The Privilege of Holiness

When we consider the subject of holiness and the privileges it brings to every child of God, we find a great deal to be thankful for. There can be a tendency in many believers to view holiness as a state we achieve by following a set of values and norms – “I cannot have …” or “I am not allowed to …” – degrading it to the outcome of human-centred ordinances (cf. Gal 3:3; Col 2:20-22). To others, the goal of holiness is attained by a life of isolation from the world, extreme self-discipline and abstinence from indulging in pleasurable things. However noble this life might seem, this is not the privileged position of holiness into which every believer has been brought and called to enjoy.

The Wonder of Our Privileged Position

To appreciate our God-given privilege as “saints,” mark the distinction the New Testament makes between what we are in Christ and what we ought to be in the world. Our privilege has to do with the former and is concerned with our position – “in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). The latter is concerned with our condition here “in the world” (Joh 13:1; 16:33; 17:11). This distinction needs to be kept in mind when we read that believers are addressed as “holy[1] brethren” (Heb 3:1), yet are given the exhortation, “be ye holy” (1Pe 1:15).[2] Likewise, all believers have been “sanctified” (Act 20:32; 1Co 1:2; 6:11; Heb 10:10,14), yet we are to live “in sanctification” and “holiness” (1Th 4:3-7).

The moment we received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, God sanctified us and separated us to Himself by the Holy Spirit on the basis of Christ’s death for us (1Co 6:11; Heb 10:10). It is an immutable, spiritual and eternal position into which every believer enters upon being “born again” (Joh 3:3) and created anew (2Co 5:17; Eph 2:10) – whether he or she is aware of it or not. When we are “in Christ” (Rom 8:1; Eph 1:3; Php 1:1), God, not man, bestows upon us the title “saints” (Rom 1:7; Eph 1:1; Php 1:1).

This remarkable position cannot be improved upon or altered by anything whatsoever. It is based upon a finished work that will stand the test of time (Joh 19:30; Heb 10:12,14). For this reason, we read that we “were” or “have been sanctified” (1Co 6:11; Heb 10:10), a completed action with results continuing to the present. Our position is “hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3), Christ being “higher than the heavens” (Heb 7:26) and seated “on the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). Moreover, God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6 ESV). In this holy position, we are “complete in Him” (Col 2:10), “accepted in the beloved” (Eph 1:6), and loved with the same love the Father has for His “beloved Son” in whom He is “well pleased” (Joh 17:23; Mat 3:17).

So near, so very near to God,
I cannot nearer be;
For in the person of His Son
I am as near as He.

So dear, so very dear to God,
More dear I cannot be;
The love wherewith He loves the Son;
Such is His love to me.[3]

Therefore, sainthood is not a spiritual status I grow into. It is neither a feeling or emotion, nor a blessing to be attained. Rather, it is an intimate and most privileged position that we are to abide in and enjoy. It is wrought by God positionally, and we are to pursue it conditionally.

The Realisation of Our Privileged Position

To enjoy the practical reality of our positional sanctification takes discipline and faith, the same faith by which we trusted God for salvation. Firstly, we are to separate ourselves from sin, self and the world by reckoning (or counting true) that we died with Christ (Rom 6:3; Gal 2:20a; Col 3:3a) and yielding ourselves to God through the holy life of the resurrected Christ (Rom 6:11-13; 2Co 4:11; Gal 2:20b; Col 3:4a). This is the energising source of life made real by the Holy Spirit indwelling every believer (Joh 14:16,17; 1Co 6:19; Eph 1:13,14).

Secondly, by setting our “affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col 3:2), we are to appropriate all that we are “in Christ” as “a new creation” (2Co 5:17) through the exercise of faith. By “renewing” our minds (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23) with these truths, faith enables us to experience ongoing transformation – practical sanctification (1Th 4:3,4), conformity to Christ (2Co 3:18), and the realisation of God’s good, acceptable and perfect will (Rom 12:2b).

The Pleasure and Purpose of Our Privileged Position

One of God’s divine pleasures is to dwell among His people and receive worship (Eph 2:22; Joh 4:23; cf. Exo 25:8). While the desire of God to dwell among His people for all eternity is a well-accepted truth (Joh 17:24; Rev 21:3), the truth that we have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19-22) here and now is simply incomprehensible! “Who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psa 24:3). Saints “in Christ” – that’s who! Staggering, too, are the truths that believers gathered together in local testimony are both “the temple of God” wherein dwells “the Spirit of God” (1Co 3:16), and a “holy priesthood” whose “spiritual sacrifices” are “acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1Pe 2:5). We will always feel a deep sense of inadequacy to stand before a holy God and open our mouths. Take heart, fellow saint – we are “accepted in the beloved!” So let us by faith lay hold of our God-given privilege to “offer the sacrifice of praise” (Heb 13:15) and worship Him in the “splendor of holiness” (Psa 29:2 ESV).

But there is more. God has set us apart, in Christ, for His sovereign purposes. In the same way we might set apart fine china for special occasions, God “called us with an holy calling … according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2Ti 1:9). “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph 2:10). And while God can use the ungodly (e.g., Jer 27:6; Hab 1:6), it is only those “in Christ” who have the opportunity of being “a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2Ti 2:21). Men may count it an honour to serve an earthly king; how much more is the privilege of serving our blessed Lord Jesus Christ!

And if the privileges of holy worship and service aren’t enough, think on this: every faithful act of Christian service according to His will shall receive a reward (Mat 5:12; 10:42; 1Co 3:14; Col 3:24). Unthinkable! May God help us to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Php 3:14).

[1] Note that the English words “holy,” “holiness,” “saint,” “sanctified,” “sanctuary,” etc. are derived from the root Greek word hagios or one of its cognates hagion, hagiazo or hagiasmos.

[2] Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[3] Catesby Paget, 1868–1930.