HOLINESS – THE REAL FOCUS OF GOD’S COMMANDMENTS (Part 1/2)

JESUS DID NOT COME TO DO AWAY WITH THE LAW (Matthew 5:17), BUT HE CAME TO SHOW US HOW TO LIVE IT OUT IN OUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE.  By living out the commandments in our life, we are following Christ’s example of how to live; we are, in fact, being “Christ-like.”  Unfortunately, many people do not understand that the purpose of the law is NOT JUSTIFICATION, but DISCIPLESHIP AND SANCTIFICATION.  In fact, did you know that there’s NOT a single verse in all of Paul’s epistles where he argues against using the law for SANCTIFICATION?  Instead, the opposite is true.  There are plenty of examples where Paul alludes to the Law in discussing the SANCTIFICATION and daily lifestyle of the believer.  In fact, the very first mention of the word “disciple” is in connection with the law (see Isaiah 8:16).

SALVATION – NOT A ONE-TIME EVENT?

Most people have been erroneously taught that salvation is a one-time event.  They go forward to the altar, they say the “sinner’s prayer,” they ask God to forgive them and then ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, and then from that moment on, they are told that “they are saved.”  The problem, of course, is that people then put all of their trust in a one-time decision, rather than in their continuing relationship with Jesus Christ.

When people ask, “Are you saved?”  They think back to this one-time decision, rather than examining where are they right now in their relationship with Jesus.  Have they continued with Him?  Has their relationship with Him grown?  Has it intensified?  Has it ceased?  Has it grown stale?  Or do they have the fruit of holiness in their life as proof that their continuing experience of salvation was, in fact,  legitimate and real?

WHAT IS “SALVATION”?

SALVATION is NOT a one-time event, but a life-long journey, an exodus where we leave behind our old life of sin and we move forward with Christ to the “promised land” of His Kingdom.  And in this journey, there are three stages that we usually go through and experience: JUSTIFICATION, SANCTIFICATION, and GLORIFICATION.  And at each of these stages, we are “separated” from some aspect of sin:

JUSTIFICATION.  “WE HAVE BEEN SAVED.”  This is when we are “SEPARATED FROM THE PENALTY OF SIN.”  This initial stage is called being “Born Again,” being “Born Anew” or “Born from above.”  And Repentance, Regeneration, and Adoption are all things that happen in this initial stage.

SANCTIFICATION.  “WE ARE BEING SAVED.”  During this stage, we are being “SEPARATED FROM THE POWER OF SIN.”  This stage is the longest one in the life of the believer and involves most of our Christian walk.  (We will discuss this further on in this article.)

GLORIFICATION.  “WE SHALL BE SAVED.”  This stage occurs in the future when we shall be “SEPARATED FROM THE VERY PRESENCE OF SIN.”  This stage will happen very quickly, “in the twinkling of an eye,” at the time of the resurrection from the dead when we receive our immortal bodies (I Corinthians 15:51-55; i Thessalonians 4:15-17).

MOSAIC LAW – NOT ABOUT JUSTIFICATION?

So in arguing that we are not saved (or JUSTIFIED) by the “works of the law,” Paul is saying that the law has no role in this initial stage.  In doing so, Paul is not arguing against Judaism or the Torah (the Hebrew word trans. as “law”), but he is, instead, fully supporting it.

There was an error being perpetuated in the first century that began some time between the Old and New Testaments that one could use the law for one’s JUSTIFICATION, but you will not find this attitude anywhere in the Old Testament Scriptures.  This is the danger I find in learning to read your Bible backwards (New Testament and then the Old Testament): You read about this erroneous view in the writings of Paul, and then you end up falsely imposing it on the Old Testament.  This is wrong, because this view is NOT in the Old Testament at all!

The Law’s purpose is NOT for JUSTIFICATION, but DISCIPLESHIP AND SANCTIFICATION.  In the Old Testament, God is seen as a TEACHER, we are His disciples (or STUDENTS), the TORAH (trans. as “law”) is His “INSTRUCTIONS” or “TEACHINGS” or “TEXTBOOK,” and life is our CLASSROOM.  For example, God gave His TORAH to Moses, and then He instructed Moses,

And the LORD commanded me at that time to TEACH you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.  (Deuteronomy 4:14)

And then in Isaiah 8:16, God says,

Bind up the testimony, seal the law [Heb. TORAH] among My disciples.

Consequently, we see the same idea that’s expressed in Deuteronomy 4:14 also expressed in Isaiah 8:16.  God desires that His TORAH, His “instructions, teachings, and commandments” are not only taught to His people, but that it be “sealed” “among [His] disciples.”  Isn’t it interesting that Jesus came in the same occupation as His Father, a “TEACHER.”

Obviously, then, the TORAH (lit. “instructions, teachings, guidelines, or directives”) was given in the context of an educational paradigm – not as a method of JUSTIFICATION.  Although the word TORAH is translated in our English Bibles as “law,” this is actually not the meaning of the word in Hebrew.  The problem with the translation as “law,” in English-speaking countries, is that this word has such a negative connotation to it, which the word “instructions” does not have.

JESUS AND THE LAW

But since Jesus was (and continues to be) a Jew, who spoke Hebrew and Greek, He did not view the TORAH as “law,” but as the loving instructions from His Father; consequently, Jesus did not have any of the same hang-ups about the TORAH that many Christians do who view it as “law.”  Instead, what we see in the life of Jesus is that He lived His life in accordance to the TORAH, “God’s Instructions,” not because He had to, but because He loved God and wanted to demonstrate His passion and love for Him.

In fact, in the Psalms, there is a prophecy that the TORAH is not only a written description of the Messiah, but that it is also in His heart:

Then I said, “Behold I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Your will, O My God; Your Law [Heb. TORAH] is within My heart.  (Psalm 40:7-8).

Not only is this prophesied regarding the Messiah, but it is also written in the psalms that the TORAH would be in the heart of the righteous:

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.  The law [Heb. TORAH] of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.  (Psalm 37:30-31).

God says when the TORAH is in our hearts, then we will not slip and fall into sin.  But in reading through and studying the Old Testament, I really do not understand how anyone can read through its writings and come up with the idea that God’s TORAH (or “law”) is in any way oppressive at all, particularly reading the Psalms.  That attitude just isn’t there.  If anything, there’s nothing but praise and thankfulness for the TORAH.  Consequently, Jesus during His life and ministry did not support the Christian attitude towards the Law (the law as “bondage” or “legalism”), but opposed all those who saw or treated the Law as if it were oppressive.

PAUL AND THE LAW

Paul also saw that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12), and even delighted “in the law of God after the inward man” (Romans 7:22), as well as “served the law of God” with his mind (Romans 7:25).  Why would Paul “delight” in the law and “serve the law of God,” if the law allegedly ended at the cross?  The very fact that Paul continued to “delight” in it and to “serve” it only demonstrates that in Paul’s mind, the Law of God did NOT, in fact, end at the cross at all.

Instead, Paul, like Jesus, saw the beauty of the Law, but also understood that there were those who were attempting to use the TORAH (or “law”) for a purpose it was never intended, i.e., as a means of JUSTIFICATION.  So over and over again in his epistles Paul argues against this misuse, but instead, argues that we are JUSTIFIED BY FAITH and NOT by the “works of the law”:

Therefore we conclude that a man is JUSTIFIED BY FAITH without the works of the law.  (Romans 3:38; Emphasis mine; Romans 5:1, 16, 18)

Knowing that a man is not JUSTIFIED by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might JUSTIFIED by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be JUSTIFIED. (Galatians 2:15; Emphasis mine)

But that no man is JUSTIFIED by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The JUST shall live by faith.  (Galatians 3:11, Emphasis mine)

But even the TORAH (“law”) itself does NOT teach that we enter into a covenantal relationship with God (“JUSTIFICATION“) by keeping the commandments.  Why? For the very simple reason that the Mosaic covenant is NOT the relationship covenant of the Old Testament.

