Holiness

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.

The Lord’s Supper

There is tremendous confusion on this subject throughout the Christian world. What ought to be a means of grace and a real spiritual blessing often becomes a curse through misuse. In one sense this should not surprise us. Even in New Testament times Paul had to say to the Corinthian Church, “Ye come together not for the better, but for the worse” (1Cor.11:17). He noted that because they were participating in the Lord’s Supper in the wrong way, “many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (v30). A considerable number of them died under the chastisement of God.

Divisions

A major problem in Corinth was the divisions. Reference is made to this in chapter 1. Indeed it is the first matter mentioned after the initial greeting. Some said, “I am of Paul”, others “I am of Apollos” and others “I am of Cephas” (1Cor.1:12). The Apostle asks, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptised in the name of Paul?” (1:13). Communion is meant to be a feast of love. It is about the oneness of the body of Christ. The church should be distinguished by love: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn.13:35). Yet on the other hand there is an inevitability about divisions: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1Cor.11:19). It is God’s plan to allow false doctrines and practices to arise so that people will be tested. Who is on the Lord’s side? Those guilty of the division are those who introduce the wickedness into the church, not those who stand against the evil.

Worldly Supper

The attitude of some in approaching communion is terribly carnal and earthly. It was so in the early church: “In eating everyone taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry and another is drunken” (1Cor.11:21). It is no wonder that God was angry. People brought their own supper with them and yet called it the Lord’s Supper. The poor were hungry. Some overindulged and were drunk. People should eat at home. The poor should not be shamed in this way and left standing watching. Drunkenness is a sin. We would be surprised to see someone drunk at the Table. Yet are there not many who come to the Lord’s Table with as little thought and preparation as someone coming to any ordinary meal? We eat only a mouthful of bread and wine to emphasise that this is a spiritual feast. We must see behind the symbols and by faith feed upon Christ, otherwise we are treating the Supper just as our own supper.

This is My Body

“The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (11:23-24). But in what sense is it His body? The Roman Catholic teaching is that once the priest has blessed the bread it literally becomes the flesh of Christ. To the human senses it looks, feels, smells and tastes like bread yet it is really meat. To us this is nonsense yet to Roman Catholicism it is vital. The individual who partakes receives benefit whatever his thoughts, attitude or understanding, and whether he has faith or not. Those who carefully interpret Scripture with Scripture see clearly that this is wrong. Jesus is talking in symbolic and figurative terms as He often does. The broken bread symbolises the body of Christ broken on the cross for us. The wine symbolises the blood of Christ, which is His life given for us. By faith we must discern the Lord’s body in the symbols and feed upon Him. The sacrament actually brought pain and sickness upon many of the Corinthians. There is no blessing whatsoever in the sacrament unless the individual participant exercises faith in Christ and so feeds upon His finished work.

Who is to take the Sacrament?

The Lord’s Supper is for the Lord’s people. It is for those who are converted, who have been born again and have turned their back upon their sinful past and by grace are living for God. Only such can remember the Lord’s death with gratitude and can properly show it forth. Those whom Jesus has loved and redeemed by His death, are the only ones who will delight in remembering the Lord’s death. They yearn in anticipation “till he come”. For the unregenerate, the death of Christ will contribute to their further condemnation. We are to examine ourselves to discover if we are true Christians and only then to come to His Table. It is interesting however to note that the Apostle says, “Let a man examine himself and so let him eat” (v28). He does not say let a man examine himself and so stay away from the Table. The implication is that having examined himself, if he finds that he is not converted he should immediately turn to the Lord with all his heart. Having been converted he is now ready to come to the Table. Self examination is often stressed in Scripture, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2Cor.13:5).

Unworthily

There is a great warning in the Bible against coming to the Table unworthily. Such a person is “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” and “eateth and drinketh damnation to himself” (vv27,30). But who is worthy to sit at the Lord’s Table? None of us in and of ourselves. We are all poor sinners who deserve nothing but the wrath and curse of God forever. Yet worthy is the Lamb. We come as sinners cleansed in the blood. However it is important to notice that the word used here is the adverb “unworthily” and not the adjective “unworthy”. It is not describing the person but rather the manner of his coming and partaking. The Corinthians were coming unworthily because they were treating it as their own supper, some were hungry and others were drunk. They were failing to understand what the Supper meant and that they were by faith to receive spiritual blessings. The divisions among them caused bitterness, anger and jealousy in their hearts. The unity and love which should have characterised them was missing and so they were desecrating the Lord’s Table and suffering for it.

