Pursuing Holiness: Filtering our Past and Focusing our Present with a Biblical-Theological Grid

We all are faced with a choice: What do we do with our past, and what do we do in the present? Every man’s past exists as a paradigmatic register against which he, in reaction to or in harmony with, charts his course in the present. Our perception and evaluation of the past contributes largely to our choices in the present. The driving question of this paper is how shall we evaluate our heritage and how shall we then live?


If anything, these past 15 years have been years in which men have become preoccupied with a priories, with pre-understanding in hermeneutics, be they in secular or sacred literature. Some have concluded that interpretation is primarily a self-referential activity — the reader creates whatever meaning there is in the text. I hope the folly of such a conclusion strikes you immediately. Reader-response criticism and its literary cousins are fraught with the seeds of their own destruction – seeds that are already coming to fruition. As I approach my subject allow me to clarify a few of my key presuppositions regarding the text of Scripture.

  1. Meaning inheres within a text. It does not inhere in the reader or in a reconstructed authorial psychology. This is not a denial of the significance of the reader’s pre-understanding. It is an affirmation concerning the locus of meaning.
  2. Every text’s meaning is objectively discerned and clarified primarily by both its inner and outer contexts. By inner I mean the part in relation to the whole, the sentence in relation to the paragraph, the word in context of its sentence. By outer, I mean its historical and cultural context.
  3. Illumination by the Holy Spirit is necessary for proper interpretation.
  4. The Bible is the word of God, inspired, and therefore inerrant, infallible, and authoritative. Its message is both clear and obscure — clear in the main, and more or less clear elsewhere (cf. 2 Peter 3:16).

Interpretative Approach

In harmony with the best and most enduring of Christian scholarship, starting with Christ, the apostles, the Antiochene fathers, Augustine and Jerome — at their most mature, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc., I follow a grammatical-historical method of exegesis. As I endeavor to understand Scripture with this exegetical method, I do so listening, as I have time and awareness, to those who have preceded me in the nearly two millennia of Biblical interpretation.

The Relationship of Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology

This paper’s mode of interpretation is that of Biblical Theology (BT). Biblical theology is both distinct from and complementary to Systematic Theology (ST). BT forms the basis for all ST. No systematic theological conclusion may contradict the conclusions of BT. The following chart elaborates the distinctions between these two modes of theological formulation:

Biblical Theology (BT) Systematic Theology (ST)
Source Canonical — it operates strictly within the bounds of inscripturated revelation (i.e. Scripture) Universal — Truth from any source (Scripture, reason, history, experience)
 Focus Focuses on what the Bible says. What has God revealed about God, man and the world? Focuses on truth as a unified whole. What is true about God, man and the world?
 Scope Deals only with the
issues and questions that the Bible deals with.
(e.g. the necessity of salvation)
Seeks to address any theological issue, ancient or modern.
(e.g. logical order of events in salvation
 Exegesis Stops at the exegetical fork in the road, or traces both options equally. Makes exegetical decisions and builds upon them.
 Paradoxes Paradoxes are left unreconciled. Asserts the truth of the Bible’s propositions on both sides of the paradox. (e.g., God is sovereign; Man is responsible.) Attempts to reconcile paradoxical truths.
(e.g. God has sovereignly chosen to give man a free will that he may exercise in rebellion to God’s laws.)
Conclusions Its conclusions and
applications come directly from the text’s propositions.
(e.g. All Scripture is inspired.)
It draws secondary conclusions and applications beyond those of BT. It is at least 2 steps removed
from the text’s propositions. (e.g., Inspiration demands inerrancy.)
 Presentations Chronological – to see
the progress of inscripturated revelation, or
Logical – to present the Biblical data in a more easily absorbable fashion.
 Always uses a logical presentation.


