Sermon: What is Holiness?

I’ve said this so many times before, but look at the world around us, and look at what our world is calling good.

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For the past couple of weeks, we talked about spiritual warfare. The first week we talked about who God calls. And when we look at it, God calls each and every one of us a warrior. The second week, we talked about prayer as a form of warfare. Maybe you’re praying for yourself or you’re praying for someone else, or you’re asking for others to pray for you. Prayer is a form of active spiritual warfare.

Today, I’d like to shift gears a little bit. I’m going to reference warfare a little. I mentioned last week that when we pray, we need to put on Christ’s righteousness and helmet of salvation. We need to pray the scriptures which is using the sword of the spirit, but today, I’d like to segue the idea of Christ’s righteousness and helmet of salvation into the idea of holiness. What is holiness?

If you have your Bibles, we’re going to take a look at the end of 2 Corinthians Chapter 6; and continue directly from there into the first verse of Chapter 7. So we’ll be reading 2 Cor. 6:14-18; and then end with 2 Cor. 7:1.

As you’re turning there, I keep saying how odd it is that chapters and verses are sometimes divided in mid-thought, so I finally looked into the history of it, and I found that an archbishop of Canterbury by the name of Stephen Langton in 1227 A.D. is credited with dividing the Bible into chapters. Wycliff Bible Translators set the standard of using his chapter divisions in the 1300s, and we’ve used the same chaptering system since.

As time went on, others divided the Old Testament and New Testament into verses, and we’ve used the same chapter and verse system since 1555. So as Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.

Scripture: Let’s take a look at our scripture this morning.

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

Chapter 7

1 Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

Three years ago, almost to the day, Verse of the Day had 2 Cor. 7:1 as its daily Bible verse, and it said:

In a world so full of distractions and temptations, purity is difficult. Even more than difficult, the call to purity often goes forgotten and ignored. “Cheap grace” (Jude 4) is substituted for a call to passionate living. While we never want to give in to a works righteousness, we also must remember that impurity through laziness or lack of commitment or simple rebellion are contaminating those claiming to be Christians and ruin our influence before the watching world.

So what I want to talk to you about today is the meaning of real, true Holiness, and why it is important.

Before I talk about what holiness is, let’s first take a look at what it’s not. Looking at what Verse of the Day said, we don’t want to give in to a ‘works righteousness.’ That’s taken from what Paul said to the Roman church. I think my next sermon series is going to be on Romans. But here are a few things he said to the Romans:

Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law, we become conscious of our sin.”

If we skip down to verses 27 and 28, we read,Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

And if we go to Romans chapter 11, we read, “5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther led the protestant reformation out of heretical teachings from the Catholic church. And from there, over the centuries, many protestant denominations have sprung up. Luther was awakened to the heretical teachings of the church by reading and studying the Bible. But as right as Luther was about much of what he taught, and as much as he had studied the Bible, he still didn’t understand it all. It was quite a journey for him.

In his sermon series “Reformation Truths,” Michael Reeves said that Luther was enslaved by works of righteousness. Think about that. We can be enslaved to sin, but Luther was enslaved to works of righteousness.

He said that for years Luther lived by Aristotle’s maxim “We become righteous by doing righteous deeds.” As a monk, Luther desperately did all the righteous deeds he could imagine — and what he slowly came to realize was the dream of becoming truly righteous by some simple change of behavior was just that, an elusive dream holding its reward ever just out of reach.

It consistently promised righteousness without delivering it, all the time exacting a heavier and heavier behavioral demand. In other words, by dangling the hope of becoming righteous before him, while repeatedly giving more deeds to do, that idea gradually enslaved him. Worse, while doing all those outward acts of righteousness he found it wasn’t making him upright in heart, full of love for the Lord. Quite the opposite, as he’s doing all these apparently righteous acts, he found resentment snowballing inside him for the God who demands so many deeds. Trying to sort himself out and become righteous by his own efforts was driving him deep into slavery, despair, and hatred of God.

