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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Perfecting Holiness

2 Corinthians 7:1 - Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Whenever you see the word “therefore,” in a passage you should ask, “What is it there for?” In this case “Therefore,” serves to connect 2 Corinthians chapters six and seven. 2 Corinthians 7:1 is an inspired call to holiness based on what was said in chapter six.

The verse continues, “having these promises.” What promises is Paul speaking of? In chapter six Paul speaks of the promise of an intimate personal saving relationship with the LORD Almighty (6:16-18). This is a promise Paul testifies he has been willing to sacrifice greatly to communicate to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 6:1-10). It is a promise Paul has openly shared with them from his heart (cf. also 2 Cor. 5:14). They on the other hand were being hindered in their relationship with God because of certain “affections” or gut feelings (2 Cor. 6:11-13). They were apparently allowing their relationship with the Lord to be “restricted” or cramped by relationships with unbelievers that were inappropriate (2 Cor. 6:14-16). These relationships were leading them into “lawlessness,” “darkness,” idolatry and worthless things, things more closely associated with Satan than Christ. Christian relationships with unbelievers are necessary for God to work His salvation in them. But such relationships should never hinder our walk with God. We are to be in the world but not of the world. The problem for some is that they are so in the world that they become like the world. We should never allow affections for the world to hinder our love for God (e.g. 1 John 2:15-17). It is this context that Paul calls the Corinthians to cleansing from worldly “filthiness” and to living a holy life.

Paul addresses the readers as, “beloved.” Paul wants the Corinthians to receive the call of God to holiness in the context of His love. That is why chapter five precedes chapter six and seven in context. God loves us. We are His “beloved.” And because He loves us He calls us to live a holy life. God does not direct us to and call us to a holy life because He wants to restrict us or keep something good from us. God calls us to a holy life because He loves us and knows a holy life is what is best for us.

In this key verse we are exhorted to, “let us cleanse ourselves . . .” The word “cleanse” is translated from the Greek verb katharidzo and means, “to cleanse; make clean, purge, purify.” We get the English word catheterization from this term. A catheter is a medical device used to purge the body of waste and impurities when the body is unable to do so itself. This verb is in the Greek subjunctive tense which expresses a possibility. Cleansing from sinful impurities is possible if we turn to God and ask Him to do it. For instance in Hebrews 9:14 it states the blood of Jesus is able to cleanse or purge our consciences from dead works associated with sin. There are actions needed to be taken by us in order for cleansing to occur. But the actions we take are always based on the power God gives us (e.g. Acts 15:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13; James 4:8). We need to keep that in mind otherwise the holy life becomes a disciplinary pursuit instead of an experience of God’s grace and work in us.

What are we to seek cleansing from? It states, “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit . . .” “Filthiness” refers to “a stain.” It is figuratively used to refer to immorality. Like a mud stain sin can stain our souls. The “flesh” can refer simply to our physical bodies. It can also refer to the sinful nature in people. Even after we become Christians we continue to have a sinful nature. This sinful nature is characterized by self-centeredness, selfishness, self promotion and everything that exalts self as a priority in life. The way of the world is centered on self. There is nothing wrong with caring for things pertaining to self. Being unkempt, poor and out of shape doesn’t make us more spiritual. The problem arises when self becomes the center and priority in our lives. The throne of our hearts was meant for Jesus to reign as Lord, not self-rule. Our flesh is at war with God over who will be in control us (Romans 7 and 8). Your “spirit” refers to that part of your being which is eternal. Your spirit is that part of you that has the life breath of existence. Your spirit is the core of your being. Now ask yourself, “What do I allow to stain me to the core? What do I allow to enter my being through what I watch with my eyes, or listen to with my ears?” Living a holy life takes into account those things that might stain my being and avoids them. There are a lot of perverse selfish things in this world and when we entertain them they sinfully stain us deeply. But those stains can be cleansed from our system. How might this happen?