All of us have been taught some sort of system of theology and practice. Some more thoroughly, other in bits and pieces of aphorism and dogmatism. But we all are operating on the basis of, or at least out of, some system. Biblical theology should serve as a check to our system. It constantly moves us in a spiral between the text of Scripture and our conclusions, verifying or invalidating the latter (our conclusions) by the former (BT).


Biblical Theology must be the grid by which we evaluate our past and focus our present. As the future is nothing but the extension of the present, it is the present which requires our focus.

I want to explore three areas of our heritage from a biblical-theological perspective. I believe BT is our best hope for establishing solid, common ground on which members of the body of Christ may unite.

I. Holiness and Our Beliefs

What is our theological heritage? The unique aspects of our theological past include three areas:

  1. Teaching about the nature of God’s requirements for the moral quality our lives
  2. Teaching about the concept or meaning of “holiness” and “entire sanctification”
  3. Teaching about the nature of God’s work and man’s responsibility in producing that moral quality in our lives

The unique theological message of the holiness movement in the three areas just mentioned is that:

  1. In accordance with God’s demands that his people live holy lives,
  2. – entirely sanctified lives of victory, joy, and purity from sinful acts, the sin nature, and the world –,
  3. God has provided for the cleansing of the believer’s heart from inherited depravity by a definite working of His grace subsequent to salvation, and the fully consecrated believer receives this cleansing by faith.

As we filter through our theological past, we recognize that we have heard preached and taught what the Bible neither teaches nor proclaims. Preachers and teachers have discredited by the truth by adding to it. The key question then is, “How much of the unique theological message of the holiness movement is BT, what part is ST, and what part is discardible? (i.e., What must a man believe, if he is to believe the Bible, and what is a theological conclusion?) I would like to answer these questions in reverse order.

A. Blatantly wrong interpretations

    1. That the holiness without which no man shall see God is entire sanctification. That is not what Hebrews teaches. Jesus could not have promised Paradise to the thief on the cross if that were true.
    2. That 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 teaches that entire sanctification is the will of God for every believer. This is not a debatable passage. It is not a passage where one might see entire sanctification if certain elements of the context are looked at differently. It is a clear call to sexual purity in the lives of believers. “Your sanctification” is in apposition to the infinitive phrase, that you abstain from fornication.
    3. That once a person’s heart is purified they are instantly made a mature Christian. Heart purity is not spiritual maturity. There is no verse, passage, or book that presents heart purity as a condition of full maturity in the image of Christ.
    4. That an entirely sanctified person will not feel the emotional surge of anger. Jesus was angry and sinned not (Mark 3:5). Paul exhorts us to be angry and sin not (Eph. 4:26).
    5. That once a person is entirely sanctified, that he no longer has any desire for the things of the world or any desire for sin. If that were true, Christ would have been untemptable for he had no sin nature. Adam and Eve would have been untemptable. We are still temptable, fallible, and peccable while on this earth.

B. Theological conclusions which Biblical Theology does not clarify

    1. That when a person is filled with the Spirit, or stablished unblameable in holiness, or entirely sanctified, that his heart is cleansed from inherited depravity. The Bible simply does not state that proposition clearly. I am not saying that that is not true. What I am saying is that Biblical Theology does not make that proposition clear.
    2. That the “entire sanctification” of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 is to be connected with the Pentecostal filling with the Holy Spirit or the filling with the Holy Spirit of Eph. 5:18.
    3. That the phrase “purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9) refers to the work of the Holy Spirit in entirely sanctifying the disciples at Pentecost rather than the Spirit’s regenerating work in the lives of Cornelius and his band.

C. Biblical Theology’s Theology of Holiness

When filtering our past we must not, however, be merely reactive. We must be proactive. To be proactive is to search the Bible actively to discern its clear requirements and promises. What is the Bible’s standard and expectation for the moral and spiritual quality of the believer’s life? Let’s begin first with the Old Testament.

