Tag Archives: Corinthians

God’s People Are Like Him – An Exposition of II Corinthians 7:1


“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Personal piety is and should be the concern of all God’s people. The lack of personal piety which is common to all sinners is after all, the reason why salvation is needed in the first place. That being said, it stands to reason we should see a text such as this in Scripture which exhorts those who have embraced the salvation of God to be perfect. And so we take it as a true proposition then, that the pursuit of holiness is fitting for those who have been saved from a condition and life of unholiness.

We want to emphasize at the outset of this study what the proper order of these two things is in our proposition. First, salvation is through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And second, sanctification, or, practical holiness is again through the gospel of Jesus Christ. These two things taken in this order and succession, form the biblical, orthodox understanding of the doctrines of free grace.

God’s free grace is as John Newton said in his hymn, amazing. Grace is a subject intimately connected to the One who gives it, God. Grace, is one of God’s chief attributes. It is joined with mercy in Scripture, and the two of them together form perhaps, what can arguably be said to be the highest of His virtues. We need only to look at, the encounter God had with Moses in the wilderness, and the self proclamation He made of Himself to him, in order to come to this conclusion..

“So he cut two tablets of stone like the first ones. Then Moses rose early in the morning and went up Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him; and he took in his hand the two tablets of stone. Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.” (Ex. 34:4-9).

This encounter Moses had with the Lord in the wilderness was truly amazing, for it exposes us to the very character of God, and His disposition toward His covenant people. Several things can be easily drawn from this narrative in support of the aforementioned contention. After receiving the law of God at Sinai through Moses, the people of Israel broke that law in the golden calf incident (Ex. 32:1ff).. Moses, in symbolic gesture, did the same to those two tablets he received from God previously, he smashed them to pieces. But now, we are told Moses made two more tablets, then ascended to Mount Sinai at the command of God to receive a second set. (Ex. 34:1,4). From this we infer the relationship that exists between God and His people are not based on them keeping the law, but rather on His grace toward them that broke it. God repaired the broken law in providing two more tablets which Moses brought with him to that meeting. We see in this narrative then that though the law is etched in stone, salvation is based upon the good word God proclaims of His mercy and forgiveness.

We see this proclamation in the form of a sermon given to Moses in that encounter. Moses wanted to see the glory of God with his eyes without considering the consequences of that request (Ex. 33:13,18,20). So God did answer Moses request in a manner equal to it, yet, in a way which was life preserving, rather than life threatening. This God did by declaring His character to Moses, through words that describe that glory. A list of attributes is given in that speech. God is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, good, true, forgiving, and just. We can add to this God’s declaration of His sovereignty and compassion to Moses stated in the previous chapter (Ex. 33:19). All of these put together and many more, comprise the Holy character of God.

The justice of God demands punishment toward those who break His Holy law (Ex. 34:7b), but much more is said about His mercy, grace and forgiveness toward His people (Ex. 34:7a). We see at once the virtues of grace and mercy at the very forefront of this proclamation. It is also true that both mercy and justice, grace and wrath is reconciled by God for His people as the outworking of His character. In other words, the grace of forgiveness is not opposed to the Holiness of God in the least.

We say all this by way of introducing the theme of this text, found in the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians. The substance of such a text as this is of great importance to the Christian. Therefore, it is not surprising that many false ideas concerning the matter of piety have been embraced by Christians over the centuries. Satan is a busy workman when it comes to deceit and confusion of Christian doctrine. That being the case, we are all the more in need of a sound understanding of it. For a single false concept of this truth may call into question the entire validity of a Christian profession.

God commands His people whom He saves to be holy, like He is (Lev. 11:44,45; I Pet. 1:15). The fact that it is God who saves His people is the very ground of this command. In other words, it is a duty for all Christians to manifest in some degree the character of God who not only created us in His image, but saves us to restore it.

In saying this it must be understood that this holiness of which we speak, is relevant to whom we are as creatures, made in His image. There is no sense in which a creature who is finite, made of dust, and fallen at that, may attain the sort of perfection which inherently resides within the Godhead. This is peculiar to God alone who is the Divine nature. Salvation is based on an imputed righteousness that is entirely forensic in nature. This means that those who are forgiven are declared just by God on the basis of His Sons righteous life, and His obedient death on the cross for their sins. The piety of which we speak therefore, is one of degree, suited to the circumstances of a redeemed sinner.

So that being said, we propose to study this text in two sections. First, we will consider a simple exposition of the text, followed by two doctrines, or, doctrinal applications that naturally flow from it.


Paul opens this text with the word “Therefore,” showing that it actually follows from and concludes what he was saying before it. The reason chapter seven begins this way is due to the arbitrariness in which the chapters were divided. If we were to read Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians as it was originally written, the context of this verse would be obvious. It is a natural continuation to what he was saying in the discourse of the previous chapter. Paul here is addressing the issues raised in the previous chapter, by making a specific point in our text of the necessity of being holy.

There was indeed a special need for Paul to make this sort of an exhortation to the Corinthians. Corinth, just like the rest of ancient Greece was a place with a culture steeped in pagan idolatry, coupled with sexual immorality. The two of these, idolatry and sexual immorality, always go together as a single principle of life to those enslaved by it (Rom. 1:22-27).

Now, since the grace of God comes to a believer completely apart from works of any kind, salvation is something wrought in a sinner in spite of whom and what they are (Rom. 5:8-10). So these Corinthians were saved while being pagans, no different from any other that lived in Greece at the time. But since it is the purpose of God to sanctify as well, it was now incumbent upon these people to shed the thinking and behavior of the culture they were raised in and delivered from. The “Therefore” then, served as an exhortation for them to consider their situation in light of what he was saying in this regard to their thinking, as well as behavior as Christians.

Paul’s “Therefore” here in verse one of second Corinthians seven, is therefore, a conclusion based upon the train of thought expressed by him in chapter six, verses 11-18. In this section of verses Paul exhorts his readers to be separate from the world. He does not mean this in some phony ascetic sort of way, as seen by monasticism. Nor does Paul mean this as seen in modern times by the legalism of Fundamentalists. No, Christians are to live in the world as holy people, not to leave it behind, as though they lived on another planet.

Separation from the world first of all, is a matter of thinking, of which all desires, or, affection is based (verse 12). Separation is second, a matter of choices involving personal associations and commitments (verses 14,15). Separation from the world is third, a matter of biblically ordered worship (verse 16). Separation from the world is fourth, moral, ethical living, according to the dictates of God’s word (verse 17). Separation from the world is fifth, a matter of covenant faithfulness to God within His covenant community, the church (verse 18).

The fifth and last issue mentioned above concerning the doctrine of separation is really what Paul had in mind here in this verse when he said “having these promises.” It has to do with God’s covenant, and specifically with the relationship His people have with Him according to it. Paul connects the duty of Christian separation to the possession of covenant promises. Separation from the world is first of all based upon the promise of God to establish His kingdom within them and among them. Those who live in covenant relationship with God are able to do so based on them “having these promises” from Him.

The Christian church “having these promises” in their possession from God, implies something else of fundamental importance here. These are not a different set of promises than any others ever given to believers in any other time. Perhaps they are not all applied in exactly the same way, but in substance there is no difference. We see this when Paul did not hesitate to quote Scripture from the Old Testament, concerning the covenant people of God, and apply it to the church in the New Testament (II Cor. 6:16-18). Both sets of people, before and after the cross, reside under the same covenant relationship to God. So when Paul says to the church “Therefore, having these promises, beloved” Paul was making an application to the church of the covenant promises which belong to those in every age who enjoys that special relationship with Him.

God’s people have “these promises” from Him by virtue of the fact that He is their God (Ex. 29:45; Lev. 26:12). What this phrase means is, that God has pledged Himself to be the God of His covenant people. This is the first and most prominent promise made in the covenant. In the Old Testament we see that God’s people were not special in any way of themselves, but the least of all people (Gen. 32:9,10; Deut. 7:6,7). God chose the people He would bless, and committed Himself to them, to be their God (Gen. 17:1,2). So we see that it was this first and main promise that accounts for God’s people being considered a “special treasure” unto Him.

The same thing is said in Scripture about the church. God pledged Himself in the Old Testament to expand His kingdom by expanding the number and scope of those who would end up “having these promises.” We read therefore, in Hosea that though God cast off His people for a time, they would be restored, and those who were not previously His would become so when this happened (Hos. 1:10,11; Rom. 9:24-26). This pledge made by God, to be their God, has fallen upon the church, made up of Jew and Gentile alike. This covenant relationship is legitimately applied to the church by the apostles, for it was that which was in view from the beginning (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:8-10). Because of this, the promises made by God to His people of old have now become the sole property of the church, the spiritual Israel of God (Gal. 3:7-9, 6:16).

That Paul combines the people of the Old and New Testaments together as one, is evident in the particular language he quotes from Scripture, in reference to “these promises” given to the church. Notice what Paul quoted in chapter six, verses 16-18. This is not only covenant language from Leviticus 26:11,12 to Israel, but he quoted temple language from Ezekiel 36:26,27 to them as well. This was predictive language, pointing to the New Covenant. The point is, the Lord’s promise to His covenant people is “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” Why does God say this to the church through Paul? Because the church is the true temple of God, which the previous building merely prefigured (Heb. 8:1,2,5, 9:8-11,23,25). Therefore, Paul prefaced his quote with the words “For you are the temple of the living God.” He did this in order to show the basis of what had been stated concerning their separation as a holy people, as well as what he was about to state in reference to their living as such in the world (Is. 52:11; Ez. 11:17, 20:41).

“These promises” given by God to His people, whom the apostle refers to as the “beloved,” includes everything necessary to their salvation. First of all, it is a Savior in Jesus Christ. Secondly, it is the means of grace in justifying faith. Thirdly, it is the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit. And fourthly, it is eternal life in ultimate and complete glorification. “These promises” are a package deal to the “beloved” of God (Rom. 8:29-32). This makes the covenant of grace purely unconditional in nature, God performs and supplies all that is necessary for its fulfillment. The “beloved” of God are merely recipients of these promises contained in the covenant.

Having said all this in the opening remarks of this verse, Paul then goes on to state what should be an obvious duty on the part of the Corinthian believers, saying “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” The apostle includes himself in this exhortation when he says “let us” and “ourselves.” The duty of all Christians, because of their place of privilege within God’s kingdom, is to glorify Him in their lives. Paul starts out in the previous chapter by stating the principle of congregational separation, then ends here in this verse with the duty of personal consecration.

