sermon: Holiness of God (Part 4)
How We Become Holy
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 11-Dec-99; Sermon #424; 72 minutes
Comparing the grandeur and intricacy of God's creation with man's most magnificent accomplishments gives us both a sense of humility at our own puniness and a sense of awe for God's handiwork. God is the source of all of the splendor and greatness of the universe. God has called us to be in His image, to be holy (having transcendent purity) as He is holy, having fellowship with the Father and the Son. Transcendent purity cannot coexist with sin. If we want to be like God, we need to work on purifying ourselves, purging out sin and uncleanness, reflecting our relationship with God in every aspect our behavior. Sanctification is a process, with each person's walk as difficult as it needs to be for God's transforming glorifying purpose for him or her to be fulfilled.
Let us begin part four of the holiness series in I Chronicles 29. This occurred when David was preparing to hand over to Solomon all the materials that he had collected and gathered together for the building of the Temple.
I Chronicles 29:10-13 Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said, "Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise your glorious name."
I begin there because I want to emphasize how much the psalmist sings of God's holiness—all aspects of those things that encompass within His holiness. We find also in Revelation 4 how the angels worship His holiness. We ask God, as we found in the so-called "Lord's Prayer," to hallow His name.
What are the practical applications to you and to me of God's holiness, and how can we attain to this holiness? Remember that the word holiness means "transcendent purity." It indicates His beyondness, His otherness, His aboveness. He is great beyond our comprehension, and our vocabulary is nowhere near broad enough, accurate enough, specific enough to point out these kinds of things. We can only give pale imitations of what He is because He is great beyond our comprehension! Our senses only transmit a vague likeness of Him. He exceeds every superlative that we can apply to Him. The word "holy" sums up everything we can know and say about God. It indicates the totality of His excellence. GOD is holy.
I am convinced that the more that we understand about Him, the greater the difference we will see between Him and us. This has wonderful effects on our humility.
We humans are sometimes impressed by the sheer size of things. We take glory and pride in the things that man is able to build, and so we look at the great things like the Golden Gate Bridge that spans miles of very deep water, or the Grand Coulee Dam, which is a mighty dam. The Sears tower goes up into the air about eleven or twelve hundred feet, and I believe it is 110 stories high.
How do these things compare to God's creation? Maybe we can grasp just a little bit by comparing some things like this to the things that we think that man is so good in. But I have to warn you that here the differences are so great that they are almost meaningless because our mind can hardly contain them. I am going to try anyway with just a very few illustrations.
The earth seems pretty large to us. Yesterday when Evelyn and I flew out here to Denver we were flying at 39,000 feet. If you look down from 39,000, feet you cannot even see a human being. In fact, it takes pretty good eyes to see a truck or a train moving along, and they are many, many times larger than us. But it is easy to see the earth. It is all over the place down there. When you are up that high you can see from horizon to horizon if it is clear.
Are you aware that the sun is 1,300,000 times larger than the earth? It is 93 million miles from earth. In that jet plane, if we had decided to take off for the sun, and the jet was traveling at 500 mph (actually it was probably going about 550 or so), it would take twenty-one years to reach the sun.
Water boils at 212 degrees. I worked in a steel mill for sixteen years of my life. I saw steel boiling so many times it is countless. Looking into the furnace you see that molten material bubbling up in the air. It is boiling away in there at 3,550 degrees.
I was a welder. I used an acetylene torch almost every day. At the tip of that torch is the hottest portion of the flame. It is 5,000 degrees at the tip of that flame, but the heat that is in the core of the sun is approximately 15 million degrees centigrade. Now that is incomprehensible. But let us boil it down a little bit. Some mathematician figured this out. He said at 15 million degrees centigrade, that amount of heat is capable of melting 240 million cubic miles of solid ice in one second. That is a cube 620 miles by 620 miles by 620 miles.
If one corner of that cube was in Los Angeles, the other would be almost in Albuquerque, and if going north it would be across the border of California and Oregon, and into Oregon. If that thing was in the east, one corner would be in New York City. The other corner, heading west, would be almost in Chicago. The other corner heading south would be 100 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia.
Suppose we stretched that ice all across the United States, including our largest state, Alaska, and Hawaii as well. It would cover the United States, Hawaii, and Alaska, and still be 66 miles thick. It would melt that in one second.
The next closest star to our sun is Sirius, the Dog Star. It is forty times brighter than the sun. It is seven times the volume of the sun. One of the stars that we are most familiar with is Polaris, the North Star. It is one million times larger than our sun, which is one million three hundred thousand times larger than our earth.
