Over his many years as a preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones would have uttered tens of thousands of words about holiness. This was part of the many millions of words he spoke on basic Christian truths, such as the nature and attributes of God, the life and work of Christ, and the content and glory of the gospel.
What I am attempting to do here is much more modest in aim. I am referring to just one of his sermons as found in just one of his books. But what is found there is certainly representative of his broader teachings on the subject, and is well worth sharing here.
In the 1940s the Doctor did a series of sermons on the First Epistle of John. In the 1990s Crossway Books turned them into a series of five volumes. In vol. 3, Children of God, we have chapter three, entitled simply, “Holiness”. Although just a dozen pages in length, it packs a punch as it delivers many valuable spiritual truths.
Now holiness can mean several things. We can speak about holiness as one of the attributes of God – perhaps the most vital and representative attribute of who God is. And there is also the issue of personal holiness: how the believer progresses in godliness and purity.
It is that latter sense which is being dealt with in this short chapter. The chapter is based on one short verse: 1 John 3:3 which says, “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” He points out the obvious truth that this verse must be read in connection with the previous verse.
Verse 2 says: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” His previous chapter dealt with that verse, and the two must be read together.
It is because Christ is coming back, and we are being made ready for his coming, that personal holiness is so vital. He is holy, and only those who share in that holiness can abide his coming. So in chapter three he offers us a practical exposition on the nature of holiness.
He reminds us that the holy life is not something for just a few supersaints. It is not just for the spiritual elite. It is the basic job description of every single believer. Instead, it “is a life to which all Christians are inevitably called and which every Christian ought therefore automatically to be living. . . . Holiness is something that is applicable to every Christian, not something which is some kind of extra. It is the norm of the Christian life.”
He then remarks that Christian conduct and doctrine are two sides of the same coin: “Holiness, according to the New Testament, is an inevitable deduction from doctrine; it must never be regarded as something in and of itself. . . . Holiness is something that follows and is an inevitable deduction from doctrine, from an understanding of our position as Christian people.”
Because of what Christ has done for us, we are declared to be holy, but we must now live out what we have been declared to be. Our profession must match our position; our state must match our standing in Christ. This is always how New Testament ethics work.
The idea is this: ‘You are this and that in Christ, now begin to live it out’. He continues, “holiness is not something we are called upon to do in order that we may become something; it is something we are to do because of what we already are. . . . I am not to live a good and holy life in order that I may become a Christian; I am to live the holy life because I am a Christian.”
We are to work out and put into practice who and what we already are in Christ: “The holiness of which the New Testament speaks and the holy life, the life of sanctification which John talks of, is not so much something which we receive as a gift—it is rather something which we work out.”
So what does this holiness amount to in very practical terms? “This means not only that I try to separate myself from the sins which I have committed in the past; it includes that, but it goes well beyond it. It means that with the whole of my being I shun sin, I avoid it.
“I have a desire within me to be like Christ; I am striving to be like the Lord Himself. It is not just that I do not sin, but that I am positively and actively pure even as He was pure. That is the whole idea of this word; it is a deeper and more profound word than just the idea of cleansing and of getting rid of the effects of sin upon the surface.
“It is indeed perfectly expressed in just one phrase; people who are concerned about purifying themselves are those who want to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. They do not any longer merely think of just being a little bit better than obvious sinners in the world, nor a little bit better than they once were. Their whole idea is intensely positive and active.”
And he points out that this is an active process, not a passive one. He appeals to texts such as 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 6:11-12; and Colossians 3:5. The last one says this: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
Or as the KJV puts it, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.” Says Lloyd-Jones: “I have to do that; these members will not agree to be mortified; I have to take them, and I have to punish my body. I am enabled to do that by the Holy Spirit who has been given to me.”
He finishes with these words: “An even stronger reason for purifying ourselves is that we all ought to have a positive desire to be like Him. We ought to be filled with a yearning and a longing to live this glorious, wondrous life that Christ has made possible for us by His death and resurrection. Should not we all be animated by a desire to please Him if we really believe He came from heaven to earth?
“If we really believe that He suffered the agony of the cross and shed His holy blood that we might be redeemed and rescued, if we really believe that and love Him, should not our greatest desire be to please Him? That is the reason for holy living, that is the New Testament appeal for holiness; it is an appeal to our sense of honour, to our sense of love and gratitude…
“That is the spirit of the New Testament – people pressing on towards the mark, straining at the leash, looking forward, going forward with all their might. And because they are looking at the vision of glory for which they are destined, they are pressing on towards it and towards Him, forgetting the things that are behind, redeeming the time, buying up the opportunity, using every second because of the certainty that they will see Him as He is and that they will be like Him.”
Amen and amen.