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Part 2: What Is Holiness?

 

"Just call Merry Maids," my daughter Pat said. "Don't try to do the cleaning yourself."

I was in those deeply emotional hours between my wife's death and her funeral. I had been solely responsible for keeping our house clean and tidy for several years as she was being afflicted by dementia. I thought it wouldn't take me long to vacuum and dust in preparation for the fifteen or so relatives and friends whom I would welcome on the day of the funeral.

"Dad, you have other things to do. Just call Merry Maids," she urged.

"I will," I replied. "They were on my list, but I thought I could do it myself."

Of course, the women who came did more than vacuum and dust. They put their expertise to work in the kitchen and bathrooms, and they cleaned the cabinets and other woodwork beautifully. When they left, I had no qualms about welcoming my guests. Following my daughter's counsel, I avoided adding embarrassment to grief.

When we come to Christ for the first time, we are not clean. We are contaminated. Looking intently upon the perfect life of our Savior and the gift of His life at the cross, we confess our sins and accept what is probably the most cherished promise in the Bible: "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). From the font of baptism we rise to walk in newness of life, and by faith we know we are clean in God's eyes, for we are covered by the robe of Christ's righteousness.

As days and weeks pass and we continue to grow in faith and grace and spiritual knowledge, we discover that our hearts are not without blemishes. Un-Christlike thoughts spring up, selfish notions flood our minds, and prideful attitudes of the past reappear. In fact, as we study the Scriptures, we see our soiled lives as they really are. We also discover that our sinful nature is ready to take the upper hand at any time. We despair, for we realize that we are not as clean as we longed to be.

After his grievous sins David, a long-time friend of God, prayed: "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. . . . Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps. 51:2, 7).

Impurity Is Everywhere

Impurity exists in our human condition, yes, even our Christian condition. Listen to this challenging appeal of the beloved Apostle John to experienced Christians about fifty years after Jesus' resurrection: "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in them purify themselves, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:2, 3). John is telling them and us that we who hope to see our Savior coming in the clouds of heaven shall be able to see Him as He is. Why? Because we will be like Him. And how is that? We will have purified ourselves in imitation of His purity. Our aim has been to be pure in motives, pure in attitudes, pure in all aspects of character. Like Jesus.

John well remembered what Jesus taught: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matt. 5:8). Of all the beatitudes, the blessings offered here seem to be the most inaccessible. Purity barely exists on our planet. Everything and everyone are contaminated in one way or another. Whether we speak of others or ourselves, whether motives or attitudes or behavior, we wonder whether Jesus was exaggerating. Let's see.

First, what is "heart" in Biblical language? It's the whole personality: beliefs, prejudices, emotions, motives, attitudes, pleasures, dislikes, etc. Then, what does "pure" mean? It means that the item or person is totally what it or he is intended to be. It means fully as expected or better, through and through. When, at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus saw Nathanael, He said, "'Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit! ["guile," KJV]'" (John 1:47). That's purity.

In describing holiness in these pages we are not speaking about behavior, our outward public behavior. We're not speaking about Christian service. We're speaking about the inner sanctuary of the soul, the fountain out of which flows all that others see. James described this "fountain" graphically: "With it [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh" (James 3:9-12).

Throughout this book we are focusing our attention on the fountain of the soul. Why? Un-Christlike behavior can be squelched temporarily, but its unsavory manifestations will reappear. Only when the fountain of the soul is pure will all that issues from it be pure!

What Is Purity?

Christian purity is keeping our eyes single to the glory of God. It's not having one eye on the ways of the world and the other eye on the ways of the Lord. It is being authentic and genuine within and without. Purity is gold without dross; milk without fragments of straw or hormones or insect legs; concrete with no dirt, sawdust, or oil. It is totally and only what it is expected to be. A pure "heart" contains no mixed motives, no hidden agendas, no mean, graceless attitudes.

The blood of the cross that flows into a purified heart contains no impurities. It is not contaminated with drugs or disease or cholesterol. It is not a mixture of the holy and the common, the godlike and the godless. The heart that receives this blood becomes pure too. No cholesterol.

Let's look again at David. He had long been a man of God and a vital and successful warrior in His kingdom when he committed murder and adultery. He sinned because he allowed gross selfishness to enter his deepest soul and grow there, contaminating him in God's sight. An appetite for forbidden food became a banquet of disgrace. A spot of sin in his heart had spread to become uncontrolled passion, and from his heart there spewed out impure and disastrous actions.

Our heavenly Father longs with the deepest longing to make us pure. Wrote Paul: Jesus "gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14). "He has now reconciled [you] in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him" (Col. 1:22).

We who are looking to see God the Son in glory will have accepted not only His redemptive act to cover our sins, but also His purifying acts to rid us of our desire to sin.

What Should We Do About Impurity?

Most of us have developed fine Christian habits and enjoy good reputations among fellow church members and our neighbors. We may see within ourselves no known or rebellious sin. However, we can be sure that we have some spots of rot neatly hidden from sight in our inner beings. It's also very likely that we have seldom if ever pleaded with our heavenly Father, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps. 139:23, 24).

We have two grand incentives for responding to the call of our Lord to remove the contaminants in our characters: (a) our love for our Savior; and (b) our desire to enter the eternal kingdom. First, our love for Jesus is certainly more than saying, "I like Jesus" or "I enjoy hearing about Jesus" or "I'm amazed that Jesus would die for me." True love for Him is agape love. It's craving, yes, craving to see His gift of salvation fruitful and triumphant. It's presenting ourselves as examples that it is fruitful and triumphant. Our love for our Savior constrains us to seek purity because He is pure.

Second, we long to spend eternity with the Lord and our dear ones. The reward is so great that it would be foolhardy to cling to some treasured but tainted attitude rather than be purified.

The work of the Merry Maids was blameless. I would recommend our local team to others. When they left I felt comfortable; my house was "clean." But I knew that there were still many dead spiders in the corners of my closets and dirt and stains under my sinks. If you'd have looked closely, you'd have seen that my living room walls had been darkened by smoke from the fireplace. It's the same in my heart. There's more purifying to be done.

Is it that way in yours?

Note.-Among the Scriptures quoted here we notice that some describe our purifying ourselves and others describe the Lord's purifying us. In the next chapter, we'll look at this issue and also reveal why it's so difficult to become intentional about "coming clean."