by Bill Muehlenberg
There are millions of Christians today who read Scriptures many times over, but live just like atheists. They read the Word of God but they don’t believe, they don’t live it. To read the Word daily yet ignore its clear demands and teachings means we are simply ‘Christian’ atheists.
Consider just one passage of Holy Scripture: Hebrews 12:14b which says this: “without holiness no one will see the Lord”. How many millions of Christians have read this countless times. But who actually believes it? Who takes a passage such as this seriously?
Without holiness we will not see the Lord. End of the story. No getting around it. Now of course New Testament Christianity is clear in teaching that the initial step in getting right with God (righteousness), and the ongoing step (sanctification) are a package deal We cannot have one without the other.
By grace through faith we are declared righteous and holy by the finished work of Christ. But that is only the beginning. The next step is to live like what we have been declared to be. Living a holy live experientially is also of grace through faith, but we must take the necessary steps to achieve this. We must be obedient. The gospel really is, as David Pawson reminds us, quite simple:
“It is not, ‘you must now be holy’. It is not, ‘you needn’t be holy – you’re still going to heaven’. It is, rather, ‘you can be holy’. Holiness is on offer as well as forgiveness. Both are by faith from beginning to end. It is not only to be covered by his righteousness, but to have his righteousness created within me.”
We are to be holy not just in our standing, but in our state. We are pronounced holy and righteous because of what Jesus did for us, but now we are to appropriate that, experience it, and slowly but surely live it out in our lives. It does no good to raise your hand as an emotional response to some gospel pitch years ago, but to keep on living like the devil.
A real Christian – over time at least – learns to hate sin – beginning with his own – and to love righteousness and holiness. But the reason so few Christians are moving down this path is because we have proclaimed a false gospel to people. We have emphasised the love of God but totally ignored the holiness and righteousness of God.
Thus our gospel is truncated and incomplete. We tell people that God loves them unconditionally and accepts them just as they are, and all they have to do is give a mental assent to all this. We no longer preach the horribleness of sin, the utter need of repentance, and a willingness to renounce self and take up our cross daily.
So we have plenty of Christians who have sung ten choruses of “Just As I Am” who leave a gospel meeting just as they were. They have never been regenerated because they have never repented. And they have never repented because they have never been told there is need to. Just accept God’s love – end of story. As Pawson says:
The idea that God loves everybody unconditionally, wants them all to come to him just as they are, and everyone can then be happy – that is not the gospel, or the God that we are to present to the world. It implies when we emphasise to unbelievers that God is love that we are lovable. Because we measure His love by ours…. God had to tell the Jews, ‘I don’t love you because you are special; you are special because I love you’. And that is the biblical emphasis. God doesn’t love us because we are lovable, but because He is love. That’s a very different thing. And so we have had an overemphasis on a God of Love in our preaching to unbelievers – something that the New Testament apostles never did.
He is quite right. I will give you a hundred dollars for every time you can find for me the love of God being mentioned in the book of Acts. Surely if we want to know what biblical evangelism is all about, we will find it here. But in Acts we find a gospel of repentance, and a God of righteousness and holiness being proclaimed.
We need to get back to New Testament evangelism. We need to get back to the gospel message of the New Testament. It is never about ‘you best life now’ or how to be happy and prosperous and feel good about yourself. It is about: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
All the great preachers and evangelists knows these truth, which is why they had such a powerful impact, and why their converts remained – they preached sin and repentance, and they preached holiness. And that is what we must once again do as well if we want to have a real impact, and if we want to make real disciples of Jesus Christ.
Let me close with some of these great men of God, and their great words on sin, repentance, and holiness. Let their words soak in deeply and with great Holy Ghost conviction:
“You know, we live in a day when we are more afraid of holiness than we are of sinfulness.” Leonard Ravenhill
“It is not the absence of sin but the grieving over it which distinguishes the child of God from empty professors.” A. W. Pink
“Listen, I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist, I’ll butt it as long as I’ve got a head, and I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old, fistless, footless, and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition.” Billy Sunday
“There must be a divorce between you and sin, or there can be no marriage between you and Christ.” Charles Spurgeon
“Sin is the greatest power in the world, with one exception, and this is the power of God.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“True repentance begins with KNOWLEDGE of sin. It goes on to work SORROW for sin. It leads to CONFESSION of sin before God. It shows itself before a person by a thorough BREAKING OFF from sin. It results in producing a DEEP HATRED for all sin.” J.C. Ryle
“The idea that God will pardon a rebel who has not given up his rebellion is contrary both to the Scriptures and to common sense.” A.W. Tozer
“If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both at home and abroad, his repentance needs to be repented of, and his conversion is a fiction.” C.H. Spurgeon
“Before I preach love, mercy, and grace, I must preach sin, law, and judgement.” John Wesley
“True repentance will entirely change you; the bias of your souls will be changed, then you will delight in God, in Christ, in His Law, and in His people.” George Whitefield
“The holiest person is one who is most conscious of what sin is.” Oswald Chambers
I believe the holier a man becomes, the more he mourns over the unholiness which remains in him. Charles Spurgeon
“People may refuse to see the truth of our arguments, but they cannot evade the evidence of a holy life.” J.C. Ryle
“The failure of modern evangelicalism is the failure to understand the holiness of God.” R.C. Sproul
“As we grow in holiness, we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin.”
“It is not surprising that the cross has been discounted by modern theologians; it is because they have started with the love of God without His holiness.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“Every man is as holy as he really wants to be.” A. W. Tozer
The holy man is not one who cannot sin. A holy man is one who will not sin. A. W. Tozer
“The greatest miracle that God can do today is to take an unholy man out of an unholy world, and make that man holy and put him back into that unholy world and keep him holy in it.” Leonard Ravenhill
“Without holiness, no one shall see the Lord. Jesus didn’t die to save us from hell. That’s a fringe benefit! He died to get total occupation of us. To be holy in speech… in actions… in everything.” Leonard Ravenhill