Personal Holiness

by Mike Ratliff

Beth. How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. 10 With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. 11 Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. 12 Blessed are You, O LORD; Teach me Your statutes. 13 With my lips I have told of All the ordinances of Your mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. 16 I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.  (Psalms 119:9-16 NASB)

The concept that God would somehow be satisfied with those who call themselves Christians, but who live their lives totally apart from Him, should be very strange to believers. The idea that the Lord is only after converts who say a quick sinner’s prayer, but never really change must really insult Him. Look at the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us on the cross. How could anyone really think He went through all that to accomplish only the possibility of salvation for all people or, even worse, automatically save all people including those who continue to live reprobate lives after hearing the gospel? Those who believe either of those are deluding themselves. Of course, their hearts are not being led by the Spirit and they are suffering from a severe case of hardheartedness. God’s values are not apparent to their hearts so they live the way they want. Many of them compartmentalize their lives to the point they give God those couple of hours on some Sunday mornings, but the rest of their time is theirs.

God’s standards for those in His Kingdom are very different from that ugly, fleshly, and useless scenario above. The Lord is calling us to be His disciples not merely religious pew sitters. The cost of our commitment may look high, but we count the cost and submit to His Lordship anyway because it is only costly in the world’s eyes. When compared to the eternal it is as nothing.

25 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 “Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 “Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. 34 “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35 “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  (Luke 14:25-35 NASB)

Our calling is to shoulder our own cross. That means dying to self. Then what? We are to follow Him without holding any relationship or thing higher than our devotion to Him. We must value our relationship with our Lord as our most valuable treasure. We must not only do this, but also do it continuously. How? This stanza of Psalms 119 is titled “Beth” and it shows us the source of our personal holiness that is the source of our ability to live this way.

The first line in this stanza is, How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. This stanza begins with a question followed by the answer. The idea stated in the question is, “tell me how to cleanse my ways and live in a way which keeps me pure.” Those who are led by the Spirit know the answer. Why? They know the processes God drew them into which led them to their personal walk of repentance. They know it took total immersion into the Word of God and staying in His presence to put them into that position. They also know what it takes to maintain this walk. What is it? They must guard their hearts by staying focused on the Lord—they must walk in the Spirit and stay in the Word. When we do this, the Lord will give us His peace and joy by His grace.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:4-9 NASB)

What a great picture of the sufficiency of our Lord! When we live for Him, come to Him with all our problems and stay away from adulterating ways He will give us what we need to stay pure. What is that? It is His peace. How does that guard our hearts and keep us pure? Our focus is on the Lord when He fills us with His peace and joy instead of self. We focus on our Lord and rejoice in His presence. In return, we are content in His grace. What a deal!

The second line in this stanza is, With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. I have learned the hard way my heart will most definitely wander from the truth if I get careless. I have been in the midst of extreme joy and communion with my Lord one minute then I have walked right into some self-focused mess just a few seconds later. How does this happen? We have to learn not to become self-focused in our delight and rejoicing in the Lord. I tend to do this sometimes. It is such a wonderful place to be! However, sometimes I will be experiencing that and start thinking of self-focused things. Once that starts, it is all over. Of course, God most definitely allows this in order to reveal to us the truth about ourselves.

In extreme situations, we get careless, walk right away from this very narrow path, and back to ugly fleshly things for self-gratification. How can we not do this? Ask God for Help. The psalmist tells us. We must remain humble and led by the Spirit and avoid self-focus. We need His help to do this. If we try to go this alone, we will stumble. It is just a matter of time. However, do not lose heart. Those in Christ have regenerate hearts. That means God has granted them repentance and changed their heart to the point their will has been set free from being dead in trespasses and sins. It can now make godly choices by God’s grace. The Born Again can now decide or choose to obey God and not sin. The fact we still sin tells us we are still in the process of sanctification. This process is what God is using to mature us unto Christ-likeness. It will continue for the rest of our Earthly lives.

