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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Perfecting Holiness? - Part 1

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.

 This verse starts with the word “therefore” which 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.” 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 reach the lost. 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).This is the context in which Paul calls the Corinthians to be cleansed from worldly “filthiness” and to live 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. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul instructs that the love of Christ should be the compelling force in our lives (2 Cor. 5:14ff.). God’s love demonstrated in Christ sets the foundation for His call to a holy life. God loves us. We are His “beloved.” And because He loves us He calls us to live a holy life. God does not 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.  

 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 . . .” Filthinessrefers to “a stain.” It is figuratively used to refer to immorality.  Like a mud stain sin can stain our souls. What you watch, listen to and do in relation to the world can be very staining to our soul.

The “flesh” can refer simply to our physical bodies. It can also refer to the sinful nature. 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 is reserved for Jesus to reign as Lord. There is no place for self-rule in the holy life. There is a war within us between our flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-25). This internal war will make us feel “wretched” if we rely on our own strength to fight it (Romans 7). The key to victory is to call on the Spirit’s help (Romans 8).

 The word “spiritrefers 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? That is what we will consider in part two of Perfecting Holiness. Until then seek the Lord on the stains in your life. Ask Him to expose any fleshliness. Then confess it and be cleansed of it. My prayer is that He perfect holiness in us.

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