter recalled this ideal by
commanding Christians to be holy, since the God who called them was holy. Jesus concluded
His demand to love even our enemies by stating that we should be perfect as our Heavenly Father
The logic here is simple: (1) God is holy; (2) God called us to be like Him; (3) We must
be holy, like him.
What is this holiness that God expects of His people? It is obedience. God expected
each Israelite to fear Him, obey Him, and serve Him with all his heart and soul. Obviously, this
cannot be done with human strength. So God promises a work in the heart - a "circumcision of
heart" - that can enable a follower to actually love God with all his heart and soul.
Solomon dedicated the new Temple in the presence of all Israel. he concluded his
dedication by commanding them to fully commit their hearts to God. He warned them that God
would not be satisfied with partial commitment; He demands total commitment. The record of
the Israelites illustrates how infrequently they achieved complete obedience. But their failure has
not altered God's standard of holiness. he wants total and complete commitment.
Jesus reinforced this high standard of holiness. he established it as the "most important
commandment." Believers are commanded to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and
strength - their whole being; not with part of their being; not even with most of their being.
Jesus commanded loving God with all our being. "ALL" means just that - 100%.
Then, just in case we are tempted to become holy recluses, Jesus attaches the second
command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." These two commands - loving God and loving
your neighbor - provide the clear standard of holiness commanded throughout the Bible. God is
holy. He expects us to be holy. Holiness is loving devotion to God and others.
The most obvious command toward holiness is "be holy, because I am holy." Because
we are God's, and He is holy, we, too, are commanded to be holy.
Jesus prayed, on His last night with His disciples, that His Father would sanctify them -
His closing intercession for His disciples. This sanctification was for service - they were headed
into a hostile world with a holy message. Jesus expected a future sanctifying work to be done in
these followers which would equip them with the power and unity to work in an evil world.
All through the epistles the early believers are repeatedly urged to be filled with the
Spirit, or to put on a new man, or to believe that God will sanctify them through and through.
Paul wrote to his Christian brothers in Thessalonica that it is simply God's will that they be holy.
Holiness is clearly God's will for His followers. It always has been. It still is. It always
Holiness is for Believers
Some have been inclined to think that the commands to holiness in the Bible are not
meant for believers. They reason that a Christian "gets it all at once." A serious reading of the
Bible does not support this notion. Repeatedly the Bible writers urge Christian brothers and
sisters to pursue holiness.
Paul tells the Corinthians "saints" to purify themselves of everything that contaminates
either the body or the spirit in order to perfect holiness in their lives.
Paul reminds the "brothers" in Rome that their old, sinful nature. The deeds of their old
nature are to be put to death.
John tells "children of God" who do not yet see what God is making of them, that they
will be like Jesus when they see Him. This exciting hope is to cause these believers to purify
themselves, just as He is pure.
Paul tells the Corinthians Christians that his prayer is for their perfection - that they will
become whole, mature, and complete. He concludes with an admonition that they should aim for
nothing less than - you guessed it - perfection.
In Hebrews, the readers are scolded for being baby Christians so long. They are urged to
leave the elementary teachings, and "go on" to maturity or completeness in Christ.
Finally, after detailing God's faithfulness throughout eleven chapters, Paul urges the
Roman believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy to God. He promises them a
spiritual transformation or renewal of spiritual transformation or renewal of their minds, so that
they will no longer be conformed to the patterns of this world.
There is no doubt about holiness being a clear emphasis of the Scriptures. In God's
Word believers, brothers, children of God, Christians, are repeatedly called to something more -
to go on to holiness, full maturity, completeness, perfection.
The idea of holiness is everywhere in the Scripture. It appears in one form or another
more than 600 times. It literally pervades both the Old and New Testament. The standard of
holiness is clear: loving God with al my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving others as
myself. It is not merely some distant goal we pursue with no hope of attaining. It is commanded
as God's will for all believers. It is thus a present possibility for me to have a heart full of love for
God and others.