The answer is, “perfecting holiness.” The word “perfecting” comes from a Greek Present Tense verb epiteleo which conveys an ongoing process. It’s going to take a lifetime to complete the holy work God has planned for us. The Greek verb epiteleo means, “to fulfill further or completely.” It means to execute a task. It means to finish something. It means to work until something is terminated. And it means performing until the end. In other words, we are to press on and persevere in the process set before us. And what is that endeavor we are to press on to complete? We are to press on to the end of holiness.

There is a sense in which God’s righteousness and holiness is imputed to a believer (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the standing of all believers (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:1). This is why all believers are referred to as “saints” or literally, holy ones (2 Corinthians 1:1). But there is a sense in which holiness is imparted in a very practical way to believers. This is the state of believers (1 John 2:1-2; Hebrews 10:14). There is a process of sanctification or making one holy in life and conduct that God starts and continues in the person who is saved from their sin and born again spiritually. It is this later work of God in the believer that Paul is speaking about in these chapters.

The word “holiness” comes from the Greek term hagiosune which means, “sacredness.” It refers to the property or quality of holiness. Something that is sacred is “dedicated or set apart for the service or worship . . . .” That which is sacred is “devoted exclusively to one service or use.” The road to God’s comfort involves the process of becoming completely set apart for His use, completely dedicated to presenting your life as an act of worship to Him. The way we can cleanse the filthiness of sin from our hearts and minds to experience all God has for us is by this process of “perfecting holiness.”

What is holiness? Holiness is loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31). Holiness in a person’s life is important. God calls all those who follow Him to live a holy life (1 Peter 1:15-16). It is God’s will that we live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Without holiness we will not see the Lord; we won’t experience Him the way we should (Hebrews 12:14-15). Holiness involves a choice on our part to present ourselves to God for holy purposes (Romans 6:19a). Holiness is God’s work in us and involves being freed from sin (Romans 6:20-22; 8:26; Philippians 2:13). The Bible says God disciplines us so that we can partake of His holiness (Hebrews 10:14). Biblical holiness is something to be learned (Ephesians 4:20-21a). God uses His word for the cleansing work involved in the holy life (Eph. 5:26).It is based on the truth of Jesus (Ephesians 4:21b). It involves putting off sinful conduct from your life, being renewed in the Spirit and putting on holy Biblical conduct in the power of God (Ephesians 4:22-24). Biblical holiness is God’s love overflowing us and was an object of prayer by Paul on behalf of other believers (Romans 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13). How about you? Are you even interested in living a holy life? God calls every believer to holiness. Will you commit your life to God for this purpose, now?

Lastly, there is a holy perspective we are to have in this ongoing process of the holy life. That perspective is “in the fear of God.” The fear of God refers to a reverential awe toward God. The closer we draw to God the more clearly we will see our sin (e.g. Isaiah 6). The closer we draw to God, to Jesus, the more able to turn from sin we will be (John 15). We are to have a consciousness of God and who He is. God is holy and calls those who follow Him to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). He holds our eternal destinies in His hand. We are to work out our pursuit of holiness in reverence and awe of our Holy God (Philippians 2:12).

But there is another way of looking at the fear of the Lord. Let me illustrate. I love my wife very much. And because I love my wife so much, I would never intentionally do anything that would bring her sadness or pain. In fact, I am so in love with my wife and so serious about not doing anything that would bring her sorrow or pain that I fear doing so. In other words, I love my wife so much that I fear doing anything that would grieve her. In the same way we should love God so much that we fear doing anything that would bring Him pain over our actions. In this sense the fear of the Lord is closely connected to that holy love relationship with Him.

This is my prayer for myself and all of us - that in light of God’s glorious promises we determine to avail ourselves of God’s provisions to cleanse ourselves from the filth of this world and our fleshly ways. I pray we proceed in the Spirit to perfect holiness as a love gift to our awesome God. May God bring it to pass in us for His glory!

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