Bringing Holiness to Completion (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1), Part 1

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Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

Holiness is beautiful (2 Chron. 20:21). It is beautiful both in its origin, which is the character of God, and in its human expression as seen in the life of Christ. As Christians, we are to be imitators of God and walk in the beauty of holiness (Eph. 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:15, 16). As soon as the term “holiness” is mentioned, many people think of absolute perfection, which is a standard of behavior unattainable by fallen humans; and consequently they feel uncomfortable applying the term to themselves. This is unbiblical thinking.

Holiness begins the moment a person is born again (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11). In fact, the primary New Testament term for a Christian is “holy one” or “saint” (1 Cor. 6:2; 14:33; 2 Cor. 1:1), used over 60 times.

In Scripture, “holiness” and its cognate term “sanctification” have “separation” or being “set apart” as their basic meaning. This involves a threefold separation. In the New Birth we are united to God, the source of holiness; and thus we are:

  1. separated to God as His possession (Exod. 19:5, 6; 1 Cor. 6:18, 19).
  2. separated from the common or ordinary (Lev. 10:10).
  3. separated from all that is sinful or defiles (Ezra 6:21; 1 Pet. 1:14-16) as we share in the life of God (2 Pet. 1:4; 1 John 3:9).

Holiness is essential for fellowship with God, for only those who are holy can draw near to Him. The goal of holiness is to bring our lives into conformity with Christ (Rom.8:29), for always its fruits are Christlike attitudes and behavior. Our text teaches that a life of holiness is (1) grounded in the promises of God, (2) furthered by a complete cleansing of flesh and spirit; and (3) sustained by the fear of God.

A Life of Holiness is Grounded in the Promises of God

Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved…. (7:1)

These promises refer to those given in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 and focus on our being the temple of the living God and His indwelling presence and activity in our lives (6:16), His welcoming favor toward us (6:17), and the privilege of being his sons and daughters (6:18). These verses tell us that we have an identity to recognize and a separation to maintain as the people of God.

We Have an Identity to Recognize (6:16)

You are the temple of the Living God [God dwells in us].

Saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ produces a radical transformation of every aspect of a person’s being. Christians are claimed by God and are said to be holy.

  • Old things have passed away, and new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • Believers have been born from above (John 3:3,7),
  • rescued from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13).
  • They have turned from darkness to light and from the power and dominion of Satan to God (Acts. 26:18).
  • They are united with Christ in His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection and are set free from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:1-7).
  • They have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24).
  • Moreover, they are to view themselves, both individually (1 Cor. 6:19) and collectively (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:22), as the temple of the living God.

There are two different words one can use when speaking of the temple. The building as a whole was the hieron. The inner rooms, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place where God dwells, was called the naos. Paul tells us that we are the naos of God, the innermost sanctuary where the divine presence is located. This means you are to recognize that:

1. God is resident in your life. “I will dwell in them, and walk in them” (both corporately and individually). Regardless of your feelings, do you realize that God dwells in you?

2. God is president of your life. We must not separate between His saving work and His Lordship.

However, there should be a growing awareness in the believer’s life individually and in the local church as a group of what it means for God to dwell in us. He wishes us to turn every aspect of our lives over to His full control. We are not to reserve any area from His scrutiny nor permit any rival to wean our affection from Him. We are to be abandoned to God. He is to have “the pre-eminence in all things” (Col. 1:18).

We Have an Incompatibility to Maintain (6:17)

Be separate from them….

Since you are the temple of God, you must separate yourself from all that defiles if you wish to have his welcoming favor. Thus Paul commands, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (6:14). Holiness implies, necessitates, and demands separation from everything that is displeasing to God.

There are basic incompatibilities that must be recognized and maintained. These incompatibilities apply both to the local church corporately and to the believer individually. Believers and unbelievers inhabit two opposing worlds. The saved and the unsaved have different affections, beliefs, principles, motives, goals, attitudes, and hopes. They may enjoy family ties, work at the same job, live in the same community, experience the same hobbies and pastimes, and even agree on certain political and social issues; but on the spiritual level, believers and unbelievers live in two completely different worlds. [1] 

Believers are not to “yoke up together” with anyone who would lead them away from a holy, biblical lifestyle. [2] In many areas of life, the Corinthian believers had made a clean break from the idolatrous and immoral lifestyle of their past. They were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 6:9-11). But there were other areas of their thinking and behavior that were wrong and needed changing—areas that prior to Paul’s corrective letters they believed to be in harmony with a life of holiness.

Therefore, Paul specifically asked five rhetorical questions, each requiring a negative answer, in order to underscore the necessity for continuing separation from the world.

1. Righteousness and unrighteousness are incompatible, aren’t they? (6:14) Righteousness is like a measuring tape. When by faith you obey God’s Word, your obedient response is declared to be righteous (Rev. 19:8). When you do not obey God’s Word or attempt to be righteous apart from a relationship with God, the Bible classifies that as unrighteousness, or lawlessness.

2. Light and darkness are incompatible, aren’t they? (6:14) Intellectually, light refers to God’s truth, and darkness to error; morally, light refers to holiness, and darkness to evil. Those who are Christ’s walk “in the light” (1 John 1:7; John 8:12) while those who are part of Satan’s kingdom are spiritually blinded and walk in darkness (2 Cor. 4:4; John 8:12; John 3:19-20).

3. What belongs to Christ and what belongs to Satan are incompatible, aren’t they? (6:15) We are members of Christ’s kingdom, and there are kingdom laws to obey and a kingdom culture to express. Our goal is to be as much like Christ as possible. Members of Satan’s kingdom willingly conform to this world, its philosophy, its culture, its entertainments, and are puzzled why Christians don’t view life as they do. Biblical concepts of separation are foolishness and sometimes offensive to them (1 Cor. 2:14; 1 Cor. 1:18).

4. Belief and unbelief are incompatible, aren’t they? (6:15) Faith has nothing in common with unbelief. The person of Biblical faith is committed to conforming his or her thoughts, attitudes, actions, philosophies, motives and goals to the guidelines of Scripture. The unbeliever, though religious, is guided by self-centered, self-serving, self-pleasing beliefs and goals.

5. The temple of God and idol worship are incompatible, aren’t they? (6:16) Although Paul is addressing the church at Corinth as a whole, we need to remember that God can only dwell in the midst of a local congregation by dwelling in individual believers. Our identity as a temple of the living God demands that we separate from that which is unholy. The continuance of our relationship as sons and daughters of God requires such a separation. In the context of pointing out the fifth incompatibility, Paul issues another command, consisting of three imperative verbs: “come out,” “be separate,” and “touch not.”

“Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you” (2 Cor. 6:17). This command is simply a restatement of his first command, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” God’s promise to make His dwelling among us, to walk in us, to be our God, and for us to be His people is conditioned upon our separating from everything that would hinder our progress in holiness.

Paul was concerned about the enemy within, both corporately and individually. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. Separation is not just a negative act of departure; it is also a positive act of dedication to God.


Originally posted in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.

[1] John MacArthur, “2 Corinthians,” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), p. 244.

[2] Paul had already made it clear that a believer was not to divorce his or her unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-13). He also made it clear that he did not mean for believers to stop associating with unbelievers (1 Cor. 5:9-10). Rather, he commanded them to disassociate themselves from professing believers who, after being given biblical information, continued to practice immorality, covetousness, idolatry, drunkenness, swindling, or who were causing contention within the church (1 Cor. 5:11).

Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.
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