The Pursuit of Holiness : Part 2
Paul begins this section with an emphatic command, “Stop becoming unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” The idea here is to become “mixed up” with them. Incidentally, the prohibition against using an ox and a donkey in the same yoke, Deuteronomy 22:10, is bookended by the prohibition of mixing seeds in the garden and two different fibers in a garment. I think that helps us understand better the idea of becoming too “mixed” with unbelievers. In the context of what was happening at Corinth, there were the factions in the church as well as the surrounding pagan idolatry.
To illustrate further what he means, Paul asks several rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions are often used in the context of persuasive arguments in order to confront people and make them think. And they are often asked in such a way that the answer is clearly known, and the questioner isn’t really asking for a verbal response.
The first one is “what fellowship [or participation] does righteousness have with lawlessness?” Or we could ask it this way, “what do righteousness and lawlessness have in common?” They are opposites, they have nothing in common. The nature of Christ, which we have as His followers, is righteousness. The nature of Satan and unbelievers is lawlessness.
Next, “what communion does light have with darkness?” Or “what do light, and darkness have in common?” Here, the word is koinonia. This same word is used in First Corinthians 10:16 in the context of “the communion of the blood of Christ.” It is a sharing, a fellowship, a partnership. Light and darkness share no mutual characteristics.
And “what accord does Christ have with Belial?” The question is what harmony (symphonesis) exists between Christ and Belial? Belial is the transliteration of the Hebrew word for worthlessness and is applied to Satan. They have nothing in common, they can’t be harmonized. They are the heads of opposing forces and kingdoms.
Further, “what part does a believer have with an unbeliever?” What portion or share does a believer have with someone who actively disbelieves? A disbeliever attaches no value to Christ. An unbeliever may see Jesus as a good man, a teacher, and a moral model. Not so with a disbeliever, he is antagonistic toward Christ.
And finally, “what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” The idea here is a unity of composition, being made up of similar things. Of course, that’s ridiculous, the temple of God and idols have nothing in common!
You and I, as followers of Christ, are the temple of the living God! Paul cites Leviticus 26:11 and 12, “I will set Mytabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you.I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.” Remember, in the context of the old covenant God lived and walked among His people.
Now, God’s Holy Spirit resides in the heart of every believer. This is one of the major differences that resulted from Jesus’ fulfillment of the new covenant. And this reality of the Spirit dwelling in us is prominent in all of Paul’s writings.
Perhaps you noticed as we worked through this list of questions that they’re all very similar. They are, but there are subtle shades of difference in the meanings. Remember, I said earlier that rhetorical questions are designed to pique people’s curiosity and intellect, to make them think. The ability to think is essential to our developing a measure of discernment.
What Paul wrote here informs us that the same thing was happening in Corinth. There is a great need today for Christ-followers to develop and exercise discernment. Truth and error are mixed together so subtly and because people are not grounded in the truth and in their faith, they are easily deceived into alliances with unbelievers.
One current example of this is the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Every genuine Christ-follower I know believes that black lives matter. We mourn for the millions of black babies who have been aborted in the past five decades, and for the majority of African American children growing up in homes without a father present.
We believe in equal opportunity and justice under the law. We acknowledge that racism has existed in the past, and still does exist in the hearts of those who don’t know Jesus. And we lament that. We also acknowledge in the past we’ve struggled to really hear from our black brothers and sisters and to identify with the challenges that are unique to them. We need to listen more carefully and sympathetically and be willing to help in whatever way we can.
But we can’t embrace the “Black Lives Matter” movement because it is based on creating animosity and division among people of different races. We’ve seen the violence that has resulted from the movement, especially in some of our inner cities, and much of that violence has affected other people of color. We’ve seen the horrendous rate of black-on-black crime ignored by this movement because it doesn’t fit the narrative of racism and police brutality.
Another example of alliances with unbelievers is the MAGA movement; “Make America Great Again.” While we may agree with some of its stated goals, the rhetoric used is often divisive. It denigrates and ridicules its opponents. Jesus teaches us to love those who disagree with us. God’s kingdom will not be established through political or military power, in spite of what some false teachers proclaim. So, we reject identification with this movement because it also mixes truth and error, and it focuses on things that are temporary rather than eternal.