Some important things are implied in Pauls words. First, when Paul says “let us cleanse ourselves” there are actually two things being said. There is a need for believers to be cleansed from sin and there is a requirement on their part to do something about it. Even though believers are “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” they also are “those who are being sanctified” by it as well (Rom. 3:24; Heb. 2:11). Justification grants one a legal standing before God. It is purely forensic in nature. God declares someone just completely apart from anything they do themselves, that’s what make it a matter of grace. Even the faith that justifies is a gift from God according to grace (Eph. 2:8,9). So justification has no inherent power in and of itself, it is not something that removes sin from a sinner, only it’s guilt and condemnation.

Because a justified sinner is still a sinner nonetheless, sanctification is a process that begins and works after one is justified. This too, is a matter of grace. The difference between the two is in the way God’s grace is applied to a sinner. Because a justified sinner is still a sinner, God requires them to actively pursue a life of personal holiness unto Him. This is introduced by Paul to the Corinthians in these words, “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness.” This activity Paul speaks of is a matter of obedience to God. We might call it Evangelical obedience today. Because it too, is a matter of grace, it is also a matter of faith, therefore Paul chides the Galatian believers for faltering in regard to it (Gal. 3:1-3). The active pursuit of holiness is also called the obedience of faith by Paul in other places (Rom. 1:5, 16:26). It is this same “obedience to the faith” that is spoken of that also means “The just shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11).

Paul used, the words “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness” metaphorically. Cleansing from sin was a well-known concept to the Jews in the Old Testament. God used it in Ezekiel’s prophecy to Israel concerning their future restoration (Ez. 36:24,25). What is interesting in these words “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols” is they speak of ceremonial ablution in reference to the removal of sin. Nothing is said by Ezekiel about justification, because Israel was already, prior to this promise under covenant relationship to God. This implies justification, at least in a general sense regarding the nation, if not in the literal sense regarding true believers within it.

The promise is a matter of renewal of covenant fellowship with God. So the imagery of water is used as a means to cleaning the filthiness of sinning Israel from them. This is meant to convey the sanctifying grace of God to His covenant people. It is the primary benefit that comes from being justified. Once a standing of rightness with God is established in the legal declaration of justification, continual grace for living is then supplied by God to the saint. The word saint itself means someone who is sanctified.

The imagery of Ezekiel’s message of renewal is carried into the New Testament, we see it applied by Jesus to Nicodemus (John 3:3-8). Here Jesus tells Nicodemus “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Verse 5). In explaining to Nicodemus the truth of regeneration by the effectual work of the Holy Spirit, He adds to it (explains) the metaphor of spiritual renewal through water. Jesus does this to convey the idea of not only the impartation of initial spiritual life, mentioned in its conception, but continual life in its spiritual renewal, unto birth. After birth, life continues, does it not? So the metaphor of water in renewal is the active work of the Holy Spirit following regeneration that keeps and maintains the spiritual life conceived and delivered.

The apostle Paul used it the same way in his letter to Titus saying that we are saved “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Tit. 3:5-7). Here, Paul goes even farther in the analogy than Ezekiel when he uses the words “washing” and “pouring” instead of “sprinkling” water. Paul calls the act of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, one that includes spiritual renewal. He also sets it in contrast with the doctrine of justification as well, showing it to be something that follows in salvation (verse 7).

Paul is talking about sanctification, rather than justification here in this verse. God does not regenerate His children then leave them to die again in their sin. This is what would happen if not for the process of continual renewal He performs in them by the power of the Holy Spirit. No, the same power that works to raise a sinner from spiritual death unto life, also works to keep them alive (Eph. 2:1). Notice here that Paul assumes those he exhorts with these words “let us cleanse ourselves” are already born again justified believers in Jesus Christ. We know this by the fact that this is an imperative statement, a duty to perform on our part. This language can never be used in reference to justification, and certainly not in reference to regeneration.

There is a similar inference foreshadowed in the Old Covenant event of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:1-3). God imposes the duty of monotheistic faithfulness, not as a means of salvation to the Israelites, but as a natural response to their present covenant relationship with Him. The ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic law satisfied this need on their part to find cleansing sanctifying grace when sin was exposed by their lack of conformity to the laws demands. Of course, the Old Testament redemption shown in the Mosaic code was but a type and shadow of what is spiritually fulfilled by Christ for His people. Nevertheless, sanctification is still the need of those who are redeemed.

When Paul said to the Corinthian believers “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” he was telling them two things about the sanctification. The first thing implied in these words is that of a deliberate denial of the lusts of the flesh that remains in every Christian. The Corinthian Christians lived in a culture of gross immorality. To “cleanse ourselves” necessarily implied they were to remove all habits and practices from their lives that were a contradiction to their Christian profession. This was a problem that pertained primarily to Gentile believers coming into the church after Pentecost. After deliberating on the heresy of legalism in justification introduced to Gentiles by the Judaizers, the Jerusalem council came to this determination concerning them. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28,29). This is the negative application of personal consecration. It is comprehended in the words “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.”

The second application of this principle involves the proactive duty of all believers who do sin, to be cleansed “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” This is the positive duty in sanctification.

Sanctification is a process of continual cleansing and renewal in the spiritual life of a believer. It is not only the duty of a Christian to obey the Lord in all things He has commanded, but to seek His forgiveness anew where there has been a failure to do so. Seeking forgiveness at the throne of grace is just as much of a duty Christians are obligated to do as obeying God’s law. The first duty drives a redeemed sinner to perform the second, repentance from sin with a renewed commitment to obey. The ability to do this is a matter of grace just as much as original justification is. The difference is that sanctification involves our conscious, volitional submission to Christ, as a matter of obligation. Sanctification is the evidence of spiritual life in a believer. The absence of this speaks against a Christian profession of faith (James 2:14-26).

Naturally, since spiritual life is the opposite of spiritual death, it manifests itself by certain characteristics. It is not something that simply happens by itself, as though we had been zapped by the Spirit in some sort of second blessing experience. No, the spiritual life of a believer is one of personal practice. A personal conviction that has no practice to accompany it is totally meaningless. It is therefore, a matter of personal consecration unto God, to practice the Christian faith on a regular daily basis. This is something completely consistent to our humanity as well. Each day we live life, we do so according to all its issues and pursuits. The life of a believer in Jesus Christ is one devoted to Him as a matter of living principle. This is the fruit of spiritual life which is wrought in the heart of a true believer.

The works laid out by James are positive expressions of faith and obedience to God in Jesus Christ. Helping a needy brother or sister in Christ is a good work that glorifies God. Every good work a believer performs however, is still tainted with the corruption of remaining sin (Is. 64:6). This being the case, all believers are under the same requirement Paul laid upon himself and the Corinthians to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” Along with this duty comes the assurance Jesus gives His people in the Bible that He is a faithful Priest who intercedes His grace from heaven on their behalf (Heb. 4:14-16). So when Paul says “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” we are also given to understand the way of performing it from Hebrews. The writer there gives this exhortation to God’s people “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (verse 16).

Now this brings us to the heart of the matter as Paul states it here in this verse. A person who is redeemed, born again by the Spirit of God is most certainly made new in Christ. But here is the problem that confronts every new believer, sin is not eradicated from their life, simply because they are saved. In fact, the presence of remaining sin becomes more acute to the child of God. Living by a new principle is soon confronted by the challenge that remaining sin makes through temptations. It is true that many things will change immediately in a believer’s life, when they become ‘born again’ (II Cor. 5:17). This is certainly true of many outward gross sins, such as idolatry and immorality. Outward gross sin is what Paul means by the expression “all filthiness of the flesh.” But Paul does not limit the sin that Christians must cleanse themselves from, too simply the activities of the flesh. He joins spiritual pollution to the exhortation “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness.”

There is a twofold reason why Paul does this. First of all, outward acts of sin and immorality are preceded by inward motivations of evil. The world tends to judge good and evil on the basis of what is seen with the naked eye. But evil is a state of being that dwell within a person. A person commits sin because they are sinners, meaning they have a disposition to sin already. Idolatry is not simply an act of falling before a statue in reverential awe. Immorality is not simply an act of fornication. These are outward expressions of what motivates people within. Justification does not remove all sin from a believer, but it brings forgiveness from God and a right standing. Sanctification is what brings a positive influence to a redeemed sinner. It’s the furtherance of the new creation in Christ (II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:17-24).

Paul explains what he means by the expression “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” in another place (Gal. 5:19-21). A perusal of the list of sins he calls “the works of the flesh” reveals both a number of inward and outward things. Paul’s list of the sins that need cleansing is “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” Some things like “adultery, fornication, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, contentions, outbursts of wrath, heresies, murders, drunkenness, revelries and the like,” are clearly things that all people understand as actions. But notice what else is included in the list with the other more public sins. Things such as “uncleanness, hatred, jealousies, selfish ambitions, dissensions, envy, and the like” are things we understand as inner dispositions. These are the things that sinners try to hide from each other, but are exposed when the others break out. All of these however, has their origin within and are rightly classified as “filthiness of the flesh and spirit.

Paul exhorts the Corinthians to repent and be cleansed of these sins. Even though Christians are new creations in Christ, there are however, many pet sins that remain that do not want to die very easily. Even in the most sanctified saint sin still exists, and furthermore, rears its ugly head on occasion. Usually, a mature believer is relatively free of most if not all of the more outwardly grosser sins listed in the Galatians five passage. Nevertheless, they too are vexed by the presence of sin in their life, sin of a type that is more inward and hidden that only they and God know about. The new believer often enters the Christian life with lots of baggage to contend with, imported from their former life of unbelief. Paul covers all saints and every sin by this phrase, the “filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” He does this because no Christian is immune from it, but each one is bidden of God to persevere in the faith, “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

This statement Paul concludes with begs the question, is there something imperfect about salvation, that we must complete ourselves, in order for it to arrive at its intended destination? The answer to that is absolutely not. Those who have supposed such a thing are in error. One only needs to observe the thief on the cross to see that justification by faith is alone sufficient to save. Justification is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to a believer. Everything necessary to save is included in it. Observe that Paul sets before the Roman Christians the “ordo salutis” or, the order of salvation from God (Rom. 8:29,30). Conspicuously absent from this list is sanctification, why is this so? It is simply this, when a sinner is justified by faith, they are sanctified by faith too. Paul excludes sanctification so as to show that it is the work of God from start to finish. There is nothing a saint does to contribute anything to it.

So when Paul uses this phrase “perfecting holiness,” we know it is not a condition of salvation. So what is it then? “Perfecting holiness in the fear of God” is living a life of personal consecration and devotion to God. This involves every aspect of the Christian’s life until called of God to go home in an ultimate glorification. In short, “perfecting holiness” is the practice, or, obedience of faith. The Christian life is a struggle to persevere against sin, and to perfect that which God has given of Himself in His Son. To perfect holiness is to learn of God in His Son. It means to learn about our self as a sinner whom He has redeemed. It means we are to devote our lives to Him in humble obedience. One aspect of this is the use of means He supplies toward the end of “perfecting holiness.” The word saint means one who is sanctified. There is no such thing as a believer who is not a saint also. But God calls His people to personal consecration by the exercise of their faith in spiritual duty. Naturally, this involves repentance from known sin, but it also involves a conscious determination to live holy unto God.

In the Old Testament, God’s people were given commandments to observe in order to teach them what it meant to be holy. One way God did this, was in the various dietary laws prescribed to them through Moses. “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Lev. 11:44). In the New Testament such things are done away with, with a focus on the inner man. “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (I Pet. 1:13-16). Personal consecration involves the mind as much as the body. It is also fully dependant upon the grace of God for its strength.

Grace is the undergirding factor in personal piety, for there is none without it. This presupposes failure at many junctures. The sincere saint is tempted to despair of their position before God when sin is active and noticeable to them. But grace is a never-ending fountain of forgiveness and help to the saint. Use of the means of grace is how to perfect holiness.

If “perfecting holiness” is not improvement of our position or salvation, then what is it? It is simply this. It is preparation for glory by way of maturity. The truth is, a believer will not be one ounce more holy in real terms after fifty years, than the day they first believed. But they will certainly be trained in the exercise of obedience. This obedience consists either, of the obedience of Christian service, or the obedience of humble repentance, both will be present in the perfection of holiness. They will know their sinfulness far more than when they first turned to Christ. And they will be more thankful for His sacrifice for them, His mediation and forgiveness that comes to them each and every day of their life. And certainly, “perfecting holiness” promotes a desire to be from sin. Though it will not happen in this life, it certainly will in the next. Therefore, the mature believer yearns to be with the Lord, and far away from their sin.

Last but not least, the “perfecting holiness” is only done “in the fear of God.” This is what the obedience of faith is instructed to learn, to “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Eccl. 12:13). This is the very purpose to which man was made that he would reflect God in his life by making Him his chief delight.

When Paul says “in the fear of God” he is not referring to some sort of craven fear as the motivation toward holiness. That is the fear of the world that lives in rebellion of God. Craven fear is motivated by guilt and wrath. This is not the state of a Christian, whose sin has been dealt with at the cross. No, a proper “fear of God” is the motivation of worship toward the divine nature. It is apprehending the excellence of God in His nature and attributes that He is supremely worthy of devotion. Since God is holy, Christians desire “holiness” because it acquaints them more with Him. It is the pursuit of that which God loves about Himself. To be saved in Christ, have a relationship with God through His covenant, is to have eternal riches in glory that can never be lost. What a motivation that is to heed Peters exhortation from God to “Be holy, for I am holy.” (I Pet. 1:16).

This is why Solomon instructed his son that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7a). Fear is reverential love for God, based on whom and what He is. So “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” is growing in a greater knowledge and appreciation of God. The more we know of Him, the more we want to be like Him. Of course, as creatures, holiness is purely reflective in nature, God is the real thing. But in Christ, we’ve been made a “new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We are renovated, restored, redeemed by God in Christ in order to reflect that “true righteousness and holiness” that are characteristic of Him who saved us and made us anew.

So Paul ends his verse with an exhortation to the Corinthians that it is their duty as Christians to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” As spiritual children unto a Holy Father, we are to do that which pleases Him. We are not left to our own imagination as to what it means to do this. God gives His word in the Bible so that His will is a known commodity. “Perfecting holiness” requires familiarity with the Bible. In order to have “the fear of God” Paul speaks of here, it requires that humble submission to the word of God be vigorously pursued.


Doctrine 1: God’s relationship to us His people, demands our purity

The apostle Paul’s exhortation to the church is based on its relationship to its Head, Jesus Christ. Now, Jesus as the Son of God enjoys a relationship to God that is alone unique to Him. The Son of God is eternally begotten of the Father (Ps. 2:7). As such, He enjoys the eternal approbation of the Father, by virtue of His standing within the Godhead.

But Jesus became a man, and as such, presented Himself to God in personal consecration of that particular and peculiar relationship as well (Matt. 3:13-17). Of course, Jesus was born sinless of the virgin, and lived in perfect obedience to God until the time of His baptism. But this particular event marked the beginning of His ministry here on earth that ultimately led to His crucifixion on the cross. So while the previous years were marked by their relative obscurity concerning the pages of Scripture, these three years were marked by an account of what Jesus endured by way of His personal consecration to the Father.

It was necessary for Jesus to do this. If He was to “fulfill all righteousness” it was necessary that it be done in the weakness of His humanity, albeit sanctified and empowered by His Deity. In order to serve God Jesus walked many miles by foot (John 4:3,4), and spent many long hours teaching and engaging the public (Matt. 8:16). And in spite of this, Jesus found time to instruct His disciples privately (Matt. 14:15), while maintaining His own personal spiritual life and relationship to the Father (Mark 1:35; Matt. 14:23).

The Scriptures teach us that Jesus, though being God, became a servant by assuming our humanity. “Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:6,7). This service and calling of God led Jesus to the ultimate sacrifice of death as the God Man for our sins and salvation. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Verse 8).

This is an amazing thing to contemplate, for of the Son of God incarnate it is said “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” (Heb. 5:8). The personal consecration of Jesus resulted in not only His humble service to God and man, but in His suffering and ultimate death at the cross in obedience to God. And we are told that it was all in the course of learning that obedience which He performed. May we propose to the reader, that learning obedience to God is what it means to become holy. This is exemplified in the life and sufferings of our Savior Jesus Christ. It is also the ground of our own calling to pursue and perfect holiness (Heb. 12:14; II Cor. 7:1), just as Paul exhorts Christians to do in this text. Now this is done on the basis of our relationship to God in Jesus Christ. There are four points given in this text for our consideration.

1) Sanctification is a gift from God to His people, by virtue of covenant relationship with Him

The promise of salvation itself is the prime motivation for personal consecration unto God. Salvation is multitudinous in what it accomplishes in a redeemed sinner. Forgiveness of sins is at the foreground of this. When someone is effectually called to Christ and receives the forgiveness of God, a burden of guilt has been lifted from them. This is a weight that holds one down in a perpetual arrangement of slavery. How does it do this, how does it bring enslavement upon a person? It does this in the form of a self perpetuating principle. Guilt is incurred through transgressing the law of God. Then it becomes the motivation for more sin. The reason for this is sin holds out a false promise of satisfaction it cannot deliver on. Once it is committed, more guilt is added to the burden, thereby robbing its subject of all hope or joy. This is how sin is a bondage that cannot be escaped.

Our first parents were promised satisfaction from the serpent by eating the forbidden fruit. Certainly, there was a benefit to it by way of carnal pleasure. Disobedience to God by eating the fruit promised the partaker he would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5). But mankind was already made in God’s image, what more could he hope to attain from such a promiscuous promise as that? The enticement of the promise was in going beyond what was not only right, but what was possible, for no creature can ever attain essential divinity. It is God “who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.” (I Tim. 6:16).

Furthermore, Adam and Eve knew what good and evil was in what God told them concerning the fruit of the tree. The experience associated with eating the fruit only led to carnal knowledge. The moment that happened Adam and Eve died spiritually. Now death of their bodies did not take place right away. What did happen immediately was an acute awareness of their guilt which fell upon them. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” (Gen. 3:7).

And so it is with all the descendants of Adam. Sin is a transgression of God’s commandment. It brings the sinner only shame and guilt, and in the end, death.

But the promise of grace in the gospel from God to His people is not like the promise of sin from the serpent. While the devil holds sinners in bondage to sin and fear of death, the grace of God forgives them, “and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Heb. 2:15). Guilt from sin is like a debt that must be paid, so it is always exacting its payment from the sinner. This comes in the form of wages that must be paid by God through His unending wrath. So it is no wonder that sinners are the enemies of God. Through salvation, all of that has been changed. “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:22,23).

Grace changes the motivations that once ruled the life of a redeemed sinner. No more does he or she live in order to serve various lusts, but instead, they live to serve God. Forgiveness is a powerful principle, for it frees a sinner from guilt, it does so that they might live unto God, not just in outward duties, but in spiritual exercises of the heart. The motivation that grace produces in the heart reasons like this, instead of loving sin and hating God as before, now sin is detested, and God’s holiness is viewed as the greatest good in life. This is exactly what it means to be saved. Sin is now the enemy, rather than God’s holiness. And it gives understanding of what Zacharias meant in his prophecy concerning the purpose of God in sending the Messiah. “To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:74,75).

2) Personal consecration is the duty of all who claim the covenant promises of God

We want to be careful in our assertion that piety is a matter of duty for a Christian, and therefore, it is a legitimate motivation for it. The reasons for this being there are two errors that are propagated in the modern church today we want to avoid. The first of these errors is called Antinomianism, which term mean against law. There is a group of ministers that will tell people they can have the promises of God in salvation without regard to His holiness. Of course, this is not the way the argument is framed. What these people say about justification that it is by faith alone divorced of any work or preparation toward salvation whatsoever, is absolutely true (Rom. 3:21-26). But what is also said that is not true is, there is no obligation in salvation whatsoever toward God, as if to say so would somehow deny free grace in justification. So not only do they free salvation from works righteousness, they also free it from all obligation to God to be holy as He is.

The second error is called Neonomianism either, or, simply Nomianism for short. And as properly guessed, it means the opposite of Antinomianism, for it is a doctrine defined by a law, or a form of legal salvation. The argument goes like this, that justification is through faith alone, by grace alone, so far, so good. However, once justified, salvation is only secure through a life of obedient service to God. Sin is still present in a Christian life, but this is a degree of tolerated failure in holiness that has a certain limit to it. Unfortunately, no one knows what that limit is, even if some have attempted to define it. The bottom line is, anyone not effectively mortifying every sin through soul wrenching, active repentance is in danger of falling short of biblical salvation. In the end, justification is denied for lack of proper work experience. Neonomians believe that work must be added to faith in order for it to save.

Together, these two views are termed as either easy believism or Lordship salvation. Neither one is biblical, nor consistent with what we advocate here as a proper motivation toward piety out of sense of duty to God. Both views err in improperly defining what it means either to be justified, or to be sanctified.

Justification is not where salvation begins in the work of God. God elects certain people as His from eternity past (Eph. 1:3-6). But notice what the apostle says about the predestinating purpose of God for His people. It is “that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (verse 4b). So personal piety is predestined for all of God’s elect as well. In fact, justification is the establishment of sanctification in a legal sense. Those who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ are also sanctified by faith in Him as well (Acts 26:18). So to say those who are justified are also sanctified is to say the work of God’s grace is effectual in applying His predestinating purpose in their lives.

Application of sovereign grace from God comes in the form of effectual calling. It starts with a secret work of regenerating grace, whereby, a sinner is born again unto a new life (II Cor. 5:21; Rom. 6:4). Once they are made spiritually alive, a person sees and enters the kingdom of God, because they hear the voice of the Son of God, and come forth believing in Him as the Savior (John 3:3,5, 5:24,25). Since physical activity is the evidence of physical life, so is spiritual activity, the evidence of spiritual life. It is interesting to note what Jesus said in regard to this in the very passage where the new birth is taught. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6). In showing the distinction between the two, Jesus also asserts the activity of life consistent with them.

The John chapter three discourse teaches about the initial entrance into spiritual life. Later, in His discourse to the disciples Jesus teaches about living it. Now, when a child is born, it comes into the world living and breathing. But unless further activity takes place such as eating and drinking, that child’s life is not being sustained. So the parents supply all that is necessary to the child in order for it to grow unto maturity. Although a child has life, it abides in the care of its parents. A similar thing happens with God and His children. A child of God is born living and active. God supplies all that is necessary for it to live and thrive. Yet, spiritual life in a believer craves spiritual food just as a new born baby does the same. So life has its duties, its obligations which must be met in order for it to be healthy and grow.

This is what Jesus meant when describing Himself as the “true vine,” and God as the “vinedresser” John 15:1). Many have tried to interpret this passage in vague and awkward ways, rather than according to what it is exactly saying. Jesus said “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (Verse 2).

The simple truth is that spiritual life, ie, the pursuit of holiness, is a fruit or the consequence of it. Anyone who is in Christ will bear fruit, and why? Because they abide relationally in Him, by virtue of God’s covenant. God does not take away a living branch, but a dead one. In other words, a branch that does not bear fruit has no life to it.

This is the same point James makes in his epistle about faith. When James says “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17). He does not mean to say that there is such a thing as faith without works, but rather, faith without works is non existent. James presents an antithesis in his discourse between those who say they believe but do not have any fruit that comes from it, and those who say they believe and do.

Furthermore, Paul explicitly states the case of fruit bearing in the Christian life when he says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10). Quite clearly then, good works are not only something which is consistent with salvation, but an obligation by design. The voice that squawks about obedient submission to God, out of a sense of duty being contradictory to faith alone, fails to grasp the reality that every creature under God was made for this purpose (Eccl. 12:13). It is man’s purpose in life. The difference between those outside of Christ and those who are in is the imputation of His righteousness. To the lost, all duty is but works righteousness, which God does not accept. To the saved, all duty is a matter of loving devotion born of faith through grace, both of which are gifts from God (Eph. 2:8).

Those who say that salvation is by faith and works are not affirmed by Scripture in any way. They fail to see that if both faith and works are gifts of God’s grace, purchased by Jesus Christ, then salvation is by grace alone. The Lordship salvation people err when they assert that faith justifies and works when added to it saves. This is one step toward Rome. In fact, it is the basis of a heresy called Federal Vision which takes the same idea and goes much further with it. Any doctrine that mixes faith and works together is teaching infused righteousness, the same as Rome does.

The true believer in God does not focus on their fruits or works, but on Jesus Christ who bought them. When they sin, they seek forgiveness at the cross. When they do good works, they account it but “filthy rags” (Is. 64:6). Jesus told His disciples “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1b). The “ought” spoken of here is a matter of creature duty toward God. Jesus gave this instruction to His disciples after He had said to them “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ “ (Luke 17:10). Therefore, a sense of loving, holy devotion to God motivates His people unto all known duty, albeit imperfect. The promises of God in Christ are the strength needed to persevere and not become weary (Is. 40:29-31).

3) Perfecting holiness is through the practice of faith

Practicing faith is the only way toward becoming more holy. It is not by the performance of works. This assertion flies in the face of what most religionists today believe to the contrary. Clearly, the Bible does teach God’s people are to be separate from the world, this is the very context in which our present passage comes (II Cor 6:17). But the question then must arise, is biblical separation merely a matter of externals, that is, what we do or don’t do, or is it something else altogether? Contrary to popular opinion, an increase in piety is not the result of a pursuit of rules or disciplines, but rather, it is the result of a pursuit of God by faith.

An increase in piety can only come about through the exercise of faith in God according to the normal circumstances of the Christian life. Many will boast of their readiness to die for the cause of Christ, but when put to the test of living for Him in ordinary circumstances they will often buckle (Matt. 26:31-35). The disciples were full of self confidence about their commitment to Jesus. And in spite of Jesus’ prediction to the contrary, each one of them fled when they were put to the test. Immediately following this prediction we see the disciples sleeping through a prayer meeting with Jesus, the one in which the weight of His coming trial was to be felt most keenly (verses 36-46).

A curious thing is said by Jesus in this narrative. “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Verse 41). In it Jesus talks about temptation. This was done in reference to the coming trial in which all would depart from Him in fear. Jesus presents a contrast in this verse between the spirit and the flesh. Many are motivated for selfish and worldly purposes to do earthly service, even unto death. But service in the kingdom that accords with holiness is spiritually motivated. A moment before they slept, the disciples were ready to die for the kingdom. However, when the spiritual duty of watching and praying was required, the flesh took over. In fact, reliance on the flesh was the very reason they all fled when confronted with the trial of what they had previously boasted in. And it was not that they had no faith. It was simply that they did not practice it.

James opens his epistle with a similar point. His epistle is believed to have been the first or second one written, at a time when the church was mostly made up of Jews. A Jewish Christian in the early days of the church faced a lot of trial and persecution at the hand of other Jews. But what does James say about this? “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4). What, Christians should have joy when encountering various trials? Ah, but here is the reason. It is the testing of faith. And that test when submitted too in faith produces the holy quality of patience. But here, James also shows us by telling them how this faith is exercised. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” (Verses 5,6). We are to seek the wisdom of God in the circumstances of life, how, by seeking God in prayer, believing in Him and His ability to help. The result is perseverance in the Christian faith. That is what perfecting holiness is, it is trusting in God to supply every need.

God does not give wisdom to His people by sending them charismatic experiences either. No, the word of God contains all the wisdom needed for us to serve God and grow in holiness of life. In fact, it is the charismatic experience that seeks to bypass God’s method of spiritual growth. It is hard to sit and read Scripture, day after day in the course of a busy life with all its distractions. Many would just love for God to zap them with some kind of ecstatic experience that will lift them above the clouds. Some Christians are always fixated on revival as something to covet from God, for then, they reason, there will come tremendous zeal and motivation for the kingdom. But that, if it seeks to set aside the ordinary Christian experience, is not the practice, or obedience of faith that Scripture speaks of (Rom. 1:5, 16:26). In its immediate context, the phrase “for obedience to the faith” can be taken in reference to the gospel, in conversion. But faith is not a one time thing, even though justification and subsequently, conversion is.

People know God by reading His word. Faith is the knowledge and assurance of His promises. The wisdom of God is the truth of God received. By it, we are strengthened in faith and increased in personal commitment to Him. Chapter twelve of Romans begin the practical part of Pauls Epistle. The very first two verses open with an exhortation to present our self completely to God, on a regular basis. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:1,2). This involves a daily commitment to God by faithful prayer and Bible reading. When this is done, a Christian is able to exercise their faith properly in every circumstance that confronts them. It is by no means a guarantee of perfection. But even in failure, faith is a necessary element of seeking forgiveness and grace from God.

Faith is foundational to everything that is done in the Christian life. The Christian is to live a life of separation from the world. This most definitely does involve many choices concerning what is to be done in it, or not done.

Take the quote Paul gives in II Cor. 6:16-18. The words “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people” (verse 16) might legitimately be taken from any number of Old Testament passages (Ex. 29:45; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 30:32, 31:1, 32:38; Ez. 37:27; Zech. 8:8). Now all of these passages assert that God is with the congregation of His people. So what is the point being made by this repetition of thought throughout the Old Testament? Certainly, it is a reference to the covenant relationship Israel had with God. But there is something else intended here that is captured in the Septuagint translation of one of the verses. “And I will be called upon among the children of Israel, and will be their God.” (Ex. 29:45). The Greek translators took the liberty of paraphrasing this verse by adding “I will be called upon” in it. In other words, the implication of God reiterating His covenant relationship to His people is that they might call upon Him as His people. Calling upon God involves two things. One is that it is worship, and the second is that it involves faith.

Faith is the root principle at work in serving God, for without it, nothing else exists. Again, Paul alludes to this in his admonishment from Scripture to the Corinthians. “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you” (verse 17; Is. 52:11). What he is saying to them is separate yourself from the unbelieving world in all that you do. Faith in God is what lead to personal piety.

Hypocrites will do many things of a religious nature, but not for the right reason. They do their works in order to be seen by others. This they do because they are hypocrites, having no true faith of their own. The writer of Hebrews presents the true motivation for service to God that it is according to faith. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). The faithful come to God because He is their reward (Gen. 15:1). The reward of diligently seeking God by faith is the increase of personal holiness. This comes through knowing and resting on the promises of God more fully, trusting Him in all things. This is what motivated Abraham, for he was a man of faith (Heb. 11:17-19).

Separation from the world is then first and foremost a matter of consecrating our self to God in the practice of faith. Faith is one of the three primary graces that accord with the Christian life. The other two are hope and love (I Cor. 13:13). Together, these three graces form a bond of Christian perfection in piety toward God.

4)A right faith is rooted in respect to God and His ways

It is common to hear all kinds of talk about varying degrees of faith in the Christian life. One of the reasons for this is based on several texts that seem to talk about faith as though it comprised different and varying elements. The net result of this is to suggest that there are varying qualities to faith. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Faith is something that is either, or it isn’t. When Scripture talks about being justified by faith, it does not put out the possibility there are different kinds which fall into this category. Since faith is a gift from God, along with saving grace, it is always sufficient to justify (Eph. 2:8). Consequently, if one is justified, they must of necessity be sanctified, any works that come as a result this is a gift too (verse 10).