Where does all this power come from?
Hebrews 1:1-3 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things [the entire universe; the entire creation] by the word of His power. . .
Does this give us any kind of an idea of how holy God is, if His power is this great in exceeding our power? Is His love that far beyond? Is His mercy that far beyond? We need to ask ourselves these questions.
God is not merely greater. He is the source of all of the greatness, all of the splendor of the universe. There had to be someplace from which that power came that we see in our sun, in Sirius, in Polaris, and in all those maybe hundred billion galaxies that are out there. That power came from within our God. All the majesty and the splendor of the universe is but a mere trace of the majesty of the glory of our God.
We have the Song of Moses in Exodus 15. When the Israelites came out of Egypt they sang this song to God after they saw and recounted the coming out of Egypt. The most immediate thing on their mind was the dividing of the Red Sea. They said:
Exodus 15:11 "Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?"
This phrase is repeated six other times in a variety of contexts within God's Word. We find in Isaiah 55 that God says:
Isaiah 55:8-9 "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."
The heavens go a long, long way above our heads, do they not? Is there any end of the greatness of our God? We are so puny by comparison. It ought to humble us just to even think about it. He thinks of everything, and His every thought is higher than the heavens are above the earth, and above our thoughts. He is just as transcendent in His creative power. He is transcendent in everything.
We live in a constantly changing world. Verses 10-12 of Hebrews 1 state in a simple way the second law of thermodynamics, which is saying essentially that everything is running down.
Hebrews 1:10-12 "You Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They shall perish, but You remain; and they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail."
There is entropy that is built within the universe, and so we live in a constantly changing world. We see things decay. Things rust. They oxidize. We see objects fade, like paint. Materials decay. We see friends change, but God is constant. That is what those verses in Hebrews 1:10-12 say. God is constant. He never changes. He has transcendence in His reliability, in His trustworthiness, and He says to us, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you."
Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away." Do you know why He is able to say that? Because He will always be there to enforce them. His very life is transcendent. No beginning of days nor end of life. The earth is the most enduring thing that we know. Granite seems so solid, and gold never seems to oxidize, but God is far more reliable than anything material.
We have to be careful here, because we should not take His reliability, His faithfulness, His trustworthiness for granted. We feel so secure when we know that we have an influential person who can act in our behalf. In this world that we live in, it can make all the difference in some situations. But to have the very Creator stand with us makes a difference in every situation.
How about God's steadfast love? You will find in the Song of Songs that Solomon described God's love "as strong as death." Now death is certain. God's love is certain, and it will never end. But even the strongest human love is helpless before death. No matter how hard we try to hold on to those we love, they die. No matter how much we love them, they die. Their love for us cannot prevent our death. But God does not die.
Notice what Paul said in Romans 8 in regard to God's love for us.
Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
How many times have you gone through a difficult trial and feared that God had abandoned you? Here is a verse that tells us that not even death—our death—can separate us from God's love. The love of God overturns death. God raises from the dead. God restores life.
We should not try to fit God into our mold, or try to fit His plans and purposes into ours. Just the opposite must be done. We must strive to fit into His plans, because remember, they have been worked out by a mind that is higher than the heavens are the earth above us. We cannot even understand ourselves, but He understands us fully, completely, totally.
Let us go back to one of those psalms I mentioned earlier.
Psalm 147:5 Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.
Our understanding of things is so small. It has an end, but there is no end to His understanding. His understanding is just as transcendent over us as any other part of His character, of His personality, of Himself, and so it is with every other attribute of God. His goodness is infinite, as is His mercy, His justice, and kindness. He is transcendent purity in everything. Now, what has this to do with us?
What I have said here might be taken as nothing more than something that we might admire about God, and call it holiness, except for one thing: God has called us to be in His image. He has called upon us to be holy. He says, "Be holy, for I am holy." That can be so mind-numbing that it overwhelms us.
Turn now to I John 1. Remember who this is who is speaking. It is John, who was the last living apostle of the first century. He is in all likelihood writing this very near the end of his life. About 65 or 70 years have gone by since Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and so we are in the 6th or 7th decade of the existence of the church of God. John is reflecting back upon the very beginnings of his relationship with God, and he says, "that which we have seen." The reference is to himself and the other apostles.
