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Holy Ground: The Only Way to Become Holy!

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By David Wilkerson
January 26, 1998

The Old Testament is full of types and shadows of New Testament truth. Whenever I have a difficult time trying to understand a truth from the New Testament, I turn back to its foreshadowing in the Old. In fact, I believe there isn't a single episode or story in the Old Testament that is not full of ripe truth for New Testament believers.

My preacher grandfather once told me, "David, if you're going to teach about character, you have to go to the Old Testament. That's where all the character teaching is." I believe he was right.

One such example is the passage concerning Moses at the burning bush. I'd like to explore that particular story in some depth - because I see it as being full of profound New Testament truth on the subject of holiness.

First, we need to ask - how are we made holy in the sight of God? The New Testament tells us we are called to be holy "even as God is holy": "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16). In other words, "It is written, recorded, settled once and for all: We are to be holy, as our God is holy!"

"According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love" (Ephesians 1:4). Paul is saying, "Since the very beginning of creation, we have been called to live holy and blameless!"

"Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints..." (1 Corinthians 1:2). The Greek word for "saints" here is "holy." So, the literal meaning of this phrase is, "If you're in Christ, then you are called to be holy!"

"God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness" (1 Thessalonians 4:7). God hasn't called us just to salvation, or to heaven, or to receive his pardon. Rather, these things are benefits of our one true call - which is to be holy as he is holy!

Every single believer in the church of Jesus Christ is called to be holy, even as Christ is holy - to be pure and blameless in God's sight. So, if you have been born again, holiness must be the cry of your heart: "God, I want to be like Jesus. I want to walk holy before you, all the days of my life!"

Now, as you read these New Testament verses, you may be alarmed: "You mean, I'm to be as holy as Jesus was? Impossible! He was spotless, blameless, perfect. How on earth could anyone live up to that standard? Besides, doesn't the Bible say, 'There is none holy as the Lord'?"

That was the very purpose of the law - to show us it is impossible for us to measure up to God's standard of holiness. No amount of human willpower, strength or ability could ever make us holy.

Therefore, if there is none holy but the Lord, there can only be one way for us to become holy:

We Must Be in Christ - and His
Holiness Must Become Our Holiness!

"...if the root be holy, so are the branches" (Romans 11:16). Paul says that because Jesus, the root, is holy, then we, the branches, are holy also. And John writes, "I am the vine, ye are the branches...." (John 15:5). In other words, because we are in Christ, we are made holy by virtue of his holiness.

That fact is, God recognizes only one man as holy - Jesus Christ. And in God's eyes, there have been only two representative men throughout history - the first, literal Adam, and the second Adam, which is Jesus. All of humankind was wrapped up in the first Adam - and when he sinned, we all became sinners. Then Jesus came forth as a new man - and, through his reconciliation on the cross, all of humankind potentially became gathered up in him. Today God recognizes only this one man, Jesus - and he is holy.

Like Adam, apart from Christ's redemption of us, we can never be holy. No matter how long we live or how hard we try - not matter how many prayers we utter, how often we read the Bible, or how many lusts we conquer - we will never be perfectly holy. The Bible says if we haven't fulfilled all the law - if we've had even one evil thought - then we've missed the whole law. And we cannot be holy.

Jesus stands alone in perfect holiness. And if any person is ever to stand before the heavenly father and be received by him, that person must be in Christ. God won't recognize any other man. (Thankfully, that includes our "old man" - the dead sinner in us!) We stand before the father without any merits or claims of our own - but only the grace of Christ.

Every time we go to our secret closet, our prayer should be: "Lord, I have no plea but Christ. I have nothing to bring to you - no good works, no holiness of my own. I come to you only because I am in Christ. And I claim his holiness. I know I stand before you uncondemned, because I am in him!"

This One Man, Jesus, Who
Is Holy and Blameless, Has a
Body - and We Are That Body!

"Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Corinthians 12:27). We are the very members of Christ's body! By faith, we are made bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

And now we all have been adopted into one family, as part of the one man: "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Romans 12:5).

You see, out of the grave came a new man. And from the time of the cross, all who repent and believe in this new man are gathered up in him: "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many" (1 Corinthians 12:13-14).

There is no longer any black, white, yellow, brown, Jew, Muslim or Gentile. We are all of one blood - one new man - in Christ Jesus!

And because of Christ's work on the cross, man could no longer attempt to be holy by keeping the law and the commandments. He couldn't become holy by good works, righteous deeds, human effort or strivings of the flesh:

"That he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Ephesians 2:16). "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain [two] one new man, so making peace" (verse 15).

Only one man would be accepted by the father - the new, resurrected man! And when this new man presented to his father all who had faith in him, the father responded, "I receive you all as holy - because you are in my holy son!" "...he hath made us accepted in the beloved" (1:6).

Moreover, we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit: "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise" (verses 10, 13).

So, you see, holiness is not something we do, or attain, or work up. Rather, it is something we believe! God accepts us as holy only as we have faith in Christ and abide in him. The path to holiness is not through human ability, but through faith!

