The word ‘holiness’ is from the Hebrew ‘kodesh’, and is allied to ‘sanctify’ the Hebrew for which is translated in English as ‘dedicate’, ‘hallow’, and ‘holy’. In its various forms it appears about 700 times in the Bible and in this expression, Jehovah M’Kaddesh, the Lord Who Sanctifies.
God created Israel to be a holy nation.
‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ Exodus 19:5-6
We as believers are also considered by God to be a holy priesthood and nation.
‘But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.’ 1 Peter 2:9-10
We are expected to be holy as He is holy.
‘But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Leviticus 11 v 44
‘For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy.’ 1Peter 1 v 15-16.
That is a high calling indeed, but what does it mean to be holy as He is holy. God is holy…that is a given….He is unique, set apart, sinless, perfect. He cannot be holier than He already is.
How can we possibly expect to achieve such a goal? The answer to that of course is that we can’t.
We know that we are part of a fallen world, we are sinners saved only by the grace of God, there is no good thing in us, our hearts are desperately wicked, there is no hope for any of us apart from Jesus. It is His blood that covers us and makes us acceptable to God the Father.
The plain fact is that we cannot sanctify ourselves, make ourselves holy. It is a work of God by His Holy Spirit.
‘And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.’1 Corinthians 6 v 11
However it is for us a journey, a pilgrimage of faith. We recognise Jesus as our Holiness, our perfect and amazing God, who died so that we could be saved. But salvation is not the main goal, or it shouldn’t be. As soon as we are saved it is not enough to sit back and say, ‘Well, I’m alright Jack! No more struggle!’ Indeed as we all know it is just the beginning of a tough struggle which we understand as the path of sanctification. It takes us through the narrow gate and onto the narrow path, but we still have to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil whilst walking that narrow path. As long as we stick to it we are okay, but so often we stray off it and when we do we find ourselves in difficult places.
As I was struggling to write this piece, and it was a struggle, seeking the Lord for the right way to present it and feeling as if I was getting nowhere fast, Pilgrim’s Progress popped into my mind.
I wonder if you are familiar with this wonderful book by John Bunyan who wrote it while he was in prison in approx 1676. He was imprisoned for his faith in Bedford jail, in a tiny cell which is built into the pier of the bridge over the river and is literally a few feet above the normal water level. I hate to think what that cell must have been like, especially in flood conditions; wet and damp, cold and dark. He was imprisoned for his bold teaching of the Word of God and Jesus truly met him there in that horrible cell. He recorded that his cell was filled with golden light as the Lord came to him to encourage him and to give him hope in his isolation and loneliness. This story is an allegory of his struggle as a believer, and we can relate to it also.
John Bunyan was 47 years of age when he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress and he drew on two main sources, firstly the Bible and secondly his knowledge of the world. He likened his hero, Christian, running away from the City of Destruction to Lot fleeing from Sodom.
Christian met many characters on his journey, such as Pliable, who couldn’t make up his mind about anything and was blown about by any wind of doctrine, and who typifies many of the members of Bunyan’s congregation. Vanity Fair was modelled on Stourbridge Fair, near Cambridge, and the trial of Faithful before Lord Hate Good, was based on Bunyan’s own trial before Justice Keeling.
The story was written as if it was a dream. It all came from Bunyan’s own band and shocked many of his pious friends. They called it ‘an idle tale full of demons and goblins’. But idle it is not and it has become a very famous book. It is a story full of hidden meaning and it is relevant for everyone even today.
We bought a copy of The Dangerous Journey for our son many years ago, and now our grandchildren love it. It is a young person’s version of the Pilgrim’s Progress with amazing illustrations; a true to the story version and easier to understand than the original. So I looked it out and read it again.
Christian leaves the City of Destruction despite the pleading of his family and friends. He is carrying a burden which has become almost too heavy to bear and the question that keeps going through his head and which he can no longer ignore is, ‘What must I do to be saved?’
He reads his book, the Bible, and realises that he and the city and all those he loves are doomed to be burned with fire from heaven. He has to find a way of escape for himself and his family, but his wife and four sons think that he is crazy. He walks into the fields outside of town to think about what he should do and where he should go and then meets Evangelist who points him in the right direction. As his family and friends chase after him he puts his fingers in his ears and runs.
