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Practical Holiness

Is there such a thing as practical holiness? Is there a Biblical holiness that is actually displayed in the lives of Christians? Or, is the holiness mentioned in Scriptures only theoretical? Are Christians only to be concerned with knowing the fundamental principles of holiness and not the application and implementation of these principles? Holiness is usually associated with gloominess and somberness and displayed by the use of priestly gowns and pastor collars and reserved for clerics and not the laity. Can regular Christians be holy?

If we look at the lives of modern Christians we would have to conclude that merely having the knowledge of holiness is all that is wanted or necessary to include them in the ranks of those who will inherit Heaven, but the writer of Hebrews says differently,

“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” Heb. 12:14

There is no doubt that very many people want to go to Heaven, but if holiness is the criterion we may have a problem. And besides, if their idea of Heaven is like their idea of Christian freedom in this world I do believe they will be most unhappy in such a holy environment.

What is “practical holiness?” Very simply put, practical holiness is obedience to the commands of Christ who is the personification of Holiness. Practical holiness is the final product or result of doing the things He commanded. But what were those things?

I am in no wise elevating myself into some special class of holy individuals who are allowed to point the finger at others because of my purity; on the contrary, I have discovered in myself the great need for holiness and the desire to help others who travel the same path to the same destination.

Here are a few things I have learned that stand out to me in the lives of most Christians, which are inconsistent with the demands of practical holiness.

The most prominent discovery has to do with love, or the lack thereof.  I must confess that I thought I fared pretty well in this department until I read and understood the Sermon on the Mount. Love, being the fulfillment of the Law, touches every aspect of life, and is the spirit and essence of practical holiness.

First of all Jesus makes the statement (Matthew 5:22 KJV) that we should not be angry with our brother without a cause. This verse is a puzzler. Have you ever been angry with someone without a cause? Of course there is always a reason for your anger, righteous or otherwise, is there not? This verse justified all of my anger, for whatever reason. What I discovered is that this verse is a corruption of the original inspired revelation from God.  The words “without a cause” are not in the original, they have been removed from other translations and consequently my justification for anger.

The inspired New Testament has removed any and all justification for anger toward another human being, yet we routinely see this display among Christians calling it righteous anger. Christian love has a restraining force that allows us to receive the fury of another without returning in like manner.

Secondly, there is this matter of suing in the courts. There is not one in a thousand Christians who would not press their rights in a court of law if they deemed it necessary to restore their dignity or win some award. Is not this the exact meaning of Jesus’ words when He commands us to “judge not that ye be not judged”?  “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37. If we sit in judgment on someone else there is One who will sit in judgment against us. God has forgiven all, and we are required to do the same. Yet, Christians feel it is okay to serve as jurors, Judges, and lawyers, but practical holiness says otherwise.

Third, there is this thing about forgiveness. Most of us are willing to forgive minor things that do not affect us too much, or cost too much; but are you willing forgive all, regardless of the cost or seriousness of the deed, or whether or not the offender is a Christian? The forgiveness that I experience from most Christians is selective who reserve the right to not forgive under certain circumstances, like divorce, child abuse, terrorism, and abortion. The forgiveness of God, which we are to foster, is not selective, and therefore pure and holy.

Fourthly, let’s consider our love for our enemies. Does our love only go as far as our “neighbor” who we know or we can relate to on a national basis? Who is our neighbor? Is our neighbor someone who lives on the same block as we do or goes to our Church; are they fellow Americans; and do they include Muslims who wish us harm? Does the liberty we have in Christ make allowances for hatred and military violence or serial killers? Can Christians justly kill their enemies in acts of self-defense or government sanctioned operations according to the New Testament and still maintain a holy witness and testimony?

Fifth, Divorce! Would Christ consider us holy if we divorce our mate? I do not believe that the New Testament makes any allowance for divorce. Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount appears to be giving permission for divorce with the words, “. . . except for fornication.” Matthew 5:32. But this verse makes no sense at all if we believe the other parts of the New Testament concerning love, mercy, and forgiveness. When Jesus’ disciples asked how many time they should forgive He answered them, “not seven times but seventy times seven times.”  We can forgive our enemies an infinite number of times but we cannot forgive our mate once? This verse has to be a corruption of the text, a justification for some immoral ruler to shed his unwanted baggage for a new wife. And, what about the man? Is the wife not allowed to divorce her husband for the same reason? I personally believe, when understood correctly, that Christ has here removed any justification what-so-ever for divorce.  It was men who, under the Law of Moses, were given justification for divorce so that they could remarry, but Christ here removes it. According to the spirit of Christ and holiness, this verse would read better this way:  

“It hath been said (i.e. by Moses), Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, besides the guilt of fornication (that the man commits because he wants a different woman), causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32

Could Christ really have approved of divorce when He expressly states in Malachi 2:16 that He hates divorce? Or, would He approve of divorce when it is He who states that they “are one flesh” and that man should “not put asunder” what He has established?

God’s own example of accepting back his own adulteress people after committing prostitution with another nation, and his example in the life of Hosea, who married a woman who he knew would cheat on him then purchasing her back after a promiscuous life landed her on a slave block, is proof enough that Matthew 5:32 is a corruption inserted for the justification of some man’s desire to have another woman. Hosea exhibited Godly holiness in the mercy and forgiveness he showed toward his wife.

Sixth, immodesty! Well, this needs little explanation; we need only open our eyes. Christian men and women alike are very immodest. The opposite of modesty is vanity. Vanity is openly flaunted and accepted in the Church because it is so prevalent. It is hard to imagine a time that excels the self-centeredness of Christians today. Holiness, sure, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the exposing of breasts and other flesh, or the latest article of clothing or hair fashion, a tattoo or body piercing, perfume or jewelry, or anything else that communicates how wonderful and blessed I am.

There is more, we could consider theft, coarse speech and joking, the things we allow our eyes to watch, our use of drugs and alcohol, our obsession with sex, jealousy, and lack of self-control in nearly all areas.

The lack of holiness we see in the Church is not due to ignorance but rather a lack of intention. Very few Christians have any intention of living a holy life, and there lies the problem. We can only conclude that holiness is a rare and precious commodity in the modern Church, but an absolutely necessary feature if we will see the Lord.

“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” Heb. 12:14

3 replies on “Practical Holiness”

Steve, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of or listened to Zac Poonen (you can find his sermons on YouTube and elsewhere), but he makes the same point you are making (i.e., that the Sermon on the Mount is for Christians and that we cannot dismiss these teachings lightly). He also takes Hebrews 12:14 very seriously, believing that many are in for a horrific shock when their lives in this age are over…

Some things you can’t change. I’m divorced and have tattoos. I do however reflect upon the teaching of Christ daily in an attempt to bring my thoughts and behavior more in line with the will of the father for his children. I believe I have made progress in this area but am rather frequently reminded of how far I still need to go.


We all have things that we cannot change, but as Jesus told the woman who was caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” He is a forgiving Lord who doesn’t want any to perish. I also have two tattoos that I got when I was in the military that I am now ashamed of, but they can not be removed.

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