The relationship covenant is the Abrahamic Covenant – NOT the Mosaic Covenant.   And even in the life of Abraham, we learn the biblical pattern: God’s calling of repentance (Genesis 12), a time for us to get to know God (Genesis 12:4-15:1), God then enters into covenant with us (Genesis 15) and then God AFTERWARDS requires our obedience (Genesis 17).  Relationship ALWAYS precedes obedience!  Never the other way around.

Consequently, then, Paul’s teaching in his epistles does not in any way contradict the TORAH (“law”) or the Old Testament since the Mosaic covenant came AFTER the Abrahamic covenant; i.e., the relationship covenant.  The Mosaic covenant is NOT about establishing Israel’s relationship with God since God was already in a relationship with them BEFORE the Exodus ever happened.

So what’s the Mosaic covenant for?  It has several purposes, such as discipleship, to teach us about sin and holiness, to be a written description of Jesus Christ (John 5:45-47), and to teach and establish us, as God’s people, whether we are Jews or non-Jews, as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5; I Peter 2:9).  Based on this and many other references, then, the focus of the Mosaic Law (or Covenant) should be seen to be  SANCTIFICATION – that is, on the 2nd stage of our salvation journey –  NOT JUSTIFICATION (the first stage of our salvation journey).

GOD MADE US IN HIS IMAGE AND LIKENESS

You see throughout the Scriptures, we are told that “God is holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; I Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 57:15; I Peter 1:16).  And according to Genesis 1:26-27 and 5:1, God made man [Heb. Adam] in “the image and likeness of God.”  Therefore, if God made us in His image and likeness, and God is holy, then we were designed to also be holy, just like God is holy, but Adam and Eve (Heb. Chavah) sinned, and as a result, that “image and likeness” was distorted, twisted, and changed into something “evil” and “unholy.”  So now, we have a “SIN NATURE” – NOT a “HOLY NATURE.”

JESUS CAME TO RESTORE OUR ORIGINAL DESIGN

God designed us to be “in His image and likeness,” so God sent Jesus to show us what His “image and likeness” looks like (John 14:7, 9-11; Colossians 2:9).  Since Adam and Eve sinned, we no longer have an example to show us what that original “image and likeness” was like.  God gave a written description of it in the form of His commandments, but people were still getting it wrong.  So Jesus came and lived a holy, obedient life to provide us with a living example of how we are to live as “born again believers”; i.e., as sons and daughters of God who have been reborn in His image and likeness.”

According to John 1:14, Jesus is the “WORD MADE FLESH,” and this WORD would include the TORAH, God’s “instructions, teachings, and commandments.”  So Jesus was able to give us a living example of the TORAH, because He is the TORAH MADE FLESH; He is the living embodiment of what is written and taught in the TORAH (John 5:45-47);  They are, in a very real sense, spiritually connected.  It was the same Holy Spirit who engraved the writings of the “10 Commandments” on the tablets of stone and inspired the writing of the five books of the TORAH by Moses, who also came upon Mary, and she then conceived Jesus in her womb.  The same Holy Spirit brought about the WRITTEN TORAH and the LIVING TORAH.

To do away with the TORAH is to do away with Jesus; they are connected.  And likewise, in contrast to the popular erroneous teaching,  Jesus did not live a holy, obedient life so we wouldn’t have to, but instead, He did it to be our example.  You see, the more like Jesus, the LIVING TORAH we become, the more we conform to the WRITTEN TORAH, and the more we conform to the WRITTEN TORAH, the more we conform to the Jesus, the LIVING TORAH.

And since Jesus is the living embodiment of the “image and likeness of God,” then the more like Jesus we become, the more like “the image and likeness of God” we become, and the more like “the image and likeness of God” we become, then the more we conform to God’s original design and intent for our lives, as seen in Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1.

WHAT IS “SANCTIFICATION”?

So SANCTIFICATION is not only the second stage of our salvation journey, when we are “separated from the power of sin in our lives,” but it is also the process that God uses to restore us back to His original design.  The English word SANCTIFICATION comes from the Greek word, hagiasmos, and it refers to “the process of making or becoming holy or set apart.”   To “be holy” does NOT mean “to be morally pure,” as I’ve often heard people define the term, but it means “to be separate, distinct, other than,” so to say that “God is holy” is to say that God is “separate, distinct, and other than” anything that we can experience or imagine.  To speak of His holiness is to speak of His uniqueness, His transcendence, His separateness from this world.  It is to say that there is nothing that we can use or imagine to compare God to in order to understand Him.  He is beyond our comprehension or understanding.

This is what God is getting at in the book of Isaiah when He asks the question or makes the following statements,

To whom then will you liken (or compare to) Me, or shall I be equal?  says the HOLY ONE.  (Isaiah 40:25; Emphasis mine)

For I am the LORD your God, the HOLY ONE of Israel, your Savior… (Isaiah 43:3; Emphasis mine)

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the HOLY ONE of Israel;… (Isaiah 43:14)

I am the LORD, your HOLY ONE, the creator of Israel, your King. (Isaiah 43:15)

The one name that God uses repeatedly for Himself, especially in the Prophets, is “the HOLY ONE.”  Holiness is not just another attribute of God, it is what makes God “God.”  So when someone asks me, “How can a loving God send people to Hell,” it is apparent to me, they don’t understand that love is NOT the central essence or core of who God is, but His central essence is His holiness.  For example,

  • It is because He is holy, that He loves like no other;
  • It is because He is holy, that He shows mercy like no other;
  • It is because He is holy, that He forgives like no other;
  • It is because He is holy, that He redeems like no other; and
  • It is because He is holy, that He must judge sin.

All of these traits and qualities all flow out from the holiness of God, so to not understand holiness is to not understand God.

SANCTIFICATION IS A PROCESS – NOT AN EVENT

Since God is holy, then He expects us, as His sons and daughters, to likewise be holy.  In fact, God comes right out and says in Leviticus, the book that comprises the heart of God’s law:

For I am the LORD your God: you shall therefore SANCTIFY yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy:….For I am the LORD that brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.  (Leviticus 11:44-45; Emphasis mine)

Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, You shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.  (Leviticus 19:2)

SANCTIFY yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.  And you shall keep My statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which SANCTIFY you.  (Leviticus 20:7-8; Emphasis mine)

God says in Leviticus 20 that He “SANCTIFIES” us, so in return, we are to work together with God by “SANCTIFYING” ourselves.  It is a process in which we work together with God; it is not a process that we are to do by ourselves.  And this is NOT just something that’s taught in the Old Testament:

As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as He which has called you is HOLY, so be ye HOLY in all manner of conversation [or behavior]. (I Peter 1:14-15; Emphasis mine)

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a HOLY NATION, a peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into [His] marvelous light. (I Peter 2:9; Emphasis mine)

Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, God’s expectations for His people are the same: that we be holy, even as He [God] is holy.  Throughout the Scriptures, God wants us to imitators of Him (Ephesians 5:1).

And in Romans 6:16-23, Paul describes the process of SANCTIFICATION.  He begins by saying that if we obey sin (the violation or transgression of God’s commandments; I John 3:4), it results in death, but OBEDIENCE to God’s Word (the opposite of sin) leads to RIGHTEOUSNESS (Romans 6:16-18).

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of OBEDIENCE resulting in RIGHTEOUSNESS.  (Romans 6:16; Emphasis mine)

Which one are you obeying?  Sin or Obedience?  And as a result of yielding ourselves to RIGHTEOUSNESS (or obeying God’s commandments according to His standard), then this leads to HOLINESS (Romans 6:19-21).

