Personal holiness is not an option

by Mike Ratliff

14 Εἰρήνην διώκετε μετὰ πάντων καὶ τὸν ἁγιασμόν, οὗ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὄψεται τὸν κύριον, Hebrews 12:14 (NA28)

14 Pursue peace with everyone and pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord, Hebrews 12:14 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

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.

6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Isaiah 64:6 (NASB) 

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.

19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 (NASB) 

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. 

18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 1 Peter 3:18 (NASB) 

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.

5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,
“Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But A body You have prepared for Me;
6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.
7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come
(In the scroll of the book it is written of Me)
To do Your will, O God.’”
8 After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:5-10 (NASB) 

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 pursue. This salvation is a salvation unto holiness (sanctification).

7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 1 Thessalonians 4:7 (NASB) 

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NASB) 

In 1 Corinthians 1:2  we have the word sanctified, which means “made holy” and then the phrase, “saints by calling.” All in Christ are made holy in Him and they are called unto Christ then 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.

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:15-20 (NASB) 

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 know 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).

Personal 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.

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB) 

Soli Deo Gloria!

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

5 thoughts on “Personal holiness is not an option

  1. “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.” Amen

    “But it should grow” – There are people close to me who claim to be christian but there is zero desire for even occasional reading of scripture let alone holiness and I am finding it more difficult to converse with them and even just being in their company. Yet, I don’t know their heart so cannot judge their status before God (which is not my business anyhow) only their actions and the words they speak. I can only point them in the right direction. And pray for them.

    Thanks for this post Mike. 👏


  2. Petra,

    Your desire for holiness and spiritual fellowship/conversation is rare, commendable, and precious. Don’t allow the coldness of others to ever extinguish this fervor! I encourage you to read John Bunyan’s autobiography “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners” and also “How Do I Develop Heavenly-Mindedness and Spiritual Conversation?” by Maurice Roberts.

    You don’t need to know their hearts, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). You will know trees by their fruit. Read Psalm 119 and note how frequent the psalmist yearns for the company of those who fear God and conversely how he repels the company of those who despise God…he even goes so far to exclaim “Depart from me, evildoers, that I may observe the commandments of my God” (Psalm 119:115).

    Keep praying for them and reaching out to them, and in love warn them about how their spiritual state is questionable, at best. Use this as an opportunity as well to discuss with them the realities that accompany salvation, such as “being careful to obey God’s ordinances” if they are truly born again (Ezekiel 36:27), and ask things like, “So how are you doing spiritually in this regard? Is this a reality in your life?” It may be evident to them then that perhaps they don’t truly know the Lord like they claim, or are at least very seriously backslidden? Do what you can to drive the conversations heavenward. When all else fails, you may have to part ways like the psalmist and find godly company elsewhere.

    Stay strong and keep your eyes on the glory and beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ!


  3. amen. There is an abundance of folks in evangelicalism, specifically new Calvinism, who do not set a priority on holiness. Holiness is what defines the believer; literally setting us apart. We can’t proclaim this message enough today.


  4. Pingback: Saturday Sampler: September 2 — September 8 | The Outspoken TULIP

Comments are closed.