Perfecting Holiness

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” II Corinthians 7:1

The apostle Paul has exhorted the Corinthian saints not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. To be unequally yoked with unbelievers is to become spiritually one with them through close association and common cause. This was being done by some in the Corinthian church through mixed marriages as well as by attending the idolatrous feasts of the heathen community. Hence they are exhorted, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers”. Continuing in the same vein, the apostle exhorts the Corinthian saints to separate themselves spiritually. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.” To this the apostle even attaches a promise. God promises to those who separate themselves from the uncleanness of this world that He will be as a Father to them, living with them and walking with them.

The apostle now brings these thoughts to a conclusion. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” We are called to perfect holiness. The viewpoint here is that we are holy in Jesus Christ. This holiness implies separation from sin as well as consecration to the living God.

Let us investigate this holiness a little further. We live in a world corrupted by sin. This is due to the fall of mankind into sin at the beginning of history. This original sin has rendered the human race totally depraved, incapable of doing any good, inclined to all evil. We can see this evil on TV, hear it on radio, read of it in the newspaper, witness it daily as we rub elbows with the world. By reason of our natural birth we are spiritually no different from the world – corrupt, evil, abominable before God. By a great work of grace in Jesus Christ, however, God has wonderfully transformed us. He has given us a new heart to love Him and not hate Him. He has enlightened our mind so that we believe in Him and in His Son, Jesus Christ. He has softened our obstinate will so that we yield to His will instead of resisting. He has broken the stranglehold that sin had upon us so that we are free to serve God.

And so we are holy – saints of God. We have been separated by grace from the corruption of this world and are consecrated to the service of God. This holiness we must perfect, i.e., bring to completion. We must understand that although we have been made holy in Jesus Christ, we are only partially holy. As already noted, we have been delivered from the power of sin in Jesus Christ and renewed in heart, mind, soul, and strength. But this glorious transformation is not yet complete. There still remains within us much that is sinful and corrupt. The Bible calls this our flesh or sinful nature. The result of all this is that the basic direction of our life is toward God. In our deepest heart we hate sin and love God, so that daily we turn away from the evil of this world and press on in the service of our God. But there is something in us that still yearns for the corruption of this world. This evil tendency yet within us daily hinders our service of the Lord, leading us to stumble into sin again and again.

In this context the Word of God speaks of perfecting holiness. To perfect holiness is to complete holiness. One perfects holiness when he fills in that which is lacking, so that he turns from all sin and lives completely in the service of God.

 

We must understand that holiness will not be perfected in this sense until we reach heavenly glory. For as long as we live on earth below, we will be plagued with our sinful nature which will render our holy living far from perfect. Nevertheless, we must daily strive for the perfect holiness that we will enjoy one day in heavenly glory. Daily we must strive to put away the sins that so easily beset us, so that more and more our lives are consecrated to the service of the God of our salvation.

In this sense the Word of God speaks of perfecting holiness. This must be the concern of every true child of God.

Perfecting holiness requires that we cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. This is evident from the main exhortation of God before us: “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness”. Obviously we perfect holiness only when we cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.

By the flesh is meant, not our sinful flesh, but our physical flesh, our body. The term “spirit” in the Scriptures is often used interchangeably with the term “soul,” as it is here. The spirit or soul is comprised of our mind, will, and emotions. With the flesh and spirit we have the whole being of man. We have corrupted our flesh and spirit with sin. We do this when we use them as instruments to sin. By our evil thoughts, desires, and feelings we corrupt our spirit, rendering it spiritually filthy. With our evil words and actions we corrupt our physical flesh. The Word of God calls us to cleanse ourselves of all this filthiness of the flesh and spirit.

We cleanse ourselves when we rid our lives of the sins that corrupt us before God. This spiritual cleansing involves cleaning up our lives by turning away from the sins that defile us. It implies that we cease using our flesh and spirit as instruments to sin and use them instead as instruments to serve God. This is done, of course, not in our own strength, but only in the power of the blood of Jesus Christ. Christ’s blood alone washes away our sins. Consequently, he who will cleanse himself of the filthiness of the flesh and spirit must daily fall to his knees in prayer to seek from the hand of God the cleansing power of the cross. In this way of cleansing ourselves we also perfect holiness.

“Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness.”

The fear of God is set before us as the motive to do this. The work of cleansing ourselves from all spiritual filthiness and thus perfecting holiness is not ultimately our work but God’s work in us. However, when God cleanses us He deals with us not as robots but as the thinking, willing creatures He has made us to be. Hence, He motivates us so that we desire to be cleansed. He places within us such a desire for holy living that we daily flee to the cross to find the power of Christ’s blood to cleanse ourselves. That which God uses to motivate us is the fear of Him.

“Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

By “the fear of God” is not meant the dread of God. Sometimes the Bible speaks of fear in the sense of dread. Many are well filled with this kind of fear of God, for they have trampled underfoot God’s will. They despise God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Unless they repent, they will fall one day into the hands of an angry God. However, it is not fear in this sense – fear of judgment. Nor must we ever be motivated (or try to motivate our children) to be holy by this kind of fear. Most often the Bible speaks of the fear of God in the sense of deep reverence for and loving adoration of God. This fear fills the heart of every child of God who has tasted the salvation of God in Jesus Christ. To fear God requires that you have come to the true knowledge of your sin. You are a miserable sinner, worthy of God’s judgment, without any means of turning away God’s wrath, hopelessly lost. But now, God has come to you in your desperate situation with His free salvation. To your great delight, He has freely forgiven you all your sins in Jesus Christ. He embraces you, He cares for you. He has reserved a place for you in heaven! Those who have tasted these great mercies of God can only be filled with deep awe and reverence for God. They are overwhelmed with loving adoration. They fear God!

It is this fear that motivates every true saint to live a holy life in the service of God. Moved by that holy zeal they fall to their knees in prayer to find the cleansing power of the cross of their Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Another incentive to do so is the promises   of   God.   “Having   therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness . . . perfecting holiness.”

The apostle has set before the saints of the church wonderful promises. God will be their Father. As their Father He will receive them, He will live in them and dwell in them. What beautiful promises these are! They speak of God’s fellowship with His people. This fellowship is the true joy of man. This promised fellowship can be realized only in the way of holiness. The apostle has already made that very clear. It was only in connection with the call to spiritual separation from the world that the apostle spoke of God receiving and living with them as a father does with his children. God Himself is a holy God. He cannot receive anyone who is not holy as He is holy. He certainly will not live with those who trample His holy things under their feet. These promises of God’s fellowship with those who are holy, are set before us as incentives to perfect holiness.

Already now we, as saints of God, enjoy this promised fellowship. This fellowship is the joy of our lives. However, this fellowship is marred by our sins, as we daily defile ourselves before God. How much richer this fellowship becomes as we more and more learn to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Written by: Pastor James D. Slopsema | Issue 10

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