He meets many characters who seek to deflect him from his desire to find the Endless Kingdom where he will live forever and be safe. He falls into the Slough of Despond and Help calmed to his aid and pulls him out, and he struggles on, his load getting heavier and heavier. He meets Mr Worldly Wise, Mr Legality and gets led astray by such characters often. Evangelist points him back to right path again and he plods on until eventually he arrives at the cross and an empty tomb where to his relief the burden he has been carrying for so long, falls away and he is free at last. He is clothed miraculously in clean fresh garments and is filled with joy.
Is that the end of the story? No!
Like us when we are saved Christian goes on to experience worse things than he did before he was saved, but now the attacks are directly spiritual. He journeys on, he cannot stay where he is at the cross, he has to move on towards the Celestial City. As he travels on his pilgrimage he learns more and more. He meets many who would seek to divert him from his course. Formalist and Hypocrisy who try to get to the Celestial City the wrong way and tempt Christian to go with them. They each go their own way and end up being lost and come to a sticky end. Then there are Timrous and Mistrust who are running away from danger, as they see it. Christian faces the lions who seek to devour him by keeping to the narrow path of light. He is prepared for battle against Appollyon by four lively young women called, Charity, Piety, Prudence and Discretion who give him armour to help him defeat the enemy. Appollyon, the devil, almost overcomes him till Christian wounds him with his sword and the devil has to flee.
Healed from his wounds received from the enemy by leaves from the Tree of Life, he continues on and into the Valley of the Shadow of Death where danger meets him in every side. The path is really narrow and on one side is a sheer precipice falling away and on the other a deep, dark, deadly marsh. One false step and he’s gone. He arrives at the very mouth of Hell itself and is almost overcome by ghosts and apparitions, by hobgoblins and foul fiends, until he is so miserable, low and desperate that he is ready to do away with himself. Until he hears a voice, ‘Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.’ With renewed strength and vigour he carries on till he finally comes out of the valley. He then meets up with his friend Faithful and once again Evangelist points them in the right direction and warns them that the way they are on will be filled with tribulation, but that the Kingdom of Heaven lies ahead. Together the friends go on until they come to Vanity Fair where, because they are different, they are arrested and after a mockery of a trial, Faithful is burnt at the stake and is taken to the Celestial City in a golden chariot. Hopeful helps Christian to escape and together they face more temptations and snares. Christian is now learning discernment, but even so he is deceived and more troubles come against him and his new friend Hopeful. Again they lose their way and end up in Doubting Castle which is owned by the giant Despair and his gross wife, Diffidence. In this terrible place, and almost giving up, Christian remembers he has a key called Promise which will open up the door to freedom. Once free again the two companions struggle on nearly coming to a bitter end as they fall into the net of Flatterer who appears to them as an angel of light. Rescued once more by a real angel they are accosted by Atheist, nearly fall asleep in the Enchanted Ground and despair of ever making it. Then all at once they are within view of the Celestial City, but to get to it they have to cross a wide, deep and dark river, the River of Death.
But Death could not hold Christian and Hopeful and after struggling with him they find themselves safely on the other side. Soon they are climbing the hill to the city and are welcomed in with much rejoicing.
This story is such an amazing picture of the path of sanctification, the journey we must all endure in our Christian pilgrimage to the Holy City of God.
So many things stand in our way, so many circumstances come against us, but each set back only makes us more determined to succeed.
‘Beloved do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgement to begin at the house of God, and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?’ 1 Peter 4:12-17
The Lord who Sanctifies…….Jehovah M’Kaddesh. The Lord who makes us holy is the One who will guide us and help us along the way. The Word of God , the promises of God will keep us focussed on the goal. God sees us as holy because of Jesus, but we will not be holy as He is holy until we enter into His eternal presence in Heaven.
Like Christian, to often we have to confess that we succumb to the error of giving the enemy a foothold in our lives and we so easily fail in our desire to be holy and separated unto God. But we have to remember that we cannot fall into sin and be holy too. We daily need to confess our sins for He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
He offers Himself as Jehovah M’Kaddesh……the Lord who alone can sanctify us.
Who Would True Valour See – John Bunyan – 1628 – 1688
Who would true valour see
Let him come hither.
One here will constant be
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right to be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his sprit.
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim.