Holiness is Not an Option

by Mike Ratliff

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 ESV)

Are we to accept the profession of faith from everyone who claims to be a Christian? This is a hot button issue in our time. I know of several people who once fellowshipped here who no longer do because they are convinced that it is wrong to rebuke and contend with those who profess faith in Christ, but whose fruit show otherwise. What about this fruit? Is it an indication of the veracity of one’s faith? According to Hebrews 12:14 we see that only those who possess holiness will see the Lord. This is a way of saying that those who will see the Lord, those who are truly saved, will possess some degree of personal holiness.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)

No one merits salvation. The best anyone can do is like filthy or polluted garments in the eyes of God. The righteous deeds of the unregenerate are stained and polluted by sin. Therefore, God provided one way only for sinful people to become righteous in God’s eyes. This is accomplished through the obedience and righteousness of Christ on behalf of the elect.

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 ESV) 

This is Christ’s active obedience in which his sinless life here on earth, His perfect obedience and absolute holiness, is credited to those who believe, repent, and trust in Him for their salvation. 

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (1 Peter 3:18 ESV)

This is Christ’s passive obedience in which His death on the Cross fully paid the penalty for the elect’s sins and satisfied the wrath of God towards them.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:5-10 ESV)

The elect’s holiness is fully dependent upon the work of Jesus Christ by God’s will. Is this holiness that enables the elect to see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14) the same holiness they have in Christ? No, and we see this clearly in that passage that the elect must strive for it. Those in Christ possess both a holiness that they have in Christ before God, and a holiness that they must strive after. This salvation is a salvation unto holiness: “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.

(1 Thessalonians 4:7 ESV). In 1 Corinthians 1:2 we read, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV) Here we have the word sanctified, which means “made holy” and then the phrase, “called to be saints.” All in Christ are made holy in Him and they are called to be holy in their daily walk.

This is serious business my brethren. Our Lord told us that we can tell the false prophets from His prophets by their fruit.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)

The false prophets will appear to be real prophets to us if we are not careful. So how are we to recognize them so we can avoid them and warn the Body of Christ? We must examine their fruits. The true prophet of God will teach the truth from God’s Word and these teachings will be used by the Holy Spirit to restrain the flesh in those who hear and learn from them. On the other hand, the teachings of the false prophet cannot do that so they are actually manifesting wickedness (2 Peter 2:12-22).

What has this to do with striving after holiness in our daily walks? If we follow the teachings of the false prophet then we will not be able to do this. It is only by being fed from the pure milk of the Word of God by God’s prophets that we are able to work with the Holy Spirit to crucify the flesh and so manifest holiness in our walk.

The drive for holiness in the believer may start out small, but it should grow until it becomes a flame. This flame is a deep desire to live a life wholly pleasing to God. Genuine salvation will always manifest this desire in the heart of the genuine believer.

I doubt, indeed, whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted without being consecrated to God. More consecrated he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases; but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day he was converted and born again, I do not what conversion means.1

I pray my brethren that the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with your spirit right now that whole purpose of your salvation is that you be “holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). It is contrary to God’s very purpose for our salvation that we continue to live in sin. This means that the Christian must work with God to not indulge the flesh. This requires humility to become manifest in the heart while pride is driven out. Notice that this is not a condition for salvation, but a major part of salvation that is received by faith in Christ (James 2:14-26).

Holiness is required for fellowship with God (Psalm 15; Psalm 66:18). Holiness is required for believers’ well being (Hebrews 12:6; 1 Corinthians 11:30; Psalm 32:3-4; 1 Peter 1:17). Holiness is required for effective service to God (2 Timothy 2:21; Ephesians 4:30). Holiness is necessary for out assurance of salvation (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 3:3; Romans 8:14).

Holiness is not an option. It is evidence of the veracity of our salvation since God does not save anyone and not put that drive or desire for holiness in the heart as well. This personal holiness will grow in depth and breadth over time. I am sure most you know someone who insists that they made a profession of faith when they were a child and that settled it for them, but there is absolutely no evidence or fruit in their life that they are a Christian. How Tragic! The only safe evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life.

My brethren, in these last days of this present age we must not stop pursuing or striving for personal holiness, to purify ourselves just as Christ is pure. This means that we must be discerning and wise in what preachers and teachers of God’s Word with whom we invest our time. This is vital because the fruit of the false prophet will be of no value in our striving for holiness. Instead, they will teach things that have no ability to restrain the flesh, but will actually cause their followers to manifest evil.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria!