Brothers and sisters, I fear we are much too easily swept along by popular movements. Most of these will NOT aid us in the pursuit of holiness. Whether they’re social, political, or even religious we must exercise discernment by comparing the beliefs and actions of these entities with the unchanging truth of Scripture and the realization that God’s Spirit lives in us. We take Him with us wherever we go!
The Final MEASURE (you and I can take to aid us in our pursuit of holiness) is,
The Measure of Separation
Here are the facts; we are the people of God, His presence lives in us, and the unequal yoke is forbidden. Therefore, we are to separate ourselves from the disbelievers and refuse to touch what is unclean. Paul is obviously alluding to the Old Testament law whereby someone touching that was unclean becomes defiled. The one who was defiled then had to go through the process of cleansing.
Paul’s use of the word “touch” implies a sense of intimacy and identification. Think of the many miracles of Jesus that involved touch. The word literally means to contact or attach or fasten oneself to something. When I meet someone for the first time, I usually shake their hand. That’s a very loose “touch” connection. When I am comfortable with another person and know them well, I may give them a hug. That’s a deeper connection. In the context of marital intimacy, I touch my wife in ways I would never touch another person. We have become one flesh.
God says, “if you and I refuse to touch what is unclean, He will receive us, and He will take us into His favor. I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.” Here’s the intimacy and identification we want and need – with the Lord Almighty.
As I was meditating on these concepts of clean and unclean, and how they relate to biblical separation and the pursuit of holiness, my mind went to Haggai 2:11 to 14. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying,“If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?”’ “Then the priests answered and said, “No.” And Haggai said, “If one who is unclean because of a dead body touch any of these, will it be unclean?” So, the priests answered and said, “It shall be unclean.” Then Haggai answered and said, “‘So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,’ says the Lord, ‘and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.’”
What’s the point here? Follow me carefully. The touch of something holy on something unclean or unholy doesn’t make the unclean thing holy. But…when something clean or holy touches what is unholy or defiled, what was clean becomes unclean or unholy. This concept has some far-reaching implications for us. I certainly don’t have this all figured out, but I suspect I often pass over these concepts too lightly.
How often have professing Christ-followers embraced the unclean things of the world thinking that because they themselves are clean, that makes the unclean thing they’ve chosen become clean? How often has the Church tried to use the unholy methods of the world to attract crowds, increase attendance, and build bigger facilities? I think these are questions we need to consider seriously, not just brush off.
Unfortunately, many times when we pastors/teachers expound on the need for personal holiness, we’re accused of promoting a works-based salvation. That’s a misperception. All we’re saying is that if your salvation is genuine if you truly have the nature of Christ in you, you will live differently than unbelievers. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And later, in verse 21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” So, Jesus and Paul both echo the words of the Old Testament prophets about the requirements for God to live among or within His people.
In the closing verse of our text, chapter seven, verse one, Paul writes, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from [every kind of] defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” In other words, having the promises of a relationship with the Lord Almighty, let’s cooperate with Him in the process of bringing our practical holiness into line with our positional holiness in Christ.
The word Paul uses for cleanse is katharidzo. We get our English word, catharsis, from this. It is a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension. A. T. Robertson says this particular form of the Greek word is used only one other place in the New Testament, John 15:2. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes [katharidzo], that it may bear more fruit.”
This cleansing process, this pruning process, isn’t passive and it isn’t painless. The command to cleanse ourselves is given as an imperative. God through the apostle Paul isn’t calling us to merely negative goodness, that is, to withdraw from what is evil. Instead, he is calling us to pursue aggressive and progressive holiness.
That pursuit of holiness is accompanied by a desire to put away everything that defiles us, whether inwardly, in the spirit, or outwardly in our bodies. Because of the way God made you and me, the spirit, soul, and body are all intertwined. To defile one is to defile the whole.
As we wrap up this teaching, let’s review the several important MEASURES you and I can take to aid us in our pursuit of holiness. First is the measure of openness, the understanding that our pursuit of holiness will not be successful without the accountability provided by our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Next, the measure of discernment. Without it, our pursuit of holiness will be stymied because we will have trouble making distinctions between what is good and what is evil. And finally, our measure of separation from things that defile will help us to move forward in our pursuit of holiness.
I close with these words from Peter’s second epistle. “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us [so many] exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
May God grant you and me the desire and power to pursue our growth in holiness with diligence and determination.