Staying immersed in the Word of God, internalizing it through meditation and study, is what keeps us in the spiritual position of being led by the Spirit, which, if you reason through it, while we are obediently being led by the Spirit we will not sin. Why? The Holy Spirit is leading us. When we are walking in the Spirit, we are also walking and standing fully armored with the whole armor of God. Never forget, this battle to remain pure is a spiritual battle. We are under attack from our flesh as well as our enemy to go back to self-gratification and idol worship. To fight and win this battle we must remain armored by being led by the Spirit. Internalized scripture is a mighty weapon. It guards our hearts. What we are really discussing here is a battle to remain obedient to our Lord, and therefore, remain pure. When we are tempted to react in the flesh, we must not try to fight this battle with our own strength. Why? We will stumble. However, when we deny self and obey what is right we must do so by His grace and power not ours. While we do this, we will not stumble.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20 NASB)

The reason we are inconsistent in this walk of personal holiness is we try to fight these battles ourselves. That is a mistake, but one we will continue make over and over again. When we are successful we are simply standing in our armor as we call upon the Lord to do the fighting. As we mature as Christians, we should learn how to fight these battles. I firmly believe this marker, among others, differentiates the mature from the immature Christian. Mature Christians know they cannot do the fighting and want only to be pure and holy before the Lord, which results in constantly remaining armored and ready for battle by choosing to be so.

The third line in this stanza is, Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. Again, we have a bold statement from the psalmist that makes it clear the way to remain pure is to hide or store God’s Word in our hearts. We have already discussed this. We know this. Why don’t we do it then? This stanza repeats it twice for us. That means it is vitally important. We need to take this seriously. We need to take this to heart and make some changes. What changes? We must determine we want personal holiness and are willing to pay the price to get it. What is that price? We must submit to our Lord and do what He wills for us to do. We must get into the Word and get the Word into us. Some may believe that is not necessary, but God’s Word is very powerful. It is the Sword of the Spirit. It is one of our mighty weapons.

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.  (Hebrews 4:12-13 NASB)

When it comes to listening to the doctrines of men or following what the Word says I chose the Word. Forget the doctrines of men. Give me the pure and unadulterated doctrines of God’s Word. When we internalize His wonderful Word, we are exposing all of our false ways to His spiritual surgeon’s scalpel. This can be quite painful. However, this is vital. We must submit to the wonderful pulverizing work in our hearts. How do we do this? Get into the Word and get the Word into our hearts.

The fourth line in this stanza is, Blessed are You, O LORD; Teach me Your statutes. We must never lose sight of the fact that the Lord is our discipler. I would be nowhere without His leading and guiding in my heart. When I do research, I am amazed how He works out all those situations so I end up right where I learn what He wants me to learn so I can grasp and internalize His truth. I would rather sit at the feet of Jesus and learn what He teaches than any human teacher. This statement begins with “Blessed.” This is a different word than the “Blessed” found in the stanza entitled “Aleph.” This word describes one who is blessed as they kneel. God does not kneel to us. However, He does participate in our worship as we do it correctly, in spirit and in truth.

3 Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. (Psalms 22:3 NASB)

This is a verse from Psalms 22 that is called a messianic Psalm because it prophetically describes Jesus’ agony on the cross. The psalmist was expressing agony and grief, but in this verse, he reveals what happens in our hearts when we are in the midst of true worship of our Lord. This verse is a call to God from one who is suffering and feels abandoned by God just as Jesus was on the cross. God becomes enthroned in the heart of those who worship Him in spirit and in truth! What a wonderful truth! When we live for His glory, He becomes enthroned in our hearts. This means we are in His presence and He is doing His good work in our hearts to regenerate them unto Christ-likeness. Here is the same verse from the English Standard Version.

3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Psalms 22:3 ESV)

The Hebrew word that is translated “enthroned” in this verse means “to sit” or “take up residence.” However, it can also mean, “to sit as judge.” Our Lord is Lord of all. We do not make Him Lord because he is Lord. However, we must submit to Him as Lord. When we do that, he is enthroned there. In fact, this very act places us on the altar of self-sacrifice and self-denial. Picture it, when we are living a life that is a life of worship of our Lord we are actually walking in the Spirit, abiding in Christ, running the race that is set before us and we are presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. This is how we walk the Walk by Faith. This is how we walk led by the Spirit.