    1. Be perfect Gen. 17:1 (tamim). The first recorded ethical demand from God is found in Gen. 17:1, when God said to Abraham, “Walk before me and be thou perfect.” The word perfect is tamim. It is used in Psalm 119:1, “Blessed are the upright (tamim) in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.” A cognate form of this word (tom) describes Job as a “perfect” man. An inductive study of all the occurrences of this word group in the OT yield this understanding: to be “perfect” or tamim is “to maintain a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man.” God expects us to maintain consciences that are void of offense toward Himself and toward others. Maintain is the key word.
    2. A perfect heart 1 Chron. 16:9 (lev shalem). The OT talks about a “perfect heart” (NIV “fully committed”). 2 Chron. 16:9, “The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” The word for “perfect” here is shalem, not tamim. An inductive study of this phrase “a perfect heart” reveals that a perfect heart is one which is totally committed to serving the Lord, and allows no other gods to take His place. David is said to have had a perfect heart (1 Kings 11:4), but Solomon did not — because he turned away from Yahweh to other gods.
    3. Clean hands and pure heart Psa. 24:4 (bar levav)
    4. Clean heart and right spirit Psa. 51:10 (lev tachor; ruach nakon)
    5. Be holy Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:7 (qadosh)

That is a simple survey of the key OT expectations for the moral and spiritual quality of the believer’s life. What about the New Testament? Consider the following statements.

1. Pure Heart

      • Blessed are the pure in heart Mat. 5:8 (katharas)
      • The end of the commandment pure heart, good conscience, sincere faith 1 Tim. 1:5 (katharas)
      • Find those who call on the Lord from a pure heart 2 Tim. 2:22 (katharas)
      • Be ye perfect as Father in heaven Matt. 5:48 (teleios)
      • Purifying one’s soul for sincere love of the brethren 1 Pet. 1:22 (hagnizw)

2. Full consecration to God Rom. 12:1; 6:13-15

3. Sanctification/Holiness — no lexical distinction; problem with English

      • Without holiness you can’t see the Lord (Heb. 12:14)
      • Sanctification begins in salvation (1 Cor. 1:2)
      • We are commanded to be holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16)
      • We are to perfect holiness (2 Cor. 7:1)
      • We may pray for God to entirely sanctify fellow believers (1 Thess. 5:23). Whatever entire sanctification is, the concept is undeniably present in Scripture.
      • Our hearts may be stablished unblameable in holiness (1 Thess. 3:13).
        Note here that this stablishing is the result of an abounding love. Here is an explicit connection between love and holiness.
      • The fruit of our lives should be holiness (Rom. 6:22)

The simple enumeration of the statements of Scripture concerning the moral quality of our lives reveals that there is no lack of clear teaching on the kind of people we are to be.

The most prominent OT demand is holiness. Be ye holy, for I am holy (Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 20:26), rings out across the sands of Sinai as the eternal requirement for all those who are the people of the thrice holy God (1 Pet. 1:15-16). But what is holiness? Leviticus 20:24-26 provides the clearest text that reflects the key ideas associated with holiness.

24b I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean. 26 Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.

Holiness may be encapsulated in a single word: separation. Expanding that, holiness is separation from common use to special use, from the unclean to the clean, from the sinful to the righteous. Beyond a definition for holiness, this passage also reflects a key theological pattern that runs throughout all of Scripture: God acts and man mimics. God’s separation of Israel from the peoples to Himself made them holy. God then expected a holy / separated people to imitate His separative action and exercise discernment in making appropriate distinctions in every facet of their lives — from prophetic theology (Dt. 13, 18) to dietary selection (Lev. 11-12; Dt. 14).

A conceptual metaphor: Marriage necessarily involves a separation — from all other men/women in the world, to one man/woman. Yet we do not lament the huge demand placed upon us to separate from so many possible people. Love for the one to whom we are separating ourselves makes that separation a delight. I would suggest that, in the words of Omar Lee, love is the dynamic of holiness. It is love for God that makes separation from all other gods, from all which God requires us to separate, whether it be people, things, attitudes, behavior — love for God makes that separation but a trifling thing. If pleasing the Lover of our soul is the all consuming desire of our lives, holiness will inevitably be the outcome. Where it is not, we can be sure our love for God is weak or feigned.

Truth in tension. All truth exists in tension. In regard to the Scripture’s demands for holiness in the life of the believer, the tension we feel involves our own proneness to failure, to falling, to sin. The balancing truth that deals with this tension is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

1. The Spirit and the Believer

      • We are to be continuously filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18ff)
      • We are to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25)
      • If we walk in the Spirit, we will by no means fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16)
      • The Spirit enables us to fulfill the demands of the law (Rom. 8:4)
      • It is by the Spirit that we are to be putting to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13)

2. Union with Christ and Freedom from Sin

      • Our union with Christ has broken sin’s power (Rom. 6:1-7, 12, 22)

Scripture is clear; we must be holy. We can be holy! Let’s walk in the Spirit. Let’s put to death the deeds of the flesh. Let’s be being filled with the Spirit. Let’s pray for each other that God would sanctify us wholly. Let’s cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, thereby perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Preach it! Pray it! Most of all, Live it!!

II. Holiness and our Behavior

That’s all well and good, but how do you live it? And we all know that here is really where the rub comes. This has been the most visible aspect of the CHM. Probably the most abused, poorly presented, preach or taught aspect of our heritage. This is the aspect that those who react to the CHM have reacted most against. Yet I want to challenge us again that reactive response is not adequate. We must be proactive. If we disagree with the exegesis that has undergirded our heritage in the arena of behavior, we have a responsibility to be proactive, to provide a more carefully exegeted alternative. Of all the elements of the CHM, it is this aspect of behavior that is most desperately in need of the Biblical-Theological approach.

What does a biblical theology of holiness have to say about our behavior?

Again, the method of BT is (1) canonical, (2) focused on clear biblical propositions, (3)deals with biblical issues, (4) allows paradoxes to stand, and (5) draws only the conclusions that Scripture’s clear propositions support.

Behavioral Applications

What behavioral applications does Scripture associate with the concept of holiness? There are a quite a few, actually.

1. Moral Purity

    • Lev. 18 — the whole chapter develops the application of holiness to human sexuality. The message is simple: single people are to abstain from sexual activity, marriage is monogamous, heterosexual, and requires sexual fidelity. Fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, and any other form of deviant sexual behavior is an abomination to God.

2. General Morality

    • Honor your parents (Lev. 19:3)
    • Don’t steal (Lev. 19:11, 13)
    • Don’t lie (Lev. 19:11)
    • Don’t hate (Lev. 19:17)
    • Don’t plot revenge (Lev. 19:18)
    • Respect the elderly (Lev. 19:32)

3. Life Style

    • Couldn’t cut their beards (Lev. 19:27)
    • No tattoos (Lev. 19:28; Dt. 22:12)
    • Required tassels on garments (Num. 15:37-40)
    • Couldn’t wear cloth with linen and wool mixed (Dt. 22:11)

4. Food — couldn’t eat various kinds of animals (Lev. 11)

6. Gender Distinction in Clothing — Dt. 22:5

This is the only passage that I know of that specifically addresses this issue from the stand point of clothing. The principle of the passage is clear. Men are not to wear women’s clothing; Women are not to wear men’s clothing. In the ancient near east, everybody wore robes. However, no one was confused as to which robes were the women’s and which were the men’s. This principle must still be applied today. Whatever the cultural norms are, men are not to wear deliberately that which is designated female clothing and vice versa.

