Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14
Throughout the Holy Scriptures we have revealed to us the many wonderful qualities and attributes of God. Although His perfections are doubtless past finding out, we are given some precious glimpses into His heart and mind. If we use a good concordance and study carefully all of the statements made about His character, we can develop an appreciation for Him that otherwise might well elude us.
The God that is revealed to us in the Bible is a God beyond compare. He is, beyond all reasonable doubt, the true and living God. If we read all of the sacred writings of all of the other religions that have ever been in the world, we can never discover a god like our God. All other gods of all the other religions that we know anything about fall short of our God in every respect. Any god that the most exquisite genius of man might create must invariably fall short of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is no fine and noble quality that the human mind can think of that the great Jehovah does not possess in an infinite measure and there is no base or ignoble quality of which He is not completely devoid.
When we consider that Adam was created in the image of this glorious God and when we observe the present state of Adam's children, we can begin to realize the awful depths of the fall. The very thought of it is enough to make angels weep. Every moment of every day men are steeped in debauchery and rebellion against everything good and holy. The earth is a veritable quagmire of sin and wickedness and the stench of it rises up constantly into the nostrils of that gloriously perfect God. The world is like a wild and insane beast that runs headlong in his fury toward certain destruction. In his madness he is beyond control. Oh, desperate fall! Oh, loss incalculable!
The purpose of redemption is not just to restore man to that state of perfection from which Adam fell but to raise him up into the stature of Christ, a state that Adam never knew. Any religion that would propose a redemption that leaves man in his awful state must be false because it detracts from the very perfections of God the inventor of redemption. God wants His creatures to be like Himself. His very goodness and purity will never settle for anything less. The first step in God's redemptive plan is the new birth, the breathing of divine life into the dead spirit of a fallen creature. This allows the Lord entrance into and access to the inner nature of the wrecked creature in order to work a complete restoration out of the fall.
What does this mean? Well, in practical terms it means that the new born child will find a power working in him to eradicate that hellish nature from his soul and to create in him all of the wonderful qualities that we see in God. In other words, he will find that this power is constantly laboring to make him to conform to the image of Christ. This power will be continually removing the darkness from the heart so that the new convert can see and understand what God is really like and so that he can see what he himself is really like. Then this power will work in him fervent desires to be changed into the image of Christ.
What is this strange and marvelous power that works so wonderfully in this new babe in Christ? This power is none other than the Holy Spirit who enters into the new convert upon his sincere repentance. The Holy Spirit will war against the old nature relentlessly until it is destroyed and the life of Christ is brought forth in full bloom to the glory and the praise of God, the Father of all our mercies. Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Christ the grand work of restoration and redemption would be impossible. There is one unfortunate fact that we must never let ourselves forget if we hope to enter into eternal glory. That is that Satan is always laboring to frustrate God's work of redemption. His malice is such that night and day he toils with the utmost malignancy of purpose. He never grows weary and he never takes pity on any, no not so much as on the weakest child. He is the great adversary of mankind, the archfiend whose envy and hatred knows no bounds. He began in the Garden of Eden where with his cunning words and his subtle insinuations he beguiled our mother Eve to aspire to be as God. And through her he brought our father Adam and all of our race into the most ignoble state of degradation. This our great enemy has been deceiving man with the same temptation and with the same success ever since. For one of Satan's most effective weapons of deception is to make men disobey God in the name of God.
Religion as an activity of man is no different than any other activity of man. This means that there are fads and fashions in religion just as in everything else that man does. For instance, today we find that the speaking in tongues is greatly in fashion and this appears to many people to be the fulfillment of redemption. To be filled with excitement, to be constantly praising the Lord, to be always talking about the Bible, and to speak in tongues is to many poor deluded souls the proof that one is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Another fad of modern religion is to believe that salvation has nothing to do with our own actions. It is believed by countless millions of deluded souls that we must only accept Christ as our Savior and all is done for time and eternity. God, whose eyes are too pure to behold iniquity, is supposedly somehow blinded by Christ's holiness and righteousness which covers us when we accept Him as our Savior. These fads are believed by many millions in spite of the fact that the Holy Scriptures teach the contrary in many isolated verses and by its whole tone and tenor.
Although it is absolutely true that God is love and that all truly born again believers will manifest this fruit in abundance, the Bible refers far, far more often to another attribute of our blessed God which is almost totally forgotten and overlooked by most professors of Christianity today. The one attribute of God that is mentioned in the Bible more than any other is that God is holy. The Sacred Writings are filled with references to His holiness. We are told that the angels sing day and night of the holiness of the Almighty God.
God is holy and everything that belongs to Him must be holy. He dwells in a holy heaven surrounded by thousands upon thousands of holy angels. His name is holy, His throne is holy, His mountain is holy, His will is holy, His command ments are holy, and even the very sacred writings that He has given us and which tell us about Him are called the Holy Scriptures. We are even told hat we must worship Him in the beauty of holiness if we want to be accepted by Him.
When we are born again, the Holy Ghost enters into our hearts and begins to take possession of us. He does not take possession of us so that we will be excited or praise the Lord or speak in tongues. He enters into us so that He can make us to conform to the image of Christ who is the very image of God. We find nowhere in the Bible that Jesus, who was filled with the Spirit more than anyone else and to whose image we are to be conformed, ever spoke in tongues. We find nowhere in the Scriptures that He was always smiling and happy and praising the Lord and talking about the Bible in an excited way. However, what we do find is that He was a man of sorrows, a man of prayer, a grave and quiet man, a compassionate and loving man, and above all, He was holy.
