God loves holiness “without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb.12:14). But what is it? Essentially, obedience. It is the opposite of sin. The Bible defines sin as “transgression of the law” (1Jn.3:4). “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom.3:20), and “without the law sin was dead” (Rom.7:8). Where there is no law there is no sin.
Why are we seeing such low levels of holiness in our day?
One reason is that there is an over-emphasis on justification by faith to the detriment of sanctification. Luther is often wrongly quoted in this regard. He initially tried hard to save himself by keeping the commandments and punishing himself when he didn’t. Eventually he reached the end of his resources and, when despairing, discovered that “the just shall live by faith” (Rom.1:17). The church of his day had taught the depressing heresy of justification by works but Luther now filled with joy became the great Reformer. “Justification by faith alone” was the watchword of the Reformation. However the Scriptures also teach that having been justified the child of God will show his appreciation for God’s grace by striving to keep the commandments and doing good works. Indeed James makes this point starkly when he states that “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jam.2:24). The saving nature of a man’s faith and hence his justification is displayed by his sanctified life. “Faith without works is dead” (Jam.2:20) and useless. Luther battled hard with sin and in several places in his writings gave expositions of the commandments which show the emphasis which he placed on the Christian duty to obey God’s law. There is something far wrong if our doctrine of justification is an excuse for sin, deadens our consciences and leaves us at peace as we wallow deeper in sin.
A second reason for the low levels of holiness in our day is that definitive sanctification is emphasised at the expense of progressive sanctification. Definitive sanctification is the radical break with sin which takes place when a person is born again. In a moment an individual changes from being a sinner into a saint. Paul speaks of this change in Romans 6 where he describes the Christian as having died with Christ to the old life and risen to a new life. He exhorts: “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom.6:11). The change which has occurred should not leave us complacent but rather encourage us to progress in sanctification. Someone who takes comfort from their sainthood while living a wicked life has no right even to consider himself to be a Christian. True Christians “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” and they “through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body” (Rom.8:4,13).
A third reason for the low level of holiness today is the belief that because we are no longer under the law we are not duty bound to keep the moral law. Paul argues “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” (Gal.4:21). This law is bondage and he says “Cast out the bond woman and her son” (v30). Traditionally theologians have divided the law into three categories: the civil law (laws of the kingdom of Israel), the ceremonial law (referring to sacrifices and ritual) and the moral law (summarised in the Ten Commandments). Nowadays this division has been questioned. It is argued that this division is not Scriptural and that there is only one law of God which has now been abrogated. Yet, while the terms “civil” and “ceremonial” and “moral” are not used in the Bible, the concepts they refer to are certainly there. Even in Old Testament times God said: “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1Sam.15:22). The moral law had a priority over the ceremonial law. Civil laws were obviously tied in closely to the kingdom of Israel which has passed. The new Israel is the church. Jesus made plain that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it. He fulfilled the moral law in keeping the commandments for us. He fulfilled the ceremonial law by dying on the cross as our sacrifice. In case any should think that the moral law was no longer binding Jesus states: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:19). Paul asks: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Rom.3:31). The fact that the moral law is still binding is clear from Paul’s restating of it: “Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill etc” (Rom.13:9). Christians are no longer bound by the ceremonial law. It passed away with Christ’s fulfilment of its types and shadows. When Paul states “we are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom.6:15) he means that we are not under the law as a covenant of works, as a way of earning salvation. Rather we are “under grace” Christ having kept the law for us and giving us salvation as a gift.
What is the continuing place of the law?
1. In Society. It shows the way we should live. There is no better pattern of life than the moral law. Governments are meant to be a terror to evil works (Rom.13:3). It is a blessed society that follows this code of morals.
2. In the Unbeliever. The law convicts of sin and shows a man his guilt and need of a Saviour. It threatens God’s judgment upon him. In this way the law is “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal.3:24). Law work is necessary to repentance and there is no faith without it. It even operates in the Christian in this way too, forcing us more and more on Christ.
3. In the Christian. The moral law is the pattern for our lives. While not justified by our works we show our justification and express our thanksgiving to God for his grace by our obedience to the moral law. “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn.14:15). The true Christian delights “in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom.7:22). “Shall we sin, because we are not under the law but under grace? God forbid” (Rom.6:15). We once were the servants of sin but now we have been set free to serve God. Crucified to the old life we now long to be holy like our heavenly Father. The moral law describes God’s character.