Holiness: In the Hands of an Artist

 In Blog, Daniel Cavanaugh
Holiness. How this word is misunderstood and construed. On one hand, we find the danger of self-motivated and driven “holiness” which at best only produces pride and self glory – a so called “holiness” born of weak human effort. Then there is the complete lack of desire for “holiness” – a seeking to grow in the knowledge of God and to live a life that glorifies Him based upon who He is. And at times, there are those who seem to fall in between those two hands. So what is biblical holiness? Our theological understanding will affect two areas:


Positional Holiness


To understand, we need to scratch below the surface and see two things: there is positional holiness and there is practical holiness – your standing in Christ and your growing/sanctifying process in Christ. These two cannot be separated and both are based upon a proper understanding of the Gospel.


For those who know Christ in a saving way, this is true:


“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 & 10


“And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Philippians 3:9


“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Ephesians 1:3&4


Our present reality is that we are presented and seen as holy and acceptable to God because of the righteousness of Christ. Christ is our holiness! He has made us holy before God. So when God sees us, He does not see our futile attempts filled with sin but only the work of Christ himself that has been imputed to us! We are forgiven and have been made holy and presentable before Him. What a glorious reality!


Practical Holiness


But, we are both made holy and are being made holy. There is a dual thought of man’s responsibility and God’s sovereign, all knowing goodness that does dwell in harmony. Not only are we positionally holy before God, but we are being made holy through the continual sanctifying work of Christ. This is practical everyday outworking of God’s holiness in our life. But what does this look like? What does this mean for the everyday? The key to teaching practical holiness is teaching people to know their God. John Piper puts it this way:


“Teach…people to know God and you will touch every area of their lives with the practical holiness of God”


When a true believer grows in the knowledge of who our God is, there will be an abounding in more and more love for him [Phil. 1]. And through this process, they grow in holiness. Not just a head knowledge, but a dynamic understanding of the very character of God. Most often, we teach people the “don’ts” without ever teaching them the matchless personhood of God. We fail to teach the knowledge of the Artist and His ways and instead teach people to focus on the clay that has not fully taken shape. God sees us for who we are in Christ and what we will be once he is done and receives us in glory. All we can see is the unfinished product. Paul tells the Thessalonians why people continue in their lust:


“That each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” 1 Thessalonians 4:4&5


The “Gentiles” did not know God. Plain and simple. And so they continued in their lust. However, you may ask: “But are we not to strive?” Yes! We are to strive…


“…Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians2:12&13


But we strive in the working of God’s will – by His grace. It is not an either/or or a both/and but a daily dying to self and embracing the grace that has been given to us. Once more, Piper gives insight:


“Practical holiness is a gift of God not a merely human achievement.”


So walk in the grace that is abundantly afforded to you. Strive within that grace. Grow in your knowledge of who God is. Be teachable. Never remove yourself from a position of being taught. Know that the process of becoming holy is a process forged in the sanctifying fires of God’s working. Teach others this same knowledge. Know that you are both in a position of holy standing before God because of the work of Christ and that you are a lump of clay that is being formed in the hands of the Artist for the glory of God alone.


Daniel Cavanaugh

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