“Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.”
The word “preserve” here has to do with “keeping something in its original state.” The fact that David is reaching out for another to preserve him implies that he recognizes that he cannot preserve himself. Our original state in God is purity, holy and undefiled from this world. God has taken us out of the mud and washed us as squeaky clean as His very own Son by the blood of His very own Son. David is acknowledging his inability and helplessness to stay clean, remain undefiled or be preserved in purity. The Psalmist often cried, “save me” (Psalm 3.7;6.4;7.1;22.21;31.2). But this cry is different. It is not a cry to be rescued; it is a cry to remain in the rescued state. Not to be made pure, but to remain pure.
I extend to you the God revealed route to a sustained purity and preserving in God, “…for in thee do I put my trust.” All victory begins with this heart, “I can’t do it!” When man reaches the end of himself, there and nowhere else, does he find the beginning of God. Our hearts must cry, “I cannot preserve myself, so I look to you.” A.W. Tozer in the famous book, “The Pursuit of God” said, “faith is the inward gaze of the soul unto God.” Jesus, talking of the salvation that is impossible with men and only possible with God (Matt.19.26), made a parallel with the serpent lifted up in Old Testament (John 3.14). The only path of salvation from the snake poison in the body of the Israelites was to lift their eyes to the golden serpent to be healed. So, when a man simply looks in surrender to Jesus, not only once to be saved, but consistently to be preserved, he finds his glorious rescue and union with God (John 15.5).
None of us did anything to attain our salvation (Eph. 2.8,9). We simply recognized that we could not save ourselves and we cried from a dark pit, the helpless cry of a condemned sinner, “God save me!” God in His mercy reached down and saved us from such a state and doom (John 3.16-17; Romans 8.1; Ephesians 2.1-2). God is not waiting for you to reach a certain point of desperation before He rushes in to preserve or save, He is waiting for you to empty your inward poison by looking away from yourself and unto Him. It is not that He refuses to come to man until, but that man will not respond to His having come to us. Jesus simply summed up all of Christianity in one phrase, “Come to me…(Matt. 11.28).” That isn’t when He saves you, that coming to Him IS your saving.
I submit to you today, that the same utter dependency, total reliance and absolute surrender to God that your soul reached to God with to be born again, is the same cry that must be lived in for the sustained victorious spiritual life. David Ravenhill said, “we never graduate from dependency.” That is the secret. That is the most mature perspective in God that there is. I CANNOT DO IT! I need you, oh, I need you, every hour, I need you.
Jesus said, “the son can do nothing of Himself; I do nothing on my own initiative (John 5.19;8.28).” Oh struggling brother, tired Christian and weak-willed complacent distant follower of Christ, you cannot maintain yourself. As long as you try to maintain yourself, you are already in failure. For no amount of Adamic resolve could ever enter a man into the Spiritual power released only by dependency. Resolve will always dissolve. But by surrender we will never cease to enter. Why is it this way? It is because God Himself is our Salvation (Psalm 38.22). He saved us from a life that doesn’t look to Him. Have you a sensitivity to see that our own life is something so evil, no matter how “good” it seems, that we must be saved from it? A life without the Lordship of Christ requires saving! Leonard Ravenhill said, “the greatest sin in the world…is ‘I can manage my life without God.'” A life still in our own hands is dead. Paul talked about people being, “dead even while they live.”
Jesus told us that only the children enter the Kingdom (Mark 10.14), the poor posses the Kingdom (Matt. 5.3) and the infants have revelation of the Kingdom (Matt. 11.25). Everything in God must hinge upon God. This is why Paul said so boldly, that to lean on any addition to dependency severs you from Christ (Galatians 5.4). There is no other way to have the rule of God truly ruling our lives than for us to declare “my soul says, ‘You are my Lord.'” If He is to be Lord, He can only ascend to the throne in your life by the bankrupt recognition and surrender of total reliance… utter dependency and absolute surrender is required.
Eric Gilmour is an Associate Editor for Voice of Revolution, overseeing Revival & Evangelism.
Psalms 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”
David was one man personally and intimately aware of the deep darkness that lurks within the human heart. He had, himself, sunk to depths of depravity he would have never thought possible as a harp playing, shepherd boy. But situations, opportunities and regal power had brought to the surface the gruesome reality of the human heart condition.
When Jeremiah said, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) he spoke like an insurance adjuster who writes off a damaged vehicle as a total loss. There seemed to be no hope for salvaging some good thing in it. Paul declared, “I know that nothing good lives in me”. And in Psalms reads, “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one”.
I used to think that when David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” he was asking God to clean his heart. Suddenly I realized that I had been reading it all wrong! David is not asking God to clean his heart, but rather to create a new clean heart…one that will replace the hopeless, desperate, unmitigated disaster he was born with. David wastes no time asking God to heal his old diseased heart. Instead he asks for a new one…a clean one. Such a thing, only God could create.
Spurgeon said, “Human nature is too far gone ever to be mended. It is not a house that is a little out of repair, with here and there a slate blown from the roof, and here and there a piece of plaster broken down from the ceiling. No, it is rotten throughout, the very foundations have been sapped; there is not a single timber in it which has not been eaten by the worm, from its uppermost roof to its lowest foundation; there is no soundness in it; it is all rottenness and ready to fall. God doth not attempt to mend, he does not shore up the walls, and re-paint the door; he does not garnish and beautify, but he determines that the old house shall be entirely swept away, and that he will build a new one.”
David’s words, “Create in me…” conjure eerie images of the pre-adamic earth. A bottomless soup of boiling bedlam reigning unchallenged for untold eons. The thick darkness and horrifying chaos seemed impenetrable. “The earth was without form and an empty waste, and darkness was upon the face of the very great deep…” Then God spoke and His word created order out of disorder, light out of darkness, beauty out of chaos and life out of extinction.
David, like the primordial earth, needed more than a good washing. He cried out to God to give him a heart transplant; to vanquish the old peutrifying horror and create in its place a new heart, as fresh as Eden’s first morning. Unfortunately for David, this was impossible in his day. In fact it is as though you can hear his perpetual frustration in his writings as he struggled throughout his life with that old troublesome heart.
But what a privilege is ours! Today, through Christ, a new heart is available to whosoever will. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17) It is a wonderful mystery; the greatest “creative miracle” possible.
As a college student I had a job working for Wal-Mart. For those of you who live outside the USA, it is a chain of massive discount department retailers. It is the largest private employer in America and the largest corporation in the world…and for good reason. Whatever may be said of their imperialist business model, Wal-Mart knows how to treat its customers. While I was working there, someone walked up to the customer service counter with an old garden hose, weathered and worn, apparently years old. They claimed to have purchased it at Wal-Mart but had no receipt and now wanted a new one. At any other store this would be utterly unthinkable, but at Wal-Mart the customer got a replacement, because his satisfaction was more valuable than the price of a hose. He walked in with an arm-full of worthless rubber and walked out with a brand new garden hose.
Wal-Mart may be generous, but there is someone more generous still. When we come before God with our worthless, hopeless, helpless hearts, He is willing to accept them. He doesn’t patch up that old rubber hose of our hearts. Instead he offers us a brand new one; fresh and clean. Now that’s a great exchange.
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”—Ezekiel 36:26.
Liberty Counsel is asking youth around the nation to participate in the annual Day of Purity on February 14th. According to their website:
The Day of Purity is a day when youth can make a public demonstration of their commitment to remain secularly pure, in mind and actions. Today’s culture encourages youth to become sexually active at a young age and to experiment with sexual preferences. The Day of Purity offers those who strive for sexual purity an opportunity to stand together in opposition to a culture of moral decline. When you stand up for sexual purity you send a message to parents, churches, communities, legislators, and the media that you want a better world. Now is the time to let your voices be heard. Be a part of the “counter-culture” – – be politically incorrect. It’s time for a change. You can make a difference.
In part of an answer to the question “Why a Day of Purity?”, Liberty Counsel had this to say:
“The fear of the religious right is that the schools of today will be the governments of tomorrow. And you know, they are right. If we do our jobs right, we’re going to raise a generation of kids who don’t believe the claims of the religious right.”