The Holiness Quest in History
Down through the ages serious Christians have thought, spoken, and written about
holiness (perfect love for God and others) and sanctification (God's work in us which perfects this
love). Holiness is not a new idea in recent history. There have always been people who took
God's demand to "be holy" at face value. These people searched for a means of becoming as holy
as God commanded.
The writings of early Christians, like Clement and Ignatius, ring with the hope for
deliverance from sin in this life - to actually "walk as He walked."
Some early seekers of holiness figured they might find holiness through self-
renunciation. These ascetics denied themselves comforts of life, isolated themselves from the
world, practiced daily disciplines of righteousness, and became the long-lasting lay monastic
movement. Monasticism is probably the most organized quest for holiness in history. The hope
was that self-denial and spiritual discipline would produce holiness in this life. For many
hundreds of years, the search for holiness and piety sometimes led to a monastery or convent.
Despite the inadequacies and limitations of the monastic and mystical movements, the holiness
which was to be found during these times was most often found in these movements.
During the early 1300's, there were other examples of sincere piety like Eckart and other
members of the "Brethren of the Common Life." In the late 1300's, Thomas a' Kempis wrote his
Imitation of Christ. He emphasized that personal holiness - a complete purity of intention - was
possible in this life. Through this time there remained within the Roman Catholic Church a
strata of faithful seekers after holiness through sanctification.
Like most reformers in the 1500's, Martin Luther provided no hope for deliverance from
sin in this life. But some of Luther's contemporaries, notably Schwenkfeld and Munzer and a
group called "Confessors in the Glory of Christ," emphasized the real possibility of holiness in
In the 1600's, Jeremy Taylor attempted to explain holiness as a practical possibility for
the workaday world in his book, Holy Living and Holy Dying. The emphasis began to swing
closer to everyday living. Holiness could be for anybody who sought it, not just for those who
dedicated their lives to hiding away in monasteries, seeking all of God.
George Fox, a contemporary of Taylor, was father of the Quaker movement. Fox not
only refused to relegate holiness and piety to a monastery, but merged it with social concern and
activism, as Wesley did one hundred years later.
During this same century (the 1600's), German pietism was fathered by Philipp Spener
who proclaimed the necessity for holy living. He and his followers held small group meetings for
Bible study, reading, prayer, fasting, sharing, and mutual edification.
In the 1700's, the Moravians carried on the pietist concern for personal holiness. The
Moravians' bravery in face of apparent death, during a stormy voyage to America, shook Wesley
deeply and led him to continue the spiritual search that resulted in his conversion.
In the 1700's, John and Charles Wesley preached, wrote books, composed hymns, sang,
and debated; as did John Fletcher and Bishops Coke and Asbury, in America. The great
Methodist movement which emerged emphasized the definite practical possibility of deliverance
form willful sin and being filled with love for God and others. John Wesley's writings continue
to provide a central reference point for today's "holiness people."
During the 1800's, the doctrine and experience of holiness continued to ripple through
most Christian movements and denominations. The Keswick movement was organized in 1874
to "promote scriptural holiness." Colleges and "holiness associations" sprang up as waves of the
holiness "revival" spread further. Special "holiness camp meetings" were planned.
Denominations were organized, including the Wesleyan Methodist connection (1843) and the
Free Methodist Church (1860), and the Pilgrim Holiness Church and Church of the Nazarene
In the 1900's, the doctrine of holiness continued to spread, though not without some
distractions and abuses, Methodism seemed to downplay this experience. In some holiness
churches, "legalism" became a problem. "Special" associations or events for holiness promotion
declined. In many places, the holiness message became limited to the pulpits of the "holiness
churches," the remaining holiness camps, and the work of certain scholars. Some holiness
people gave greater attention to doctrinal purity than heart purity, resulting in a curious "creedal
In this last quarter of the 1900's, there are clear signs of a new revival in holiness
doctrine and experience. This new wave of holiness is especially apparent among the younger
generation. They, like Wesley, are vitally concerned about merging personal piety with
evangelistic and social concern. There is dramatic evidence of an increasing emphasis on
holiness in Keswick and Calvinist para-church organizations and in the "mainline"
denominations. retreats are making a strong bid to be a new "special" means of promoting the
experience of entire sanctification. Young adults, fed up with the hollowness of the lukewarm
life, are beginning to search for something more. There are signs that we are on the verge of a
widespread holiness revival.