The fifth line from this stanza is, With my lips I have told of All the ordinances of Your mouth.The psalmist is telling us he is a teacher to others of what the Lord has revealed to him. When God reveals His wisdom, His ways and His standards they do a wonderful work within us, but they are also the source of fruitful teaching and preaching. The great Puritan writers, who were teachers and preachers, were adamant that the masses should have the revealed Word of God proclaimed to them. In fact, they took on the attitude they were dying men preaching to dying men. God granted a tremendous revival or spiritual awakening to the Reformers because they went hard after learning the truth from His Word. The impact of those truths was a conviction to pass them on to all.

One major reason the visible church in the 21st Century is so weak and powerless is the rampant lack of Bible knowledge by the majority of the believers in it. When God draws someone into this walk of repentance to be led by the Spirit, those in the majority view that dear saint as ultra-spiritual and strange. The visible church in our time is full of weak and powerless fleshly believers who see those who are being led by Spirit as a threat to their ease and comfort. Since Bible knowledge within the Western Church is lacking there is also a glut of false doctrines touted as truth to those unfortunate masses of pew sitters. This compounds the problem. For instance, if a preacher or teacher expounds Puritan doctrines, which are hundreds of years old, in some of these churches or on so-called Christian Radio, it causes such an uproar one might believe he or she is spewing evil from Satan’s own lips. What is good and Biblical is called evil while that which is evil yet comfortable is called good.

Our Western culture is part of the problem. Today it is not “politically correct” to tell people they are totally depraved sinners when compared to the holiness of God. The doctrines taught by some folks have been bent and twisted around our culture to the point they no longer have any impact on anyone. These are the doctrines of demons. Look at the passage below.

1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.  (1 Timothy 4:1-3 NASB)

This is just an example of what has happened in our day. I have been studying the teachings of those great theologians who were the backbone of the Protestant Reformation. I am very fond of the writings of John Bunyan. John Owen is another example along with Jonathan Edwards. There are many more. These men knew their Bibles. They knew how to rightly divide the Word of truth and were not interested in being “pleasers of men.”

What we have to understand is, God’s ways are not our ways. His ways are perfect and always right while man’s ways may look right unto him, but are wholly false.

8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:8-9 NASB)

12 There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 14:12 NASB)

With all that in focus, what doctrines should be taught to God’s people? Forget doctrines that simply tickle the itching ears of those who care nothing about being a disciple of Christ. We must pursue the truth, God’s truth, not politically correct drivel.

1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  (2 Timothy 4:1-5 NASB)

We must do as the psalmist says and teach what God teaches us. Preach what God reveals to us. Never deviate into doctrinal compromise by adulterating them with the ways that seem right unto men. When we present God’s truth, the hearts of men are cut, sliced, and crushed. Lives are changed and God is glorified.

The sixth line in this stanza is,I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches.” The thing which puzzles the natural man when he or she observes in those believers who become completely sold out and led by the Spirit is their total devotion to God’s truth coupled with a complete lack of care for the things of this world. The believer who is led by the Spirit has an insatiable thirst and hunger for God’s truth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6 NASB)

This believer is so devoted to God’s truth he or she sees it as equal to the air breathed to stay alive. The Holy Spirit will send Divine Illumination into our hearts as we study the Word and seek the truth. Those who are led by the Spirit will treasure this eternal treasure more than anything this World can offer. This is God imparting His wisdom unto us. None of us are worthy of this. However, our God is gracious and wants the best for us. When we respond to God’s call to dig deeper He blesses us with his Divine Illumination that is that overwhelming understanding of the truth and where it has come from.

The seventh line is this stanza is, “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” This statement is showing us the benefit of getting into the Word and getting the Word into us. What is it? Having the living Word of God in our hearts causes us to draw near unto Him. When we do this, He draws near unto us. When we are close to our Lord like this, He does a marvelous work in our hearts. He will open our hearts to the truth. He will then reveal those ways that are in us that are not His ways. He will then lead us into repentance. The Lord will then grant us that repentance which means we actually grow, change, and conform to His ways. It is all by His grace.

The eighth line in this stanza is,  I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word. The psalmist was testifying of the results of the Lord’s good work in His heart as he dug into the Word. He had fallen in love with God’s truth and as a result, it had taken up residence there. God drew him into this devotion then blessed Him via the regenerative work by Grace in his heart. We must never forget this good work in our hearts is always by His grace.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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