–1999 GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network)
One freshman health text told students that “Testing your ability to function sexually and give pleasure to another person may be less threatening in your early teens with people of your own sex. . . . You may come to the conclusion that growing up means rejecting the values of your parents.” (emphasis added). A school survey in another district asked students what “caused” their heterosexuality, and whether they were heterosexual because they “feared” the same sex. PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) tells young students that “one or two sexual experiences with someone of the same sex may not mean you’re gay. . . . Your school years are a time of figuring out what works for you, and crushes and experimentation are often part of that.” In fact, the push to experiment at a young age has led to a nationwide phenomena among teen girls known as “bisexual chic” – declaring themselves bisexual for attention and because it’s cool. Experimenting with sexuality may be seen as “cool” but what’s not cool, and in fact, not even discussed, are the devastating consequences of sexual activity outside of marriage.
All questions regarding the positive and negative attributes of the so-called “religious right” aside, it is clear from what GLSEN and PFLAG are trying to accomplish, that their effort to keep youth with same-sex attraction safe from bullying has ventured into territory that they have do not have the moral authority to tackle. We pray that the Day of Purity and other attempts to show the world that purity is beautiful and valuable succeed in their attempts to do so.
“I have made a covenant with my eyes;
How then could I gaze at a virgin?
…. for that would be a fire that consumes….
and it would burn to the root all my increase.” -Job 31.1, 12
I understand that many would brand my faith antique and my convictions archaic for approaching this subject, but that is a minuscule risk for me to take. God is too glorious, His Gospel too precious, and the fate of our sons and daughters too much at stake for me to worry about the consequences that these themes bring. I am convinced that we have woefully underestimated the damage that is done to the world and to the Church, particularly with regard to the issue of so-called entertainment.
The Church is largely bored with the Scriptures, unwilling to sacrifice for eternal things, unacquainted with the Spirit of prayer, and is harboring such distorted views of God that it is often difficult to tell if the One she is proclaiming is the same Lord that the apostles and prophets set forth. There may be a litany of reasons for this decrease of majesty, but I believe that one of the greatest of these is that Hollywood has a stranglehold on the hearts and imaginations of God’s children.
The pornography epidemic could be driven home here, and to sound the trumpet against that demonic system will require the emergence of a true prophetic voice indeed. Almost 40% of American pastors admit to a current struggle with internet porn, and the numbers are even greater amongst men within our congregations. This is beyond tragic, and we are in need of a massive overhaul of repentance and mercy. Now more than ever are we in need of awakening, and if you are in this category there is deliverance and freedom from this deathtrap. The Gospel of Jesus sets us free “from all sin,” and He will give you grace to slam the door once and for all on this terribly besetting sin, when you repent and turn to Him with a whole heart, clinging to the Son of God.
Yet as horrific as the pornography phenomenon is, that is not the primary burden of my heart in this writing.
I am convinced that the Church of America, as a majority, has been removed from, or has never known, the kind of trepidation and tenderness of heart that Job was expressing when he declared, “I have made a covenant with my eyes….”
It was part and parcel with the faith of all the saints of old, that what they allowed to pass through the eye-gate, and what they permitted willingly to go into their ears, would taint their souls at best, and find residence in their lives at the worst. I am suspicious of modern “prophetic” men who commonly cite movies and shows that contain illicit sex, profane lingo and themes, glorified violence, immoral innuendo, or other defiling examples as points in their messages. The only reason these points hit home with so many church members is that they themselves are given over to the same powers and influences.
Our hearts are too taken up with this world, saints, and there has never been a generation wherein the spirit of this age strikes the soul with such color, such special effects, and such mesmerizing power as the one we find ourselves in. Yet we are called to an ultimate holiness nonetheless, and it may be said that one of the distinguishing factors between those who will bear the testimony of Jesus at the end of the age and those who will take the mark of the beast during tribulational times will be this radical consecration of the eyes to God Himself.
In Eph. 5, Paul declares that there should not even be a “hint of immorality” in the lives of God’s people. Dear believer, I ask you pointedly, what constitutes a hint? How many of Hollywood’s characters, themes and plots can we drink in without receiving a “hint” of darkness?
There is something sleazy about many of our lives, charismatic or not, and while it might not be overtly recognized, I believe there is a residue of immorality resting upon those who have freely given themselves to morally compromised entertainment. There is something flimsy about our religion, and the bright burning of holiness that marked John the Baptist, the prophets of old, and Jesus Himself is conspicuously absent in the sanctuary, where His name is declared “holy” in verbal exercise, but the sense of His holiness has become foreign.