We can say with certainity that the ideas of holiness and sanctification are not new.
They are not merely "pet doctrines" of a few denominations. Holiness is rooted soundly in the
Bible, has been sought throughout the ages of church history, and is now experiencing a revival
around the world. There are always people who will read God's Word and see His demands
clearly - to put off all sin, put on righteousness, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and experience His
complete cleansing from sinful inclinations. These honest believers simply assume that God
would not command more than He would provide for. Since He commands holiness, He will
provide the power for them to become holy. They believe God is able to make them holy in this
life. Thus, they reach out in faith to God and consecrate themselves to Jesus. Christ's response
today is the same as it has been all down through history. Those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness - He fills. Those who become seekers - will find. Those who ask - receive.
In this chapter, we observed scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments to
illustrate the frequency of references in it to holiness. In fact, it may appear that we have been
"proof-texting." However, attempting to see what the whole Bible says about one subject, is a
sound approach for the serious student of Scripture.
Bible survey, though, is not the only worthwhile approach. Another method of studying
the Bible is to work intensively on a small section, e.g. Romans 12:1-2. This is an exciting way
to study, but we may tend to bring our own prejudices to these verses. In this kind of detailed
study, we should, in fact bring to bear on that small portion of scripture, the "whole Bible
approach" mentioned above.
A third way to study an idea in the Bible is to take a large portion of scripture, say an
entire book of the Bible, and see what it says. This has some of the advantages of the "whole
Bible approach," yet the size is more manageable.
The following Bible study (and the one at the end of the next chapter) proceeds along
the lines of this third method. Let's study the book of Ephesians and see what Paul says to these
people about the Christian life and holiness.
1. What kind of people were these Ephesians?
Ephesians 2:1, 5
2. What does Paul urge these believers to "put off" in Ephesians 4:22?
3. What characteristics of the "old self" does Paul give?
4. What are these believers to "put on" according to Ephesians 4:24?
5. What are some characteristics of the "new self?"
6. What does Jesus Christ want to do with His church, according to Ephesians 5:25-27?
7. Paul urged the Ephesian Christians to put off the deeds of the old self, and to put on
righteousness. The goal was to make them holy and blameless. In his prayer for these believers
in Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul describes how he hopes they will actually become holy. According to
this prayer, what is Paul saying?
Ephesians 3:16. The Ephesians were already strong believers. What does Paul ask God
to do now?
Ephesians 3:16. Who is to do this strengthening?
Ephesians 3:17. What is the word in this verse that is the key to holy living?
Ephesians 3:18. What does Paul pray that they will have the power to grasp?
Ephesians 3:19. But grasping God's love is not even enough. What does Paul actually
pray that these believers will experience?
Ephesians 3:20. Then, just in case we can't even imagine being completely filled with
God's love, what does he say about God?
Ephesians 3:20. Where is the power to do this already at work?
8. Ephesians 5:17-18, Paul commands these believers not to get drunk on - under the
control of - wine. Instead, what does he direct them to do?
To Think About
a. Since all believers already have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), what does filled
with the Spirit mean?
b. When we say something is filled, how full is it? Does this bring any other
verses to your mind?
c. Are there possible parallels between being drunk on wine and being filled with
For Review and Discussion
1. What Old Testament passages speak of holiness?
2. What is the standard of holiness in the Bible?
3. Who are some of the individuals and groups who are part of the holiness movement's
4. What is the common denominator among all these groups?
5. What are the similarities among these groups and today's movement?
From: Holiness for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1983 Wesley Press
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To contribute to the thinking on this issue, or to contact the writer e-mail Tuesday@indwes.edu