7. Modesty — Here is a classic issue of contention. What can BT say about this?

  • Nakedness is shameful. (Isaiah 47:3; Nahum 3:5; Revelation 3:18; 16:15; see Adam and Eve’s response when they realized they were naked – Gen. 3:10)
  • Nakedness is to be covered. (Genesis 9:23; Exodus 28:42; Hosea 2:9)
  • God rejected a loin cloth as an adequate covering for Adam and Eve. (Gen. 3:21)

Applying the Old Testament to Us

My basic premise is as follows: Because of the unchanging character of God, all God’s words reflect His character. Therefore, all of Scripture reflects universal principles which should govern any believer’s behavior. These universal principles are either explicit – clearly stated in the text –, or implicit – they must be inferred from the text. Specifically in reference to OT legal material, if a law appears to be a specific application that is culturally bound, the interpreter has an obligation to discern the universal principle that lies behind that specific application. Having discerned that universal principle, the interpreter must apply it, in harmony with the totality of Scripture, to the modern setting. Thus I conclude that all of the OT is applicable to the NT believer, either in specific application or in universal principle.]

Truth in tension. Separation from sin and a Mission to the sinner. Holy nation and royal priesthood. Relevant passages for study 1 Cor. 5:9-11(in but not of); 2 Cor. 6:14-18 (“come out from among them”).

III. Holiness and the Body of Christ

Holiness is both a negative and positive principle in relation to the Body of Christ. There is no true unity, biblical unity, that does not have truth as its center and holiness at its gates. Holiness separates and it unites.


I. From the World (needs further development)

A. 1 John 2:15-17 — Love for the Father will sever us from the world’s value system
B. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 — Love for men’s souls will keep us in the world so we may reach it. (Consider further the example of Christ and Paul — both separate but seeking the lost)

II. From False Teachers and Factious Men

We must separate from those who:

A. Deny the incarnation of Christ:

2 John 7, 10-11 — Anyone claiming to be a believer who denies that Christ came in the flesh is to be rejected [as a brother] See also 1 John 4:1-3.

      1. Nature of separation: believers are not even to give common greetings to such a person.
      2. Purpose of separation: purity of the gospel

B. Proclaim any other gospel than salvation by grace through faith alone:

Gal. 1:8-9 — Paul anathematizes anyone who proclaims a gospel other than what he has preached.

      1. Nature of separation: They are to be considered accursed and (implied) rejected from proclaiming the gospel.
      2. Purpose of separation: purity of gospel

C. Cause divisions and create stumbling blocks for others:

    1. Romans 16:17 — these cause divisions and place stumbling blocks (things which cause others to sin) in others’ paths over things which are contrary to apostolic teaching.
      a) Nature of separation: Mark them and avoid them
      b) Purpose of separation: preservation of unity and protection for saints
    2. Titus 3:9-11 — We are to reject factious men — those who cause divisions among brethren over non-biblical issues (foolish controversies, genealogies, strifes about the law)
      a) Nature of separation: After two warnings, reject them.
      b) Purpose of separation: preservation of unity among the brethren

III. From Disobedient “Brethren”

A. We must separate from brothers who do not obey Paul’s instructions in 2 Thessalonians: 2 Thess. 3:14-15 — take special note of such persons and avoid them

    1. Nature of separation: Non-association; admonish as a brother; don’t count as an enemy.
    2. Purpose of separation: “That he may be ashamed,” and (implied) repent of his sin and be restored

B. We must separate from so-called brothers who are a fornicators, covetous, idolaters, slanders, drunkards, or swindlers: 1 Cor. 5:9-13

    1. Nature of separation: Non-association, not even to eat together
    2. Purpose of separation: preservation of the purity of the Body of Christ (cf. vv. 6 8).

Is it not interesting that what those who emphasize unity decry the most–separation– is the very means by which Scripture says unity is to be preserved?

Accommodation / Acceptance

Does holiness in the body of Christ demand separation from all those with whom we disagree? The biblical answer is clear: No, it does not. There are areas in which disagreement does not require separation. Romans 14:1-15:7 gives a clear case.

I. Nature of the Issue

A certain activity (eating meat) is regarded as contrary to Scripture when, in fact, the Bible does not forbid that activity.