“…. it would burn to the root of all my increase.”
While we have boasted in “liberty,” and spoken poetically of our spiritual interpretations of Hollywood flicks (interpretations that Hollywood would largely reject and ridicule), we have too often condoned the spiritual pollution of our hearts.
Would the porn epidemic be so far-reaching and deeply-rooted if the Church hadn’t dropped the ball in areas of more subtle compromise? We have become arrogant in our boasting. And we wonder why our kids are prayerless and numb to eternal reality, buying into agnosticism and atheism when they graduate high-school and make it to their respective Universities. We wonder why thousands of “evangelical” teens are converting to Islam or diving headlong into the “party” life when they get out from under the wing of a youth group, and into the reality of college life. This may not be the only issue, but it is much more prevalent than we know. It’s a battle of ideologies, and hell has no greater method than to slowly dull our hearts to the God of righteousness through cute, subtle, and entertaining displays of hellish ideas. As a friend of mine so rightly wrote:
We have so saturated our minds and imaginations with man-created images that we are bound to those images and therefore subject to the agenda of the men creating them.
It has burned to the root of our “increase” in Christ. It has dulled and blurred the “inner-man” of the Church. We have lost the hunger and thirst for righteousness that Jesus encouraged, for we have given our hearts, minds, and pocketbooks to the broken cisterns of carnal entertainment.
It’s staggering to me that when the subject is raised to most believers, the tag of legalism is immediately raised. While there are legalistic souls who lack an understanding of mercy, and who often place heavy yokes upon others, the vehemence and rage of those who dish out accusations that men like myself are “legalistic” is far more widespread, at least in my own experience. I’ve never heard more warnings against “the religious spirit,” “self-righteousness,” and “legalism” than I have in the last few years.
In the area of entertainment they say, “Paul said we had liberty in Christ, and we’re walking in that freedom.” But these modern examples are usually employed in a context that is far different from the situation with the Judaizers in the churches of Galatia. There is not an iota of Scripture that would encourage me to set my eyes, ears and emotions on themes that make light of sin.
The apostles, quite contrary to the liberal ideas of today, addressed issues of righteousness with remarkable frequency and intensity in the New Testament, and I believe they would weep over the Church in our day, that we would be delivered from the murky waters that have tainted and dulled our spirits in the realm of entertainment. Gospel liberty is not license, but rather freedom from the death grip of this dying age. It is a liberty to come into the wonderful reality of communion with the Living God, and to taste of the “powers of the age to come.”
This is not about judging our movies based on their ratings. A thousand “PG” movies could be just as detrimental as one “R” movie. Addictions to political news or social networking must also be challenged if they burn up our time and keep us from the place of prayer and worship, diminish our passion for the Scriptures, and fog our awareness of the lostness of humanity. This is about a total consecration of our eyes and hearts unto Him, that we might gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, tremble before His majesty, remain in the loving counsel of His voice, and set Him forth in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
Our eyes have been too opened to the lying glimmers of this age. The time is here for an ultimate consecration of the eyes to the Lord, that we would see the increase of Christ Himself in our lives. We haven’t got room even for a “hint,” friends.
Let us return to Him with weeping and mourning, that so many of us have preferred the fading lights of this age to the glorious light of God Himself. We need not buy into the lie any longer. He longs to pour out mercy upon us, to purify us down to the marrow of our bones, to make us a tender-hearted people, enjoying deep communion with Him, and walking in meekness and holiness unto the day of His return.
Oh God, cleanse and purify our hearts with the fire of Your holiness and love. Catch us up in the Spirit of prayer and the glory of worship, quicken our souls to love the Scriptures, awaken us from fantasy and bring us into eternal reality. For Jesus’ sake.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” -1 Cor. 13.1-3
Of all the passages of Scripture that have been heavily quoted and inadequately considered, 1 Corinthians 13 must rank in the top ten. Of all the subjects that have been watered down, cheapened, and reduced to humanistic wisdom, the subject of love must be at the top of the list.
What do we know of the kind of love that Paul was calling the saints to pursue, and to what degree are we actually walking in it?
Some time ago, I read through a short biography on a man named Robert C. Chapman (1803-1902). Charles Spurgeon called him “the saintliest man I ever knew,” and his life had a profound effect on many souls, not the least of which was the great pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor.