There are so many people that believe in a works-righteousness or a works-holiness. Remember last week I said that we cannot be truly righteous? We have to put on Christ’s helmet of salvation and breastplate of righteousness. Nothing in that armor is anything that we can obtain on our own.

Many of you will probably remember when holiness meant a laundry list of ‘not-to-do’s’ right? You can’t go to the movies, you can’t go to the pool hall, you can’t go dancing, you can’t go roller skating, you can’t play ball on a Sunday in your own backyard, you can’t…fill in the blank…because of man-made holiness rules. Thankfully, I don’t remember any of those things because it was just before my time; but I do remember that you could only listen to Christian music, and then, what was considered Christian music was a heated debate.

Steve Taylor had a song called, “Guilty by Association” right when the Christian music debate was in full swing. He talks about it in the second verse of his song, but I want to read to you the first verse because I think it exemplifies this man-made holiness mentality a little bit better.

He said:

So you need a new car?

Let your fingers take a walk

Through the business guide for the born-again flock.

You’ll be keeping all your money

In the Kingdom now,

And you’ll only drink milk from a Christian cow.

Don’t you go casting your bread

To keep the heathen well-fed

Line Christian pockets instead,

Avoid temptation-

Guilty by association.

Diana tells me she remembers when people started wearing sandals to church. And we all remember that if you didn’t show up to church in your Sunday best, you weren’t a Christian. What if people couldn’t afford Sunday best? Must mean they’re not real Christians because the Lord would provide.

Works-based righteousness isn’t holiness. And as we find out in Steve Taylor’s song and in wearing your “Sunday Best” and in the life of Martin Luther, works-based holiness is an impossible standard to live up to. It’s not any different than what Jesus was confronted with. He was considered unholy because he healed on the Sabbath. It was law upon law upon law that was man-made to make you supposedly more holy. And the term we had for that was legalism.

So if that’s not holiness, then what is holiness? As Paul said to the Romans, holiness is not something that we can obtain on our own, but it is obtained only by grace. “It cannot be based on works;” he said. “if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” That’s why we sing “Amazing Grace.” That’s why “Amazing Grace” is the most popular hymn, perhaps the most popular song of all time. It’s the Christian anthem. Nothing can save us except for God’s grace. Nothing can make us holy except for God’s grace.

So why then, do we bother with what Paul said to the Corinthians? If he said to the Romans that we cannot be holy on our own, then why practice holiness at all? Why not live the way we want and just rely on God’s grace to cover us?

Because that’s called “cheap grace.” It’s taking God’s love for granted and eventually, you’ll find yourself having slipped down the slippery slope and out of God’s grace by your own doing.

If we go to Romans 6, Paul finishes his thought: 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

​​Martin Luther was a slave to the wrong kind of righteousness. He was enslaved to trying to live in righteousness without grace.

We go back to the first verse of chapter 7. Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

So how do we balance perfecting holiness without becoming slaves to works-righteousness? We do as Paul said, we become slaves––or more accurately translated––servants of God. This means having a personal relationship with God, not just taking the Bible and using it as an owner’s manual.

Taking the Bible and using it as an owner’s manual is how we end up in trouble. It’s how we end up doing things out of fear or duty, and not out of love. We practice holiness because we love God. It is a demonstration of our love for God and our desire to walk with Him and have a new kind of life in him.

If we go back to 2 Cor. 6, we read where Paul quotes from the Old Testament: “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Then, Paul follows that with more quotes from God in the Old Testament: Therefore,

“Come out from them and be separate, ” says the Lord. “Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

So what is holiness? It is this verse that we just read. 2 Corinthians, verse 16, “Come out and be separate.”

Kay Arthur, writing for, said:

The word holy means “sacred, set apart from the profane (unholy) and for God.” Baker’s Encyclopedia of the Bible says, “The primary Old Testament word for holiness means ‘to cut or to separate.’ Fundamentally, holiness is a cutting off or separation from what is unclean, and a consecration to what is pure.” In the New Testament the word for holy, hagios, is the same root word for saint and sanctified.

