Do you know why I insist so strongly on preaching the message of holiness? It is because this is one of those doctrines that is not a pet subject. No, it is one of those teachings that is very important to get right. So important, in fact, that to deliberately reject it is to heap destruction upon yourself in the end. To miss out on this is to miss out on a key element of the faith.
Invariably people are going to ask, “Levi, why is it you always talk about this? Why, of the hundreds of messages you could give, do you always return to this one?”
The reason is simple. It is vitally important and few are giving it.
It is my discovery that many people don’t know what to think when they first hear about holiness or perfection. A lot of this is because it has never been adequately explained, as most denominations don’t really emphasize it (and even those who do are error-prone). How can one understand what one has never heard of before? It’s senseless to expect understanding in this case.
The fact that people have a weird view of both “holiness” and “perfection” does not help. So, a couple definitions. “Holiness” means “the quality of being set apart for God’s use.” By this alone, all Christians are holy, as God has done a work in their life for His benefit and has instructed them to do His will and equipped them to be able to do so. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
The other difficult word is “perfection” or “perfect.” (It is important to know what these mean because God expects us to be perfect.) “Perfect” does not mean “totally flawless in every way, unable to make any mistakes.” God created us human, He created us to be limited beings who will never know everything and will never be like God in every way. He doesn’t want us to be that. God wants us to love Him without competition with the world. God wants us to love our neighbor and enemy without partiality. That is what it means to be perfect.
Now, there is another sense of “perfect” that the Scriptures speak of. This is a perfection none living have obtained, because it involves knowing Christ fully, which Paul said could not be without also knowing His death and resurrection personally, not just vicariously. So we are never completely mature in the sense of knowing Christ while on this earth. This is something we always work toward. Do keep in mind, though, that the same Paul who said, “not that I am already perfect” referred to himself and the others at Philippi as perfect just a few verses later in the exact same chapter, because he was talking then about the perfection in love that is expected of us and that we are able to do.
You have noticed by now, if you read my other journals, that I assume Christians are able to love God without wavering. Others who call themselves by Christ make a similar claim, but they do not go far enough. They have a tendency to immediately follow up these exhortations with a reminder that they are bound to waver at some point or another because they are still in the flesh and they still have a “sinful nature.” I do not waffle in this manner. Yes, it is possible for a Christian to sin and fall away, but the Bible gives us no reason to believe that has to happen, so I do not teach it as inevitable.
The thing is, this is not a doctrinal difference that is secondary. It cannot be brushed aside under the category of “Non-essential to the faith.” The difference is in fact so strong that the holiness-minded gospel is not the same as the you-will-sin gospel. One says the victory is certain, and experienced day by day through the grace of God, who gives us the strength to honor Him and love Him at all times. The other teaches a gradual victory peppered with defeat, where God is dishonored by His children and, what is worse, does not see the sins His people commit.
Now it is absolutely true that growing in the faith is a gradual process. I mentioned this earlier, but I will mention it again because it’s important. In Philippians 3, Paul talks about this. He said he was not already perfect, or not already mature, because he had not experienced death and the future resurrection himself, as Christ had experienced death and His resurrection. So far, we only know it vicariously, but some day in the future we will know Christ fully. So we know in that regard we still have a long way to go, and every day we should learn more about who God is. No one expects us to know everything right away, and God certainly does not demand it of us.
This does not mean, of course, that one need know what the holiness doctrine is in order to be saved. For that matter, the very name “holiness doctrine” makes a simple element of the gospel sound like something extra, something secret. That is not how it should be. What matters is that the Christian live out his faith.
As a side note, don’t be misled by an ill-approached “faith alone” version of justification. We are justified by faith apart from works of the Law, but we also see that “man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24) The Law itself is unable to save, so works of the Law do not lead to salvation, but we cannot have a useful faith that does not also have works accompanying it. Saving faith always leads to works. If the works are absent, then so is the saving faith. You CANNOT dedicate your life to God once and then go back to the way things used to be, and assume all is well. It will not be.
So the consequences are severe. If you do not abide in God, then you will not see the kingdom of God. Do not let that be you.