I John 1:3 That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
Hang onto this thought that our fellowship is with the Father and the Son. What John is doing here is first laying the groundwork by saying, "I was there in person. The other apostles were there in person as well." They are probably all dead by this time, but he is still reflecting upon that.
Of course we understand that when they were all alive they were fellowshipping with Jesus Christ. Now he begins to gather in those to whom he was writing, and that includes you and me. The reason he is writing is so that we can have fellowship with the Father and the Son just as surely as John had fellowship with the Son.
I John 1:4-5 And these things we write to you, that your joy may be full. This is the message which we have heard from Him, and declare to you, that God is light . . .
What does that make you think of first off? Does that not make you think of Him glowing in radiant glory, absolute purity radiating out from Him, that no man can stand before, but if we cared to look upon His face, we die? God is absolute holiness. That is what that radiant glory represents.
I John 1:5-7 . . . and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light . . .
That is interesting. We can walk in the light—light equaling holiness. We will see something else in just a little bit.
I John 1:7 . . . as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. Darkness and light have ethical implications here. Darkness means, or symbolizes, evil. Light symbolizes purity, righteousness. So darkness is living in sin; light is living in righteousness.
What John is saying here is that sin cannot exist in the presence of the holy God. If we want to have a relationship, we must put aside our sinful ways. These verses here lay the groundwork for the rest of the book which basic subject is love.
Turn now to I John 3. Here he touches on our responsibility in our fellowshipping with God and walking in the light.
I John 3:1-2 Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
God shines in effulgent glory. We are going to be like Him, shining in glory. You can check up on this further by going to I Corinthians 15 where Paul talks about this briefly.
I John 3:3 And everyone who has this hope in him [that is, being like God, being glorified like God] purifies himself, just as He is pure.
What is the basic definition and usage of the word "holy"? It means to be separate from. It means to be cut away from. It means to be sanctified. It means to be a cut above. It means to be transcendent. It means to be holy, to be pure.
If we want to be like God, we are going to be working at purifying ourselves. What did I say? I changed the words. We are going to be working on becoming holy. Holiness has practical aspects or applications to it. "Every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure."
Remember purity is juxtaposed, positioned, opposite as the contrast to darkness. Purity equates with light. Purity equates with holiness. Darkness is evil. Holiness is good, and it is light.
God created us in His image, and He is creating us in His spiritual image. God can call us to be like Himself because He has designed us with that outcome in mind. We can become holy. He has made us to know, and to be able to reason, to reject evil, to choose good, to love, however we might want to put it. But He created us to be like Him spiritually, even as He created us to be like Him physically.
He did not create us to be holy like He is holy right now, but rather He created us to be like Him in a measure that is fitting for us right now. We are to be like God in a human fashion, embodying His goodness, His reliability, His truthfulness, His love, His justice, and His beauty. God wants us to become holy in every aspect of our thinking, speaking, acting, working, loving, and attitudes.
Hebrews 12:14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
The import of that verse is this: Becoming holy is the only way that we can fulfill the destiny for which God has created us. "Without holiness no one will see the Lord." Everyone is required to be holy. Holiness is a fundamental requirement for every human being to enter into the Kingdom of God. We have to understand that holiness is more than just being righteous.
Turn to Romans 6. This is the section where Paul begins the paragraph by saying that we are not under law but under grace.
Romans 6:19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
I understand that to mean that righteousness is a step toward holiness. It is part of the process that precedes holiness.
The Pharisees had a righteousness. It was a righteousness that we might call "after their manner," but I do not think that anybody would say they were holy as God is holy, even on a human level. The holiness with human beings God intends that it be a part of every aspect of our life, even as it is a part of every aspect of Him.
We should see this verse in its larger context within the book. The Romans were formerly guilty of ever increasing wickedness. That is what that means when it says "as you have presented your members slaves to uncleanness [unrighteousness], and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness." In modern English the paraphrase of that would be, "to ever increasing wickedness." That is the kind of obedience, of yieldedness that they had formerly given to the world, given to their former gods, given to their idols, however it might be said. What Paul is saying is that their new Master, Jesus Christ, deserves equal loyalty to ever increasing righteousness unto holiness. Very interesting—"ever increasing righteousness for holiness."
Now what is Paul saying? He is saying that the path to holiness is not an easy one, nor is it one that is always so clearly marked that it is easy to find the way. But even in spite of these obstacles, our way must be marked by steady progression in righteousness to sanctification.
