Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
“We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” From this expression in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, which is a faithful summary of the biblical teaching on the nature of the church, not only is the church God creates one, she is also holy.
First and foremost, the notion of holy is rooted in the character of God Himself in all His fullness. Isaiah saw and heard the seraphim around the throne of the Lord God saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3; cf. Rev. 4:8). In this sense, holy is not used primarily as separateness or morality, but as an adjective for God Himself. In His prayer for oneness, Jesus refers to His Father as holy (Jn. 17:11).
Jesus, too, is referred to as the “holy One of God” (Jn. 6:69), and this truth was included in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:27). Even demons, who were unclean, recognized that Jesus was “the Holy of God” (Mk. 1:24; Lk. 4:34).
And, of course, the Holy Spirit is the HOLY Spirit. He is One with the Father and the Son (Matt. 28:19-20). The Holy Spirit is the Helper, the One whom the Father will send in the Son’s name (Jn. 14:26).
Rooted in the holy character of the triune God, the community He creates, the church, is also holy, both individually and corporately. Those who are part of the church are holy in two respects. First, they are holy by virtue of being united to Christ through the regenerating ministry of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5). Their being holy is connected with their calling, for it is “a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9). This is why believers, the Corinthian believers no less, are called “saints” or “holy ones” (1 Cor. 1:2). They are not holy morally like God, but they are holy in that they have been positionally set apart unto God. For all believers, this is the indicative, a statement of fact.
Second, those who are set apart to God as holy or saints positionally, are also to be holy morally or behaviorally. For those who are saints, there will be an accompanying holiness in their lives. This is the imperative or the command. Those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells (2 Tim. 1:14), are both set apart solely to God (positional) and are enabled to become holy in their lives morally (1 Thess. 4:3, 7). They are progressively being conformed into the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). This is the basis upon which Peter calls his readers to be holy. Because God is holy, he writes, “you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Later Peter reminds his readers they are “to be a holy priesthood” (2:5) and a “holy nation” (2:9).
Statistics and surveys reveal the sad and tragic fact that the behavior of far too many evangelicals is no different from those who profess no faith at all. If one were to ask a number of people what a few key marks are of evangelical Christians today, either individually or corporately as the church, my guess is that few if any would list holiness. This fact ought to grieve us deeply, for it robs our Holy God of His glory, and it puts our lives in peril, for without holiness we will not see the Lord (cf. Heb. 12:14).
Brothers and sisters, please join me in confessing this sin before God, beginning by confessing your own lack of holiness and your apathy about it. And then, ask God to renew, restore, and revive us, His people, so we will truly be a holy people who serve as witnesses of a holy God to a watching world. Specifically, please pray for the speakers and other leaders that their hearts would remain pure and their lives would be holy. And as you pray for them, join me in praying for our own personal and corporate holiness, knowing that, positively, it is the pure in heart who will see God (Matt. 5:8), and, negatively, without holiness, one will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
Please plan to join us in January as we address this truth and much more at our Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church.