This is God's wonderful answer to the anxious cries of multitudes of Christians, who thirst for an understanding of how to be holy. We are holy only as we rest in Christ's holiness! Our holiness is his holiness - flowing to us, the branches, from the root.

Yet, at times, this biblical doctrine of holiness hasn't always been the practice of the church. Often holiness has been thought of only in terms of outward behavior.

My preacher grandfather is an example of this. He was a Nazarene minister in the early holiness movement, and he didn't allow Christians to wear feathers in their hats. He kept a little pair of gold scissors in his pocket - and whenever someone came to the altar and bowed her head, he would snip off any feathers!

Yet my grandfather chewed tobacco, because there was no "holiness prohibition" against it. He even kept a spittoon near him on the pulpit, so he could chew while he preached. He would turn his head and spit out the juice - all while preaching against women who wore lipstick!

I have heard holiness preachers rail for hours against women's makeup, certain types of dress, length of hair and other things, calling them matters of holiness. Yet these same men were the worst gossipers ever!

Beloved, God's message to us about holiness isn't about outward things. It is about faith - and he makes it very clear and simple! Yes, the Holy Spirit will deal with the outward man, teaching us to be adorned in simplicity and decency. But he does it through conviction - in his time and in his way.

To Better Understand How to Be Holy,
We Must Go Back to The Old Testament -
to the Account of Moses at the Burning Bush!

You probably have read this passage. Moses was all alone on Mount Horeb, herding his father-in-law's sheep, when suddenly a strange sight grabbed his attention: A bush was burning brightly, as if on fire - yet it was not consumed!

Moses decided to go for a closer look - and as he stepped nearer, God called to him out of the bush: "Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush..." (Exodus 3:3-4).

God was present in the bush. That's why it was burning, yet not consumed. It was a visual representation of God's holiness. Indeed, wherever he is present, that place is holy!

Then the Lord told Moses, "...Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (verse 5). Most of us skip over this verse without understanding the tremendous depth of its meaning. I've heard many conflicting opinions of what God means in commanding Moses, "Take off your shoes." Some scholars say this means, "Take off your pride." Others say it means, "Take off your arrogance."

I believe the phrase goes much deeper than either of these things. I suggest it has to do with the subject of this message - how to be holy!

Think about it: Moses was about to be called into God's eternal purpose for him - to deliver Israel out of bondage. Yet, first God had to show Moses the ground upon which he, the Lord, was to be approached: It had to be holy ground. In short, Moses was being called to a face-to-face communion with a holy God - and he had to be prepared for it!

Of course, Moses was afraid when God spoke to him: "...And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God" (verse 6). Yet scripture says this was the same man who "talked face-to-face with God."

So, how was Moses dramatically changed? What transformed him from being someone who hid his face in God's presence, to a man whose face shone brightly after conversing freely with the Lord face-to-face?

It was because Moses had a revelation of the kind of ground upon which God must be approached!

The New Testament Truth Corresponding to
This Passage Is, "...No Flesh Should Glory
In His Presence" (1 Corinthians 1:29).

This verse is not just a New Testament truth. It was true in Moses' day! Moses couldn't deliver God's people in his own strength. He had to be taught, once and for all, that God's work is done not through any human ability - but by total trust and dependence on the Lord!

This is true for every Christian today. There has to be a putting off of all that the flesh tries to bring to God. Indeed, God says to us as he did to Moses, "There is only one ground upon which you can approach me, and that is holy ground. You can have no confidence in your flesh - because no flesh will stand in my presence!"

Yet, why did God focus on shoes in this passage? What does that have to do with putting off the flesh? First, our feet are two of the most tender parts of our body. And what are shoes, but a protection of our flesh? They protect us from the elements, from stones, from snakes, from filth and dust, from the hot pavement.

Do you see what God was saying to Moses here? He was using an everyday, ordinary thing to teach a spiritual lesson - just as Jesus later did, using coins, pearls, camels and mustard seeds. God was saying, "Moses, you wear protective garb to keep your flesh from injury. But no amount of fleshly protection will be able to keep you, because of where I am about to send you. You'll need a miracle of deliverance!

"I am sending you into Egypt - that den of iniquity - to face a hardened dictator. And you'll be put in a situation that only I can deliver you from. So, unless you set aside all reliance on your flesh - your meekness, zeal and humility - you won't be able to do what I'm calling you to do. All your abilities will be worthless, unless I sanctify them. You have to put your total trust in my name and power!"

Indeed, Moses would face all kinds of tests and trials. He was about to lead some three million people into the desert, where there were no grocery stores, no malls, not even a well of water. He would have to depend wholly on God for everything!

You have to understand - Moses had already tried to act as a deliverer in the power of his flesh. Forty years before, he had taken sword in hand and killed a cruel Egyptian slave driver. And now God was saying, "Moses, your zeal has to be sanctified - or it will destroy you! Are you willing to put down your sword, and trust in my sword? Will you put off all hope of being a deliverer in your own power and ability? Will you put off all confidence in your flesh to do my will?"

