Sanctification — Its Standard
. . . Be ye holy; for I am holy. — 1 Pet. 1:16.
The Bible acknowledges one standard of holiness—the holiness of God Himself. Holiness means perfect conformity to the law of God, which is the expression of the divine will.
God made man in His own likeness, and He planned that man should be like Him in character. That man fell is no fault of the Creator. He has not changed His standard, nor can He compromise with evil by accepting anything less than perfect holiness. The standard required by God today is the same as required of Adam in his sinless state. We cannot plead that our decreased ability limits our obligation. If this were true, the more men fell from their original state of purity, the less God would require. The end of this reasoning would be to propose that man has no obligation at all.
The gospel has not been given to create a lower standard or to make it possible for God to accept an imperfect obedience in the place of a perfect one. The divine law cannot be modified or relaxed to meet man in his fallen condition, for the end of the gospel is to "magnify the law, and make it honorable." Is. 42:21. The claims of the law must be urged upon all men, especially upon those who acknowledge Christ as Lord as well as Saviour. The gospel must not be mingled with the law in such a way as to weaken its force or dilute its demand. Neither must the law be "brewed and stewed" with the gospel to rob it of its promise. Both must be distinguished, yet harmonized in the one body of God's Word, so that each maintains its full force.
Let us therefore examine the kind of obedience that God requires and that a holy man will strive to render:
1. First of all, God requires a willing service, for "willingness is the soul of obedience." — Thomas Watson.
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land . . . — Is. 1:19.
As far as God is concerned, what is not done willingly is not done at all.
2. God requires a fervent obedience.
. . . . fervent in spirit; serving the Lord . . .— Rom. 12:11.
The angels serve God with burning fervor and devotion. Obedience without fervency is like sacrifice without fire. The works of the Laodiceans are condemned because they are neither cold nor hot (Rev. 3:14-19). This nauseates the One who ardently loves His people.
3. Obedience must be entire.
Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all Thy commandments. — Ps. 119:6.
He who refuses to keep God's law entirely, breaks it wholly. We must not be like the Pharisees who specialized in some points of obedience, yet neglected the weightier matters of the law (see Matt. 23:23). If we withhold allegiance to the Lord on one point, we are still guilty of treason and highhanded rebellion against the Ruler of the universe.
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. — James 2:10.
4. God calls for consistent obedience.
Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times. — Ps. 106:3.
5. Acceptable obedience must be sincere. King Amaziah "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart." 2 Chron. 25:2. Instead of being commended, he stood condemned.
6. Love is the mainspring of all true obedience, for "love is the fulfilling of the law." Rom. 13:10.
And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul . . . — Duet. 10:12.
7. Justice demands a joyful obedience.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations. — Ps. 100.
Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and He shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until He have destroyed thee. — Deut. 28:47, 48.
It is the spirit of joyful service that makes Christ's yoke easy and His burden light (Matt. 11:30). God wants to put His law in our hearts, not on our backs.
8. The soul of godliness is fearful obedience — a service rendered in the spirit of reverence and awe for our Maker and King. The Lord says:
. . . to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My Word. — Is. 66:2 (see also Is. 66:5; Rev. 14:7).
9. What is all this but an obedience that is in every way, at all times, and under all circumstances perfect?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. — Matt. 5:48.
The man who walks with God is no one else than the man who agrees with God. God's standard is his standard. God's idea is his idea. God makes no compromise with sin. Neither will he. God never offers an excuse for sin. Neither will the man of God. " . . . his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night." Ps. 1:2. Accepting no other standard but perfect holiness and conformity to the will of God, he bends the energies of his whole being to reach the mark set before him.
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. — Phil. 3:12-14.
Above the believer stands the law, saying, "Holier yet," and gladly he responds, "Yes, Lord, holier yet." He does not fret because the standard is so high, nor does he count the commandments grievous because they call for an obedience far above his best endeavors.
This standard of sanctification is the heart's desire and prayer of all true Christians. None claims to have reached it, but all press toward it. This is what a holy man strives and labors to be. As Owen says, "I do not understand how a man can be a true believer unto whom sin is not the greatest burden, sorrow, and trouble." And what is sin but to fall short of this standard (Rom. 3:23)?