Summary: The many ideas on holiness lead to the misconception that it is unattainable here on Earth.
How Holy Is Holiness?
Rob Thomas has always been motivated more by recess, than by any other of his classes. For an hour one day when he was in the second grade, Rob had avoided working on his math sheet. Then the teacher told him that every problem would have to be done before he could go out for recess. Within two minutes, his teacher reported, he had written an answer for every problem. Unfortunately every answer was wrong, and the teacher sent the work sheet home for him to do over.
“You’ll have to do all these problems again,” his dad told him. “Why?” he asked. “They’re all wrong,” his dad replied. “So?” he shrugged. “Nobody’s perfect.”
Rob’s final phrase pretty much sums up why some people reject holiness. Even bumper stickers proclaim, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” And those who need more authority than a bumper sticker turns to 1 John 1:8, which clearly states, “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth” (NLT).
In the face of worldly wisdom, bumper sticker wisdom, and 1 John 1:8, why do Salvationists insist on teaching holiness? For the simple fact that the Bible teaches “an initial experience, a continuing experience, an ultimate experience” (Handbook of Doctrine 118).
Deliverance from all sin and of being renewed in the image of God are themes that run throughout the Bible. Paul prayed that sanctification was his heart’s desire for the people of Thessalonica. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23 NIV).
The Bible commands that we be holy. “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy,” (Lev. 19:2 NLT). (READ Matt. 5:48, Heb. 6:1). The Bible is full of examples of people who lived in a holy relationship with God. “Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless man” (Gen. 6:9 NLT ). Job was “blameless, a man of complete integrity” (Job 1:1 NLT). 1 John 4:17 says, “As we live in God, our love grows more perfect” (NLT).
There are so many other verses we could go too as evidence of the biblical teaching on holiness. But more important than that is this, the whole fabric of the Bible portrays a vision of people set apart into a holy relationship with our holy God.
The message of the Bible is not the bad news of defeat and enslavement to sin or of the awfulness of humanity. Rather, Scripture sings out the optimistic Good News that the grace of God is working to bring us victory over sin and into a holy, joyful relationship with Him.
1. What Is Holiness?
One reason people have so much trouble understanding the teaching of holiness is because, we have so many terms to explain it: perfect love, Christian perfection, entire sanctification, to name just a few.
At times Holiness theologians say that all these terms refer to the same experience. Other times, they want us to understand the subtle differences of these meanings. It is no wonder people look like a deer staring into car headlights.