Holiness is Often Misunderstood

by | Nov 1, 2009

The Bible has much to say about holiness. It is an attribute of God (Ps. 60:6; Rev. 4:8, et al). We are commanded to follow it (Heb. 12:14) and to worship God in the beauty of holiness (Ps. 29:2). Without holiness no one shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). There are many things which are convenient and useful, but this is indispensable to our welfare both in this world and in the world to come.

It is important, then, that we have correct ideas about what holiness really is. If we would hit a mark we must know where to aim. He who would search for diamonds must know diamonds when he finds them. Unfortunately there is a wide divergence of opinions on the nature of holiness, and too often it is not recognized in the lives of holy persons even when they demonstrate its qualities.

Our Savior exemplified holiness in its most perfect form. He gave the most unmistakable proofs of unselfish love to all mankind. Yet the popular verdict concerning him was “Behold a man gluttonous and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Matt 11:19). Jesus told His disciples that they must not expect to be appreciated any better than He was.

“If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” (Matt. 10:25).

From that day to the present, holiness in Christ’s disciples has often been mistaken, even ridiculed. What we believe to be essential to holiness in our own day is omitted, and popular sins are tolerated, for the spirit of the world utterly ignores the existence of sins which God’s Word plainly condemns but which the leading churches openly tolerate.

To encourage what God forbids is not holiness. Yet in many meetings held for the promotion of holiness, to point out popular sins which hinder the work of God would be considered offensive and even fanatical.

So also the persecution to which the saints of God have been subjected shows that holiness is misunderstood.

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12).

This persecution varies in its form with the prevailing spirit of the age. But whatever shape it assumes, it never admits that its real antagonism is to the godliness of its victims. Other supposed faults—such as obstinacy or disloyalty—are assigned as the cause of their sufferings.

  • Remember that Christ was put to death as an imposter.
  • Luther was excommunicated as a heretic.
  • Wesley and Whitefield were hunted as fanatics.

Their foes mistakenly believed that it was a zeal for holiness that caused them to persecute those who were bright examples of real holiness.

It is true, on the other hand, that there are those who make holiness consist of qualities which are entirely beyond the reach of even a sanctified human being. These misguided persons set a standard of holiness higher than the Scriptures do, and so they insist that a holy person cannot make a mistake in judgment either through ignorance or misunderstanding.

That person must not only do right as he understands it but as they understand it! They measure others by themselves and make no allowance for lack of judgment or imperfect training.

Moreover, they believe that if anyone ever falls—if he should manifest any disposition contrary to his profession—all along he was either deceived in his profession or was a hypocrite. In short, holiness is pronounced unattainable because some who appeared once to have it did not persevere to the end.

Thus, a false standard of holiness is raised. This makes holiness an impossibility because no one is ever found to come up to this imaginary standard. We are told to aim our arrow at the sun, and then we are ridiculed because we fall short of the mark that these critical persons have set.

B.T. Roberts (1823–1893) was founder of the Free Methodist Church in 1860. This abridged selection is from Holiness Teachings.