1J.C. Ryle, Holiness (1952 edition, London: James Clarke & Co), p. xv.

26 thoughts on “Holiness is Not an Option

  1. Encountered the Grace of the Savour as a child. He has made Himself so very real to me. But I have been a ‘lazy’ child. And those years are gone. I’ve been what those around me consider a good Christian. I’ve taught Bible studies, sang in the choirs, done those things that we ‘good’ Christians do. But four years ago I asked my husband to run interferance for me. I closed myself in an upstairs room for three days. Drank only water and never even came close to feeling hungry. The encounter I had during the entire time….and especially near the end…was unlike anything I expected. As He promised, ‘when I drew nigh to Him..He drew nigh to me.’ For the first time in my Christian life, after many, many blessing by way of the Holy Spirit, I encountered the Living Christ. He is pure LOVE. He filled me with such ‘caring’ that I had to retire early to do what I was suppose to have been doing all along….love others as myself. I ‘KNOW’ why He told the church at Ephesus,’you’ve left your first love.’ And we, the Christians, the established traditional apostate church….like Ephesus..are doing a wonderful job….at what we are doing. We are simply doing ineffective things. We’ve left out the one thing that will reach the homosexuals, the drug abusers, the unhappy homes, the molesters of children, the gluttons….that thing is the genuine LOVE of God…indwelling our hearts so we can extend the hand of the ‘real’ Lamb and ‘touch’ and ‘heal’ and restore. Three times Jesus told Peter..FEED MY SHEEP! FEED MY SHEEP! FEED MY SHEEP! (I think it was one time for each of the Trinity…since they are ONE) In another place He clearly showed what the FOOD should be…HIMSELF! (I am the bread of life). Without holiness no man will see God. But I have learned that without personal encounter with God, no man will see holiness. Holiness comes only as a reflection off His Glory and presence within us.

    Good post. One other thing..concerning ‘fruit inspection’ :smile:. God uses the various parts of the Body is such varied ways. For me, I’m one of those who doesn’t rebuke and contend because #1…I haven’t gotten to beam out of my own eye to clearly see how to help remove the brothers..and #2….for my situation..God just asks that I love them, as He loves them. They respond to Him where they never responded to my ‘shoulds n should nots.’

    Again, good post. Didn’t mean to be this lengthy. Feel free to read and delete.

    (internetelias.wordpress.com)

  2. internet elias, my testimony is much like yours except that that period of drawing closer was over 8 months. I never had any intention of getting into “fruit inspection.” God has gifted me with a makeup that means I am a Bible teacher, not an evangelist, but a prophet (an expounder of the Word of God). I always assumed that that is how He would use me, but He puts us where the need is great. He has showed me that my role is to contrast the false with the truth using ONLY His Word. The rebuking is not something I particularly care for, but the teaching of His children is my joy.

    He has also given me a sense of “observing” my circumstances to perceive the direction my writing. I usually receive a clear shove towards a subject sometime during the day. Over the rest of the day I put together the pieces of addressing this using the Bible and the writings of godly men. Then when I sit down to write each post I simply start writing about the “subject.” I am usually very surprised when the post takes shape.

    All of this is complimented by the various skills God has given me over my life, writing, research, Greek and Hebrew word studies, and theology knowledge combined with a deep concern for the holiness of God’s people. There are large numbers false prophets out there attacking God’s truth. I am always amazed at how these fellows ignore God’s Word in their error. Their spiritual blindness is incredible. However, our rebuking of them must be from a motivation of seeing these people repent.

    In any case, thanks for sharing that and God bless

    MIke Ratliff

  3. It is so hard to tell by the fruit now a days. Look at some of the most unlikely people who have gone apostate and you’d of never guessed they were false because of their fruit. Even being around someone for a long long time and it seems to look ‘good’……….you’d of never guessed it and then something happens. I’m not saying all are like this, but we are finding out that you just don’t know anymore. About the time you think you know, something goes totally hay wire. I think its the ‘time’ we are in. Yes we are to be fruit inspectors but seems these days, strange things are happening. Are you finding the same thing???

