Holiness is Not Optional
In Matthew 5:8 Jesus told us that only the pure in heart will see God. And Hebrews 12:14 tells us that without holiness no one will see God. From this we understand that holiness is not optional. Though we are saved by grace through faith, we are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). So we must not make the mistake of imagining that sanctification is just a bonus of salvation which we can take or leave as we see fit. We are saved from sin for holiness, just as the ancient Hebrews were saved from slavery for freedom. If we refuse to walk in the salvation God has provided we will be judged.
The necessity of holiness is nowhere more forcefully illustrated than in the teaching of the Lord himself in Matthew 7:21-27:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord!” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?” Then I will announce to them, “I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!” Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!
But when the goodness of God and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us — not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.
The source of our salvation is the grace of God. We cannot make God willing to forgive us by doing any works of righteousness. It was God who first desired, planned and purchased our salvation. God was not willing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance and life. For this reason He determined before the foundation of the world to send Christ to die for our sins. And in due time Christ came and bore our sins on the cross, and rose again defeating our enemies of sin, death and the devil. There is nothing we did to make God so kindly disposed to us. Nor can we do anything to earn what Christ has already accomplished on our behalf. The word of God is clear about this fact, we are saved by the grace of God, not by works.
What then can we say that Abraham, our physical ancestor, has found? If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to brag about — but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness. Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness.
God will not allow anyone to boast that they have saved themselves. Boasting is the very nature of fallen man. So God has humbled men by choosing faith as the means by which they receive His grace and salvation. Faith is the only thing man can do that gives glory to God and not himself. It looks away from his own works and casts its gaze upon the work of God accomplished in Jesus Christ. God will not receive anyone unless they depend on His grace alone, through faith alone.
For Good Works
For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works.
The grace of God came to set us free from sin so that we could serve Him! The grace of God both forgives and changes us. If we imagine ourselves forgiven by grace while continually walking in sin we are merely deceiving ourselves. A grace that lacks the power to change us also lacks the power to forgive us, because such a grace is not the grace of God!
Romans 6:1-4 and 14
What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life…. For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.
A grace that fails to change us is not the grace of God. In the same way, a faith that does not produce works is not saving faith. The Scripture teaches us that when faith is alive in someone’s heart it will be revealed in what they do. A person that refuses to walk in holiness can never imagine that they are walking in saving faith. Saving faith connects one with the forgiving and empowering grace of God. A lack of good fruits shows that one is not connected and abiding in the grace of God that is found in Jesus Christ (John 15). Works don’t save us, but a lack of works shows a lack of abiding in grace. One who is walking in faith will be putting sin to death by the grace of God’s Holy Spirit (Romans 8:12-14). Grace is received and revealed through a working faith.
Though we are saved by grace through faith, we are saved for good works!
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.
To fail to walk in good works means we have chosen not to walk in salvation. Those that choose such a path are like the Israelites who were delivered from Egypt, but refused to enter the Promised Land. They refused the inheritance God prepared from them, so he struck them down in the wilderness. They did what we are warned not to do, they “received the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1).
In Revelation 22:12 Jesus makes it clear that we are going to be judged by our works:
Look! I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to what he has done.
We are saved by grace, and that grace is received through a living faith. God will judge the genuineness of our faith by what it produces. We are saved through faith, and our faith will be judged by works. Grace produces holiness. Faith receives grace. So a faith that does not produce holiness is not the faith which saves us.
Jesus teaches us that we are accountable to use the grace God has provided for us. He illustrates this in the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. The talents in this parable represent the grace of God. The servant who refused to use his talent was judged for his unfaithfulness with what was given. In the same way, we will be held accountable for the grace we have been given in Jesus Christ. If we do not walk by faith, putting sin to death by the gracious Spirit that lives in us, we will be appointed a place in outer darkness. God came to set us free from sin, and He will hold us accountable if we choose to bury that freedom in the sand by choosing sin over holiness. Holiness is not optional!