II. Parties Involved: The Weak and the Strong

A. The Weak

On this issue the weak:

    1. believe that it is wrong to do it — to eat meat. (whether from Scripture or personal opinion) (vv. 1-3)
    2. are biblically incorrect. The Bible clearly does not forbid/prohibit what they think it does (v. 14)
    3. can be influenced by what others to violate their consciences and do what they believe is forbidden (v. 15, 23).

B. The Strong

On this issue the strong

    1. have faith that it is permissible to do it (2)
    2. are biblically correct (14)
    3. are in a position to accept or reject the weak into their fellowship (1)

III. Principles Involved

A. The primary responsibility in the relationship lies with the strong. He is

  1. to accept the weaker brother (14:1, 15:7)
  2. not to scorn his scrupulosity (3, 10)
  3. not to cause the weaker brother to stumble (sin) (13, 21); or destroy him (16); or tear down the work of God (20)
  4. to limit his liberty for the purposes of peace, edification, and the advancement of the kingdom of God (17, 19, 21)
  5. to bear the weakness of the weak (15:1)
  6. not to please himself but his neighbor (15:1-2)

B. The weaker brother is

  1. not to judge (unchristianize) those who disagree with him (3-4, 10, 13)
  2. not to violate his conscience and thereby sin (23)
  3. to pursue peace, edification, and the advancement of the kingdom of God (16, 19)

The unanimous challenge of the NT, in matters of conscience, is that the strong are to limit their liberty for the sake of the weak. Without exception, we are not to seek our own good, but the good of our neighbor (1 Cor. 10:23; Rom. 15:1-2). The strong must not encourage the weak to liberty his conscience will not permit. This has profound ramifications for our interactions with brethren who are more conservative than us. My tendency is to sneer at ridiculous notions, shoddy exegesis, and unreasonableness. However, I cannot be obedient to the word of God and entertain, much less, exhibit that attitude.

In regard to discerning when an issue qualifies as a Romans 14 issue, see the attached chart. This chart provides a tentative formulation of the application of holiness to separation and accommodation.

Cooperation Despite Disagreement

Negative example: Acts 15:36-40. Paul and Barnabas had a fundamental difference of opinion. Neither would relent therefore they could not minister together. However, they did not anathematize or unchristianize each other. They simply separated their ministries.

Positive example: Still looking for one. Welcome any examples from Scripture.

Truths in Tension: When to separate and when to accept.


The title of this paper is filtering our past and focusing our present with a biblical-theological grid. As each one of us filters through the heritage that has been left us Biblical Theology must be the primary guide for our decision concerning what we will retain and what we will discard.

There are some things that must be discarded. The fractious, splinter mentality, while by no means unique to the CHM, is unbiblical. The fortress mentality that has seen holiness as something which must be guarded from pollution must be exchanged for obedience to the Great Commission and a passion for the lost. The CHM must not allow itself to repeat the errors of monasticism, for wherever it does, it will surely suffer its fate. Preaching and teaching that is constructed from well-worn clichés and based upon shoddy exegesis or experiential phenomena, that generates much heat and little light, — such must be replaced with exegesis that is solidly rooted in the text of Scripture, that sheds the light of God on our paths and enflames love for God and our fellow man in our hearts.

Despite the presence of discardibles in our heritage, I contend that what is precious and must be retained far exceeds its counterpart: We have within our heritage an emphasis on loving God, living holy lives, personal piety and humility, a passion for the lost, and proclaiming the gospel to all men. We inherit from men such as Wesley, Clarke, Asbury, Daniel Steele, Dale Yocum, S.D. Herron, Ed Palm, and Leslie Wilcox–to name a few–, a strong commitment to rigorous biblical scholarship that is fired by devotion to the Lord.
In view of such a heritage, let us be men and women passionately committed to loving God and loving others. Let us be both a holy people and a royal priesthood — mediating the gospel to the world, and presenting the worship of holy lives and hearts to our holy God. These are the things that any careful study will find as the foci of Scripture.

Republished from apbrown2.net.