  4. Yes, I am finding the same thing Paul and Luann. I have also been totally surprised as God has grown me how those I used to consider all wrapped up in religiosity who I thought couldn’t possibly know our Lord are the ones who really do. A lot of this is coming to light with the bankruptcy of what we call “Evangelical.” I think this came about as “Evangelicalism” became an idol of itself. Does that make sense?

  5. I came across this as I was studying tongiht:

    You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied {Him?}” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?” Malachi 2:17 NASB

  6. I am greatful that God matures his people in some of the worst and most unexpected circumstances. Not saying that I have reached ‘it’ but saying that the perfecting of the saints is ongoing and God is always pruning away the branches which he sees unfit. John Macarthur said that God is not predictable, and he is so correct. If we fall prey to the Christianity that implies that we are able to boast about tomorrow, then we unknowingly reject God’s sovereignty. God does not always do things the way we want, nor does he have to. I remember my affliction and the painful trials that his people go through and say to myself, “Who can thwart God and take him to court?” Does anybody have the ability to stay his hand and stop him from
    doing whatever he pleases? And when we suffer shame or rejection, who will say to him, “Hey wait a minute. This is not what Joel Osteen and the TBN folks said would happen to me. The Bible is full of promises and you are supposed to put a hedge around me so that no evil can touch me. ”
    Now think about that for a moment……… Paul was shipwrecked, tortured, beaten, went hungry, was viewed as scum and refuse by the world, rejected, had to work with his own hands (wasn’t promised a gold plated chariot and million dollar book deals), and smitten by the Lord. I cannot find anything in scripture that shows Paul taking the Lord to court. One time Paul pleaded for God to remove a thorn in the flesh, but even then, God did not remove it to demonstrate that no one can say, “Hey Lord. Just what do you think that you are doing?”
    If anybody reading this still believes that God promises your best life now, then you are still wordly and do not bear a cross. That spiritual breakthrough that you are chasing after is to be crucified with Christ. Rejecting the crucible is what the world does. God does not called us to walk according to our flesh, but to be crucified with him and to be a fellow outcast whom the world sees as peculiar. There is just no easy way around it.

  7. Speaking as a pastor I would say, I agree, a profession of faith should be “proved” by a change life. However, I would also point out, we all progress at different rates, on God’s timetable, not ours. A person who has only been a believer a short while, may yet have a lot of baggage from the world and not have much evidence of a changed life yet. Depending on whether they are being discipled and read the word daily, they may not even know yet that they are doing things that are wrong. So I do believe we need to be careful before we look at someone and say, “So and so says they’re a Christian, but look at what they just did.” Salvation maybe instantaneous, but sactification is a process. Not only that, even the most mature of believers still has flaws and does things on occassion that are not in line with scripture. If a stranger happened to observe even the most mature of believers on a bad day, he might conclude that said person is not a Christian. Yes holiness and a changed life are part of the walk, but remember, some people are further down the path than others. We must, as scripture teaches, be gracious and patient with weaker brethren, not endorsing or condoning sin, but treating them with the understanding that if they are truly seeking God, then God is working on them at HIS pace, not ours.

  8. Amen Pastor Frank! I agree with you. This is why we must pray for and disciple them. My own growth to the point where my “baggage” began to diminish was nearly 20 years. I had good years and bad years over that time. So, I know what you mean. We must preach the truth and exhort all new believers to obey God’s Word, to strive for holiness by becoming spirit-filled, living sacrifices who abide in Christ. We all still sin so we can’t be self-righteous about this with other believers, however, I know quite a few professing believers who have no use for the things of God. They made that “decision” when they were children and now they are no different than a lost person in how they live. That is something entirely different than a new believer who is still dealing with “baggage.”

    A very important part of the discipleship of new believers is that we guide them away from the wolves in sheep’s clothing whose fruit is to encourage indulging the flesh or at least has no ability to crucify it. Instead, we guide them to good solid Bible teachers whose fruit is that what they teach does work within the believer to crucify the flesh to do away with the works of the flesh, etc.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  9. Yes that makes sence Mike. I believe God is making the righteous more righteous and the wicked is getting more wicked in this time. As far as we can tell, the ONLY thing left is for the man of sin to be revealed and our Lord is coming to get us out of here!! Yee-ha!! :)