What benefit?

The Table should strengthen our faith by encouraging us to feed on Christ. He is portrayed before us. We are clearly reminded of what He did for us. The sacrament is kept in conjunction with the preaching of the Word which proclaims Christ’s person and work. We give thanks for His death. Confessing our faith before men we are strengthened. Christ is our food. Our love for the Lord and for our fellow-Christians is increased. Our hope of heaven is encouraged.
Judge yourself so that you will not be judged (v31). Make sure that when you come together around His Table it is for the better and not for the worse (v17).

Conversion is a Massive Change

It is plain that many people today regard becoming a Christian as little more than taking up a new hobby. It involves some extras added onto their lives. They remain what they have always been but have some new beliefs and practices. They now make a profession of faith. Yet neighbours and people at work do not notice any difference. This cannot be right. Jesus spoke of a new birth and Paul of a new creation. In fact a Christian is as different from the unconverted as a living person is from a dead corpse. Sadly increasing numbers deceive themselves and sit at the Lord’s table when they have never experienced the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. This is seriously weakening evangelical churches.

A Church Planted

Paul came to Europe to preach. His first stopping place was Philippi. There a number of true conversions took place and because of that persecution began. Paul having been beaten and imprisoned had to leave. Coming next to Thessalonica, he preached for three Sabbaths in the Synagogue. Again there was a riot and he had to leave. Yet a church was planted and remained. Paul sent two letters to them to encourage them to remain steadfast in the face of continuing trials and persecutions.

They are God’s Elect

“Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God” (1Thess.1:4). It is something truly wonderful to be chosen before you were born, indeed before the world was created or time began. This election was obviously irrespective of anything they did but also of anything they would do. With reference to the children of Rebekah it was said: “The children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him that calleth…Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated” (Rom.9:11-13). “Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom.8:29). It is not that He knew something about them but He knew them. He freely set His knowledge and love upon them before they were born. It is a great privilege to be amongst those whom the Father elected and for whom Christ died. Are you one of them? How can I know? The evidence will be seen in your life.

Power

It was perfectly clear to the Apostle that the Thessalonians were elected because of the power with which the Gospel came to them (1Thess.1:5). There are many people and the Gospel, Sunday after Sunday, makes no impression on them. They leave unmoved. But there are others and they are stopped in their tracks. The Gospel comes to them with a power which they cannot resist. Sadly we do not see much of this today but thankfully we occasionally still witness it.

Holy Ghost

The work of the Holy Spirit is to apply the redemption purchased by Christ. The Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom.1:16) and yet the Gospel itself has no power. It is only when the Spirit accompanies the Word that it is powerful and indeed irresistible. Without Him no one will be born again. The new birth is being born of the Spirit. When the Spirit is present, lives are transformed. The Spirit only works savingly in the elect and so His work in Thessalonica was evidence of the election of these Thessalonians.

Much Assurance

This again is the work of the Spirit. He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment to come. He convinced the Thessalonians of the truth of the Gospel so that they could not just brush it off. When they were converted His work continued assuring them of their salvation. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom.8:16).

Became Followers

In the Island of Lewis the name “follower” is used for a new Christian and it is a good name. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Is.53:6). But now things are different. Instead of following their own lusts and passions they are following the Good Shepherd. There is a direction to their lives and it is the opposite of what it used to be. They are now followers of the Lord. Yes there are afflictions and persecutions but in it all there is also the joy of the Holy Ghost (1Thess1:6).

Models

“Ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (1Thess.1:7). By word, they have spread the gospel message. But also their lives are preaching. Everyone, everywhere, is talking about the marvellous change that has taken place. They had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven” (vv.9-10). The change referred to here is not a mere decision taken in their own strength. Neither is it simply a reform of their lives. It was a huge powerful transformation. This is conversion and this is what we need to see in our churches. Mere numbers on a communion roll is no evidence of God’s blessing. Indeed it could well be a curse because it weakens the church by adding dross to it. Further, the individuals concerned are in great danger because they think that they are Christians when they are not. Have you experienced this change?