You might recall that Jesus said, "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way, and few there are who find it." In the analogy of the children of Israel coming out of Egypt (with Egypt representing the starting point and Canaan the finishing point in the Kingdom of God), that way was fraught with sometimes very difficult choices. There was much testing and a great number of trials. And even though there was the guidance of the cloud and the pillar of fire, those carnal Israelites mostly made wrong choices. Paul says in Hebrews 4 that their bodies were strewn all over the wilderness. They died there.
In the lives of converted men like Abraham and David, it is also easily seen that it is no cakewalk that God has designed for us into His Kingdom. Understand this though, "To whom much is given, from him much is required." I am just going to extrapolate on that principle a little bit. Each person's walk is as difficult as it needs to be for God's purpose for them to be fulfilled. In other words, everybody's path is not the same. Some are harder than others, and to whom much is given, much is required. To whom less is given, less is required.
Also understand that the path that those who are required less of is just as difficult for them as it is for those whose paths require more of them. We will see why in just a little bit. There is no difference.
Our God's holiness is so great that He never gives anybody a trial that they are not equal to. What am I leading to here? Even though God's holiness is so great it is beyond our comprehension, He has made a path for each one of us that can be attained. We are not to be in dismay. We are not to be filled with doubt. We are not to be filled with all kinds of questions. "Oh! Woe is me!" We are not to be filled with self-pity, saying "I'll never be able to make it." Oh, yes, you can make it! There are a lot of scriptures that show that. Nobody's path to holiness is too hard for them.
If you are looking for me to give you a set of rules, which if followed, will land one in the Kingdom of God with true holiness, I am not going to do that, because everybody's is going to be a little bit different. But I can give us some generalities that will be helpful to us. There are rules, and those rules are very important. I want us to understand that the path to holiness is more than following rules. Do you know why? Because life is more than following rules. Life consists of myriads of nuances, unexpected twists and turns, blurry choices in which the way is not clear, possibly even frightening choices because one way or the other may result in a painful sacrifice.
The way to holiness consists of all kinds of variables, using faith and hope and love, and a host of good attitudes too numerous to name. It has to be this way because holiness involves relationships. There is nothing that has more nuances to it than relationships. Most important of all is the relationship with God. Without that relationship, there is nothing. I mean, nothing for us except death.
Jesus Christ came and died for us in order that there might be a relationship with God. It is not a distant and platonic intellectual affair, but is a warm and close heart-to-heart affair that is described in the Bible in sexual terms. He is in us, and we are in Him. There is a purposeful and meaningful walk toward a specific goal.
You might recall that when Moses was in close communication with God in the Mount, he came down from the Mount, and his face reflected—it lit up. It reflected a very small portion of the glory of God. There is a vital lesson here. The key to being what God is, is in the fellowship with Him established through Jesus Christ. It is in a relationship with Him that the reflection of God's glory is, shall I say, received by us almost like osmosis, and then reflected in the way that we live.
It is in true closeness with God that the holiness of God is communicated to us. That is why the relationship is so important. That is why prayer is so important. That is why obedience is so important.
Turn to Galatians 4. Paul was in anguish over this group in Galatia. If you recall he said at the very beginning of the book, "I'm surprised that you are so soon turned to another gospel." The book is an almost agonizing account of his yearning for them, written to help them understand what was happening, what they were going through.
Galatians 4:16-17 Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? They [meaning the false ministers who were there] zealously court you . . .
A very interesting statement. This is a courting term. Paul says, "They are zealously courting you, but not "well," meaning, "not for your good." But the Galatians were blindly going on.
Galatians 4:17-19 . . . but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them [that is, "that you would be zealously attracted to them"]. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.
Paul used a very vivid metaphor in that verse. He is telling them that his responsibility for the Galatian church had cost him a great deal of sore labor, like a woman in travail. He was telling them that Christ was "in" them like an embryo, and that Paul had been sent as an apostle from Christ to help bring them to birth. The word "formed" in Hebrew is morphoo, to fashion, which refers to the act of giving outward expression of one's inner nature.
Do you know what he is talking about there? Paul is saying, "I am yearning; I am laboring; I am in pain until I begin to see the outward expression of Christ in your life by the way that you live." Then he would know that the holiness of God was growing within them. These people had the Holy Spirit, and so the divine nature was there, but there was very little beauty—the beauty of God; His holiness—in their lives.
This first means that until Christ's perspectives, His attitudes, His character, His virtues become ours, perhaps the holiness of God is not being grown into. And so the term "Christ formed in us" anticipates a quality of life which only the highest known adjectives can describe, because it is "the life of Christ." And so what Paul was waiting for was for these people to show that they were Christ-like. What a challenge that is! Again, how can that be accomplished?
