Our Commitment to Holiness Matters

 In Blog, Puritans, Sin

Not too long ago I was helping a friend prepare a big holiday meal. It was a daunting task, but the process was much easier because his wife had spent a significant chunk of time the night before prepping the meal. She had peeled the potatoes, measured and set aside the ingredients for the casseroles, and she had left detailed instructions for him to follow. Furthermore, my friend and his wife corresponded by phone several times throughout the day, where she gave him specific directions, as well as lots of encouragement. She had gone out of her way to ensure that he could be successful in her absence.

This is somewhat like what we see with the Apostle Paul and his commitment to the church in Ephesus (and of course, the stakes are much higher). The Apostle Paul loved the church at Ephesus. He had spent a significant portion of time preaching and ministering in that city, and he longed to see that spiritual community flourish.

One of the greatest demonstrations of this commitment was Paul’s willingness to be parted from his dear friend and protégé Timothy, so that Timothy could remain in Ephesus to care for the people.

Paul had an amazing entourage of young men that he mentored and effectively trained for ministry leadership. Timothy was one of these men. Timothy had been a partner in ministry with Paul for several years. Upon Paul’s departure from Ephesus, he left Timothy in the city to ensure that no one in Ephesus would “teach any different doctrine” than what Paul had taught (1 Tim. 1:3).

Paul loved Timothy dearly. Multiple times in the New Testament Paul refers to Timothy as a son. In his letter to the church in Corinth Paul describes Timothy as his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:17). Paul and Timothy had developed an incredible friendship. Leaving Timothy behind in Ephesus must have been very difficult for Paul.

If Paul was willing to be separated from his dear friend and partner in ministry, for the sake of the Ephesian church, then we know that the spiritual health of this church must have been a high priority to Paul. He wanted them to function in the most Christ-honoring fashion possible. This is the primary reason why Paul is writing this letter to Timothy.

Paul wanted the church at Ephesus to function in the most Christ-honoring fashion possible.

This epistle from Paul to Timothy is aimed at giving Timothy certain reminders and instructions that will help him lead the people of Ephesus to be a spiritually healthy community, committed to prayer and to the teachings of the Scriptures. Paul wrote, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 3:14-15).

Paul had desired to visit the Ephesian church. He intended to return to them to spend time with them in order that he might be able to defend right doctrines in that region as well as help them grow in their faith. But he realized that he might get delayed, so he sent these instructions to guide them. Here, yet again, we see another example of how much Paul cared about the community at Ephesus. Not only was he willing to be separated from his friend Timothy, so that Timothy could care for the people, but Paul also went out of his way to give them these instructions in this letter. Paul cared about their holiness, their conduct, and their spiritual health.

Why did Paul care so much?

Paul cared a lot because he knew the importance of holiness in the church. He knew that their spiritual vitality would be impacted, not just by their theology, but also by their conduct, their behavior, and their attitude towards sin. The great puritan writer John Owen asserted that a lack of holiness in the life of the believer has the potential to “weaken the soul, and deprive it of its vigour.”

Paul also knew that their holiness would impact their ministry. Paul wanted Timothy to know how to pastor the Ephesians so that they’d know how to “conduct themselves in the household of God” because Paul knew that the local church “is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

Spiritual vitality is impacted, not just by our theology, but also by our conduct, behaviors, and attitude towards sin.

The church is the platform from which God planned to launch his transformative work in the lives of the people within that community. That has always been God’s ideal design, for his church to be the primary instrument that he uses to bring about transformation in dark places and tough situations. This has always been, and will always be, God’s ideal design for evangelism, church plating, and disciple-making. As author David Platt says, “The church is God’s ‘Plan A’ and there is no ‘Plan B!’”

The Apostle Paul recognized that the Ephesian Christians were God’s ‘Plan A’ to transform the city of Ephesus, and for that reason he was fiercely committed to the success and holiness of the Ephesian church. The Apostle Paul knew that if the gospel was going to continue to spread throughout the region, and if ministry workers were going to be continually sent out from the church of Ephesus to other parts of the world, then the church needed to be holy.

Later, the Apostle Paul would write these poignant words to the Christians in Ephesus, “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Eph. 4:1).

Timothy and the Ephesians were not the only persons who received these sorts of instructions from the Apostle Paul. He instructed the church in Philippi to be “blameless and innocent” even while living in a sinful culture (Phil. 2:15-16). Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to “aim for honorable things” (2 Cor. 8:21). He commanded the Romans to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Rom. 8:13). To the Colossians he wrote, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” (Col. 3:5). And Paul reminded Titus, another young man that Paul had mentored, that the Christian ought to seek to “be a model of good works” (Ti. 2:7-8). As John Owen exclaimed, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.”(Colossians 3:5)

Paul was committed to the holiness and conduct of the local churches. This sentiment, of course, was expressed by Jesus himself too. Jesus desired for his disciples to “shine” so that people would give glory to God (Mt. 5:16), and Jesus later commands us to take radical measures to kill sin (Mt. 5:30).