Content in your calling

My Dad used to say, “I have never seen a house I would rather live in, or a job I would rather have”. His semi-detached, basic, Board of Agriculture house on Oliver’s Brae was the ideal, specially suited for him and his family. His job as a docker at the harbour in Stornoway was the best for him. He believed in the providence of God and discovered that “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1Tim.6:6). There were many detached, big and beautiful houses in the Island, yet he felt no desire for them. There were occupations which were much better paid, but he was not interested. God had placed him where he was and he rejoiced in God’s provision. He was sure that “all things worked together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom.8:28).

Abide in your calling

Paul, in addressing the Corinthians on the subject of marriage and work, stated: “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (1Cor.7:20). Someone is converted but their husband or wife is not. Do not leave your spouse. Who knows you may be the means of their conversion. If you are born again as a slave do not worry about it. You are the Lord’s freeman. If you are set free, use your freedom for the Lord. If you are called being free you are the Lord’s slave. “Let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God” (v24). Be content with your work and recognise there is a dignity in every job. Of course some may find themselves in immoral work. These have to give up their occupation. But the rest of us should recognise God’s hand placing us in certain jobs. Be content. This does not hinder us changing jobs but we should always try to make sure that we are where God wants us to be.

God calls ministers

Some assert that God’s call is the same no matter what the occupation to which we are called. Scripture does however give a special place to the call of ministers. “How shall they preach except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom.10:15). There is no higher calling than the ministry, not even that of president of the USA. Also God appoints ministers to certain charges. When their work there is done he calls them to a new situation. Ministers should never be discontented with their parish. It is the best for you. When God wants you out of it he will open the door and stir you up to move on. Others may have larger congregations and appear to have more success but God has a specific job for you to do and no one else can do it but you.

What happens when we make mistakes?

Out of hastiness or the wrong motives a person could find himself in a job where he knows he should not be and he is being chastised for selfishness or pride or some other sin. What should he do? There is no need for despair. Repent, ask for forgiveness, trust in Christ and seek to rededicate yourself to God. Then continue in your calling looking to the Lord to guide you with regard to your future. For example, a minister may move to a congregation out of ambition or to escape difficulties in another. Repent and return to God. Look to the Lord in faith. Realise that all things work together for good, even our mistakes. God wants us to be content where we are and when it is His will to move us He will open the door. He overrules our mistakes when we repent. His chastisement will not destroy us.

A little with God’s blessing

Some people have lots of money and great prestige but it is far better to have God’s blessing than all the success this world can offer. “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked” (Ps.37:16). There is dignity in work. Before sin entered the world, in the paradise of Eden, Adam was a gardener. Interestingly he was not an accountant or a lawyer or a media mogul but a humble gardener. In our work we should be able to express our love to God and to our fellow man.

Six days shalt thou labour

Even in the Garden of Eden, God said, “Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work: but the seventh is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work”. God kept the first Sabbath and rested after He had completed the work of creation in the six days. God was setting a pattern for man to follow. The day of rest is vital for the body, the mind and the soul. But notice that the commandment does not just refer to one day. It also speaks of the six days. They are to be spent in labouring. Six days of work are a duty as well as the one day of rest. Nowadays there is far too much emphasis on leisure. People speak of a five day week as if it were appointed by God. Of course in the type of employment that most have, a sixth day is required for jobs around the house.

Be content

“Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb.13:5). “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1Tim.6:6). Be happy with the Lord’s provision for you. Believe that God is sovereign and overrules all for your good. He has a plan for your life and it is the best. Accept the present while you wait to discover the outworking of God’s plans. We are sometimes impatient, but God is never late. At exactly the right time things happen. When you feel you are sinking remember the words of Christ: “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Mt.14:31). What wonderful assurance we are given: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom.8:28).

The Scottish Reformation: Its Relevance for Today

Rev David Silversides is the minister of Loughbricklands Reformed Presbyterian church, Northern Ireland. He recently spoke at a conference organised by the Southern Presbytery of the FCC celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland. It was held at Knightswood Free Church (Continuing).

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