The problem is there are many who claim to have faith but don’t seem to manifest much of it, if any, in their Christian practice. Jesus often used the expression “little faith” to describe this very thing in His disciples (Matt. 6:30, 8:26, 14:3, 16:8; Luke 12:28). The apostle Paul too, seems to infer by his words “weak in faith” and “weak in the faith” that there are degrees of faith in a believer’s life (Rom. 4:19, 14:1). However, since faith alone is given as the only standard of justification (Rom. 3:28), therefore, something other than degrees of faith must be considered. Every believer is called in Scripture a “saint,” or, a sanctified one (Rom. 1:7; I Cor. 1:2; II Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2). So the notion there is varied states of faith cannot be true, any more than the Arminian idea of gaining and losing salvation is. A better way to understand the use of these terms in Scripture “little faith” or “weak faith” is a level of maturity or perfection of it. There are different levels of sanctification in a true believer’s life. There is everything from baby growth to mature growth, and everything in between (Heb. 5:12-14).

The fact of the matter is, the church is full of hypocrites. It always has been, and always will be until the Lord returns. This is not a problem outside of the Lord’s knowledge and deliberate design (Matt. 13:24-30). It behooves a Christian therefore, to understand what constitutes faith and its counterfeit.

The easy believists think a single act of faith is what justifies. There is no such thing as a single act of faith, as we have already demonstrated. For one thing, justification is not because of faith as though it were the instrumental cause of it. Justification is by the sovereign imputation of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ. Faith is the gift God gives in order to draw His elect to Christ in His effectual call to them in the gospel. Faith is not a freewill act of a person who “accepts” Christ as their Savior. This false notion gives rise to the idea that someone can be justified without being sanctified. The person who believes this has neither sanctification nor justification. It betrays an ignorance of God that excludes whatever they imagine about salvation from actual covenant relationship to Him.

When God justifies someone, He converts them to a life of loving devotion to Him. They know by faith what this relationship entails. For starters, a Christian knows that salvation is not free in the shallow manner it is often bandied about. Of course, salvation is free to a saved person in that they receive it as a gift. This is the truth about the gracious nature of it. Any attempt at work as a sort of admixture to grace, actually denies it. No, the gift God gives to His people was very costly. It cost the Son of God His life through an ignominious suffering at the cross.

A Christian understands the vicarious nature of Christ’s death. It was not for Himself, but us He died. But of even greater significance to this is, Christ died to glorify God. What then does it mean to glorify God in the sense that the Son of God did? First and foremost, Christ’s death was a display of God’s hatred against sin. The phrase vicarious death means substitutionary. Christ did not die because of any fault of His, but for the sins of His people. The obvious question is, how could a person who knows this, be indifferent to it by way of a disinterested life? Of course, this is impossible. God’s wrath was poured out on His Son in display of that hatred He has against not only sin, but those who commit it.

This brings us secondly, to God’s glory displayed in His salvation. Christ satisfied the wrath of God against sin for His people at the cross, not for the world. Those who think Christ’s death are universal in nature are deluded at best, and at worst, still unconverted. Why do we say this, because to think such a thing is to think that salvation is a freewill act of man? The mercy and grace of God are given to the elect through the sovereign grace of divine imputation. A person of faith sees and knows that salvation is all about God and His glory, before its benefit reaches man.

True faith produces a healthy, holy respect to God. It is motivated by whom and what God is by way of His glorious nature. All of it comes together at the cross. The very idea that someone has faith but no respect to God in all of this is absurd. Talk about varying degrees of faith is nothing more that a feeble attempt at explaining away the multitude of hypocrites who infest the church of Jesus Christ, at any given time in history.

The early church was confronted with the phenomenon of a multitude of its members abandoning the church and their profession of faith when persecution came. This was in fact, the reason for a major controversy in the church. The controversy came about when the multitudes who were termed as “lapsed,” meaning apostates, applied for readmittance to the church after the trouble ended. The Bishops of the early church were divided over how to deal with this. As already considered, God’s people can certainly experience a lapse of faithfulness when pressed at the right moment with trouble. But it is not for lack of faith, but rather a lack of faithfulness that is at issue. The evidence of saving faith is seen when there is a true repentance of any lapse in Christian duty.

Most Christians will not be confronted with the specter of the arena that these folk were. Yet many in our day, display little to any respect to God in His holiness. The church is beset today by worldliness of every sort. Most Christians today seem to think that faith is a matter of personal practice, apart from any institutional affiliation. But everywhere in Scripture the church is in view, just as much as personal salvation, why is this? It is because salvation regards God’s covenant. Anyone who is in Christ is in covenant relationship to God. There is no such thing as the spiritual loner in His kingdom.

God saves His people in order that He is worshiped by them. This is done in a very visable, local way each and every Sabbath. True faith has respect to God in this, and seeks to associate with a true church that accords with Scripture as the saint knows it. True faith receives doctrinal teaching from the Bible by duly called ministers. True faith submits to Elders in the church and frequents the stated meetings and sacraments. All of this has a respect to God for who He is as the God of creation and salvation. Faith receives, promotes and loves the proper testimony of God which accords with true holiness (I Tim. 6:3; Tit. 1:1).

Doctrine 2: Progress in sanctification is understanding the nature of corruption, and denying it

A list of various sins was presented earlier in the exposition of this text in Corinthians, taken from Galatians chapter five. In fact, there are many catalogs of what constitute various kinds of sin given in Scripture (Matt. 15:19; Acts 15:29; Rom. 1:29-31, 3:10-18, 13:19; I Cor. 6:9,10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5; Tit. 3:3; James 3:14-16; I Pet. 4:3; Jude 1:16; Rev. 21:8, 22:15). There is certainly some overlap in these lists, but that is not entirely so. The real purpose of giving a catalog of various sins in many places is in order to convey the idea that sin is all encompassing. It involves every area of the fallen man’s life. James really states it well in his epistle when he says “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10).

Sin is the perpetual bane of God’s people too. They are never entirely free from it in this life. This is why the teaching of Lordship salvation is so harmful. By suggesting that one will not attain heaven unless they have conformed to a certain level of holiness, these folk promote a navel gazing, experience-based salvation that has no actual possibility of success to it, and consequently, no assurance either. Outward conformity to the law, ie, Christian culture, joined with a personal declaration of some undefinable inner spiritual experience, is what pass as “genuine” Christian piety to the Nomian. It is from this definition that assurance is to be derived. So the Lordship message as it’s called by its proponents, not only looks for an outward perfection concerning the law in order to view itself as saved, but it promotes the need to have some undefined higher level of faith experience in order to know it.

The Puritans were the masters of this kind of approach to the Christian life, which is why they were called by that name in the first place. While the Puritans occupied an important place in the Protestant church for many reasons, they did little to advance a theology beyond that of the Reformers of the sixteenth century. Instead, they tended to focus on matters of personal experience, developing their doctrine of sanctification thereby, from it.

Without a doubt, the Puritans were godly men of faith. They were certainly men of pious convictions. This is what made them so profoundly great in their time. For this reason, we can look to these men in many ways to try and retrieve some semblance of true Christianity in our own day. The Puritans lived for the glory of God, this undergirded everything they did. This is in contrast to our own day in which we live, one that has become neo-pagan, in which pursuit of the glory of God has been replaced with pursuit of the glory of man. But the Puritans also left us a legacy of theological problems too. One of these has to do with the subject of reconciling legal salvation with practical holiness. The Puritans were pietists as well as Calvinists. This is an interesting mix. The Puritans were concerned about balance in the Christian life. So they focused on the objective, as well as the subjective reality of faith. This mind set is best expressed in the Westminster shorter Catechism’s first question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Here, we see both the objective and the subjective side of faith brought together in a single proposition.

The Puritans were concerned with defining what constituted true faith in Jesus Christ. Rather than stick to the objective message of the gospel the earlier Reformers focused on, they added the necessity of subjective experience to it. Why did they do this? In seventeenth century Britain, virtually everyone identified with the Christian faith, if for no other reason than civil religion established and demanded it. It is absurd to think that everyone who did so was necessarily regenerate. So tests that went far beyond what Scripture set forth as the objective evidence of faith was established by the Puritans. This is the foundation of Lordship salvation. As Calvinists, the Puritans separated Justification from sanctification, but as pietists, they joined the two together. For while they asserted and defended the sovereignty of God in salvation in what is called the doctrines of free grace, they also focused so heavily upon human experience that they created a theology of paradoxical reasoning in their thinking.

This worked itself out in two ways. First in asserting that unregenerate sinners can do non saving, yet profitable works in preparation for salvation, before they are actually converted. This they called, the “law work” of the gospel. Never mind what Paul said contrary this about unregenerate men and their efforts apart from faith (Rom. 4:1-4). Second, in making a profession of faith in Christ, there can be no assurance obtained by God in it unless there is an absolute blameless “conversation of life” as they called it. For this reason, Puritan preaching sought to unhinge the hearer’s confidence in his profession before applying any grace to it. This they called, the “heart work” of the gospel.

The Puritan’s raked their hearer’s consciences over the coals of God’s law to the point that many who heard them preach envied the good works of the hypocrite. The Puritans were masters of self examination, turning every hidden part of a person’s heart over and over again, then inside out. By employing this sort of extreme fruit inspection in preaching, subjectivity was able to overthrow objectivity in the matter of salvation. This is exactly what the previous generation of Reformers was trying to correct concerning Roman Catholicism.

One very good example of this is seen in a book written by the Puritan Matthew Mead entitled, ‘The Almost Christian Discovered.’ Apparently, he imagined that someone can be halfway between heaven and hell, even though they profess Christian faith, and walk it well too. All of this is said by way of introducing the difficulties involved in the present consideration, namely, that of how to attain a level of sanctification commensurate with faith.

If anyone views every sin listed in the various catalogs of sin, then does a self examination in the light of God’s moral commands, they will find it impossible to be perfectly blameless in the purely subjective sense as a Christian. Yet, Paul instructs us in this verse to not only “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” but also, we are to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” First of all, this involves a negative principle, for it implies a denial of the sinful inclinations of the flesh and mind. Second of all, it involves a positive principle, for it implies there must be an active exercise at work in dealing with it, one that leads in the end to a greater degree of holiness. So in order to understand this better, let us take the matter as Paul does, dividing it into its parts or categories of thought as Paul does. One is the flesh, and the other is the spirit. Within these two categories of thought there are several other distinctions that apply to them.