The Apostle Peter echoed this sentiment when he implored Christians to live in accordance with God’s ideals and demonstrate the excellencies of God, so that other people would glorify God (1 Pt. 2:9-12).

We see this theme clearly throughout the New Testament. God desires for local churches to be fiercely committed to being holy and conducting themselves in accordance with the gospel.

God wants us to be holy, both for our own spiritual health as well as for our evangelism efforts. The gospel should not merely be a narrative that we embrace to receive salvation, but instead the gospel ought to genuinely govern and inform our lives every single day.

What We Face?

Today, we live in a culture where many people call themselves ‘Christian’ but their lives do not look different from those who do not profess Christ. Our contemporary evangelical sub-culture is often indistinguishable from the culture around us. The Bible calls believers to be distinct from the world in the way we live our lives (2 Cor. 6:7) and to hate the sinful things of this world (1 Jn. 2:15-17).

God is calling Christians to live holy lives. Holiness matters. The individuals we correspond with on the daily basis, and our society at large, need Christians to be holy. When we are committed to holiness, our Christ-honoring conduct will open the door for ministry in this broken world.

Being holy does not earn us any spiritual points or favor with God. The ledgers of heaven are not contingent on our behavior. Your status as a child of God is not dependent upon your work, not contingent on your obedience. If you are a follower of Christ, your status in the family of God has been settled by the work of Christ. Praise be to God!

Being holy does not earn us any spiritual points or favor with God. However, your holiness does impact your life and influence.

However, your holiness does indeed impact your life and your influence, in several ways. John Owen asserts, “Believers are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, yet believers ought to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.” We have been freed from the condemnation and eternal ramifications of sin, however we ought to make it a high priority to get rid of sin because we know it’ll hurt us and hurt our opportunities to minister to people.

For these reasons the Apostle Paul was fiercely committed to giving instructions to the church in Ephesus. It was important to Paul for Timothy to have these reminders and directions. Paul was willing to be parted from his dear friend Timothy because he recognized the importance of holiness in the lives of believers at Ephesus. Paul wanted Timothy to live there in order to help the people live out holiness and to be the people that Christ was calling them to be, for their own spiritual vitality and for the good of the unbelieving peoples living in that region of the world.

“Believers are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, yet believers ought to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.” ~John Owen

This should be a priority to us today. It would be valuable for every believer to pause and ask himself these questions, “Am I truly committed to conducting myself in accordance with God’s ideals? Is my conduct genuinely informed by the gospel? And, am I fiercely committed to helping others live out holiness? Have I sacrificed so that others can have the instructions they need to be holy too?”

This is the precedent set by the Apostle Paul, a fierce commitment to personal holiness and a commitment to serving others in a manner that would help them be holy too. Are we marked by these sorts of commitments?

Of course, living holy is easier said than done. Certainly, every believer has struggled to be holy. But the most magnificent thing to remember is that we are not alone. We have Christ and His Spirit.

Living a holy life is not possible in human strength. But through the grace and supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, we can live in accordance with God’s will. The power of Christ indwells us and empowers us to victoriously wage war against our sin. The Apostle Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom (2 Cor. 2:12-14), that he fills us in a manner that gives us understanding and knowledge (Col. 1:9), he helps us live out our sanctification (Ti. 3:5), and the Holy Spirit works in us and causes us to produce the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16-23).

“Living holy is easier said than done. Certainly, every believer has struggled to be holy. But, we have Christ and His Spirit.”

The Apostle Peter echos Paul’s thoughts when he tells us that God gives us “knowledge” and helps us to live holy (2 Pet. 1:3-4). We see the constant internal working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, which gives us the power to be holy. The very same power that brought Jesus back from the dead resides in the believer, alive in us, helping us to effectively fight sin.

Furthermore, God himself promises to make us holy. God promises that he will be the one who will sanctify us and develop us into the people he wants us to be. He is faithful to this promise (1 Th. 5:23-24). Jesus himself will hold us fast (Jd. 24-25).

We, as followers of Christ, absolutely ought to be committed to being holy and we ought to be deeply committed to helping others be holy too. However, in our efforts we must remember that Jesus is the one who does the work in us and we must continually come back to him, throwing ourselves upon his mercy and gazing at his beauty. As Owen wrote, “On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world.”