In 2005 my family and I arrived in India to spend a month at Rehoboth with our commended missionary workers Phyllis Treasure and Sarah Simpson. My very first assignment was to speak on the Sunday morning at East Fort Assembly. There were about 400 people present, men and women separated, elders sitting at the front facing the congregation. The worship service began and various men stood and participated. However I soon noticed something disturbing to me. During times of prayer one of the elders, my translator sitting next to me, would start saying out loud “Stop him!” He even at times stood up while someone was praying and called out “Stop him!” My mind was racing at 100mph. I was soon to speak. “Lord, help me. Such division in this place! What shall I speak on? Change my message?” Anyway I spoke and afterwards there was a church lunch. It wasn’t until later that I had an opportunity to ask Sarah what was going on when that elder got so excited, calling out “Stop him!” to various ones praying. Sarah laughed! “Stop him” sounded like the Malayalam word for expressing praise and glory to God. I had greatly misunderstood what was going on! Talk about embarrassment, but I was also filled with great relief and joy. Things were not so bad after all.
The Bible clearly commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). For years I struggled with this commandment. Obviously we were to be holy and yet I was so conscious of my own shortcomings. The harder I tried the more disappointed I became with myself. It wasn’t until more recent years that it finally dawned upon me that I was so grossly mistaken. I could not be holy by my own efforts or in my strength. When this truth finally sank in, I was filled with tremendous relief and joy.
Holiness is not a matter of being a busy Christian constantly involved in church activities, nor is it someone whose conversation is constantly peppered with “Bless you sister” or “Praise the Lord!” Holiness is not a matter of following the latest fads; prophecy news, music styles, Bible conferences, nor is it a case of memorising the Bible off by heart and religiously following a list of “dos” and “don’ts”. Holiness is not about our own attempted good works — that is not the point. Holiness begins with and is sustained by the work of God. Because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, we through faith are genuinely born again of the Holy Spirit of God and made new holy creations (Galatians 6:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Now it is our joyful responsibility to put into practice what we are in position before God. The book of Romans helps unpack this for us, especially chapter six. It describes the pathway of holiness to us.
The apostle Paul begins this chapter by asking the question “Shall we go on sinning?” He immediately answers with an emphatic “No!” Paul doesn’t say, “No, try your best not to sin” or “No, don’t sin any more or God will be mad at you.” His answer simply implies that the true Christian cannot live in sin any longer, that it would be inconsistent to do so. Why? Because of what God has done for us, every Christian has been completely removed from the power and dominion of sin. Paul now explains how God has accomplished this, and from this we begin to get a grasp of what holiness is all about.
Holiness is knowing that at that moment in our lives when we first trusted in Jesus as our Saviour, we died; we were buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6:1-10). Water baptism symbolically portrays this wonderful truth. Our old self was crucified with Christ once and for all time. God now identifies each of us personally with his Son’s death and resurrection. This truth is the foundation for all true spiritual living. So this newness of life is not something we are hoping for, or praying for, or striving after, or slowly developing into, or waiting for God to perform for us. It is a truth that has already occurred and is an accomplished fact. These verses are telling us that God has graciously done what we cannot possibly do for ourselves. Our response is simply in faith, to know this.
Holiness is counting (or reckoning), ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11). This is based upon the fact of our union with Jesus and his death and resurrection. To count, or reckon, is primarily an attitude of faith, meaning to consider as being true what God has declared to be true. It means to keep the truth before you and rely upon it, and to regard yourself according to the truth indicated. So we are to regard ourselves as having died to the realm of sin, and as being alive unto God. This is not a promise awaiting fulfillment, but rather in Christ an accomplished fact.
Holiness is the offering of the parts of our bodies not to sin but rather to God as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:12-14). This is a responsibility we have due to our identification with Christ and his death and resurrection. No longer is sin our master, for we are now under grace. This is not a command or a promise but a statement of fact and a word of encouragement. In grace God has already anticipated your every need to live the holy life — awesome!
Holiness is putting to death the sinful actions of the body (Romans 8:12-13). Here is justification for the Christian to be ruthless in a good sense. Be determined in denying your own personal right to act independently of God. Be radical in making a complete break from all known sin — keep no prisoners! Starve the sinful nature, giving it no opportunity to flourish. Never give up in seeking to keep your body under the Spirit’s control, always dealing immediately with those first impulses of temptation.
Holiness is keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18). We need to be aware of the Spirit’s every prompting which will always be in agreement with God’s word and never clouded by sole reliance upon our own imagination or assumptions. Walking by the Spirit means following his leading, living a life of true obedience to God’s word and doing it in the only way possible, by relying totally upon him. It is only through this complete reliance that the Christian life can be truly lived and enjoyed.
Yes — there is the opposition of the sinful nature to the Spirit. Yes — we are still living in this body of sin. Yes — the sinful nature is in continual opposition to all of God and will always seek to dominate your life and spoil your walk in the Spirit. Yes — the person who is walking in the Spirit will know the opposition of the sinful nature. But this same person will also know the overcoming victory of the Spirit.
Is the mission impossible? Not on your life! Nothing is impossible with God; rather, the mission has already been fully accomplished in Christ. What relief! What joy! Things are not so bad after all!