1)The filthiness of the flesh

Before saying a word about what it means to be holy, it is necessary to make a certain distinction. This is done by reiterating something previously pointed out. Sanctification is revealed in Scripture as having both an objective as well as a subjective application. The terms definitive and progressive describe this distinction. When a person is justified by the grace of God through faith, they are also sanctified definitively too, by virtue of their union with Christ. So this definitive sanctification is the reason or foundation for anything that takes place further in the Christian life. What follows by way of “perfecting holiness” is a matter of progression. It is not being made more righteous, for perfect righteousness is what happens in justification, the imputed righteousness of Christ to a believer. Here, we are talking about progressive, not definitive sanctification. It is the fruit of our union with Christ.

Paul explains this distinction in Romans chapter six, where the doctrine of sanctification is presented in two successive parts (verses 1-14,15-23). In the first two verses Paul says “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Verses 1,2). This follows chapter five where justification is the main topic. Those who are in Christ are not in sin any longer, the word sin characterizing everything it means to live in rebellion and unbelief in God. So Paul calls on the readers of his epistle who are in Christ to realize this, even though particular sins may manifest themselves at times anyway.

Paul’s argument shifts from a matter of position to a matter of practice in the second section of the chapter. “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Verses 15,16). Paul wants his readers here in these two verses to consider their position in Christ to be the source or motivation of their practice in denying sin and pursuing sanctity. In other words, even though they are delivered from the power of sin, its effects do remain. However, because they have been delivered from sin, therefore, it should not be practiced, but rather, opposed (Tit. 2:12).

Roman Catholicism categorizes sin differently than Scripture does. To them there are two types of sin listed in the order of its degree of evil. First, there is venial sin which is small and of less consequence in the great scheme of things. These can be brushed aside by minor acts of personal penance according to the sacerdotal rites of the church. Then there are mortal sins which are much greater in scope and eternally damnable. Since Roman Catholicism is essentially a form of natural religion, it is not surprising that it’s view of sin is exactly the way the world sees it. Romanists do give definition to their two categories of sin, but the world however, tends to view it on a sliding scale, like a bell curve. In reality, just as James says in Scripture, all sin is equally heinous and damnable.

a. Gross sin

The phrase “filthiness of the flesh” presents a graphic image to us, usually of sexual immorality or some other gross evil. Of course, it is a metaphorical expression given to denote anything that is perverted, unnatural and a violation of God’s law. Unfortunately, in our day this designation has been greatly reduced by the acceptance of many things that were once unacceptable. For instance, at one time, divorce was considered disgraceful, and there were few who ventured into it. Today, it is almost unheard of to find anyone who hasn’t been divorced. Because of its acceptability, divorce usually follows adultery and abandonment, therefore, these have become more acceptable than ever too. And since commitment has become meaningless in the public eye, people frequently live together in sin without the benefit of marriage at all. So children are born out of wedlock, or are products of what is termed today as the blended family through divorce and remarriages, or, as the result of cohabitation. All of this is gross sin in God’s eye, for it is He who has ordained marriage and the family unit, not society. Therefore, it is imperative a Christian understands that it is God who defines what is clean or unclean, and not man (II Cor. 6:17).

What is even worse is, this new morality is being adopted into the church as well. And this is not surprising, considering the reduction of concern for doctrine that has taken place for a very long time. In its place, a sort of pseudo piety has come in. What was once considered gross sin is now defined as faults and addictions. By calling gross sin an addiction it is minimized into something other than what God calls it, the “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). Many polls have been taken that show professing Christians are given over to all of the gross sins the unbelieving world is engaged in. In part, this is due to the public proliferation of immorality as a sort of civil liberty. There is such an exposure today to public filth of every kind that it is hard to avoid its temptation. It certainly has contributed to a lower level of sanctification among Christians than ever before.

Scripture is absolutely clear on this. Christians must strive by the grace of God to separate themselves from outwardly gross sin. If faith and conversion are turning from rebellion and unbelief, how can a Christian be comfortable in practicing gross immorality? Yet, many Christians struggle with such things as pornography, along with all of its other attendant bad behavior. The presence and practice of viewing pornography in a Christian’s life will often lead them to commit many other far worse sins, such as adultery, homosexuality and pedophilia. Many such sins are the reason for divorce among Christians. And believe it or not, there are even some professing Christians who end up in jail today as a result of self indulgence in immorality.

These are not medical conditions or compulsions such as the world tries to suggest, but moral failings that are inconsistent with a state of grace. They are the effects of remaining sin and they should be put to death by the Christian (Col. 3:5). This is why the apostle Paul said to the Corinthian believers “beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” So what does it mean when we use the phrase inconsistent with a state of grace? It certainly does not mean that sin is unheard of in a Christian, as though they can become sinless. The sad reality is that Christians will sometimes fall into such sins. But there are reasons for it that must be understood. First of all, people who come into the faith practicing gross sin will often find it extremely hard to free themselves from its habits. This is especially true of those who come to faith later in life. Sin is not only a moral condition as well as an immoral act, it is a practice that becomes habitual by reason of its use. This is why the world classifies sin as an addiction today. Gross sins certainly appear to be addictions in the same sense a drug habit might be. And it gives meaning to the phrase found in Hebrews which says to Christians – “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12;1).

Secondly, bad teaching that views gross sin as a medical condition does nothing to help a person who has come to faith in Christ who is dealing with former sins. A search on the internet concerning dealing with sin brings up hundreds of sites that all take the view that grossly sinful behavior is the result of psychological problems. In fact, psychology has become the new source of counsel toward godliness in the church. So Christians who find themselves needing help who end up with this sort of thing, never find any real answers that will help them deal with their besetting sin. Instead, what they get is the idea that all their problems stem from childhood conditioning, rather than the fact that they are depraved sinners.

The apostle Paul says “beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” This is a direct command that originates with God. The word “cleanse” is used metaphorically to imply that sin is a matter of uncleanness, not of psychology. There is something we can and ought to do in dealing with it. To go even further, it is our responsibility to do this, for he connects it to “the fear of God.”

There is nothing more practical than that. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians came at a time when believers were being saved out of an extremely immoral and pagan society. God’s people in that church were struggling with sexual immorality and other gross sins (I Cor. 5:1, 6:8,13,15,18, 7:2, 8:4,7,12, 10:14,21, 11:29,30). Paul tells them to clean themselves. What, after preaching salvation is through faith and not works, now Paul is telling Christians to clean themselves, what can that possibly mean? First of all, what it means is to come to Christ each and every day, each and every time we sin and seek forgiveness from Him anew. This is stated as one of the petitions in the Lord’s prayer. We must ask Him daily to “forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). This alone has a sanctifying effect, for it convicts and humbles a Christian to own up to the presence and pollution of remaining sin, seeking forgiveness for it. Daily forgiveness is the reception of grace from God which is the only means of progressive sanctification, ie, “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” This has a proper respect to God, for who and what He is as God.

But second, there is a need to daily rededicate ourselves in commitment to God to seek and do His will (Rom. 12:1,2). Paul includes our entire being in this, body and soul. This is an act of personal consecration to God in the use of His appointed means. And what are those appointed means? These are prayer, Bible study, faithful church attendance and use of the sacraments. Committing ourselves to God in the use of the means of grace will have a sanctifying effect upon the mind, the will, and ultimately, the body of a Christian (Rom. 6:17).

And thirdly, we are to actively mortify sin, by its constant denial when temptation occurs (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5). Certainly, if sin is expressed by our habits, dealing with the situations that surround those habits will help. Nobody can go into a porn shop and not be tempted to use it, so why go in there in the first place? Unfortunately, the internet provides easily accessible porn that can be viewed in private. So adjusting our internet usage is a prerequisite to avoiding temptation. This can be applied to any number of situations where gross sin is served by allowing temptation unnecessarily to occur. And even when this is faithfully observed, temptation to ones favorite sins will occur. It should be understood that temptation itself is not sin, but the actual practice and submission to it that is at issue. However, James makes it clear in his epistle, that sin and temptation work together in the mind of a sinner so as to lead them into its practice (James 1:14,15). But notice here that James says it’s the enticement of sin when entertained that the sin actually occurs, it’s not the temptation itself. So sin must be recognized as a filthy lust to be mortified in its infancy, if it is to be denied at all.

b. Worldly lust

This brings us to a more fundamental issue than what constitutes outwardly gross sin in the matter of “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” James introduces this in chapter one of his epistle when he says “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” (Verse 14). Sin does not begin with the act, but with the inclinations, or mental state of the heart.

Sin begins in the mind, and the mind serves what it loves. This truth is born out in Scripture over and over again. God reveals this to us in the earliest part of Scripture in reference to the universal falleness of mankind. “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Verse 5). There is no difference between the state of the human mind and the affections according to God. This is because the entirety of our humanity is depraved (Jer. 17:9). Men are capable of thinking intelligently and logically, but when it comes to making the right moral choices sin takes over. Why is this so? It is so because the mind serves the principle of sin that dwells within us.

When a person is born again, a new principle is at work to not only inform the mind of what is right, but also to provide it an appropriate affection in order to desire it. Unfortunately, because of remaining sin, we as believers do not always do the right things we love. This is what Paul meant in his second part of Romans chapter seven (verses 13-24). “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.” (Verses 20-22). Remaining sin exists in the form of lust, or, inordinate desire within. A believer loves God and His law, but finds it impossible to obey perfectly. Yet, Paul still says we are to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” so how do we do this, how do we understand what this dilemma is all about in terms of submitting to God?

It’s a matter of recognizing and dealing with worldly lust within. This is put forth in three parts by the apostle John when he says “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” (I John 2:15a). This love of the world John reduces to three things— “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world” (verse 16b,c). These three things are those pleasures which serve the flesh in an unlawful manner, those things we covet which please the eye, and those things which encourage and feed sinful pride. Anywhere gross sin is being practiced, one or all of these three things are present too.

We will go even further with this and assert that worldly lust is not only present where gross sin is practiced, but it actually precedes it. We take this on the authority of Jesus Himself. After Jesus stated the principles of the kingdom to His disciples, He then set out to explain the all-encompassing nature of the law. The Pharisees had perverted the true understanding of the law by reducing it to simply outward acts. For instance, Jesus taught that murder begins in the heart (Matt. 5:21,22). It is the thought of murder or hatred of another that God accounts as murder. People don’t just commit this act without entertaining it in their minds beforehand. Of course, there are crimes of passion where someone commits murder as a result of provocation rather than premeditation. But the depravity of mans nature is such that these passions are served by murderous thoughts beforehand, even if not specific to a particular victim. A murderer is someone filled with hate in their heart.

