What is it to be holy in the 21st century? Pt 1

On 20th November I received the following via email.

Dear Rev. Foster,

I’ve read with great interest your recent emails and commend you for your stance. The reason for my correspondence is not to add anything to the current conversation as I am in agreement with you but to ask if you would consider outlining in a series of email teachings, what it means to live a separated and holy life and what that looks like for the Christian in this day and age?

One thing that jumps out from the responses you have received, and indeed from your own email about dancing is that most Christians, and I include myself in this, are quite ignorant of what the Bible teaches. We are not being taught these things from the pulpits. So if you have the time Sir and are led of the Lord to do so, I believe I would not be alone in appreciating good teaching on such matters.

May God bless you Rev. Foster as you continue to stand for His truth.

I look forward to your teachings and thank you again that you are there standing in the gap.”

I am more than happy to try and answer this request as the Lord helps me.

Today, I read 1st Peter chapter 1, as part of my Bible reading devotions. I have often stated that I use Robert Murray M‘Cheyne’s Bible Reading Calendar, and I commend it to all once more. It can be freely downloaded from the internet.

Well today, I sat as it were, at the feet of Peter.

In this first chapter he deals with the subject of ‘SANCTIFICATION’ at some length. Sanctification is a term used of holy living. The Shorter Catechism teaches us what sanctification is.

Answer to question 35. “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

I recall Dr Paisley stating of the Shorter Catechism, soon after I was saved, that it was a ‘wonderful compendium of Christian doctrine’! I must confess that I did not understand at the first that delightful description of this wonderful catechism, written for children I must add, but which has been the ‘educator’ of many, many adults in the sacred knowledge of Bible doctrine.

That answer 35, with wonderful simplicity and clarity tells us, in a nutshell, just what holy living is and how it is to be accomplished.

Let me start with that simple truth:


1. Holy living is not a work which we of ourselves may accomplish. Yes, we are to desire it, seek it, pray for it, strive after it despite our own sinful ‘old’ nature with its evil appetites, but let us realise that we of ourselves can never achieve holiness of life. Peter in verse 2 of his opening chapter in his first epistle speaks thus: “‭Elect‭ according‭ to the foreknowledge‭ of God‭ the Father‭, through‭ sanctification‭ of the Spirit‭,‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬verse 2.

We can never achieve in our lives that which ONLY the ‘Holy Spirit’ can work in us. To be holy, there is a need to abandon ‘self’ and the notion that we can by our efforts ever please God.

This is a lesson we had to learn when we first ceased from self and looked to Christ for salvation. By God’s grace we were made to understand that salvation came to us, “‭Not‭ by‭ works‭ of‭ righteousness‭ which‭ we‭ have done‭‭, but‭ according to‭ his‭ mercy‭ he saved‭‭ us‭, by‭ the washing‭ of regeneration‭, and‭ renewing‭ of the Holy‭ Ghost‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Titus 3:5.

Yes, we learned to cease from self and look alone to Christ for salvation BUT we must learn this lesson again when it comes to holiness of life. Indeed, it is a lesson we must learn again and again, throughout our lives, as we encounter various challenges!

2. Without this realisation we will unsuccessfully attempt, by our own efforts, to be holy. That has led to defeat and disappointment and doubt in many believers for striving of themselves to be holy, they fail and the devil hastens to whisper that this is because ‘they are not truly saved’!

To live a holy life we must firstly learn that we have not the means, in and of ourselves, to accomplish this.

3. God’s purpose in saving us was to make us holy. “‭According as‭ he hath chosen‭‭ us‭ in‭ him‭ before‭ the foundation‭ of the world‭, that we‭ should be‭‭ holy‭ and‭ without blame‭ before‭ him‭ in‭ love‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Ephesians 1:4. As was said of the Old Testament saint, must also be applied to those of the New Testament era. “‭For thou ‭art‭ an holy‭ people‭ unto the LORD‭ thy God‭: the LORD‭ thy God‭ hath chosen‭‭ thee to be a special‭ people‭ unto himself, above all people‭ that ‭are‭ upon the face‭ of the earth‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Deuteronomy 7:6.

4. The degree of holiness set by the Lord must ever be remembered. We refer to the words of Peter again. “‭Wherefore‭, beloved‭, seeing that ye look for‭‭ such things‭, be diligent‭‭ that ye may be found‭‭ of him‭ in‭ peace‭, without spot‭, and‭ blameless‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 2 Peter 3:14. “‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭Without spot‭, and‭ blameless‭” is a degree of holiness that few give real thought to. Many who would claim ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬to be Christians, are satisfied with turning up at God’s house on a Sabbath morning and then heading off to the seaside or some other place of worldly activities, thinking that their morning attendance at church fulfilled all that God required of them!

Christianity is not a ‘part-time’ occupation. Those the Saviour calls in salvation will forsake all that was ‘life’ for them before that call and devote themselves to obeying and pleasing Him. I read also this morning that stirring verse in Luke. “‭Then‭ they went out‭‭ to see‭‭ what was done‭‭; and‭ came‭‭ to‭ Jesus‭, and‭ found‭‭ the man‭, out of‭ whom‭ the devils‭ were departed‭‭, sitting‭‭ at‭ the feet‭ of Jesus‭, clothed‭‭, and‭ in his right mind‭‭: and‭ they were afraid‭‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Luke 8:35.

