If you are interested in the gospel, then you should be interested in holiness. But, you may ask, isn’t it “a holier than thou” attitude that turns people off the gospel? Perhaps, but real biblical holiness is all about the gospel. It is meant to be something that both attracts people to the gospel and is an expression of the reality of the gospel in our lives. If people notice the difference it may well make them uncomfortable but that is as Christ intended. Salt and light often have this effect (Matthew 5:13–14). But that holiness is meant to lead those who notice to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16). Christ is saying that if our lives are no different to those around us they won’t notice the difference and understand the reality of the gospel. Christ’s mission and our mission are all about holiness (John 17:16-19). Peter tells us that if we have been called by grace with a holy calling then we will be striving to be holy in all that we do (1 Peter 1:15).
The danger comes when we make our attempts to look holy in outward things the grounds of our confidence for salvation. Gospel holiness arises from valuing union with Christ and living out His resources of grace in obedience to His revealed will. It is not our own resources. This is what the puritan John Owen meant when he said, “As God gave us our beings, so he gives us our holiness. It is not by nature but by grace that we are made holy”. As we have received Christ we are to walk in Him (Colossians 2:6). Those who preach the gospel have two tasks: to persuade sinners to receive Christ and then to urge them to walk worthy of Him. In other words, as Owen also put it: “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and realising of the gospel in our souls.” The gospel is the truth which is according to godliness (Titus 1:1).
Holiness is a gospel priority; it is (as Paul puts it) a gospel-shaped life (Philippians 1:27). James Durham explains this verse in the following way. “You are privileged with the gospel and have embraced it. Your profession of the gospel is outstanding. I beg you, therefore, that your life may correspond to it”. Paul begins the word “only”, because it is so necessary and of such great concern that it was the one thing they had to do. Comparatively speaking they had nothing else to do. The gospel calls for holiness in six ways. To fail or be defective in any of them makes our life to that extent to be unfitting the gospel.
1. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in All Kinds of Duties
The gospel calls for holiness in respect of all sorts of duties. It says be holy as God is holy in all manner of living (1 Peter 1:15). We are to be holy in prosperity and adversity, in religious, moral and in natural actions.
2. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in Everything
This extends entirely to all individual duties and actions in particular of all those sorts of duties. It reacheth all aspects of our conduct. The divinely inspired Scriptures instruct the man of God how he may be made perfect in every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Any failing in thought, word or deed is unbecoming to the gospel.
3. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in Our Whole Being
It also extends throughout the whole person. The gospel urges us to be sanctified throughout (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The promises of the gospel press us to cleanse ourselves “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It requires that the understanding is kept soundly so that no error or untruth is admitted. It demands that the mind is sober and free from any sinful disorder and the affections do not overflow in sin. The will must be kept straight in line with the straight rule of obedience. The conscience is to be kept tender, neither darkened nor impure. We are to yield the members of the body as instruments to righteousness.
4. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in All Our Relationships
This holiness is to be followed in all capacities, callings, positions and relations. It is for husbands and wives, masters and servants and for parents and children. The apostle Paul urges this heartily and frequently in his letters (see Colossians 3 and 4; Ephesians 5 and 6). In Titus Chapter 2 he urges similar duties and uses this motive for servants: that the doctrine of God may be adorned in all things. For wives he has the motive, that the doctrines of God may not be blasphemed. To all believers he uses the motive that this is why the grace of God has appeared in the gospel.
5. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in All Times and Places
We are commanded to abound always in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:57). In the whole course of our conduct: at home and out of doors, in secret and public, in prosperity and adversity.
6. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in the Highest Degree
The gospel calls for perfect holiness, holiness in the highest degrees. Thus Christ urges us to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Believers are to be holy in all kinds of conduct as God who calls us is holy (1 Peter 1:15). This exact holiness is perfect in the degree of designe, desire and endeavour. This is “purifying ourselves even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3); that is to have Him as our pattern.
But isn’t this Like the Law Rather than the Gospel?
Someone may object against considering the gospel in this way (outlining a Christian’s duty and walk so precisely to this extent and degree). They may object that it makes it appear to be very strict and to differ little or nothing from the law. But we need to understand the similarities and differences between the law and gospel.
The law does not require more than the gospel. (a) The gospel requires holiness to the same extent as the law. Any sin against the law is also a sin against the gospel. Christ did not come to abolish but rather to fulfil the law; (b) both require holiness to the same degree. The gospel commands us to be holy as God is holy and perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It does not dispense with any sin, degree of sin, or the least omission of any duty and more than the law; (c) The authority and obligation that requires holiness is no less in the gospel than it is in the law. In actual fact we may say, that the obligation is in some respects greater.
But the law and gospel differ in these three ways: (a) the gospel accepts the penitent even though he has not been perfect and exact in obedience. It gives him pardon through Christ, which the law does not; (b) the gospel calls for duty in the strength of Christ and supplies strength for duty. But the law supplies no strength, it only assumes it. It only gives the word of command, requiring to walk in the strength which we once had in Adam. Even though the authority and obligation are the same, the approach is not. If there is any breach or failure, the law says we will certainly die. But the gospel allows repentance and fleeing to Jesus Christ, who took the curse of the law; (c) The law only accepts duties that have been performed perfectly. But the gospel accepts imperfect duty, as long as there is sincerity. It accepts the believer Christ’s account according to that which Christ has, if there is a willing mind. So then, when you are called to walk as befits the gospel you are not to dispense with any duty that the law calls for. The gospel indeed calls for it in a sweeter way through peace and righteousness: The gospel calls for the same kind, extent and degree of holiness as the law. The great difference is the way in which it calls for it.
The gospel gives: (a) a new purpose: to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31); (b) a new motive: love to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14); (c) a new obedience: not in our own strength but Christ’s (John 15:5); (d) a new spirit: a reverential fear (Luke 1:74); (e) a new attitude to the commandments: they are not found grievous but easy and light (1 John 5:3; Matthew 11:30); (f) a new attitude to self: denying our own righteousness and attainments.