Do you remember how Isaiah and how Peter were affected when they were confronted by the holiness of God? Well, Paul felt the same way. He fell to the ground, and arose blind on the road to Damascus. We saw what happened to Peter. I have no doubt that the same thing happened to John on that boat as well. There is a lesson here for us.
God is not revealing Himself to us in the same way that He did to them visibly, but He is still nonetheless revealing Himself to us through His Word, because the revelation is a necessary part of our conversion. The result of His revelation is similar. We can be overwhelmed by the immense difference between a sinless life and our own sinfulness, and so we worry and say, "How can we ever be like Him?"
When we are confronted with this it can fill us with dread, guilt, feelings of self-condemnation, so that we lose heart, because the reality of God is staggering. But always remember that none of those men who were confronted by the holiness of God succumbed under the convicting power of that holiness either. Now why? Because God's purpose is not to crush us, but it is to give us an image of what we are to become, to give us an image of what we are to be transformed into. You can read that for yourself in II Corinthians 3, where Paul says "we are transformed from glory to glory."
II Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Let us go back to I Peter 1.
I Peter 1:13 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully . . .
Where is the end? It is the end of our life. It is the goal that we are seeking for. It is the resurrection of the dead. He says do not give up hope. "Hope to the end."
I Peter 1:13-16 . . . upon the grace that is to be brought [yet future. We have already received a measure of grace, but there is grace yet still to be brought] to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."
Hopefully I have confronted you with enough illustrations, enough evidence from the Bible that you are able to see that God's holiness is so awesome that it is seemingly out of reach, and that hopefully there will be a measure of conviction, there will be a measure of guilt, of self-condemnation, of concern about ever being able to make it. It is necessary that we go through this in order that we become convicted about the massive difference that there is between God and us, because we need to see what we can become.
God confronts us with Himself, with what He is, so that we get some tiny picture of the goal. Why did I turn here? Because it is telling you that it can be done, but you have to gird up the loins of your mind.
There is a deceptive power in human nature to excuse ourselves. We have to know the truth about what God demands, and God's truth is that what God demands, God's grace is able to supply. God is not requiring us to do something that is impossible. The part there about "girding up the loins of your mind," Peter begins that paragraph that way because there must be an inner resolution within us that produces self-discipline. He tells us we are to be sober. That means make sure that we are working on our intoxicating spiritual and moral addiction, because our minds are addicted to ways of thinking that are not good. His mind is way above ours. There are two things given by Peter that are absolutely necessary that we do.
II Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace, and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen.
We are to grow in grace. Grace is not a one-time affair. It is a process, and so we are in a process—a process that has involved the grace of God from the very beginning. From the time that we are called, we must understand that the truly loving God is a holy God. We must understand that the reaching of this is a carnal impossibility. There is only one way to reach it, and that is through the relationship with God, because our carnal mind is going to fight God's holiness, tooth and toenail.
The carnal mind is enmity against God. The carnal mind looks at God as its mortal enemy. Carnally, becoming holy is beyond our moral and spiritual power. By nature we love idols (gods, who like us, or we might say, somewhat better than us), but until God stoops in His grace to change us, we will not love Him.
I want you to think about this, even though you know it. God did not have to call us, but He did. That is the beginning of His grace. He says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." It was He, who by His grace, began leading us by His Spirit, granted us repentance (another act of grace), gave us justification through faith (another act of grace). The grace part never stops.
"Growing in grace" is simply another synonym for sanctification. Sanctification is also primarily the work of grace, through the Holy Spirit, giving us victory over everything that defiles, and producing within us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Now we are moving toward glorification, when we will shine with the radiant beauty of God. But that is when the sanctification process will be finished. Even as the grace of God has provided for us in the past, it is in the present, and will continue to do so until glorification.
Glorification might be described like this. (Maybe it is a dumb picture, I do not know.) It is almost to me like we are enjoying a wonderful meal, fellowshipping with God. He is a charming Host. He set before us wonderful things, and while they are there, we are sitting there worrying about whether there is going to be any desert at the end. Of course there will be! That is when the process will be finished.
Glorification is on the menu, and it will be brought as soon as we are ready. As long as we really want it, we show God that we really want it by yielding and submitting to Him.