  10. Hi Mike
    I honestly understand from Scripture that if we are truly born again, we will strive towards holiness, because of the Holy Spirit in us and He moves us towards Him that way – that we will strive to do nothing that will grieve our Lord. This applies to every and all aspects of our lives – our leisure, our private time, our quiet thoughts and our time with others. If there is no difference in us and in our lives compared to those in the world, we are in deep spiritual trouble, and the Lord will discipline us, His way. Another thing that shows our state is how we view sin in our lives when we do sin. How much it bothers us, how quick we are to repent of anything the Holy Spirit prompts us to. I believe that the Lord uses our every day lives to keep us in the process of sanctification and regeneration. If neither is taking place our lives, how can we claim to truly belong to Him ? (If that makes any sense?) When Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings in our lives, our hearts are already with Him and we will look to Him and what He requires of us, before looking for approval from anyone else. As you say, “holiness is not an option”
    The Lord bless you :-)

  11. Great article Mike! “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)

  12. Thats one of the reasons that we’ve had to leave the organized church. No one wants to speak about sin or holiness anymore. If I have to sit through another sermon on the importance of the “faaamily” I think I may scream! Sure, families are important to us and God, but not at the expense of everything else. Thanks for the great post! –oh yes, I lurk here alot, but don’t reply too often, your blog is a great encouragement to me!

  13. “Those in Christ possess both a holiness that they have in Christ before God, and a holiness that they must strive after.”

    This statement articulates what I’ve often meditated about. Believers have Christ’s righteousness and are declared right with God (eternal perspective), but we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling making our calling and election sure (earthly perspective). Thanks for another excellent post, Mike. The Lord continues to use them more and more in my life. God bless you, brother.

  14. To pursue holiness also leaves one open for criticism, even from those within the Church, as the Church has become more like the world. We are called to examine, confess, repent, be transformed, etc. Some of us will continue to allow the process, welcome it even, regardless of the attack of others. Jessie said it best, “holiness is not an option.” Our goal is to be able to please the One whom we love above all else.

  15. I like what Jessie said in her response above. She says that the Lord will discipline his people if it is hard to tell them apart from the world. When God calls his people out, he says, “Come out from among them and be seperate. And touch not the unclean thing.” That verse is all about holiness and putting off ‘the old man’ isn’t it?
    The world is a temporary dwelling place. We are a peculiar nation (as Christians) who should not be polluted by the rudiments of it. I get invited to ‘party’ and to run with the unsaved all of the time, but we should put the Lord first and not partake in the things that we did prior to repentance. When I get invited to ‘party’ or what have you, I usually tell them, “NO, but if you all would like to go out to restaurant or to a movie, I would love to go.”
    They usually go out for drinks after that, but they know that that is where I usually draw the line. When we leave the movie or the restaurant, I do my best to not ‘run with them’ because Jesus commands us to be holy. My old coworkers were pretty respectful about that, but my recent coworkers gave me a hard time.

  16. MIKE… .>>>I never had any intention of getting into “fruit inspection.”
    Mike, when commenting with only ‘words’…sometimes the tone doesn’t come across as we wish. I in no way intended ‘fruit inspection’ to be critical. God uses us all in such unique ways. My entire spiritual life has been ‘unique.’ I don’t share much of my experiences publically because they are precious to me. And I don’t risk ‘casting’ them before persons who would not value them. My spiritual gift is Knowledge and the Holy Spirit is teaching me well. My first vision from God was when I was in first grade. Too small to even understand until I was old enough to discern the scripture which reveal the vision. I’ve said I am truly the ‘dumb’ called to confound the wise. God has prepared me my whole life to TODAY. We are living in an incredible age. We are seeing fulfillment bursting out all over. I rejoice at what God is doing. I trust Him completely….especially with politics, governments, and the souls of men. As he demonstrated to Nebuchadnezzar, ‘God rules in the kingdom of men.’

    Again, I didn’t intend to suggest that you were wrong with the ‘fruit inspection.’ I only meant to make the point that God has commanded another way for me. It’s just so easy. After years of teaching Bible studies (love, love, love prohecy)….now…all He needs of me is to LOVE those I encounter with His heart. I’m am seeing people come to God as a result of meeting them where they are….and extended the genuine Love of the Father to them through service and fellowship.

  17. Mike, meant to add…much of what I am about is reflected, of course, in my blog.. internetelias.wordpress.com.

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