The Way of Holiness
The New Testament church at Thessalonica was established during difficult times. When Paul and Silas first went to that city with the Gospel, there was no greeting committee that we know of except those who opposed the men of God. However, there were some who wanted a way out of sin and they subsequently found deliverance and victory. It was to these people that Paul wrote the epistle of 1 Thessalonians—an epistle that admonishes regarding a way of holiness. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 we read, “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.”
These new believers had experienced salvation. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 we read, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” Salvation provides assurance that one has passed from death unto life. Verse 6 continues, “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction.” It is clear that salvation was only the beginning; affliction followed. Perhaps it would be nice if we were saved and immediately translated to Heaven, but there is a life to live!
The instruction as to the manner in which the Thessalonian converts were to live was given in 1 Thessalonians 2, verse 12: they were to “walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.” We represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ when we are converted, and we too are challenged to walk worthy of that calling—to live holy lives.
There is a distinction between the experience of holiness and the life of holiness. To be established with “hearts unblameable in holiness before God,” we must first experience entire sanctification.
Sanctification: an experience and a daily walk
There is a distinction between the experience of holiness and the life of holiness. To be established with “hearts unblameable in holiness before God,” we must first experience entire sanctification. Paul spoke of that in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, where we read, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” He went on to command that his epistle be read to all the brethren. What he had to say was important for all to hear!
The words, “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly” remind me of when I was a new convert. I never heard of salvation until after I was saved, nor did I hear of sanctification until I came into Apostolic Faith services after having been saved. During my first camp meeting, a teaching was given on sanctification. More than once during that sermon, the preacher spelled out the word “W-H-O-L-L-Y” letter by letter. I wondered why. Later, I understood that he did so to distinguish “wholly” from “holy,” since the two words sound the same. If the verse were understood as “sanctify you holy,” it would be redundant because the same root word in the Greek is translated both as “sanctify” and as “holy.” It would not make sense to read, “The very God of peace sanctify you sanctify” or “holy you holy.”
The word “wholly” means “entirely,” indicating the extent to which we are to be sanctified. So, that phrase could be read, “The very God of peace sanctify you entirely.” Paul provided that description to show the all-inclusive nature of sanctification. It is entire sanctification. Wholly is a very strong word; it is more forceful in the Greek than it is in English. Paul could have said “completely, through and through, all in all, and in every part.” That was in contrast to “almost, nearly, eventually, over time,” or “in the sweet by and by.”
Two aspects of receiving sanctification
Sanctification is entire in the sense that we know when we have experienced it. However, there is more to sanctification than a one-time experience. There are two aspects to sanctification. The first aspect occurs when we devote ourselves to God—we consecrate ourselves and set ourselves apart for His purposes. We sanctified this building when it was dedicated; we ceremonially set it apart for an exclusive purpose. However, there was no moral quality in doing so to the building, nor do we affect any moral change in our nature when we set ourselves apart for God. While there is value in declaring, “I present myself to You, a living sacrifice,” that is merely our part.
The second aspect of sanctification is the divine part. God is the Sanctifier; He is the One who does a work in our hearts. When we consecrate ourselves to God, He bears witness that our consecrated sacrifice has been accepted. He provides the assurance that He has sanctified us. The entire man is devoted to God by a consecration on our part, and then is purified by an act on God’s part.
What the experience of sanctification does
Referring again to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, we see that after experiencing sanctification, we are “preserved” or kept in a purified condition—a condition that God views as blameless or without reproach—until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We experience that purified state before He returns, and if we desire to be kept, He keeps us.
It is helpful to understand what the experience of sanctification is and is not, and what it does and does not do. Sanctification completes what justification began. Justification relates to acts of committed sins. Sanctification relates to the underlying condition from which those acts of sin emerged. Justification forsakes evil and is the result of repentance where we turn away from everything that is bad. Sanctification is the result of consecration where we bring to God everything that He has made good. Justification leaves us forgiven; sanctification leaves us cleansed.
Sanctification does more than purify our motives. It also generates pure actions as a result.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:7 we read, “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” Sanctification does more than purify our motives. It also generates pure actions as a result. Holiness is “soul health.” Holiness and health come from the same root word in the Greek language. Holiness is to the soul what health is to the body. When you are physically, mentally, and emotionally sound, you feel good. To be holy is to have a sound, moral bearing. It is to be free from the underlying sinful condition with which all were born, as well as from acts of sin.