This phrase in I Peter 1:13—"for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation," was translated about two hundred years ago by a man named Alford. He is very highly regarded in Protestant circles for his exegesis—describing carefully what the verse said, not expounding it. He translated it this way, meaning the glorification, which is what it is referring to. He said, ". . . the glorification which is even now bearing down on you."
It is within our grasp! We can do it! We can do it because God will continue to give us the grace that is necessary in order to become holy like He is. The verb there literally means "to carry"—"being carried to us."
If there is anything more to be learned here, it is to not restrict the grace of God to the gift of unmerited forgiveness. Grace includes whatever gifts are needed, when they are needed, in the amount each person can rightly use in his circumstance. Remember, Jesus said, "I will not leave you orphans." He did that in His final night on earth. He will take care and provide us with what we need.
The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, Volume II, under the heading Grace says this: "Grace is offered by God to man with the special purpose of accomplishing for man good things which he cannot achieve for himself. It is quite the reverse of a reward for good conduct. It is rather a means of rescuing him from his own deep failure and from his helplessness to overcome it."
This is really meaningful. The sum of it is that even though the holiness of God may at first seem out of sight and beyond us, and impossible, we can do as God requires because He enables us through His grace, His gifts, His favor. Grace is an active and effective enabling power from God, bringing merciful aid to us. It is the initiative of God that He takes to heal the breach between us and Him.
Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
He is not saying there that everybody receives equal amounts, but God gifts us. He favors us with faith—everyone of us.
Romans 12:4-5 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
We are all united together in that one body which is "in Christ," and God is enabling every single one of us to perform our function within the body even as your own physical body God has enabled, has empowered every portion, every cell in your body to carry out its function within the body.
Did the cell have to go somewhere else to carry out its function? No. It was given by God. In like manner for us, the relationship with Him established through Jesus Christ because of His death and because of the mercy of God in justifying us by the blood of Christ, has opened to us access to God, whereby going back and forth to Him, we are enabled by God to carry out our function within the body.
Romans 12:5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ.
God is not asking us to establish unity, because the body of Christ is already united, but we still have functions to carry out within that body, and our function within the body can degenerate and deteriorate just like a cell in the body might get sick and weak and go off, and so we have to guard our position within the body.
Romans 12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them . . .
The liver is gifted different from the ear, and the ear from the eye, and the eye from the hair, and the hair from the nose, etc., etc. So, we are gifted differently to carry out our function according to the grace, the favor, the gifts that are given to us.
Romans 12:6-9 . . . if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry [serving], let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads [or is a leader administrating], with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy [not divided in any way]. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.
All of us have been gifted, and there are two dangers that human nature has a tendency to take us in here. The one is that we might overestimate ourselves. That is why Paul gave this thing about "not to think more highly," to overestimate ourselves and try to exercise the gifts that God has never given us.
On the other hand, that we might under-estimate ourselves, and fail to exercise a gift that God has given to us. It is God who works in us, both to will and to do. Grace does not override our will and violate our responsibility. This is a cooperative effort with God. We must make choices. We must exert our will, as well as His. We must make effort.
Should we just "let go and let God"? No. Should you "pray as though everything depends on God, and work as though everything depends on yourself"? Yes! To what extent is the process up to God, and to what extent is it up to us? I am sorry, but the Bible just does not say. It does tell us that the whole thing is by grace, and the overwhelming percentage of the growth unto holiness is something that God gives. But to us, because He understands us fully, and because His wisdom is so great, He knows just how much pressure to put on us in order to provide, to test the resistance, or whatever is needed for us to overcome.
We could say, "Okay God, You've forgiven my sins, You've given me Your Holy Spirit, now just sit back there and relax and I'll take it from here." It will not work. We would simply be trying to grow holy by showing God how good we can be. That is pride. That approach leaves God out of the picture. In the end, we would think that He owes us something. That was essentially the approach of first century Judaism. God has this thing perfectly balanced.
We could take another independent approach by just sitting back and waiting for God to act. We could say, "Well, holiness comes from God, doesn't it, and not from us? Isn't that right? And I'm going to let God do it. I'm just a sinner trusting in His mercy, and if He wants me to change, it's up to Him." That is basically the attitude of most of modern liberal Protestantism.
The second one might seem more spiritual, but it too is wrong because it assumes that there is only so much effort that one can go to into making us holy, and that is not true. God might require our entire life.
I think that this is a pretty good place to stop. It seems a little bit abrupt, but I did not finish the sermon, and maybe there is another one here on "the road to holiness."