What is it to be holy in the 21st century? Pt 4

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

I will attach to this article a PDF file of a wonderful book on ‘Holiness’, written by JC Ryle. I thoroughly commend it to you all.

Holiness, by J. C. Ryle

I have been using the Shorter Catechism’s definition of SANCTIFICATION or holiness. Let me quote the 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.”

In this our final study, I would like to consider how that:



I recall that in the days following my conversion, our pulpits seemed to all echo with a call to ‘go through with God’. That was a phrase denoting a total surrender and a total yielding unto the Lord and the entering upon that blessing of the infilling of the Holy Spirit which awaited those who did thus yield.

The widow woman in 1 Kings 4:1-7, was supplied of God in her poverty by obeying the instructions of Elisha, which resulted in her meagre supply of oil being wonderfully made to fill many vessels, so that she was able to sell it off and provide for herself and her two sons. But before that could happen she had to gather ‘empty vessels’ that could be miraculously filled with the oil. There must be an emptying before there can be a filling!

Oh how that was preached back in the 60s! How commonly were the words of the old hymn, written by Ulsterman, Noel Grant,  brokenly sung in prayer meetings!

Above thine own ambitions here
Another voice is sounding clear;
It is the call of God to thee:
O leave thy all, and follow Me!


Go thro’ with God, thy vows to pay,
Thy life upon the altar lay;
The Holy Ghost will do the rest,
And bring to thee God’s very best!

The call of God, it is so clear,
But friendships call, and home is dear;
Ah, lonely was the path He trod,
Then wilt thou not go on with God?

So soon eternal morn shall dawn,
How fast the night is hast’ning on;
So soon His lovely face to see,
How sad to empty-handed be!

The price is high, severe the test
For those who would enjoy God’s best;
Surrender all, then take the road
With those who will go thro’ with God.

Such a ‘going through with God’ entailed a laying of one’s all on the altar and dying to all one’s desires and ambitions. It meant death to ‘self’!


The enjoyment of the ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ could only reached by crossing the river Jordan. That river has long been a symbol of death!

As the dead are beyond the reach of the living so the Christian who has been enabled by God’s grace to die unto sin, is one who has become insensitive to sin’s proffered ‘pleasures’ and the allurements of the world. That person does not feel any attraction to sin, is deaf to its siren calls and largely immune to its temptations.

That is a degree of holiness that all should seek after but few, because of the necessity of dying to self and sin, attain.


There are those who believe that we can enter into a state of sinless perfection. That is a deception as the Bible clearly says.  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us,” 1 John 1:8-10. That surely is plain enough!

Continued Process

No, there is a need for this process to continue. Note the words of the Catechism, ‘Enabled more and more to die unto sin’. This is a process that is to be experienced continually,, day by day and that increasingly so. There is a ‘highway’ called ‘The way of holiness’, down which ‘the redeemed shall walk’ (Isaiah 35:8-9). Christians should seek to ‘serve’ the Lord  ‘in holiness and righteousness. . . all the days of our life’, Luke 1:74-75.


Note again the words of the catechism — ‘enabled more and more to die unto sin.’ We need to be enabled. We cannot do this of ourselves.

I was thinking how that death lies beyond human control. Yes, there is ‘euthanasia’ or ‘mercy killing’ or even suicide, which is deemed the ending of one’ s life at a time a person may decide upon. But that is not quite exercising power over death. Those who desire to die cannot simply ‘summon death’ to come to them. To die they must seek the help of others or employ that which will end their life, such as poison.

Only One had power to ‘lay down His life’ and that was the Saviour. “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father,” John 10:17-18. At the cross the Saviour did just that. “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost,” Matthew 27:50. One of the first times this Greek word aphiemi, translated ‘yielded’, is employed in the New Testament is in Matthew 4:20, where we are told that James and John “straightway left their nets, and followed him”. Greek word aphiemi, is there translated ‘left’. They dropped their nets voluntarily and ceased to fish and thenceforth followed Christ. Likewise, on the cross the Saviour voluntarily ‘laid down His life’ and died for His people. The thieves beside Him on that day, had to wait quite some time until that moment, sovereignly appointed of God for their dying, came about. No, man is not capable of bringing about his own death without the aid of other agencies.

If we are to die unto sin, we will need the help of God.

By God’s help, Jacob the ‘usurper or supplanter’ became Israel, ‘God prevails’, a Prince with God, Genesis 32:24-31. That mysterious experience Jacob had as he wrestled in prayer with the Lord brought about a further change in a man already changed (Genesis 28:10-22). He reached new heights of grace and power and communion with God. He had a power with God that he had not before and he had a new walk that was symbolised by his limping in the dawn of a new day. “And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh,” Genesis 32:31.

The day the Christian enters upon the experience of being enabled by God to ‘more and more . . . die unto sin’, is the beginning of a new day indeed. It was like Pentecost was to the early disciples. They were saved yes, but they had been commanded to look for more by the Saviour. “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high,” Luke 24:49.

Even as I write these words I am carried back to the very first time I met Dr Ian Paisley. It was in the old church on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast. The date was April 12th, 1964. The time would have been around 8.30 pm. It was the first time I was in the church. I had felt my need of instruction for though I had called upon the Lord seven days previously, I had no assurance of salvation. That needed instruction I received that evening as Dr Paisley opened the Bible and showed me what God said had happened when I called upon Him. His parting words to me as he shook my hand were, ‘Young man, read your Bible every day and pray that God will fill you with the Holy Ghost’!

Dear Christian this is the need of the hour today. I wonder if that is what is counselled to converts today?


Sin can have a ‘resurrection’ in our lives. Sin can be ‘revived’! It happened to David. It happened to Peter. They fell back under temptation by the flesh and the devil and yielded to that temptation and fell in defeat!

That is what ‘backsliding’ is all about. We cease to be yielded to the Lord, but turn back and surrender afresh to the lusts of the flesh and put on again its harness and engage in its service!

It is said of John Mark, who had accompanied Paul and Barnabus on their first missionary journey: “Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem,” Acts 13:13. It would appear that he had had enough of the battle following Paul’s encounter with  “Elymas the sorcerer,” Acts 13:6-12.

However, though there was a season in which Paul felt that because of this incident John Mark was not suited for the work of God, his view altered in the latter days of his life. In his last epistle, Paul requested that Timothy come to him in Rome where he was a prisoner and he said: “take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry,” 2 Timothy 4:11.

It would appear that Paul felt that John Mark had been restored to a surrendered and serviceable Christian life.

We may all say with David, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake,” Psalm 23:1-3. Restoration is a constant need by all and every child of God!

Christian, if you have lost out to sin and it has once more taken control of your life, you too may know that merciful restoration.

I will let David instruct you in the path to take in seeking pardon and restoration from backsliding.

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise,” Psalm 51:7-17.

The Lord bless you all richly and give you understanding of these things,

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Ivan Foster