Likewise, sexual immorality begins in the mind as well. Jesus explained to the disciples that adultery goes beyond the mere act of doing it, for it begins in the mind (Matt. 5:27,28). Jesus directs this specifically toward men because they are especially prone to the sin of lusting after women. And what is the source of this lust, but it is in looking “at a woman to lust for her” that the sin of adultery is actually conceived. So Jesus makes it clear that to look at a woman so as to desire her body is to commit the act of adultery itself. So when a man actually pursues the fulfillment of his lust physically, he has already been busy entertaining it in his mind well beforehand. And just because Jesus spoke about this adulterous lust of the eyes in reference to men, do not suppose for a minute that women are exempt from this in any way, for they are not.

All sin begins as an inordinate desire in the mind. It is not incidental that the tenth commandment which speaks of covetousness follows the other commandments. Idolatry is not only the worship of a statue or an image. It can be an automobile or a house. Desecration of the Sabbath is a worldly lust toward self and pleasure. Disrespect for authority is a lust toward self-serving independence. Cursing, lying, stealing, cheating, and backstabbing our neighbor is all the fruit of worldly lusts that when entertained sufficiently in the mind, will result in acts of gross sin.

The Christian is to be aware of the presence of such lusts in their life, and to mortify them, through prayer, repentance, Bible study and self denial. For if they are not dealt with in this way, backsliding into grievous acts of sin will take place. When this happens it robs them of the joy of fellowship with God and perhaps their public name when discovered, which is a reflection upon Christ and His church.

Love of the world and its attractions and promises are the constant temptation we face as Christians. Its subtlety is even far greater than that which Eve experienced in the garden, for Paul tells us the god of this world which is Satan, “transforms himself into an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14b), enticing us with the world’s bauble. Recognizing this as an antithesis to godliness is what Paul is speaking when he talks about separation in chapter six. Of course, separation from outwardly wicked things is certainly in view, but that which is wicked is not always easily discerned. Paul says “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” (II Cor. 6:14a). Attraction to and connection with the beautiful, the glamorous, the sought after people of the world are akin to having fellowship with the devil (verse 14b,c).

So when Paul exhorts believers to “cleanse themselves from the filthiness of the flesh,” it must be taken in its fullest possible context if it is to be done. And the exhortation for us to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” of necessity, involves not only personal mortification of worldly lusts, but a full and complete commitment to God to be separate from the world.

2)The filthiness of the spirit

Progress in the faith and in sanctification implies the possibility of backsliding in the wrong direction. Therefore, sanctification is not something fixed in the sense of continuos forward progress. Unless progress is continually made toward holiness in a believer’s life, recurring problems with any number of sins may vex them to no end. So Paul says in Galatians five (verse 24), and elsewhere in his letters (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5), to mortify the deeds of the flesh. To mortify is to put to death. So why does he use such language as this? After all, isn’t God’s Spirit working in the heart of a believer to sanctify them?

The mortification Paul speaks of has to do with the nature of sin itself. Sin is an active principle of opposition to God within the heart of every son of Adam. Although the reality of a regenerated life is the introduction of a new and living principle into the heart of a believer, there is also the presence of remaining sin there as well. Jesus Christ died on the cross because of sin, not His, but ours. It is only fitting that His death to sin becomes ours as well. Paul presents the logic of it in the form of several rhetorical questions. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? (Rom. 6:1-3).

How does a Christian mortify sin? It is not by mere outward acts of self denial as the Romanists suppose, for Paul used the phrase “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13) in a metaphorical way. No, mortification of sin is a spiritual matter connected to God’s sovereign grace in the same manner that everything else about salvation is. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in a Christian, rather than some physical work of the flesh. Paul says it’s the Spirit that does the mortifying, but that begs the question, what about us, what is our duty if any in it? In order to mortify the deeds of the body, we must cleanse ourselves first, then sanctify our spirits. This is not some cooperative work with God as some like to put it. Neither is it some mystical experience. No, everything we do as Christians concerning sanctification are in response to the prior working of God in us (Eph. 2:5,6). To think that we somehow cooperate with God in terms of work is to think that work itself saves from sin (Gal. 3:1-3).

It is for this reason that Paul links the mortification of the flesh to the prior work of the Holy Spirit in us (Rom. 8:13). The work of God in a believer is spoken of in this manner. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (verses 14-16). Our response to God is the result of our adoption as children into His family. This is the Spirit’s testimony within us. So our spirit finds its cleansing and perfecting in Christ through His indwelling Spirit.

The Holy Spirit testifies to us that God provides all that are necessary unto life and holiness through such means as His word, prayer, preaching, fellowship, sacraments and church discipline. Diligent attendance upon these is the normal way God’s Spirit works sanctification in a believer. It is not by use of clever formulas, nor of letting our self go in mystical experiences that a Christian becomes holy. It is certainly not a matter of legalism as Paul clearly reveals in Galatians three (verses 1-3).

What does happen to a Christian is, the presence of God’s sanctifying grace, through the indwelling Spirit deals a mortal death blow to sin that actually opposes it in the mind of a Christian. Where there is life, there is conscious awareness of anything that threatens it, this is true of sin in a believer’s life. God has imparted spiritual life to His people. When this happens a fight ensues between them and sin, but it is one that has already been won by God in Christ for the believer. And although “perfecting holiness” is progressive in this life it will be had in absolute perfection at the time of eternal glorification.

The heart is a never-ending source of spiritual and moral pollution, even in a believer. Paul found this out himself, and spoke of the nature of this battle he encountered in his own spiritual walk with God (Rom. 7:14-25). Paul constantly found his own spirit to be polluted with sin. This led often to failure in his life when it came to the matter of progressive holiness. So in second Corinthians seven he exhorts believers to be cleansed not only “from all filthiness of the flesh,” but adds to that “and spirit” as a regular part of living as justified saints. There are several areas where the filthiness of the spirit especially occurs.

a. Coldness of heart

The apostle Paul equates the relationship that exists between believers and Christ, to a marriage between a man and a woman (Eph. 5:31,32). Anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that the early infatuation of the relationship wears off, and something else is found in its place. This is the true love of commitment that infatuation simply mimics. Love is not a feeling but a principle, followed by an action. Nevertheless, any marriage between two people still needs to have the original romance re stoked from time to time. If not, the heart grows cold and lifeless. When this happens, devotion becomes drudgery. This is why so many marriages of the world fail. When duty is combined with drudgery, it becomes hard to maintain.

We hear the excuse made all the time when people divorce that the love that was once there is gone. In actuality, it is only the infatuation of newness that left. In other words, the feelings have gone cold. This is no surprise because feelings are nothing but flesh deep. Commitment is a matter of the mind and heart. It is what keep a relationship going, whether the feelings are there or not. We all get old and when that happens, fleshly passion subsides. Unless a person has learned to love, there is nothing left when that happens.

A Christian’s relationship to Christ has a lot of spiritual similarities to that of human marriage. When it’s new, there is a great deal of infatuation. When it gains age that wears away. There are some Christians who are given over to the constant pursuit of regaining this spiritual high. The problem is, it will never return. Those who think like this render themselves useless, when it comes to living the normal Christian life of “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

There are some in the church who make a doctrine of revival for essentially the same reason. Because there have been times when God stirred His people in what seems to be an extraordinary manner in some location, these folk assume that this is something to be perpetually sought after. Their reasoning is the same. It’s a way to revive the people of God out of their spiritual; doldrums and get them moving forward in a militant sort of way.

Neither one of these mentalities has any credibility whatsoever, when it comes to sanctifying the spirit of God’s people. In spite of this, there is an inherent danger to allowing indifference to creep into a Christian’s spiritual life. We see this in the complaint lodged by Jesus to the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:4). Let us be clear on this. The church hadn’t left Jesus through doctrinal apostasy, but through spiritual indifference to Him as their Lord in matters of devotion. In other words, their devotion had become worldly and vain. So Jesus councils them to “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.” (Verse 5). They were to realize the marriage has grown dull, and to repent of their indifference. They were to seek Him anew in every ordinary way and means He has appointed.

Coldness of heart, when left that way for a long time will make them indifferent to sin. The original motivation of faith in God through Jesus Christ, was to see Him, His ways and works as the most beautiful thing in the world. Of course, His love for us in Christ, dying on the cross was front and center in the mind. But when someone is saved anew, much more than that fills the mind, such as the glory of God in it all, the lengths He went to in order to accomplish all He has in the implementation of it.

The opposite of indifference is, dedicated zeal. This is not craziness as is the manner of some, but deliberate dedication to the things of God. This is not a feeling or sensation, not something that comes by being zapped by God. It is love for God and His Son Jesus Christ. It is love for all that He has done. This love is revived when it is properly meditated on anew from His word (Ps. 1:2).

b. Unbelief

It might seem on the surface to be something of a contradiction to suggest that a believer might suffer from the sin of unbelief. Of course, that can’t be true in the ultimate sense. But what is often true of the Christian is to display a lack faith in many areas of their life. This is something that is better termed as unfaithfulness. Faithfulness is the practice of consistent reliance upon God and His word. It is taking God at His word and relying upon Him to fulfill all that He has revealed, concerning both His commands and His promises. Learning to do this consistently is how we are able to always be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

One way in which this is often short-circuited is in constantly seeking God to do our will rather than His. The Lord taught His disciples to pray “Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10). When that petition ceases to be the primary concern of a Christian, unbelief has crept in. The result will be unfaithfulness in what is pursued in this life. Sometimes God will give His children exactly what they want in order to teach them a lesson (Ps. 78:18-31). Now we understand, that most of those mentioned in the Psalm, were not true believers. And God’s true children never receive His wrath, for that has been poured on the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf. But God does indeed judge His people here on earth for their waywardness (Heb.10:30,31; I Pet. 4:17).

In reality, any lack of faith on our part toward God may properly be termed the uncleanness of the spirit. The spirit is that part of humanity that comprises the intellect, affections and will. It is quite distinct from the body itself, though wedded to it in such a way as to be hard to differentiate between the two. The term soul is often used in such a way as too really denote the spirit. However, Scripture reveals it to be the combination of both (Gen. 2:7). The word soul really refers to the sentient part of our being. Body and spirit are so joined together so as to make it hard to detect where one begins, and the other ends.

One thing is for certain, and that is that faith pertains to holiness. The unholy have no faith. This is the condition of the world apart from a covenant relationship to God in Christ. God’s people are to be like Him, and He is utterly separate from anything created. Now since we are created, being holy for us is not the same thing in that regard. So faith is that which separates us unto God. Believing in Him and His holy nature as separate from anything created. This means that faith, or faithfulness must involve taking Him at His word as God who is above and beyond us. Reverential fear of God is what faith rests itself upon.