Though I have been engaged in various forms of ministry for more than a dozen years, I was “knocked off of my chair” when I saw the measure of holy love and compassion that was expressed through his life. The man was immersed in a purity and devotion that was heavenly, and the love that burned in his spirit was evident to all who came into contact with him.
Early in his life, he announced that the Lord had called him to proclaim the Gospel, and many of his friends said, “Robert will never make a preacher.” In response, he exclaimed, “There are many who preach, but not so many who live Christ. My aim shall be to live Christ.”
Chapman grew into a remarkable demonstration of the nature of God, expressing the most supernatural kind of hospitality and kindness, even to religious antagonists in his own congregation. Though many were gripped with prejudices, foul attitudes, and a lack of respect when he took up the pastorate at Ebenezer Chapel, they would be won over to humility and love by the selfless example set forth in the man, R.C. Chapman.
He would regularly house guests in his home, though he was a lifelong bachelor. Visiting missionaries, new converts, or extremely poor souls, would be graced by his Spirit-empowered hospitality. They testified that his house was simple, without excessive furniture and trinkets, but immaculately clean. He esteemed that which God had given him, and took care of it in honor of the Lord and esteem for his guests. He would rise daily at 4:00 a.m. to engage in prayer, adoration, and Scripture meditation. He would say, “It is one thing to read the Bible, choosing something that suits me, and another thing to search it that I may become acquainted with God in Christ.” The fruit of his life showed that he had become intensely “acquainted with God in Christ.”
In later years he would have breakfast ready for his house guests at 7:00 a.m., following his daily devotional time. The joy that marked his life was contagious, and more than once people testified that after spending only a day with the man, they felt as if they had encountered the Son of God Himself.
What do people encounter in me? What have I really learned of His love? Dear saints, I yearn to come into the same reality that was Chapman’s experience.
Paul said that we may speak skillfully with the tongues of men. We may be supernaturally gifted to speak with the tongues of angels. We may have the gift of prophecy, or know all mysteries and knowledge. We may have enough faith to remove mountains. We may give all of our possessions to the poor. We may even give ourselves to martyrdom for an ethical cause. But according to the apostle, we may have or engage in any of these things and still be totally devoid of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. This is both astounding and frightening.
I don’t want to be a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” friends. I want to commune with the One whose zeal burns like an unquenchable fire. I want to be touched and singed and transformed by the heat of His selfless love.
In Hosea 11.8, the Lord says to Israel, “My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled.”
O, that our hearts would be turned over, that our lovelessness would be toppled, our hard-heartedness shattered, and our coldness melted by the compassions of God Himself!
O, to love You as you are, to love righteousness, justice, and compassion, and to love human souls as You do! Give us Your own love, Lord. Catch us up in Your heart, and enable us to be an expression of Your Son in this generation, that our sons and daughters might see your majesty.
Holiness is beautiful; legalism is binding; holiness brings life; legalism brings death. They are as different as night and day, and yet at first glance, they can seem similar, because they both stand against sinful behavior and call for holy living. How can we distinguish between the two? Let me first present some thoughts on holiness before defining legalism and its dangers.
According to Samuel Logan Brengle, holiness is “pure love.” According to Samuel Lucas, “The essence of true holiness consists in conformity to the nature and will of God.” Stated another way, holiness is becoming like Jesus in thought, word, and deed, in heart, mind, and conduct. Holiness is something beautiful and wonderful!
God is holy, and so His very being reflects the perfection of righteousness and goodness and purity and wholesomeness and compassion and mercy and justice. As expressed by Ralph Finlayson, “The sum of all God’s attributes, the outshining of all that God is, is holiness” – and we are called to emulate that holiness. As is it written in 1 Pet 1:15 (quoting Lev 19:2), “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
To be holy is to be separated from sin and to be separated to God, which means to be separated from that which is bad and destructive and evil and unclean and polluting and to be separated to that which is like the Lord. Sin is spiritual poison; holiness is spiritual health. As William Jenkyn explained, “There is nothing destroyed by sanctification but that which would destroy us.” In short, everything holy is good; nothing unholy is good. Everything unholy is bad; nothing holy is bad.
