What is it to be holy in the 21st century? Pt 2

This is our second study in response to a request from one of our readers to set down the Bible’s teaching on HOLINESS.

I was requested if I “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?”

This is the second part of my answer. Let me quote again the Shorter Catechism’s definition of Sanctification or HOLINESS.

“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.”

Our second study will concentrate upon the truth:


This takes us a little further than our first study.

1. All that the Lord does for us is something we do not deserve but is of God’s free, unmerited favour. We so often forget this simple truth. That is because ‘self-esteem’ is deeply embedded within us. We were very much opposed to accepting this truth before our regeneration and that reluctance remains within us as part of our ‘old nature’. We have a new nature now of which Peter said: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust,” 2 Peter 1:4. We have been made partakers of God’s holiness.

We now have two natures, the ‘old’ which is sinful and the ‘new’ which is holy. They are at war with each other. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,” Galatians 5:17. Of this inward, ongoing struggle Paul said of his resulting quandary: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do,” Romans 7:18-19.

We can surely find some comfort in the fact that Paul also struggled to resist the tendency to sin that sprang from his old nature.

2. The merciful process by which we were first brought to Christ is the means by which we grow in holiness. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures,” James 1:18.

I repeat what I said in our first study. We cannot of ourselves advance holiness in our lives. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God,” 2 Corinthians 3:5.

Grace planted the seed and grace nurtures and nourishes its advance and growth.

Consider these verses.  “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” Philippians 2:12-13. “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen,” Hebrews 13:21.

3. The grace of God works through the means that He has appointed. I refer to ‘The Shorter catechism’ again.

Question 88: ‘What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?’

Answer: ‘The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.’

One of the proof texts is Acts 2:41-42. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

Peter urges us to press onward and avoid the deceptions that surround us. “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen,” 2 Peter 3:17-18.

As food and drink and sleep are staple elements in our physical life, essential for our physical and mental wellbeing, so attendance upon worship in God’s house, the daily reading and meditation upon God’s Word and our coming into His presence in prayer, are absolutely essential for our advancing in holiness.

So many who profess the name of Christ rarely attend prayer meetings or diligently attend worship in God’s house. It is for that reason that what was said of God’s people in the days of Isaiah the prophet may be said of many today. “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment,” Isaiah 1:5-6. This is very far from what it ought to be!

This is how it was in Corinth, a church marked by sinfulness and division. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” 1 Corinthians 3:1-3.

Dear Christian, develop a steady, systematic plan of devotion, reading, praying and especially “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching,” Hebrews 10:25.

4. This is a day when the means of grace appointed by the Lord are little thought of! I think particularly of the low regard many place upon the Word of God.

In the many debates and controversies I have engaged in over the years, I have found that to be so. It is my practice in such discussion to ever present the Word of God in support of any point I am making. Often times I have listed lengthy portions of God’s Word. I have found that often times, those I am disputing with, either face to face or by email, will immediately reply without the slightest regard to those Scriptures I quoted. I get an answer to my email and it is obvious that not enough time has lapsed between my sending off the email and the reply I get back for the person to have really read, never mind seriously considered, the meaning of the verses I had sent.

The only time I have felt really troubled in my heart by a reply during such debates, is when reference is made by my challenger to what I have said and his rejection of what I had said, is accompanied by a quotation from God’s Word. The Lord knows I speak the truth when I say that my heart sinks until I study what has been sent to me to make sure that I have not advanced a view that is not in accord with God’s Word.

There have been a number of times when I have experienced that sense of alarm but I am thankful that on examination of the verses sent to me I find that they do not contradict what I have said, as my opponent has asserted, but in truth support and affirm my position.

I am not infallible by any means, but I do fear the Lord and tremble at the thought of ever advancing that which is contrary to His Word. I recall once, when I was preaching as a student in Lisbellaw Free Presbyterian Church, saying something (I cannot recall what it was now) that was not theologically correct. Almost immediately I realised that it was wrong and after a minute or two of mental struggle, I stopped and referred to what I had said and indicated that it was not correct and rectified the statement.

There is so little regard for God’s Word today amongst many who profess faith in Christ. That is the basis of the rash of unfaithful translations of the Scriptures and the eager embracing of them by those who hope that they can be given the means of abandoning the ‘old paths’ and embarking on a way that is closer to the ways of the world, in which they delight!

To walk in holiness in the midst of the apostasy today, one must separate utterly from such in obedience to God’s Word. Lot was a most ‘unsuccessful’ believer. We likely would not believe he was truly saved if we have not the inspired word of Peter. “And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)” 2 Peter 2:7-8.

The reason for his spiritual shallowness was the fact that he ‘dwelt’ in the midst of a wicked people. He chose to dwell in Sodom because of its rich fruitfulness. “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom,”  Genesis 13:10-12. He could live with the wickedness of Sodom for his heart was governed by a greediness of this world’s goods!

As a result of his tolerance of the wickedness of Sodom, his repeating of God’s warning to his family, of coming destruction, was laughed at. “And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law,” Genesis 19:14. The word ‘mocked’ means ‘to laugh’, ‘to make sport’.

Without a holy life behind our words our witness will simply sound like a joke to the unbeliever.

After listing the wickednesses that will characterise the last days, Paul then tells the Christian, “from such turn away.” He then goes on to say: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” 2 Timothy 3:12-17.

Note how that quotation ends. The word of God is the source of “all good works.”

Christian do not neglect your Bible for it is the chief means of holiness.

We will leave our study there until the next time.

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Ivan Foster
2nd December 2023