The Holiness God Demands Is Utterly Above
and Beyond All Human Power to Achieve!

It is impossible for any of us to achieve holiness in God's sight by our own strength or willpower. There is only one way to be holy - and one principle by which to approach the Lord in our Christian service. We must come to him saying, "Lord, I have nothing to give you. You have to do it all!"

You can be free of all lusts, of every evil desire, and still not be holy. You can be a wonderful person, a loving mate, an upright and honest person, and still not be holy. On the contrary, all of our human goodness is as filthy rags in God's sight!

Yet we remain convinced, "If I could just get victory over this one last, remaining sin, I'd be able to live holy." So we take sword in hand - the sword of willpower, promises, good intentions - and we set out to kill the enemy in our hearts, in an attempt to gain victory.

But it will never happen! We can never be holy while standing on the ground of self-righteousness. The shoes of flesh have to be put off!

Years ago, many evangelical churches sang a gospel song that I absolutely hated. It says, "Forgive me, Lord, and try me one more time." No - that is theologically incorrect! God would never put our eternal future at such a great risk. If our salvation depended on such trial and error, none of us would ever make it to heaven!

Beloved, you and I face the same burning bush Moses did. And that bush is a type of God's fiery zeal against all flesh brought into his presence masquerading as holiness. He says to us, "You can't stand before me on that kind of fleshly ground. There is only one holy ground - and that is faith in my son and his work on the cross!"

This is the only way God ever could have saved and reconciled a whole world. If our works merited our salvation, only a select number would be candidates for salvation. But I believe in the doctrine of unlimited atonement - that Christ died potentially for all of humankind.

Many of my favorite Puritan writers, such as John Owen, believed the opposite. Their doctrine taught that "election" means God has chosen certain people for his kingdom, and that all others are damned. But I personally do not believe this teaching is supported in scripture. On the contrary, I believe that through Jesus' work on the cross, the whole world is potentially reconciled to God. Anyone who hears his word, repents of sin, and turns to him in faith, becomes in him - a part and member of his body!

This means God can save even the worst of humankind. We can behold the worst thief, rapist, murderer, drug addict or alcoholic - people who have no good works at all - and testify, "By repentance and faith, they can be presented righteous in Christ Jesus!"

That is the true, saving power of God. Yet many Christians live as if their works are sufficient. On judgment day, they'll stand before God in their flesh, saying, "Look at everything I've done for you, Lord. I've striven to stay clean and holy. I've prophesied, fed the poor, healed the sick, cast out demons. And I've done it all to please you!"

But God will answer, "I never knew you - because you were never on the proper ground! You never took your shoes off, setting aside your confidence in the flesh.

"You didn't do any of these things through the power of my Spirit. You did them all in your own strength. And they are a stench in my nostrils! I accept the righteousness of only one man - my son. And I do not see my son in you. You are not in Christ!"

"Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). In other words: "I won't allow any human beings to glory in my presence. They will glorify me only through my son - who each day is becoming their wisdom, righteousness and holiness!"

There Is Only One Ground Upon Which
You Can Be Made Holy - and That Is
Total and Complete Trust in Christ!

When I speak of total trust in Christ, I mean not only trust in his saving power, but trust in his keeping power as well. We have to trust his Spirit to make our life conform to his - that is, to keep us in Christ!

Think about it for a moment. At one time you were alienated, cut off from God by wicked works. So, what good work did you do to make things right with him? None! No one has ever been able to make himself holy. Rather, we are brought into Christ's holiness by faith alone - by accepting what God's word says: "If you are in Christ, you are holy, as he is holy!"

Yes, he wants your practical, daily walk to measure up to your faith walk. But the fact is, we have to believe him even for that. We must trust in his promise to give us the Holy Ghost, who will conform us to Christ's likeness in our daily walk:

"And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith..." (Colossians 1:21-23).

Note the phrase - "If you continue in faith..." Jesus is saying, "Just continue trusting in me, living by faith. And I will present you as clean, faultless, unblamable - holy before the father!" That is the sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost: As the Spirit empowers you to mortify the deeds of the flesh, he will lead you by both his conviction and his comfort.

There is but one holiness - Christ's! And no one Christian is "holier than thou." There are no degrees of holiness - only degrees of maturity in Christ. You can be a baby Christian and still be absolutely holy in Jesus. So it is foolish to measure yourself against someone you picture as being "holy." No! We are all measured by one standard - the holiness of Christ. And if we are in Christ, his holiness is ours in equal measure!

You can never again look at another Christian leader or layperson and say, "Oh, I wish I were as holy as he is!" You may not have that person's discipline; you may not have his prayer life; you may struggle more often and make more mistakes than he does; but he is no more accepted by the father than you are. You are to compare yourself to no one - because no one is more loved in the eyes of the father than you!

Dear saint, take your shoes off - put off all reliance on the flesh. Here is the ground upon which you're to live: "I claim my holiness that is in Christ Jesus. I'm a part of his body. And my father sees me as holy - because I am in Christ!"

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