And yet there’s more: Holiness is our goal, our destiny, our portion. It expresses the very essence of the nature and character of God and describes the highest level of spirituality attainable by man. Listen to the testimony of the Word:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah loved the congregation [or, church] and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant congregation [or, church], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27).
That’s why Joseph Caryl could say, “Perfect holiness is the aim of the saints on earth, and it is the reward of the saints in heaven.” Or, as expressed by John Whitlock, “. . . the Christian’s . . . way is holiness, his end happiness.” Oswald Chambers understood this too, stating that “God has one destined end for mankind – holiness! His one aim is the production of saints. God is not an eternal blessing-machine for men. He did not come to save men out of pity. He came to save men because He had created them to be holy.”
William Gurnall was therefore entirely right when he wrote, “Say not that thou hast royal blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by daring to be holy.” (You might want to stop for a moment and read that again. What a godly challenge!)
Why then do many believers resist holiness? One major reason is that many of them have been hurt by legalism, and so they immediately associate holiness with legalism.
What then is legalism? Legalism is rules without relationship, emphasizing standards more than the Savior and laws more than love. It is a system based on fear and characterized by joyless judgmentalism, producing futility instead of freedom.
To an unsaved person the legalist preaches justification by works, saying, “You’re a wicked sinner and you need to get rid of all your filthy habits if you want the Lord to accept you.” There is no grace in this message, no exalting of the life-changing, sin-cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, no clear proclamation of mercy.
The declaration of God’s love expressed through the cross is muffled – if it is even heard at all. Consequently, the proof of the new birth is seen almost entirely in what someone no longer does, and this continues to be the pattern for believers within the church: They are judged almost entirely by a few external standards (which, in many cases, are not even expressly mentioned in the Word) and they are monitored by conformity to the particular group’s code of conduct. And the result is external conformity rather than inward transformation – and that means either self-righteousness of self-condemnation (or both!).
Of course, it is absolutely true that God has very high standards, and for anyone honestly reading the Word, there can be no doubt that He calls us to live by very high standards – in our thoughts, words, and deeds; in our attitudes; in our sexuality; in our families; in our relationships; and much, much more. Passages like this are common in the New Testament:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:1-6).
Tragically, legalists, despite their best intentions, get things tragically wrong. First, they try to change a person from the outside in (whereas God deals with us from the inside out); second, they fail to present a balanced picture of the Lord, putting too little stress on His mercy and too much emphasis on His wrath; third, they do not point the struggling sinner (or believer) to the Lord’s supernatural empowerment, making holiness a matter of human effort alone; and fourth, they add laws, standards, commandments, customs, and traditions that are not found in the Word, making those things even more important than the biblical commandments themselves.
In contrast, true, scriptural holiness begins with the heart and flows from an encounter with God and His Word. It calls for repentance in response to the Lord’s gracious offer of salvation and it offers a way to be holy – the blood of Jesus and the Spirit of God. Biblical holiness is free, although it requires discipline and perseverance. For the legalist, nothing is free. Everything must be earned! That’s why legalism leads to bondage and holiness leads to liberty.
As Ralph Cudworth explained many years ago, “I do not mean by holiness the mere performance of outward duties of religion, coldly acted over, as a task; not our habitual prayings, hearings, fastings, multiplied one upon another (though these be all good, as subservient to a higher end); but I mean an inward soul and principle of divine life (Romans 8:1-5), that spiriteth all these.”
It is that inward spiritual principle that must be cultivated, the principle of intimacy with Jesus, the principle of being renewed in our minds by His Word and Spirit, the principle of being conformed to His image and character, hating what He hates and loving what He loves. As Dr. Kent Hughes expressed in his book Disciplines of a Godly Man, “There is a universe of difference between the motivations behind legalism and discipline. Legalism says, ‘I will do this thing to gain merit with God,’ while discipline says, “I will do this because I love God and want to please him.’ Legalism is man-centered; discipline is God-centered.”
To quote Oswald Chambers again, “A bird flies persistently and easily because the air is its domain and its world. A legal Christian is one who is trying to live in a rarer world than is natural to him. Our Lord said, ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed,’ i.e., free from the inside, born from above, lifted into another world where there is no strenuous effort to live in a world not natural to us, but where we can soar continually higher and higher because we are in the natural domain of spiritual life.”
