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

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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)

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness [bringing holiness to completion] in the fear of God.”

Our text teaches that a life of holiness

  1. Is grounded in the promises of God,
  2. Is furthered by a complete cleansing of flesh and spirit, and
  3. Is sustained by the fear of God.

In our last message we examined the truth that a life of holiness is grounded in the promises of God. We learned that the church corporately and each believer individually function as the temple of the living God.

To both the church and individual believers God makes these promises:

  • “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (2 Cor. 6:16b);
  • “I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters” (2 Cor. 6:17b-18).

These promises are conditioned by specific God-given requirements (2 Cor. 6:14-16a, 17a). Both the church and the individual believer must
separate from any practice, any alliance, and any attitude that would either defile or detract from the holiness and sacredness of being the dwelling place of a holy God.

This brings us to our second point.

A Life of Holiness is Furthered by a Complete Cleansing of Flesh and Spirit

“…let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1a)1

Paul calls for decisive action and stipulates distinct areas that must be cleansed (“from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit”).

DECISIVE CALL FOR ACTION

There is a call for decisive action by the believer: “let us cleanse ourselves”

To understand the reason for this exhortation, we must seek to understand the spiritual significance behind the temple metaphor. A study of God’s requirements for building and using the tabernacle (and later the temple) as described in Exodus and Leviticus will help us do this. When the holy God chose to dwell in the midst of His people, He stipulated that everything connected with His earthly dwelling place must be holy. The materials that composed the tabernacle were dedicated to God, separated from common, ordinary use, and thus made holy. The priests who ministered in the tabernacle had to be consecrated and made holy. Their garments had to be holy garments. Everything connected with the worship of a holy God had to be holy. There was no exception. Anything sinful, anything that defiled, any contact with the unclean, the common, or the secular was barred from His holy presence.

Everything connected with the worship of a holy God must be holy

There is no doubt that Paul considered the Corinthian believers to be holy. He calls them “saints” (holy ones) and says they are “sanctified” (1 Cor. 1:2). The teaching about Christ was confirmed in their lives, and they had been gifted with spiritual gifts and were eagerly waiting for Jesus’ Second Coming (1 Cor. 1:6-7). They had been cleansed from acquired depravity—those sinful attitudes and actions which characterize the unsaved. They were no longer practicing willful, known sin. As a

They had been cleansed from acquired depravity—those sinful attitudes and actions which characterize the unsaved. They were no longer practicing willful, known sin. As a result they were spiritually washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor. 6:9-11). They had received the Holy Spirit and were united with Christ (1Cor. 2:12; 1:30). Further, they had walked in the light of Paul’s first letter, correcting many aspects of their behavior which they had not realized were wrong.

Further, they had walked in the light of Paul’s first letter, correcting many aspects of their behavior which they had not realized were wrong.

DISTINCT AREAS THAT MUST BE CLEANSED

There are distinct areas in the life of a believer that must be cleansed

“from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit”

What further cleansing do holy people need? Paul is calling the Corinthians to take decisive action and cleanse themselves from anything the Holy Spirit reveals to them through His Word or through His inner working in their conscience that is not Christlike, and therefore in the eyes of God, “filthiness” of the flesh or spirit. Any outward behavior (“the flesh”) or any inward attitude (“the spirit”) that is not fully Christlike must be cleansed. Paul’s call certainly applies to our need for cleansing from the filthiness of inherited depravity; however, it is not limited to that. This call to purification will have repeated application in the life of a believer. At any time at which God reveals to us anything that is not like Jesus, we must cleanse ourselves from any filthiness of the flesh or spirit, as the case may be. Such cleansing requires the believer’s active participation in confession, renunciation, humbling of oneself, and on-going obedience.

Through prayer and faith it also requires the appropriation of the power of the Spirit to internalize the cleansing at a level beyond the reach of our own will. As Richard S. Taylor correctly observes, “We are told to so cleanse ourselves because the responsibility for action, including appropriation, is ours.”2

“We are told to so cleanse ourselves because the responsibility for action, including appropriation, is ours.”

A Life of Holiness is Sustained by a Process

“perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1)

We are not only to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh, but we are also to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” The term “perfecting” is from the verb epiteleo which means “to finish,” “to complete,” or “to fulfill.” Believers are to bring holiness, which begins at the new birth through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, to completion.

What does this mean? “Perfecting holiness,” a present participle,describes on-going action. It refers to the entire process of becoming like Jesus that begins in salvation and culminates in glorification. Previously, in 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul has said that as we behold the glory of the Lord we are being transformed into the image of the Lord from one degree of glory to another degree.

In other words, a steadfast focus on the glory of the Lord Jesus is one of the God-appointed means by which we become fully Christlike—that is, made perfect in holiness. Here Paul emphasizes another God-appointed means bringing holiness to completion (for becoming fully Christlike). It is the fear of the Lord. The fear of God is twofold.

  1. First, it is recognizing who God is and responding with a genuine fear to displease or disobey Him, knowing that He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29; Psa. 2:11).
  2. Second, it is the conscious choice to adopt God’s attitude toward sin (remember that He hates it and has no tolerance toward it: Prov. 8:13; 23:17), and to demonstrate such an attitude toward sin by choosing only the things that please God (Prov. 1:29; Jer. 2:19; Psa. 34:11).

We have lost our fear of disobeying God, and as a result we make little progress in bringing holiness to completion! We have stressed God’s love, mercy and forgiveness so much and soft-peddled the important role of Godly fear with the sad result of losing a Biblical balance of truth.

Without the “fear of the Lord” in our lives, we become careless in our attitudes and actions. We are emboldened to ignore His commandments. We are enabled to excuse sin in our lives, or label what God calls sin as weakness or simply human infirmities. We enjoy bumper stickers that say, “Not perfect, just forgiven.” We rejoice in forgiveness but have little appetite for perfecting holiness.

Scripture tells us we are to live our lives daily in the fear of God (Prov. 23:17; Deut. 13:4). When we fear the Lord we will love truth and hate covetousness (Exo. 18:21). The fear of the Lord will motivate us to love what God loves and hate what God hates with the result that we will turn away from every form of evil (Prov. 8:13; Prov. 16:6).

If sin holds a fascination for us in any form, it should alert us to the fact that we are lacking the fear of God in that area of our lives. We should cry out to God to help us to have a proper and biblical fear of God which will enable us to hate sin. To the degree that we have been asking for the fear of God and receiving it by faith, we are enabled to reject the enticements of sin. And to that same degree we are enabled to bring holiness to completion in our lives.

If sin holds a fascination for us in any form, it should alert us to the fact that we are lacking the fear of God in that area of our lives

On the other hand, if we find ourselves being drawn toward that which is not holy, it shows that we need to be renewed and strengthened in our fear of God. Yes, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psa. 111:10), and it enables us to perfect holiness in our lives (2 Cor. 7:1). Let us join with the Psalmist and pray daily, “Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.”

Consider again the words of the text: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

  1. The exhortation, “Let us cleanse ourselves,” does not imply that Paul viewed himself as defiled in body or spirit, just as the exhortation “let us throw off the deeds of darkness” (Rom. 13:12) does not imply that Paul saw himself as clothed in evil. Rather, the exhortation is a polite way of calling all believers to repudiate any defilement inwardly or outwardly that remains in the life of a Christian.
  2. Richard S. Taylor, Some Holiness Cornerstones. (Salem, Ohio: Schmul Publishing Company, 1992), 37.
  3. It is an adverbial present active participle. The temporal aspect of a present participle is normally interpreted to be simultaneous with the temporal aspect of the main verb “let us cleanse ourselves,” an aorist subjunctive.
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.