Paul wanted the Thessalonian Christians to understand that there was a standard of behavior related to holiness. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 we read, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.” Paul was speaking here of God-given appetites—the sexual appetite in particular, but that is not the only appetite. For example, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had an appetite for knowledge. Every part of our humanity needs to be sanctified in order to bring it under subjection to God. We cannot prevent temptation that comes our way from the outside, but we do have a remedy for the inner condition that caused us to sin in the first place. That remedy is entire sanctification.
We cannot grow carnality out of the heart any more than we can grow weeds out of a garden.
Sanctification is more than a Bible doctrine. It is more than an academic exercise. Holiness is an experience and a way of living! To be established in holiness, we must first be saved, then experience entire sanctification and continue to walk with God. That walk of holiness is the area where we are to increase and abound and to have our hearts established in a pure, unblameable condition. The experience itself is instantaneous, but it opens into a way of living that goes on throughout life. We do not grow into the experience of entire sanctification. We cannot grow carnality out of the heart any more than we can grow weeds out of a garden. We must experience that purifying flame. However, we do continue to grow and develop and mature thereafter. We must live the rest of life in a manner pleasing to God, and that is why we need to be sanctified.
Christian perfection means being perfect in love
John Wesley called sanctification “Christian perfection.” When we are sanctified, we are not made perfect in the sense that God is perfect, nor in the sense that Adam was perfect before the fall. However, we are made perfect in love, according to the Word of God, and that is the manner in which Wesley described it. We love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Every decision and every action and reaction is governed by the fact that we want to please God.
If at times we fall short of how God would have us act or react, the evidence of Christian perfection in our lives is that we go before God and say, “Lord, help me to do better next time this trial comes along.”
If at times we fall short of how God would have us act or react, the evidence of Christian perfection in our lives is that we go before God and say, “Lord, help me to do better next time this trial comes along.” “Falling short” is not committing sin; it is an evidence of humanity. Perhaps you react in a manner that is less patient than it ought to have been, or in a manner that falls short of the way in which you wish you would have reacted. In those times, you go to the Lord and say, “I will circle that mountain again and take it by the grace of God with Your help.” That is all God requires of us.
It is important to understand the difference between actions that are sin and actions that are rooted in human frailty. We do not want younger ones to feel that they have sinned because they acted their age, for example. As a grandparent, I am around children. I see brothers who quarrel at times though they claim to be saved. They are acting their age. I expect young brothers to disagree a bit. However, I would also expect them to learn to ask forgiveness if they have wronged one another, and to learn and grow from their experiences.
That being said, we do not want to excuse carnality by calling it humanity. If our action or reaction sprang from a carnal nature or a desire to return to sin, then we need to be forgiven and then sanctified. It has been said, “Self dies at sanctification.” Self does not die at sanctification; carnality dies. We still continue to live, with Christ living in us.
Living a sanctified life
Sanctification does not change our personality, though it may temper it. If you were an introvert before you were sanctified, you likely are going to be an introvert after you are sanctified. If you were an extrovert before you were sanctified, you will still be an extrovert after you are sanctified. The old, carnal nature is eradicated, not your personality.
To be established in this way of holiness, you will continue to grow and develop over your lifetime. It is like those who go to the gym and meet with a personal trainer. If they follow the trainer’s instructions, they will find themselves more physically fit than they were before. So it is in the way of holiness. God is our trainer; He is our instructor. If we follow His instructions and respond to His Spirit as He nudges us and speaks to us through His Word, we will find ourselves spiritually fit and continuing to develop.
In time we will be able to look back and see how God has helped us face a situation in a manner that is more pleasing to Him than how we handled that same situation in the past.
That is what we want. That is the holy living that increases and abounds more and more. In time we will be able to look back and see how God has helped us face a situation in a manner that is more pleasing to Him than how we handled that same situation in the past. That is what holiness is. There is the experience of sanctification, but we cannot live on the experience alone. There is a life that follows the experience. The experience may be a hallelujah moment; life is not. However, life is a blessing when we have experienced entire sanctification and continue to follow the Lord.
Have you experienced sanctification? It may not be what some would call a hallelujah moment; it may be a deep, settled peace that comes over you and you realize that it is the Lord visiting you. That is the Lord granting your request and accepting your sacrifice.
If you have experienced sanctification, are you living a sanctified life? If something comes to mind where you recognize that you need to represent the Lord in a more appropriate fashion, come to God and tell Him! Point out what He already knows—where you fell a bit short. He will help you next time when He knows your desire is to please Him.
This Gospel way is a way of holiness. We want others to be able to look at our lives and see that where we go, what we say, and how we conduct ourselves is above reproach. By the grace and help of God, that can be our testimony!