One of the most important goals in the Christian life is to grow in holiness. We are all striving to become more like our saviour and must seriously consider how we are to do this. The answer would be obvious to us, were it not for the prevailing power of sin that blinds our eyes and insists that we should get the glory instead of God. Before discussing what we can do to grow in holiness we first need to look at what holiness is so that we understand exactly what it is that we are striving for. Then we can move on to the means of grace, by which we can encourage growth in holiness.
Holiness is dedication, or consecration, or devotion. We see this from the fact that Mount Sinai was holy, indeed the ground itself was holy (Ex. 3:5). We can tell right off the bat that this is not referring to moral purity, for how can ground be morally pure? Rather, the ground was dedicated by God for a purpose (the establishment of a covenant). We further see that the priests are holy to the Lord. Clearly, since everyone sins (Romans 3), the priests were not morally pure to the Lord. Neither were they necessarily believers, as Eli’s sons showed as they slept with women who came to the temple (1 Sam. 2:22). So, the sinful priesthood could only be devoted to God, by God. For they did not chose to be priests, but God commanded that they be so, regardless of their personal preference (Deut. 10:8). We also see that animals that were devoted to God were holy to God (Lev. 27:28) and this only makes sense if “devoted” and “holy” are synonyms. For how can animals be morally pure to God? Also, the Sabbath was to be holy to the Lord, which only makes sense as dedicated to the Lord (Ex. 31:15). I could go on and look at every single use of the word “holy” and show how without exception the most logical understanding is “devoted,” but I will restrain myself and make one final and important mention: God commands His people to be holy (Lev. 11:45) – God commands His people to be devoted to Him. The greatest commandment shows this: “You shall love the Lord your God”. And the first of the ten commandments shows this as well: “You shall have no other gods before me”. Moral purity is a result of being devoted to God and is not something that God is interested in us having if it does not stem from our devotion to Him.
The question should be raised as to what holy means when the Lord says that He is Holy, and I believe the answer is very straightforward. We see that God saves people for the glory of His own name (Is. 48:9; Ez. 20:9; Eph 1:6). If God is restraining his wrath against sin for His own glory, saving sinners for His own glory, and refuses to share his glory (Is. 48:11), then we can see very clearly that our God is dedicated to His own glory. Indeed, God even commands us to do everything for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31). God is devoted to His own glory and He commands the same for us, for we must be dedicated to the same cause as God if we are to be dedicated to God. Having discovered what holiness is we now turn to how we become Holy.
On the surface of the matter we see that God’s elect are holy to the Lord because the Lord has dedicated them to Himself. We see this when God tells Elijah that He has kept 7,000 men for Himself (Rom. 11:4). But this is not what God means when He commands His people to be holy. When God tells us to be holy He means that we ought to be dedicated to Him in how we live our lives. This dedication to God, for the Christian, begins when we are dedicated by God to Himself – faith sprouts in the heart (Eph. 2:8) as a gift from God and we begin to be transformed in to the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). We see immediately that the work is begun by God in Ephesians 2:8 and that it is also completed by God in Romans 8:28-29. The work is entirely of God! So what is there left for us to do other than sit around waiting for the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of the Son? That is where the means of grace come in.
By “means of grace” I mean those ordained activities that the Lord commands of His people, which He chooses to bless in their doing. There are many such God ordained activities but at this time I will constrain myself to two of the most basic ones: prayer and scripture reading. We should notice that neither of these, on their own, apart from God, are of any real use to us. Prayer, without God responding, is no better than daydreaming about things we would like to have or see happen. Scripture reading, without the Spirit making it effective for transforming our soul, is no better than any other form of education that teaches you about history. I emphasize again: God is the reason the “means of grace” activities are of any use to us, if God did not choose to bless them then they would be of no use for making us holy. We show our love for God by taking advantage of the means of grace rather than idly sitting by and ignoring the command to be Holy.
Prayer is the activity of communicating with God, often asking Him for assistance. Prayer shows our dependence upon God and honours Him. When we pray in Jesus’ name what we mean is that we are praying according to the revealed will of Jesus our saviour. Adding “in Jesus’ name” to the end of a prayer is only useful for letting other people you are praying with know that you’ve finished. The content of your prayer will determine whether or not you’ve prayed in Jesus’ name. These requests rise up to God and He is pleased by our humble dependence on Him, and He always answers in the way that is best. James teaches clearly that the prayer made by those who are righteous through faith, which is all believers, is effective and has great power (James 5:17). Not that the prayer itself has power, but that God listens and responds to His children. Through praying for God to make us more like Jesus, and by imitating Jesus’ prayerful reliance upon the Father, we are blessed as the Holy Spirit responds by conforming our souls to the image of Christ – the pinnacle of holiness. So prayer is a “means of grace”, meaning that God’s grace is distributed to His people when they partake in this God ordained activity of prayer.
Reading scripture is also a means of grace. If anyone should doubt this then I direct them to read the entirety of Psalm 119. Through reading the Bible we learn of Christ and what He desires, and the enlightenment brought by the scriptures enables us to truly pray in Jesus’ name. Furthermore, as we learn of who Jesus is and what God commands, the promise of Ezekiel begins to take place where God causes us to obey the commands He has set down before us (Ezek. 36:27). So, it is the Spirit of the New Covenant that causes our obedience to God, which is the sign of our growing holiness (dedication to God). For it is through our obedience that our dedication is shown.
Now, it should be immediately clear that these two means of grace are interrelated. Through reading the Bible we learn of what we can pray for and what it is that God commands of us. Through praying that God would reveal His truth to us in scripture we then have our minds opened to see what the Bible says. This interrelated nature holds true for all of the means of grace, and so excluding certain ones from your life will be detrimental to your growth in holiness. These means of grace will be covered in greater detail, along with many others, in future posts – the point of this post was to establish concepts of holiness and means of grace.