This man is a wonderfully illustrative picture of a true convert. Here we have his COMPANY, COMPOSURE and CONTRAST. He was not with his former companions, acting as he formerly had, attired in a shameful manner. Such was the change, it frightened his acquaintances! The wonderful change brought fear to the hearts of his neighbours for they recognised that a power beyond that of humanity had brought about such a work.

That is the impact of true holiness upon the world around!

5. True holiness is to bear a likeness to the Lord. “‭But‭ as‭ he which hath called‭‭ you‭ is holy‭, so‭ be‭‭ ye‭ holy‭ in‭ all‭ manner of conversation‭;‭ ‭Because‭ it is written‭‭, Be ye‭‭ holy‭; for‭ I‭ am‭‭ holy‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 1 Peter 1:15-16. The Lord would have those who claim to be followers of Him to LOOK and BEHAVE like Him! Paul urged upon the Christians at Corinth that they “‭Be‭‭ ye followers‭ of me‭, even as‭ I also‭ ‭am‭ of Christ‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 1 Corinthians 11:1. The word ‘followers’ simply means ‘an imitator’. Every one of us have an ‘accent’ which easily identifies to others where we come from! I started school in London in 1947. Our family returned to Lisnaskea a few years later and I was the source of much amusement amongst my cousins with my ‘cockney’ accent for I was an ‘imitator’ of those with whom I shared a classroom. But I soon lost it and became one with all the others around me with a broad ‘south Fermanagh’ brogue. That too was modified when the family moved again, this time to Belfast. We are imitators by nature.

The Christian instinctively mimics those around him and if we maintain a right fellowship with the Lord Jesus, we will become like Him. It was so with the apostles. “‭Now‭ when they saw‭‭ the boldness‭ of Peter‭ and‭ John‭, and‭ perceived‭‭ that‭ they were‭‭ unlearned‭ and‭ ignorant‭ men‭, they marvelled‭‭; and‭ they took knowledge‭‭ of them‭, that‭ they had been‭‭ with‭ Jesus‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Acts 4:13.

This then is what we should seek to manifest in our lives.

6. Being thus changed by God’s grace into the likeness of Christ, will require us to turn our backs upon the ways of the world. “‭And‭ be‭‭ not‭ conformed‭‭ to this‭ world‭: but‭ be ye transformed‭‭ by the renewing‭ of your‭ mind‭, that‭ ye‭ may prove‭‭ what‭ ‭is‭ that good‭, and‭ acceptable‭, and‭ perfect‭, will‭ of God‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Romans 12:2.

I always find a ludicrous display of ignorance when a Christian speaks of ‘moving with the times’! Where are the ’times’ moving to? Paul tells us. “‭Now‭ the Spirit‭ speaketh‭‭ expressly‭, that‭ in‭ the latter‭ times‭ some‭ shall depart from‭‭ the faith‭, giving heed‭‭ to seducing‭ spirits‭, and‭ doctrines‭ of devils‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 1 Timothy 4:1.

Today’s ’trends’ are the fruit of society ‘giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils’. Being in step with such a current is as far removed from true holiness as one can be!

To be ‘relevant’ one does not have to follow the ways of the world. Rather, we must present to a world, accursed with the same wickedness that damned Sodom, the UNCHANGING gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we are to be ‘holy’, bear a likeness to Christ, then we will live and act and speak and witness as the true believers have ever lived because our ‘template’ is unchanging. “‭For I ‭am‭ the LORD‭, I change‭‭ not,‭‭‭‭‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Malachi 3:6. “‭Remember‭‭ them which have the rule‭‭ over you‭, who‭ have spoken‭‭ unto you‭ the word‭ of God‭: whose‭ faith‭ follow‭‭, considering‭‭ the end‭ of ‭their‭ conversation‭.‭ ‭Jesus‭ Christ‭ the same‭ yesterday‭, and‭ to day‭, and‭ for‭ ever‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Hebrews 13:7-8. The phrase “considering the end of their conversation”, simply means the objective and purpose for which they lived, and that was “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” The rule of holiness has not changed. Obedience to God will cause us to “‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭be‭ conformed‭ to the image‭ of his‭ Son‭,‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Romans 8:29, rather than that of a likeness to the ways of the world in which we live!

Oh how wrong are those preachers and people, who believe they serve God by appearing ‘modern’ and ‘with it’. They bring in the ‘modern music’ and ‘shallow hymnology’. Invariably they mock and sneer and miscall those who seek to obey God as we are instructed to do in Jeremiah 6:16. “‭Thus saith‭‭ the LORD‭, Stand‭‭ ye in the ways‭, and see‭‭, and ask‭‭ for the old‭ paths‭, where ‭is‭ the good‭ way‭, and walk‭‭ therein, and ye shall find‭‭ rest‭ for your souls‭.” Rather, their response to such a command is that of the rebels in Jeremiah’s day. “But they said‭‭, We will not walk‭‭ ‭therein‭.‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Those who believe that ‘aping the world’ will aid the cause of Christ are very sadly deceived! In truth they dishonour God. They harm their own souls, if they are indeed true Christians and they will destroy the witness of the gospel if they are successful and they succeed in having the testimony of God’s work thus changed.

We will leave our study there until the next time.

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Ivan Foster
24th November 2023