By J. B. Chapman
Q. What do we understand to be the meaning of holiness as taught in the Bible and set forth in the testimony of thousands who say they are sanctified wholly?
A. Holiness, the state of heart purity, is the result of the baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire (Mt. 3:11). The full meaning of this blessed experience cannot be described by one word, and so in the Bible, and in Christian literature and hymnology, we are supplied with a number of words that are more or less synonymous for holiness, which serve to present a more complete picture of what the Christian enjoys when he has entered into the full inheritance of the Gospel. The doctrine of holiness is taught in the Bible. The standard of holiness is the standard for all God’s people. The experience of holiness is the full blessing or grace of the Gospel, which is God’s answer to our human need. The process by which we are made holy is called sanctification. The result of being sanctified is called holiness. This experience is also described as Christian perfection, perfect love, heart purity and the Spirit-filled life.
Q. What are the prerequisites for this experience?
A. To be a proper candidate for holiness one must be definite in his experience as a justified, born-again Christian. The grace of holiness is not directly promised to the world, as we learn from the prayer of our Lord in the seventeenth chapter of John, but is reserved for those who have forsaken the world and have been made alive from the spiritual death of sin by the regenerating Spirit of God. One who has not been truly converted, or who has drifted away from God and backslid after having been saved, must first seek and obtain the pardoning mercy of God, so that he may be numbered among those who “are not of the world” (Jn. 17:16), to whom the promise of full salvation is made.
Q. Why do not people get sanctified wholly at the same time they get converted or regenerated?
A. There are no limitations on God’s part. We know from the Scriptures and from experience that practically all the promises of God are conditional. Sometimes the conditions are clearly stated; sometimes they are just implied. Because there are certain conditions required of those who seek sanctification that they cannot meet until they are justified, sanctification invariably comes after justification. To be sanctified wholly, a full consecration to the Lord is required of the Christian. A sinner cannot consecrate himself until he has repented of his sins and believed on Christ for pardon. Because the conditions of sanctification require faith in God for this blessing, it follows without exception that sanctification is subsequent to justification.
Q. How do we know about this blessing of holiness and about the conditions upon which it may be obtained?
A. The Bible is our principal source for knowledge on this subject. Jesus referred to this dependable source of light when He said in His prayer, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). The Commandments of God in the Bible require holiness. “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). The Bible offers holiness in its promises. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it (1 Thess. 5:23-24). It tells how holiness is provided in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Heb. 13:12). There are numerous testimonies recorded of those who obtained this grace from God, and surely no one will dispute that to be a Bible Christian one must be holy within and without. There is within us all a deep need that is never satisfied until it finds satisfaction in the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel.
Q. What merit do we have to bring that God may see it and make us holy within?
A. We have no merit except the blood of Jesus Christ, and we need no other than this. Men have often been led astray by the supposition that they must be good in order to be made good. To the sinner we have often said, “All that Christ requires of you is to feel your need of Him;” likewise for the Christian who would be sanctified wholly. Good pedigrees, good works and meritorious words do not count. “The Blood, the Blood is all my plea.” This is what is meant when it is said the blood sanctifies us. It is the merit of the blood of Jesus that enables us to come in faith and confidence for the blessing.
Q. What are the conditions for obtaining the blessing of holiness?
A. There is just one prime condition, as in justification — and that condition is faith. We must come believing that He is able to save to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25), that He is willing to save to the uttermost, and finally (having fully consecrated ourselves to Him), that He does now save to the uttermost, and at this moment He does make us clean and holy within. In coming to the place where such faith is possible, we may find a good many prerequisites, like consecration with all that it involves; but when these are all finally met, the prime condition is faith. No one who believes ever fails to get the blessing, and no one ever gets the blessing without believing. Sometimes people have said they will not believe until they know. But this is confusing. We must believe that we may know.
Q. When may we have this blessing of holiness?
A. It is promised to us right here in this world. We may have it any time after we are converted — any time we are willing and ready to pay the price. Some people get this blessing in a matter of weeks, days, or even hours after they are born again. Others, usually because of a fault in their doctrine and expectation, go on for a long time — sometimes for many years — before they enter into this glorious grace. Some do not get it sooner because of the idea that if God wants them to have it He will give it to them without their seeking for it. Although it is the will of God for all His people to be sanctified, there is a preparation for receiving this blessing that is carried out only by those who set their hearts to have it.