Therefore, it is necessary to recognize whether or not we are being truly purified from mixed affections which corrupt our faith, and hence, our faithfulness to God (James 4:8).

c. Pride

One of the chief Christian graces is humility before God and men. This is naturally so because sin is a principle whose chief characteristic is arrogance and self-serving lust. One of the lies used by the Serpent to tempt Eve was that in defying God and eating the fruit “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). That is the essence of sinful pride, to think of oneself as though they are God.

Regeneration instills a new principle that changes ones view of self diametrically in the opposite direction than before. It does this by imparting a new attitude toward God and others. Whereas before, self was the primary concern in any given circumstance, now, the glory of God and the good of others is supreme. This attitude of mind is a grace that is consistent with what is revealed in Scripture as the essence of the law. This was clearly put forth by Jesus to the scribe when he asked of Him “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt. 22:36). In response to this question Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Verses 37-39). Love is something that is directed away from one self, toward another. This out of necessity involves humility, or the emptying of self.

The presence of remaining sin however, means that pride can and does seep out of the heart of a true believer at times. This is certainly classified as a matter of spiritual filthiness, of the kind Paul exhorts us to cleanse. If left unchecked, it will develop certain patterns of behavior that work to counteract the progress of sanctification. These kinds of behavior are often manifest in church disputes. Busy bodying is a matter of pride. It is becoming the proverbial fruit inspector of others, always noticing what is wrong with the other members of the congregation.

Sometimes it takes the form of grandstanding when it comes to high visibility activities. This happens especially in more shallow Evangelical churches where there is a great emphasis on programs of every sort. An attitude can develop from this in which people involved in these sorts of things which Scripture gives no warrant to whatsoever, think of themselves as elevated above others. Today we have the spectacle of the para church ministry with all the rock star personalities that head them, all of which receive veneration from the church going public. It is interesting to note that here in the Corinthian church this is exactly what was taking place (I Cor. 1:10-13). The Scripture gives a very clear presentation of what its duties are in respect to activity and office in the church. It’s only when worldly mindedness takes over that the Scripture is ignored and factions led by domineering men occur. The sad thing is, such arrogance has no place in God’s kingdom. Paul says of this that “each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.” (I Cor. 3:13).

But the enticement of pride in a Christian’s life is not reserved for the more outwardly gifted or bold people. Pride is a moral pollution that affects all Christians. It often manifests itself in the quieter sort of person in a different way than the rock star personality. It does this by enticing a Christian toward self reliance, rather than toward submission to God’s word. It is pride which hides our personal needs from God’s people. It is pride which presents a false picture of how our life is going.

Of course, this can work the other way too. Some Christians are forever dumping themselves all over others. You can’t talk with them without them telling every little detail of their problems, to the point you wonder where God is in their lives. They seek support from everyone except from the only One who can truly give it, God (Gen. 18:14). A person who is “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” is utterly dependant upon Him.

One of the first signs of pride comes in thinking we have done something special while serving the Lord. Another one is in thinking we have arrived because of holding to an accurate form of doctrine and practice in our church associations. Pride is very deceitful, in that it attaches itself to so many legitimate areas of life. It has a bewitching effect upon a person because of its subtleness. But no one can fool the Lord. Twice in the New Testament pride is set in contrast to grace (James 4:6; I Pet. 5:5). The reason for this is obvious. Where grace is present in a believer’s life, pride is absent, and vice verse. Grace is obtained through seeking God through the means He has appointed such as faithful attendance at church, prayer and Bible study. How can anyone sincerely pursue God this way while harboring pride in their heart? Of course, they can’t. So we must constantly seek the Lord’s inspection (Ps. 139:23,24, 19:12-14).

d. Impatience

One very important aspect of “perfecting holiness” in the faithful disciple is waiting on the Lord. The Lord does things His way in His own time, not ours. A perfect example of this is the point Peter makes in his second epistle, the third chapter. God’s people are vexed at the mockers who say “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (Verse 4). Peter’s answer to them was “For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.” (Verses 5,6). God will fulfill what He says He will do, even if it takes a long time by our reckoning. So Peter concluded by making this point concerning God’s timing. “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (Verses 7,8).

This is a large point that Peter makes. Generations of men may go by before the Lord accomplishes His word, but nevertheless, we are to wait upon it and Him until it comes to pass. This holds true of things that are shorter term in reference to our own life and circumstance. One aspect of progressive sanctification is learning to wait, believing in the Lord’s mercy and goodness apart from any visible sign. But this is so hard to do when personal need and various trials in life overwhelm us. There is a strong temptation in this to become impatient with the Lord. This is sin, a spiritual corrupting attitude that often leads to many things not in conformity to God’s revealed will.

Take for instance the very point made in the sixth chapter of second Corinthians on biblical separation from the world. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” (Verse 14a). The Scripture is clear that Christians are only to marry “in the Lord.” (Col. 3:18). Yet, many times the sin of impatience takes over in a Christian’s life, to the point they become smitten by some pagan of the opposite sex, only to violate this admonition and marry them. Another example of this can be in making a business agreement that obligates a Christian to violate God’s command in some way. This is the spiritually corrupting sin of impatience.

Impatience leads to pragmatic approaches to fulfilling the Lord’s will. Abraham could not see how he would ever have an heir, considering the age of his wife Sarah. So he impregnated a concubine of his rather than wait on the Lord to do the impossible (Gen. 15:2,3). Yet, the Lord’s word to him was that a child would come from his flesh (verse 4). So Abraham set out to see to it the promise was fulfilled, even if not in the way it should have been. Was it because Abraham had no faith, not at all, for God testified to His being just (verse 6)? No, it was because his faith was mixed with the sin of impatience.

In our own day there are a thousand methods available to becoming a spiritual Christian, none of which have anything to do with the Bible. God has appointed simple means for the sanctification of His elect, such as preaching, prayer, studies of the word, submission to the church and its ordinances, all in the context of the gospel. This is the way of personal sanctification to the individual Christian, as well as the way God manifests His kingdom on earth. Pragmatism is the sin of impatience, for it does not wait upon God to do His will His way through these appointed means.

Last of all, success in “perfecting holiness” is not measured by temporal results, it is measured by conformity to the divine will, which oftentimes sees no tangible results for a long time. The result of waiting upon the Lord having faith in His word, relying upon the appointed means of grace is the cleansing of our spirits from all filthiness (I Pet. 1:22).

e. Self-confidence

The subject of assurance is an important biblical doctrine. Without it a believer is troubled concerning their faith, whether it is genuine or not. Certainly, the presence of remaining sin casts a shadow of doubt upon a sincere believer, as to whether they have been mistaken or not about their commitment to God. Diligent Bible study will often produce two different impressions concerning assurance to a believer, depending on what portion they read, and at what time they happen to be reading it. The reason for this is, the Bible gives us both assurance of God’s favor, and His warning against disobedience at the same time. So while the judgements of God can terrify us, the promises of God do mollify us.

There has often been a tendency in the church to look within to find assurance from God. This is done in two ways. Some will have us look within to certain verifying fruits or conditions consistent with salvation. Others will have us look within to experiences and feelings of security. Either way, both approaches call on God’s people to look within themselves. Paul does neither of these in his exhortation to the Corinthian church. First, Paul says “Therefore, having these promises, beloved.” This puts believers in the possession of God’s favor first, before any other consideration is made concerning holiness. Next, Paul does not tell them to look within, but to look without, toward God in the matter of consecration. He did this in the words “fear of God.” Obviously, some degree of self examination must come into the picture in this, but to focus on that exclusively is to miss the point being made in the text.

To always be looking within does not bring assurance to a believer. Either it will condemn them, or it will exalt them, neither one is “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Self confidence seems to be the mantra of our day. Christian psychology is all about promoting self esteem. Biblical esteem is concerned with being found in Christ, having no righteousness of our own (Phil. 3:4-9). This is a matter of objective imputation from God of Christ’s righteousness. It is humbling to us and exalting to Him. For this reason, self esteem, or self confidence is grievous sin, it is spiritual pollution of true faith.

It is not only sin, but an extremely deceitful one at that. This is because faith calls on us to be strong in the Lord (Eph. 6:10). Strength is needed to defend us against the world, the flesh and the devil (I Pet. 3:14-16). So Christians rightly suppose they need a high degree of confidence, if they are to be spiritually strong in serving the Lord. But here is the problem, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Knowing where our confidence is derived is difficult, because of the deceitfulness of sin. A case in point is Peter. Peter was a believer who like all believers, followed the Lord and listened to His words. But Peter was way too self assured for his own good. Jesus told the disciples they would deny Him, not once nor twice, but three times. Peter vehemently denied this, yet he did exactly as the Lord said he would (Matt. 26:35, 69-75). This happened because his confidence was not in the Lord, but in his own inflated self opinion.

Biblical assurance is nothing less than confidence in the word of God. It is not looking within to find strength in an hour of temptation. It is reliance upon the plainly stated words of God to us. Assurance is not looking for a good feeling, or for signs and wonders that will give us a good feeling. Whether we have a great feeling about our situation or not is completely irrelevant. Feelings come primarily from the body. They are carnal, fleshly, and furthermore, fleeting in nature. Faith is not a feeling, but confidence in God based upon His objective revelation. In fact, most of the time when trials come, our feelings are not agreeable to them in any way. This is the nature of a trial. When James says “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,

knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (1:2,3), he does not mean to say either, the trial will be joyful, or, that we should respond to it that way. No, what he means to tell his hearers (and readers) is to take solace in the fact that God has so ordered it for they’re good. And if that is so, it is to strengthen them in faith, by reliance on Him through it.

Self-confidence should be guarded against in the spiritual life of a Christian. When self is looked at constantly, God is always left out of the picture. So not only is there a neglect of thoughtful seeking after God’s grace in this neglect, but a certain disregard for others will develop from it too. Therefore, confidence in the Christian life, if it is spiritually “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” must be based on reading, studying and relying on the written word of God daily.


These several sins are given as things to watch out for in our spiritual walk before God. They are by no means exhaustive in scope, nor are the instructions that accompany them. They are given to show a contrast between that which is making progress in holiness and that which is not. And why do we do this? It is to give some definition of what Paul meant in his instruction to the Corinthian believers to be a separate, holy community of people unto God. God made us to be a reflection of Himself in His unseen glory. This was lost through the fall, but is now regained in Christ through the gospel.

Of course, as we have pointed out, progressive sanctification is extremely imperfect in this life, although definitive sanctification in salvation is complete and secure to every saint. So it is a fitting exhortation the apostle made here in this text. The Christian life is to be one of manifesting the character of God. Because God is holy, therefore, we should be holy too.