As believers observe the advent and Christmas, and ponder over the true meaning of Christmas (as contrasted with the world’s celebration of X’mas with its emphasis on secular materialism and ‘making merry’), it is helpful to remember that the Lord Jesus came to ‘destroy the work of the devil’ and to recreate a new society and humanity in Him. This new humanity, expressed as the bride of Christ, the body of Christ and the temple of God is characteristically one of holiness. As Apostle Peter reminds us, you shall be holy because God is holy. The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4:”For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.”
In that light, it may be helpful to consider the writings of J.C. Ryle in the book entitled Holiness:
It is interesting to note that he wrote that the right views of holiness must begin by examining the solemn subject of sin. ‘Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption. The first thing that God does when He makes anyone a new creation in Christ is to send light into his heart and show him that he is a guilty sinner. Dim views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies and false doctrines of the present day.”
Even for believers, the roots of human corruption remain alive in the bottom of our hearts. Sin, no doubt, in the believer’s heart, has no longer dominion. It is checked, controlled, mortified and crucified by the expulsive power of the principle of grace and the Holy Spirit. Although the life of a believer is a life of victory and not of failure, the struggles continue within his bosom; he has to fight daily, keep a constant guard on his inner man, and ensure that the contest between the spirit and the flesh ends continually with victory for the former. The proper understanding of this conflict is so very important in the strife for holiness and sanctification for the believer. The Holy Spirit enables victory in this conflict by the instrument of the Word of God; sometimes He uses afflictions and providential visitations in various circumstances to achieve the end result – our sanctification.
The following is a summary of the characteristics of holiness and sanctification written in this book by this servant of God.: The summary consists of my own paraphrasing as well as the use of some pertinent words used by the writer.
Sanctification is the outcome of regeneration. He that is born again and made a new creature in Christ receives a new nature and a new principle and always lives a new life. In a word, where there is no sanctification, there is no regeneration and where there is no holy life there is no new birth. This is a hard saying to many minds, but, hard or not, it is simple Bible truth. Sanctification is the only certain evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Here we must realise that Ryle is not referring to a perfect life, but he is writing about the fruit of the Spirit, which may not be so prominent initially in young believers, but it will be manifested in due time. If sanctification is continually absent in the life of one who claims to be a believer, there is much cause for concern.
Sanctification, is the only sure mark of God’s election. The names and number of the elect are a secret thing, known only to God, but one thing is clear – the elect men and women may be known and distinguished by holy lives.
Sanctification is a thing which will be found absolutely necessary as a witness to our character in the great Day of Judgement. The evidence that will be admitted on that day will be sanctification. The question will not be how we talked and what we professed, but how we lived and what we did.
Sanctification is absolutely necessary in order to train and prepare us for heaven. Heaven is essentially a holy place, its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.
True sanctification does not consist in temporary religious feelings. Many may be moved and touched and roused under the preaching of the gospel, but in reality their hearts are not changed at all. I know no state of soul more dangerous than to imagine we are born again and sanctified by the Holy Spirit because we have picked up a few religious feelings.
True sanctification does not consist in outward formalism and external devoutness. This is an enormous delusion, but unhappily a very common one. Thousands imagine that true holiness is to be seen in constant attendance on church services, reception of the Lord’s Supper, and observance of fasts and saints’ days, in postures during public worship and in multiplied bowings and gestures. In many cases, this external righteousness is made a substitute for inward holiness; and I am quite certain that it falls short of sanctification of heart.
Sanctification does not consist in the occasional performance of right actions. It is the habitual working of a new heavenly principle within, which runs through all a man’s daily conduct, both in great things and in small. Its seat is in the heart and, like the heart in the body, it has a regular influence on every part of the character. It will show itself in habitual respect to God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life. It will show itself in an habitual endeavour to do Christ’s will, and to live by His practical precepts.
Finally, let us awake to a sense of the perilous state of many professing Christians. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord; without sanctification, there is no salvation (Heb. 12:14).Then what an enormous amount of so-called religion there is which is perfectly useless! What an immense proportion of church-goers are in the broad road that leads to destruction! The thought is awful, crushing and overwhelming. Oh, that preachers and teachers would open their eyes and realise the condition of souls around them! If unsanctified souls can be saved and go to heaven, the Bible is not true. Yet, the Bible is true and cannot lie! What must the end be!
As we observe Christmas and meditate on God’s mercy and grace in sending His only begotten Son, let us not forget that God intends to recreate a holy people for a new heaven and a new earth. It begins at Christmas with the first coming of the Lord Jesus; it ends with HIs glorious second coming. Let us ensure, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, to be among those who will be welcomed into His presence as we persevere in knowing Him, loving Him and being conformed to be like Him, to the praise of His glory!