There is a great deception in the land today. It is the notion that men and women, upon death or at the Lord’s Coming, can glance upon the Holy One, having shown little or no interest in holiness while upon earth. It is often promulgated under the banner of ‘grace.’ Since Jesus died to secure my forgiveness, I am guaranteed a place in heaven.
I agree with those who teach our eternal security is based totally on what Jesus did, not what we do in this life. I can say with the apostle, “by the grace of God I am what I am.” I repudiate my works as a basis for my present or future position. It is grace and grace alone that secures my current standing with God as well as my future inheritance.
But what is often forgotten or else purposely ignored is that such grace is ever and always ‘transforming’ grace. While given freely and without cost (to us; it cost the Son of God everything), it nevertheless cannot be received without fundamentally changing the thoughts and intents of the heart. In theological terms, justification is evident by our sanctification. When God freely justifies a man or a woman based on Christ’s merits alone, that grace begins to mightily work in a person so that it changes everything about them. That is what the statement which follows means: “Justification is evident by our sanctification.”
Those who teach justification is based solely on the grace of God and not on anything we can do for ourselves are emphasizing a biblical truth that must be understood if holiness is attainable. Our tendency is always to smuggle our works (righteousness) into our standing with God, which is why so many saints carry around a low-grade guilt about their failure to perform. The saint is justified based solely on God’s work in Christ. Paul taught this in his letters, especially Romans and Galatians. There, he was dealing with those who think they can be righteous through their attempts at keeping the Law. He demonstrated powerfully in both epistles that people are only justified by “grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But we owe it to James who emphasizes that real faith in this grace is transformative. Some have suggested that Paul and James are contradicting each other, but that is not the case at all. Rather, they are both speaking to different audiences. Paul addresses those who think they can earn righteousness through law keeping. To them, he emphasizes that no one can be justified through keeping the law. But James is speaking to those who suggest faith is merely an intellectual matter; mental assent to facts they believe. James stresses works always follow true faith. They are the effects of our faith rather than the cause of it.
I was teaching this once in a church, and someone took issue with me. They cited, as an example, that they knew someone who had faith without having any works. I responded by saying that no matter what they claimed, they didn’t have any faith. James is not saying that it is possible for a person to have genuine faith without any workings. Rather, he is saying that works will always be evident where faith in the Gospel is authentic.
When we examine our lives, therefore, it is necessary that we don’t merely look at what we claim to believe, but how that faith is affecting our lives. Holiness, while not being the cause of our justification, should follow as an effect. And holiness is to be expected if we have made it our ambition to see the Lord. Nor should not be afraid to preach and teach this in our churches.
I once challenged a man I knew whose life showed no evidence of personal holiness. He was talking about his desire to go to heaven when he died. I suggested (with tongue in cheek) that he would probably be bored when he got there. He asked me what I meant. I said that his doctrine allowed him to believe he could be completely bored with holiness while on earth and suddenly when he arrived in heaven, make it his full-time occupation for eternity. I told him how we live our lives on earth has much to do with our enjoyment of God in heaven.
The great deception is the belief that holiness is optional since it is grace alone by which we are saved. My heart breaks for the thousands of so-called believers who show no sign of holiness here on earth, yet honestly, believe that one day they will see the Lord. But the word of God stands firm: “…without holiness, no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Of course, our greatest need is to understand the nature of true holiness. Legalism substituting as holiness is the norm of the day. I grew up in a legalistic church where holiness was measured by what you didn’t do. We do not attain true holiness by keeping a list of rules of those behaviors in which one should not engage. The problem with many of these lists is they are largely focused on personal convictions rather than things God commands; don’t watch television, don’t go to the movies, no mixed bathing, etc. Paul deals with these matters in Romans 14 by telling us to settle in our minds as to how God would have us to live when it comes to personal convictions and never put our convictions on others.
But holiness is more than ceasing from certain activities; it is taking great pleasure in God and his word. Notice the change between verses one and two of Psalm 1. The Psalmist first talks about the negative aspects of the righteous man—he doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of the scornful. But that is followed by the positive description of the righteous man: he takes great delight in God and his word. The word delight in Psalm 1:2 can be translated by the English word pleasure. Holy men or women not only cease from ungodly behavior, but they take great pleasure and delights in his Law and meditates on it day and night.
Examine your life carefully in the presence of God. Are you striving to live a holy life? Yes, you are justified by faith alone, but such genuine faith always expresses itself in holy living. While we never can make our attainment in holiness the basis of our standing with God, we must be willing to examine ourselves and ask if we are pursuing the holiness “without which no one shall see the Lord.”