So holiness is an inward cleansing of our spirit by God that takes intentionality on our part to draw closer to Him and to want to be made holy. It is a will and a desire on our part to have a separate worldview than what we once had or what secular society currently has, and it comes through a process that only The Holy Spirit can provide.

I’ve said this so many times before, but look at the world around us, and look at what our world is calling good. Our world is calling what used to be evil, good. And what used to be called good, evil. Our human standards of good and evil are shifting. And as I’ve said, some churches are buying into human standards of good and evil and calling it Christlike.

But God has already given us His standards, which are too high to achieve on our own. That is why we need The Holy Spirit living in our lives and a firm grasp of The Bible to teach us and to convict us of what God’s standards are. And because they are too high, if we don’t accept God’s grace, we end up like Martin Luther. I think there are a lot of ex-Christians out there, or certainly, ex-churchgoers, who found out the hard way that true holiness cannot be obtained by natural means.

This is how we become separate: Through the study of scripture and the work of The Holy Spirit within us, prompting us to become more separate, each step of our journey. It’s a process. It’s a walk. And we live by grace during this process. And we obey out of our love and desire to be holy. I said that holiness cannot be obtained naturally, but once we’re in step with the Holy Spirit, holiness becomes an inward lifestyle that then naturally becomes more Godly, and less worldly.

So why is holiness important?

C.S. Lewis once said, “How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.”

It is truly a joyful lifestyle that cannot be found on earth. That’s because it doesn’t come from earth. It can only come from God. It cannot be found anywhere on earth. People try to find joy and fulfillment in many things. Some of the most wealthy people are often the most depressed. Many successful people have found that success doesn’t equal happiness.

Holiness can lead to happiness. God’s love can lead to happiness. A deeper experience of God in our lives can lead to happiness. Holiness and happiness go hand in hand.

Like C.S. Lewis said, so many people think that being holy is dull and stupid. Have you ever seen how Hollywood depicts holiness? I’m okay with good humor. I’m okay when The Simpsons make fun of church or religious types of things because they don’t really make fun of Christianity itself or God too much, but there are some shows and movies that have made Christianity into some kind of cult. Or that we’re racist, sexist bigots who don’t have any sense of humor or personality.

I remember when people thought it strange that I was a Christian because I was so normal. But at the same time, I don’t think it surprised them all that much because they saw something different and more satisfying in my life.

A holy lifestyle is not only inward, but it shines outward. D.L. Moody said, “A holy life will make the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns, they just shine.”

Now, there’s an old saying, “God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness.” And I think there’s truth to that. Sometimes we have to go through a refining process, and like gold or silver, it may mean that God has to crank up the heat a little bit.

This heat is a holiness process that burns away our impurities. And sometimes purification is a painful process.

But the goal of that is to make us more holy and to burn away our old selves so that we can ever-increasingly become a new creature in Christ. And as such, we become more satisfied. We become one with Christ.

So where are you on your holiness walk? Have you been striving too hard to be holy on your own? Have you thought that going to church is what makes you holy? Have you found it too difficult to be holy and you’ve wondered why?

I quoted Paul Harvey earlier and I’m going to do it again. “Now you know the rest of the story.”

Maybe you’ve relied too much on grace and you’ve taken God’s love for granted. Maybe God is calling you to straighten something out in your life. Maybe you’ve been wondering why your relationship with God has been off. Sin will do that, especially sinning willingly and thinking, “well, I’m under grace.”

God won’t be mocked. And that is a form of mocking God. It’s creating an idol out of sin and it’s creating an idol out of yourself.

Let’s take a moment before we pray and seek where God wants to make us more holy and pure.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your grace that makes us holy. For we desire holiness and closeness with you, but it is impossible without your grace. Last week, we celebrated communion, by which we remember the sacrifice you gave so that we can be made holy.

Thank you that you love us so much to make a way for us.

Lord, I pray that you will keep us in your grace. That we would have a greater desire to be made even more holy so that we would have an even greater relationship with you. So that we can be made into that new creation step by step with you.

In Jesus’ name, amen.



This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen

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