Without holiness we can not see the Lord. Without holiness He will never remain in our presence and without holiness we can never enter into His presence. As God himself said,
Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. I Peter 1:13-16
Do you want to belong to God? Then you must be holy. Do you want to spend eternity in a holy heaven? Then you must be holy. Do you want to see God? Then you must be holy. You must be holy in every aspect of your life. You cannot hold on to one single unholy thought, word, or deed. But no man in and of himself can possibly live this way. It is exactly for this reason that the Holy Spirit is given to the new convert. He will show him what it means to be holy and then give him the power to do it.
Have you ever noticed that the expression Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit never appears in the Old Testament writings? If all we had to read was the Old Testament, we would probably have to answer what the men of Ephesus said when Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Ghost, "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost." Acts 19:3. In other words, in the old dispensation before the death of Christ the Holy Spirit was not actively working in man in order to redeem him, although He was working through him for other purposes. This can be seen by examining the following verses,
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) John 7:37-39
The Spirit of God is called the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit only when it is referring to Him in His labor in and with man in order to save and perfect him. According to these verses the Holy Spirit did not actively engage in this great work until after Jesus was resurrected and glorified. The term Holy is not meant to be an adjective describing what kind of a spirit the Spirit of God is. Rather, it is a title which describes His work during this dispensation. The function of the Spirit of God in His relation to man during this age is to make him holy.
Have you ever wondered why the Old Testament saints many times appear to be rather worldly minded and unspiritual? Have you ever wondered why Jacob could have four wives and David could kill his tens of thousands? Why Abraham could marry his sister without sin but you cannot? Is it not obvious f rom the Sermon on the Mount that the old dispensation was dedicated to the observance of the letter of the law but that Christ is there teaching that in His new kingdom His disciples must be dedicated to the spirit of the law? Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant when He said the following about John the Baptist?
But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11:9-11
How can the least in the kingdom of heaven be greater than John who was the greatest ever born up to that time? Does that mean that nobody in the Old Testament times went to heaven? Does that mean that Abraham, the friend of God, did not go to heaven? No, of course it does not mean any such thing. The kingdom of heaven is not referring to heaven, but to the kingdom of Christ set up in the hearts of men and women in this present New Testament age. As it is said in the Lord's prayer, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven." Where the will of God is being done, there is the kingdom of heaven. And it is precisely because the saints in this dispensation do the will of the Father that it is called the kingdom of heaven. And the only reason why the New Testament saints can do the perfect will of God and the saints of the Old Testament could not is because they have received the Holy Spirit.
In the above verses Jesus is telling the people that the least saint in the kingdom that He is setting up will be greater than the very greatest saint in all of the ages before. For although the old saints were certainly zealous for the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments, they rarely appear to be holy or spiritual. Their perceptions of God are rather gross and fleshly and their zeal for God is equally gross and fleshly. Even the beautiful Psalms of David must be spiritualized in our minds in order to rid them of a rather gross form of brutality. How often does he call upon God to break out his enemies teeth and to break their arms? How often does he call upon God to utterly destroy them? And then how often does he weep and pray for the forgiveness and salvation of his enemies as blessed Stephen did?
The Old Testament saints did not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them to teach them and to show them the mind of God. All that they had were the Holy Scriptures and their own intellects to interpret them. Is it any wonder that all of their perceptions were fleshly and worldly? After all, the Bible plainly tells us that man's ways are not God's ways and that man's thoughts are not God's thoughts. Man's conceptions of holiness and righteousness can never be like God's. Thus, we can in this way account for the rather gross and fleshly behavior of those old saints.
Even yet today we find the same spirit in all of those sects of Christianity that do not experience the new birth. They are bound down to carnal traditions and the letter. Their apprehensions of the things of God are rather fleshly. That is why they cling to the Bible or their traditions so tenaciously. Their interpretations of the Scriptures are fleshly. True spirituality is always a mystery to them. Yea, one can even say that true spirituality is a blasphemy to them. In the past the true believers were burnt at the stake by them. Of course, in these modern days the persecutions are much more sophisticated.
Nevertheless, their perceptions and interpretations of spiritual things are today just as gross and fleshly as before. Even though millions claim to be born again, their carnal interpretations of the Holy Scriptures demonstrate that they are yet unregenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit. By their water baptisms, by their eating of the bread and drinking of wine, by their worldly attire, by their speaking in tongues, by their involvement in politics and wars, by their almost total lack of separation from the world and its spirit, fads, fashions, and pleasures it is clearly demonstrated that they are strangers to the new birth and the subsequent presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Just as the most prominent attribute of God is His holiness, the most prominent fruit of the new birth in the new believer will be a burning desire to be holy. The Holy Spirit will continually work His work in the believer's heart. And that work is the work of sanctification. The Holy Spirit will breathe holy desires into his soul. Consequently, the new creature will hate every evil thing and he will long to know what is that good and perfect will of God. He will desire to separate himself from every worldly attitude and action.
Let us not be deceived, for God is not mocked. Whatsoever we sow, that will we also reap. If we want to reap the fruits of righteousness, we must be holy. If we look like the world, talk like the world, pursue the world's goals, and enjoy the world's pleasures, then we are of the world, no matter what great religious pretensions we make. Since the world, according to the Scriptures, is an enemy of God, we can only reap the wrath that God will ultimately pour out on the world. But the Holy Spirit will take us out of the world and the world out of us. He will labor incessantly to produce in us the fruits of the new birth. And the greatest of these fruits is the desire to be holy.