Unfortunately, the moment you preach biblical holiness, many Christians put their hands over their ears and say, “That’s legalism! That’s condemnation! That’s manmade religion! That’s the dead letter of the law! You won’t put me in bondage! I won’t listen to stuff like that!” As Robert Brimstead observed, “The idea of living strictly by what the Bible says has been branded as legalism.”
And so, these Christians run from the dangerous clutches of legalism and fall into the deadly grasp of license, that self-deceived state of fleshly liberty, catering to their carnality rather than crucifying it. What a terrible error!
Whatever comes naturally to these “liberated” believers is accepted as normal (and “understood,” of course, by the Lord), while biblical commandments are brought down to the level of their own experience, and anything that brings any kind of spiritual pressure to bear on them is rejected as not being the easy yoke and light burden of Jesus. And when the Holy Spirit brings conviction on people like this, they rebuke the devil for trying to condemn them – ultimately at the expense of their own souls.
To quote Oswald Chambers yet again, “The only liberty a saint has is the liberty not to use his liberty. . . . Liberty means ability not to violate the law; license means personal insistence on doing what I like. . . . To be free from the law means that I am the living law of God, there is no independence of God in my make-up. License is rebellion against all law. If my heart does not become the centre of Divine love, it may become the center of diabolical license.”
What then is the antidote? Flee from legalism, stay far away from license, and run to holiness; reject humanly birthed, external religion, give no place to false teaching that excuses carnality, and instead embrace new covenant, heart transformation — and in the power of the Spirit, supernaturally enabled by God’s grace, deal ruthlessly with sin in your life. That is the path to freedom!
Sin is so utterly awful that only the blood of Jesus could pay for it (1 Pet 1:16-19). We dare not trivialize sin in our lives.
In closing, let me bathe you with the truth of God’s liberating Word. (Yes, I know that this has been a long article, but I think you’ll agree that the subject is quite important – really, the difference between life and death.) Listen to the Word of the Lord!
“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (Rom 6:12-13, NLT).
“Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (Rom 13:13-14, NLT).
“Because we have these promises [of being sons and daughters of God], dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God” (2 Cor 7:1, NLT).
“For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. . . . God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thes 4:2, 7-8, NLT).
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Ps 24:3-5, ESV).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt 5:29-30, ESV)
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14, ESV).
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21, ESV).
What a wonderful Savior!
For more information on holiness and legalism, see Dr. Brown’s mp3 series Go and Sin No More, available at the AskDrBrown Online Bookstore by clicking here.
“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore, let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” -Rom. 13.12
The nature of God’s Kingdom, the way of His government, the glory of His leadership has everything to do with increase. When it comes to the vision of His coming Kingdom, the day when He returns to set the world aright, we see pictures of upheaval, shaking, and trial, followed by everlasting peace, abiding joy, and the entire universe permanently being marked by the righteousness of God. The visions and words of the Biblical Prophets are sure words, completely worthy of our examination, reflection, and obedience. The neglect of the Biblical Prophets has done great damage to the Church in our generation.
Yet and still, it is quite possible in thinking about future tribulation and glory to be distracted from the glory of the Kingdom which the Lord intends to break into the earth through the fallen “earthen vessels” that we are. Paul’s perception of the end of the age is not pessimistic or depressive. He was fully aware of the shakings to come, the future toppling of governments, the cataclysm and trials that lie ahead. Indeed, he was a preacher of the judgment to come. (Acts 24.25)
Though he was aware of the difficulties to come, Paul’s vision was that the night was almost gone, the darkness was dissipating, and that because Christ has been exalted, the day of God is on the positive rise in the lives of the saints. He saw the nature of the Kingdom in the lives of those who believe to be one of increase: the increase of light, the increase of love, the increase of righteousness, the increase of Christ Himself. It was a vital reality to him, and it is available to all in our day and age who would“lay aside the deeds of darkness,” and receive the Holy Spirit.
“The night is almost gone, and the day is near…”Are you turning from “carousing and drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and sensuality, strife and jealousy?”Or are you still walking blindly beneath the veil of darkness? Turn from the night, for the day is dawning friends. It is time to receive the Holy Spirit, and if you ask the Father for bread He will not give you a stone.
When the Holy Spirit comes, He will show you the Christ in the beauty of His holiness, and the glorious light of His nature will increase in your life.