How does the legal work of justification by faith relate to holiness of heart and life? Terms such as “forensic justification” and “legal justification” used to confuse me, because they explained the doctrine of justification by faith as purely a legal (objective) act of God on behalf of the sinner, and I could not reconcile this with the transformative work of God within my heart, which I knew happened when I was first converted. As I understand it now, the objective (legal) work of justification by faith is never independent of the subjective (transformative) work of God within the human heart, for it is only the contrite and humbled that can appreciate the great gift of righteousness received by faith alone.
This means that God does not only declare repentant sinners righteous by faith, but he also makes them righteous by faith. In other words, God doesn’t only want to declare you righteous, but he also wants to make you holy. So, what is holiness? And how does a sinner become holy? I will dwell on the first question in this first part of the article.
I searched through the entire Scriptures for the word “holy” and it yielded a range of things, beings, places and even time periods described as holy.
The Godhead (the Holy Father, the Holy child, the Holy Spirit), the Holy Scriptures, the law of God, the holy Sabbath, the holy feast days, the holy furniture of the sanctuary, the holy offerings. Some places also were or are still regarded as holy (such as heaven, the sanctuary, the holy city and the camp of Israel). And beings, such as the holy angels, or the church made up of the saints of God are called holy too.
But since this article is about holiness and justification by faith, I will here only give a definition of holiness as it applies to people.
Holiness is an attribute of those which are dedicated to God and who reserve themselves only for God’s intended purpose.
Holiness and cleanliness are synonyms. Human beings are holy only when they are cleansed from moral defilement. Notice how the Bible equates holiness to cleanliness.
“Do not drink wine nor strong drink…that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” Leviticus 10:9–10 KJV.
But here’s our problem. The Bible shows us that “…we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Isaiah 64:6 KJV. And it also tells us that, “if anyone defiles God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” 1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV
So, sinners find themselves in a serious dilemma. Called to be a holy temple for God’s presence, and warned against defiling that temple, we are yet all as an unclean thing – the defiling elements of our nature daily desecrating the temple of God. How then are we to be made holy and cease desecrating God’s temple?
Firstly, we need to remember that it is the presence of God that makes a thing, or a being holy. There are two verses that illustrate this and I’ll quote them below. Secondly, being in God’s presence means that he’ll bring cleansing agents to bear upon us – I’ll look at this in Part 2.
“…I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Leviticus 11:45. The reason God calls us to holiness is because He is holy.
Do you remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? What made that insignificant bush and the dry dirt beneath it in some lonely desert place holy? As Moses approached that strange sight, God said, “do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5. Obviously, it was the presence of God that made that place holy.
So, in summary. Since holiness was first an attribute of God and since holiness derives its meaning from things or beings being dedicated to God, then it follows that any attempt at being holy without the presence of God is pure legalism.
It’s important to rid ourselves of legalism if we want to witness to the faith-based journey of the Christian from sin to holiness – because legalism masquerades as true religion, and it deceives thousands. Let me introduce you to another word that means the same as legalism: sanctimoniousness. It is the counterfeit of holiness. Let’s compare the two.
Sanctimoniousness is concerned with appearing right before others. Holiness is concerned with BEING right with God. Sanctimoniousness concerns itself with WHAT to comply with and WHEN to comply with it. Holiness is concerned with WHY and HOW you obey God. Sanctimoniousness is quick to call out sin in others and gloats over their failures. Holiness mourns over its own faults, and grieves over other’s failures if it discerns them.
Sanctimoniousness compares itself with others “more” sinful. Holiness compares itself to Christ who is righteous. Sanctimoniousness thinks that our right standing with God is dependent on our obedience. Holiness trusts that our right standing with God is dependent only on Christ’s obedience. Sanctimoniousness is focused on human achievement displayed in outward conformity, whereas holiness finds expression only through the Divine accomplishment of our transformed hearts to inward integrity.
Jesus had a lot of beautiful things to say as he shared the transformative gospel of grace, and most of his teachings dwelt on the love, the mercy and the grace of God to save the sinner. But when it came to exposing hypocrisy, he didn’t mince his words. And it makes sense that he exposed hypocrisy, and did so regularly, for it stood directly in the way of God achieving what he could within the sinner’s heart. No sharing of the gospel of grace is complete without a continual uprooting of the enemy of grace – human merit. Listen to how Jesus stripped the sanctimonious garb off the religious hypocrites.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew 23:25–26 ESV
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28 ESV
So how is a sinner to be made holy? I’ll cover this in Part 2. We’ll look at the inside cleansing Jesus spoke of and how it happens.
~ Gerson Robles