Q. What is required of us after we obtain this blessing as to the manner of life we shall pursue?
A. It is required of sanctified Christians that they live in all good conscience before God and men, for holiness with God and righteousness with men are inseparably connected. We are not made right by doing right, but we do right because we are made right. We are not made holy by living holily, but we live holily because the Spirit of God has made us holy. This is not to be interpreted as implying that the life of holiness is a strain. The fact is that sin is the irritation. Holiness is soul health, and a holy life for a holy man is a normal life. Since the holy man loves God supremely, he will find prayer and Bible reading and all worship a joy and a delight. Since he loves his neighbors as himself, he will delight to live in peace with them. He will even find joy in serving them. The interpretation of the Christian life that describes it as “a hard road to travel” is based upon the assumption that there is a lack of grace; but in the sanctified life there is abundance of grace.
Sanctified Christians are no better and no different from other people, as far as natural goodness is concerned. The difference is on the inside. The burdens of the sanctified are just as heavy as the burdens of others, but they are spiritually stronger to bear them. The standard for all men, good and bad, is the standard of holiness. Sinners fall short of this standard, but this does not affect the standard. Unsanctified Christians find the standard often irksome and impractical, but this does not affect the standard. Sanctified Christians find grace to enable them to delight in the will and ways of God, and to say, “His Commandments are not grievous” (1 Jn. 5:3). In seeking an easier way in the Christian life, some have thought to bring the standard of holiness down to the place where they practically say, “Whatever is, is right.” This is not God’s way; He would bring our lives up to the standard, and even keep us where we “are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). This means that we do God’s will because we love Him, not because we are driven by the fear of judgment.
Q. If we get the blessing of holiness, is there any danger that we shall lose it?
A. Our whole life in this world is a state of probation, or trial. It is wise for us all to listen to Paul who said, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). We need to watch and pray, and to always guard our hearts and lips and lives. We must always court the Comforter (Holy Spirit) so that He may be pleased to abide with us. We need to always take full advantage of all the “means of grace” so that we may be strong enough to overcome our obstacles all the days of our lives. Yes, there is always danger that we may fall back into sin, so we must be spiritually awake until Jesus comes the second time, or until He calls us home unto Himself.
Q. If we should be overcome by the devil and yield to temptation after we have obtained the blessing of holiness, and find ourselves again separated from God, can we be restored to the fullness of the blessing again?
A. Backsliding in any degree is always a sad thing to contemplate. We should walk with God from day to day without allowing our peace to be broken with anxious fears. God is able to keep us always, and from the day we are pardoned from sin until the day when we shall see His face in heaven, it is God’s plan that we shall be victorious; but there is pardon and restoration for the backslider. If one should make a mistake by yielding to temptation, he should certainly not follow this with the worse mistake of casting away his confidence and so become a hopeless apostate. Yes, there is always pardon for the truly penitent, and there is restoration to the fullness of the blessing for the one who has drifted away from God in any degree whatsoever. There are many testimonies of those who fell from the heights of grace to the low pits of sin and then came back again to as good of an experience in the favor of God as they had at the beginning, and even better.
Q. Is this blessing of holiness for all Christians?
A. Yes, it is for all — ministers, missionaries, laymen, adults, and little children. Anyone who has been born again of the Spirit of God, and who desires to be sanctified wholly, may come in the full assurance that God will not deny his prayer or practice any reluctance in fulfilling His promise to make him every whit whole. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter said, “The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
Q. Why should we be so urgent about this matter of holiness of heart and life?
A. We should be eager to get sanctified wholly because God is eager to have us so. That word “follow” in Heb. 12:14 is a very strong word. The metaphor back of it is the practice of the good hunting dog that braves all dangers and endures all hardships to overtake and apprehend the game. We know not the day of Christ’s coming or of our own departure from this world of probation. All we know is that today is the day of salvation. We know only that this present opportunity is ours. Tomorrow belongs to God. Delay in seeking to be made holy may easily turn into disobedience, and may result in the complete dimming of our spiritual vision. Today is the day of full salvation for the believer, just as it is the day of initial salvation for the penitent sinner. Today if you hear His voice calling you to holiness, delay not to obey.
Taken from Holiness – The Heart of Christian Experience, by J. B. Chapman. A Holiness Catechism was condensed and revised, and may be reproduced and distributed.