The cultivation of holiness is demanding. Thomas Watson called it “sweating work.” Happily, God provides us with several motives to holiness in His Word. To encourage us in the pursuit of holiness, we need to keep our eyes focused on the following biblical truths.
1. God has called you to holiness for your good and His glory. “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thes. 4:7). Whatever God calls us to, is necessary. His call itself, as well as the benefits which we experience from holy living as described below, should induce us to seek and practice holiness.
Holiness benefits us by augmenting our spiritual well-being. God assures us that “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). “What health is to the heart,” John Flavel noted, “that holiness is to the soul.”39 In Richard Baxter’s scarce work on holiness, the very chapter titles are enlightening: “Holiness is the only way of safety. Holiness is the only honest way. Holiness is the most gainful way. Holiness is the most honourable way. Holiness is the most pleasant way.”40
But most importantly. holiness glorifies the God you love (Is. 43:21). As Thomas Brooks affirmed, “Holiness makes most for God’s honour.”41
2. Holiness makes you resemble God and preserves your integrity. As Watson notes: “We must endeavour to be like God in sanctity. It is a clear glass in which we can see a face; it is a holy heart in which something of God can be seen.”42 Christ serves here as a pattern of holiness for us—a pattern of holy humility (Phil. 2:5–13), of holy compassion (Mk. 1:41), of holy forgiveness (Col. 3:13), of holy unselfishness (Rom. 15:3), of holy indignation against sin (Mt. 23), and of holy prayer (Heb. 5:7). Cultivated holiness which resembles God and is patterned after Christ saves us from much hypocrisy, from resorting to a “Sunday only” Christianity. It gives vitality, purpose, meaning, and direction to daily living.
3. Holiness gives evidence of your justification and election, and fosters assurance. Sanctification is the inevitable fruit of justification (1 Cor. 6:11). The two may be distinguished, but never separated; God Himself has.married them. Justification is organically linked to sanctification; new birth infallibly issues in new life. The justified will walk in “the King’s highway of holiness.”43 In and through Christ, justification gives God’s child the title for heaven and the boldness to enter; sanctification gives him the fitness for heaven and the preparation necessary to enjoy it. Sanctification is the personal appropriation of the fruits of justification. B.B. Warfield notes, “Sanctification is but the execution of the justifying decree. For it to fail would be for the acquitted person not to be released in accordance with his acquittal.”44 Consequently, the justifying decree of Christ, “Neither do I condemn thee,” is immediately followed by the call to holiness, “Go, and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11).
Election too is inseparable from holiness: “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit” (2 Thes. 2:13). Sanctification is the earmark of Christ’s elect sheep. That is why election is always a comforting doctrine for the believer, for it is the sure foundation that explains the grace of God working within him. No wonder our Reformed forebears deemed election to be one of the believer’s greatest comforts.45
Calvin insisted that election should discourage none, for the believer receives comfort from it, and the unbeliever is not called to consider it; rather, he is called to repentance. Whoever is discouraged by election or relies upon election without living a holy life is falling prey to a satanic misuse of this precious, encouraging doctrine (d. Deut. 29:29). As Ryle asserts, “It is not given to us in this world to study the pages of the book of life, and see if our names are there. But if there is one thing clearly and plainly laid down about election, it is this—that elect men and women may be known and distinguished by holy lives.”46 Holiness is the visible side of their salvation. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Mt. 7:16).
Consequently, holiness fosters assurance (1 Jn. 2:3; 3:19). “Everyone may be assured in himself of his faith by the fruits thereof” (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 86). Reformed divines are agreed that most of the forms and degrees of assurance experienced by true believers—especially daily assurance-are reached gradually in the path of sanctification through careful cultivation of God’s Word, the means of grace, and corresponding obedience.41 An increasing hatred of sin by means of mortification and a growing love to obey God by means of vivification accompany the progress of faith as it grows into assurance. Christ-centered, Spirit-worked holiness is the best and most sound evidence of divine sonship (Rom. 8:1–16).
The way to lose a daily sense of assurance is to forego the daily pursuit of holiness. Some believers live too carelessly. They treat sin lightly or neglect daily devotions and study of the Word. Others live too inactively. They do not cultivate holiness, but assume the posture that nothing can be done to foster sanctification, as if holiness were something outside of us except on rare occasions when something very special “happens” inside. To live carelessly or inactively is to ask for daily spiritual darkness, deadness and fruitlessness.
