Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Not Only Holiness

"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." - Hebrews 12:14

When the word "holiness" is mentioned, especially in Apostolic Pentecostal circles, the inevitable and immediate connection is made with the manner in which we dress.  It is unfortunate that this is the normative initial response since, in reality, holiness in the Christian context encompasses a far broader spectrum of subjects.  But that is a discussion for another day.  For now, suffice it to say that dedication to holiness (the state of sanctification) is so important in the life of the Believer that failure to maintain it as a primary response to the grace of God manifested in the atonement of Christ and applied to the life of an individual through the New Birth experience will result in failure to "see the Lord."  This phrase corresponds not merely to a physical "seeing" of God but also reflects the mindset of the "seer."  In other words, as Tittmann so translated the passage, "without this no man shall comprehend God."  It could be said that there shall be an absolute and fundamental disconnect in the individual's understanding of the nature of the Almighty.

The correlation then can be made quite easily to the Sermon on the Mount and, most specifically, the sixth beatitude given in Matthew 5:8 - "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."  This notion of purity, holiness or sanctification is to be so entrenched in the fundamental nature of a Christian that Christ would forever link it, as does the author of Hebrews, with the ability to see or comprehend the nature of God.  Without it one is as blind to the reality of God and His nature as one born without natural eyes would be to the beauty of a sunset.  Can anyone then say that it is not incumbent on a Christian to now and forever pursue holiness?  None but the most unwise and, dare it be said, foolish among us would do so.

But that is not the end of the story nor is this article intended as just another stump speech by a Holiness preacher.

Both Christ and the author of Hebrews made immediate connections of the subject of holiness with another topic of great importance: PEACE.  When we look back to the Sermon on the Mount we see a blessing pronounced upon those who are "pure in heart" immediately followed by a blessing upon a group called "the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9).  The pure in heart shall see God and the peacemakers shall be called the children of God.  Likewise, the author of Hebrews connects holiness and following "peace with all men."  A peacemaker, literally defined, is far more than someone who is simply at peace or peaceable.  It is an individual who exudes the qualities of God in His reconciliatory work through Christ in the Incarnation.  The peacemaker is one who loves peace, pursues peace and will go to great lengths in order to both preserve and broker peace.

In Hebrews we are instructed to follow peace.  Various translations, when considered together, give us a very accurate and complete definition of "follow."  "Make every effort..." (NIV).  "Work at..." (NLT)  "Strive for..." (ESV)  "Pursue..." (NASB)  "Persistently strive for..." (Weymouth).  Peace is not always easily attainable.  That harsh reality notwithstanding, it is imperative that Christians follow peace with a similar intensity to the manner in which they pursue holiness.  This should be natural for a Christian considering the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).  Yet we must strive to fight our carnal nature which is both enmity with God and peace.  Therefore we should not be surprised when confronted with situations in life where being a peacemaker is of greater difficulty.  After all, there are times when it is far easier to freely give grace as one to whom grace has been freely given than at others.  

No wonder the Scriptures rise to condemn certain situations and all the more so when those situations occur within the Church among Christian Brethren.  Take, for example, the situation given by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17.  How often do we, as Christians, really obey this very simple passage?  A Brother or Sister does us wrong.  They are wrong.  Their guilt is beyond question.  So what do we do with them?  Quite naturally, we jump from verse 15 to the end of verse 17 and start treating them like they are a heathen.  What a peacemaker would do, someone who is following peace with all men and holiness (without which no man shall see the Lord), is take every possible effort to make peace with their Brother or Sister when offenses occur.  If it is so that the Spirit of God is truly living within you, the fruit of the Spirit would produce just such a reaction.  Instead we, as Christians, often hold grudges for years at a time and, in some very sad instances, entire lifetimes.  Ministers are no better at this, unfortunately, than others.  How many divisions exist among us today simply because two preachers had a personal dispute and lacked the humility to say "I would rather follow peace and holiness than prove my point or have my way?"  

Another example is in the case the Apostle Paul outlined for us in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.  The cult of personality had already begun to rise in the first century Church at Corinth.  This group was set against that group.  This leader was better than that leader.  This preacher of more renown than that preacher.  In short order, the Church family at Corinth had divided, not into denominations teaching contradictory doctrines, but factions within the same local body.  Paul would again address the matter in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 and, because of their divisions, jealousy and strife, they were called "infants" and "carnal."  And while we may want to dismiss the notion of this issue's existence in our day very quickly, we would be unwise to do so for, in our generation, it has taken other forms.  Organizations of like precious Faith are often unable (or unwilling) to work together because of this same infantile behavior.  Neighboring ministers are unable (or unwilling) to fellowship or cooperate because of this carnal mindset.  All the while, we go about touting HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD while forgetting that holiness has been coupled forever with "FOLLOW PEACE WITH ALL MEN."

It is no wonder that the same Apostle Paul had to write to the Colossian Christians reminding them:  "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."  (Colossians 3:12-15 ESV).  Notice the Apostle's correlation of holiness with those elements of peacemaking which follow.  First he addresses them as "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved" and then appeals to them to proper conduct.  If they are truly God's chosen and holy the rest should and must follow.

So what usually prevents us from following peace with all men?  Pride.  Ego.  Vanity.  Quite often is is nothing more than insisting on having our own way.  This is, quite clearly, a byproduct of a lack of true Christian love (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-5).  True Christian love doesn't look for reasons to be offended nor does it enjoy offending.  It doesn't go out of its way to find reasons to divide.  Rather, it does everything in its power to patiently preserve unity with mutual understanding, patience and gentle cooperation.  True Christian love does not boast against another's downfall nor envy another's success.  In short, true Christian love through the indwelling Spirit produces peacemakers and those are they who will be called God's children for, in reality, they are the ones who are also the pure-hearted holy ones who do see God.

Dear Christian reader, do not deceive yourself.  If your holiness isn't enough to cause you to be a peacemaker, you've not seen God.  Follow peace with all men AND holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.