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.  For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness [sin], resulting in further lawlessness [sin], so now present your members as slaves to RIGHTEOUSNESS resulting in SANCTIFICATION [or HOLINESS]. (Romans 6:19; Emphasis mine)

And finally, the FRUIT OF HOLINESS, which is ETERNAL LIFE.

But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your FRUIT unto HOLINESS, and the end EVERLASTING LIFE. (Romans 6:22; Emphasis mine)

Obviously, then, if we are not made “free from sin” and “become servants to God,” then we will not have the “fruit unto holiness,” which in the end is “everlasting life.”

FORGIVENESS VS. LIBERATION

There is a difference between “forgiveness” and “liberation.”  A slave can be forgiven and still remain a slave, but if a slave is freed, liberated from his chains, then he is no longer a slave.  There are many Christians who asked Jesus to “forgive” them, and then they keep going back and back to the same sin.  Why?  Because although they were “forgiven,” they were not “liberated” from it.  We need more than forgiveness when it comes to sin, we need to be liberated, and only then, will we truly be “set free,” no longer captive to that sin in our life anymore.  For once we are free, sin is no longer a “have to,” for we are no longer its slave; instead, if we sin, it’s because we chose to sin.  For as free men and women, we are free now to choose to obey God or to disobey God.

BUT DON’T I RECEIVE ETERNAL LIFE WHEN I GET SAVED?

Now, although I discussed this question in much more detail in my article, “Eternal Life: “What is it & When do we receive it?” I’ll briefly say that eternal life is not “a thing” that we can possess, but it is something that we continue to experience as long as we continue our relationship with God and Jesus Christ.  Also, there is a future aspect to eternal life, which we do not receive until the time period of the resurrection from the dead.  So until that time, we do not actually experience eternal life in its fullness.

For example, when Jesus was responding to His disciples about what they would receive for giving everything to follow Him, He said,

And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and IN THE WORLD TO COME ETERNAL LIFE.  (Mark 10:29-30)

Notice, He said that they would inherit eternal life “in the world to come.”  There is a portion that we get now when we receive Christ into our life, but there’s also a future aspect of eternal life that we will receive “in the world to come.”  Here’s some other references:

And this is the PROMISE that He has promised us, even ETERNAL LIFE.  (I John 2:25)

In HOPE of ETERNAL LIFE, which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began. (Titus 1:2)

That being justified by His grace, we should be heirs according to the HOPE of ETERNAL LIFE.  (Titus 3:7)

Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against THE TIME TO COME, that they may lay hold on ETERNAL LIFE by Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 5:21)

Notice the language that’s used to describe ETERNAL LIFE:  promise and hope.  If the disciples received it when they accepted Christ, then why is it still a “promise” and a “hope”?   And what is this future aspect of ETERNAL LIFE?  I believe it is, at least in part, our new immortal bodies.  Until we receive them at our GLORIFICATION, the time of the resurrection, we do not have everything that God has planned for us to have as part of our salvation and ETERNAL LIFE.

Consequently, there is a process involved in our SALVATION and our receiving ETERNAL LIFE.  It is sad that churches do not discuss more fully that this is a process, and not just a one-time event.  If they did, there would be a lot less confusion about the matter.  So this process of SALVATION begins with JUSTIFICATION, and then we move through the process of SANCTIFICATION, which culminates then in our GLORIFICATION, the moment when we actually receive our new immortal bodies.

In review then, Paul describes the process of SANCTIFICATION as –

  • Beginning with our OBEDIENCE to God’s written Word and the leading of the holy Spirit;
  • OBEDIENCE leads to RIGHTEOUSNESS;
  • RIGHTEOUSNESS leads to HOLINESS; and
  • The end of the FRUIT OF HOLINESS is ETERNAL LIFE. (Romans 6:16-22)

And all of this process is made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection, including the coming of the Holy Spirit, which empowers and guides us through this process.  And is the TORAH, God’s “instructions, teachings, and commandments” an intricate part of this process?  Absolutely.

In the next part of this study, I want to examine the dietary laws, and how God designed them to be part of our SANCTIFICATION process.

 

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