4. As a believer, holiness alone can purify you. Conversely, “unto them that are defiled is nothing pure” (Tit. 1:15). Holiness cannot be exercised where the heart has not been fundamentally transformed through divine regeneration. Through the new birth, Satan is deposed, the law of God is written upon the heart of the believer, Christ is crowned Lord and King, and the believer made “willing and ready, henceforth, to live who Him” (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1). Christ in us (Christus in nobis) is an essential complement of Christ for us (Christus pro nobis).48 The Spirit of God not only teaches the believer what Christ has done, but actualizes the holiness and work of Christ in his personal life. Through Christ, God sanctifies His child and makes his prayers and thanksgivings acceptable. As Thomas Watson has noted: “A holy heart is the altar which sanctifies the offering; if not to satisfaction, to acceptation.”49
5. Holiness is essential for your effective service to God. Paul joins sanctification and usefulness together: “If a man therefore purge himself, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). Holiness is used by God to assist the preaching of the gospel, to build up the credit of the Christian faith which is dishonored by the carelessness of Christians and hypocrites who often serve as Satan’s best allies.50 Our lives are always doing good or harm; they are an open epistle for all to read (2 Cor. 3:2). Holy living preaches reality. It influences and impresses like nothing else can; no argument can match it. It displays the beauty of religion; it gives credibility to witness and to evangelism (Phil. 2:15).51 “Holiness,” writes Hugh Morgan, “is the most effective way of influencing unconverted people and creating within them a willingness to listen to the preaching of the gospel” (Mt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 3:1–2).52
Holiness manifests itself in humility and reverence for God. Such are those whom God looks to and uses (Is. 66:2). As Andrew Murray notes:
The great test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it be manifest in the increasing humility it produces. In the creature, humility is the one thing needed to allow God’s holiness to dwell in him and shine through him. In Jesus, the holy one of God who makes us holy, a divine humility was the secret of his life and his death and his exaltation; the one infallible test of our holiness will be the humility before God and men which marks us. Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness.53
6. Holiness fits you for heaven (Rev. 21:27). “Follow [literally: pursue]…holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). As John Owen wrote:
There is no imagination wherewith man is besotted, more foolish, none so pernicious, as this-that persons not purified, not sanctified, not made holy in their life, should afterwards be taken into that state of blessedness which consists in the enjoyment of God.
Neither can such persons enjoy God, nor would God be a reward to them. Holiness indeed is perfected in heaven: but the beginning of it is invariably confined to this world. God leads none to heaven but whom He sanctifies on the earth. This living Head will not admit of dead members.54
39 Blanchard, Gathered Gold, p. 144. 40 “The Spiritual and Carnal Man Compared and Contrasted; or, The Absolute Necessity and Excellency of Holiness” The Select Practical Works of Richard Baxter (Glasgow: Blackie & Son, 1840), pp. 115–291. 41 Blanchard, More Gathered Gold, p. 149. 42 Watson, A Bodyof Divinity, p. 172. 43 Owen, Works, 11:254ff.; Joel R. Beeke, Jehovah Shepherding His Sheep (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), pp. 186–88. 44· B.B. Warfield, Perfectionism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1958), p. 100. 45 Cf. Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (repr. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1954), pp. 220–221. 46 Ryle, Holiness, p. 27. 47 Joel R Beeke, Assurance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation (New York: Peter Lang, 1991), pp. 160ff.;cf. Westminster Confession, Chapter 18, and the Canons of Dort, Head 5, for an appreciation of the intertwining of holiness and assurance. 48 Cf. Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness, chapter 2. 49 Watson, A Bodyof Divinity, p. 167. 50 Ryle, Holiness, p. 62. 51 Leonard J. Coppes, Are Five Points Enough? Ten Points of Calvinism (Manassas, VA: Reformation Educational Foundation, 1980), pp. 94–96. 52 Hugh D. Morgan. The Holiness of God and of His People (Bridgend, Wales: Evangelical Press of Wales, 1979), p. 9. 53 Andrew Murray, Humility: The Beauty of Holiness (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, n.d), p. 40. 54 Thomas, Puritan Quotations, p. 141.
Dr. Joel Beeke is pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Grand Rapids, MI. He is editor of the periodical, The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth.