Holiness is the single most important issue for evangelism. John Wesley said, “Get on fire for God and men will come to watch you burn.” May the Lord raise up men and women whose first desire is to live holy and righteousness through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In order for us to properly understand biblical holiness and how it applies practically to our everyday life we need to have a basic understanding of separation from the world. We will only look at two vital points, but they are critical for helping us stay clear of legalism and sectarianism in our Christian walk.
Not of the World
Shortly before He was arrested and crucified, Jesus prayed for His disciples. This prayer was not only for the twelve, but also for every true believer down through the ages. (Jn. 17:20) In this prayer, Jesus mentioned how His disciples “are not of the world.” (Jn. 17:16) In some circles or camps this statement is completely ignored and the result is a very worldly church. In other camps, this statement is misunderstood or improperly taught or applied and the result is bondage and legalism. Therefore, to avoid both extremes we need to correctly understand how we are not of the world.
The apostle Paul teaches us that, at salvation, we received the Spirit of God and not the “spirit of the world.” (1Cor. 2:12) When Jesus instructs us about separation from the world the focus is on the spirit of this world. Do not miss this: the spirit of this world or age is not necessarily the physical things of this world—but it is the attitudes, dispositions and motives of this present age. John makes this clear when he defines the things of the world as “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (1Jn. 2:16)
Notice that all three of these are intangible elements and not possessions or objects. The Scriptures teach us that separation from the philosophy and attitude of this world is the true meaning of biblical holiness. We could abstain from every object or possession in life, live in a monastery, and still be worldly if we are harboring greed, lust or pride in our hearts. Christianity is not a monastic or ascetic practice of life, but a life which reflects the motives, attitudes and actions of God’s agape love.
In the World
In His high priestly prayer Jesus teaches us not to be of the world. Then He immediately tells us that He is sending us “into the world.” (Jn. 17:18) If living among worldly men is sin, then Jesus is sending us into sin. However, when we properly understand that Jesus is sending us into the world to be as He was when He lived among wicked men we are liberated from a legalistic and sectarian view of separation from worldliness. Again, we see that worldliness is not about what we do or where we go. It involves why we do what we do and why we go where we go. The litmus test for worldliness is to question the motive behind what we do.
Sad to say, as we look around at the modern church, we see men who are in the world as well as of the world. This is a tragedy. Why? Because if we are not different from the world in our life and actions we cannot properly call people to Christ. Our walk of love and truth should be the loudest testimony of the need for others to come to the Lord for salvation. When we are in and of the world we live as hypocrites.
However, equally tragic are the men who are not of the world but also not in the world. How is our light of absolute truth and holy love going to melt men’s hearts if we are not among them in daily life? We are called by the Lord to let our light of truth and love shine “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.” (Phil. 2:15) As we abstain from the spirit of our age, which wars against our soul, let us live honestly “among the gentiles.” (1Pet. 2:11-12) We must not take the light of the gospel and place it under a bushel. Instead, let it light the room and the world around us. (Matt. 5:14-16)
Defilement or worldliness does not come from what we touch, eat or drink. Neither does it come from the men we hang around or from the places we go. These are external issues. Defilement comes from what proceeds from within our heart. (Matt. 15:10-20) If we really understand this it will prevent us from falling into religious legalism and bondage.
In our quest for biblical holiness we need to guard against sectarian isolationism and religious division. We are called to take the message of Jesus Christ to the world. That means we need to be among them and with them in everyday life. That is the only way they can see us live, demonstrate and share God’s message of redemption.
Be Ye Holy
It is easy to read how we are called to be holy before the Lord, and separate from this world, and then abandon the very world we are called to reach. We must understand what true separation from the world means. It is imperative if we are going to be used by God to reach the men of the world with the gospel.
None of us, whether a young believer or teacher, should use any excuse to justify known sin in our life. As God’s children, we must repent of our sin and look to the Lord’s grace for victory through the crucified and risen Lamb. As we do, let us realize that we can be in the world and not of the world at the same time!
“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1Pet. 1:15-16, KJV)