|HOLINESS AND FAITH
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Jun 19 2009 08:00 A.M.
"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an
inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."
In the pursuit of holiness Christians are often called on to perform duties that appear unreasonable and even absurd to
an unbelieving world. A Christian farmer in Kansas is a case in point. When wheat is exactly ready to be harvested, it is
important that the work be completed quickly lest bad weather arise and damage the crop or reduce its quality.
Because of this, harvesting is often done on a seven-day-a week schedule. But this particular farmer, believing Sunday
should be observed as the Lord's Day, would never work his harvest crew on Sunday, even when an impending storm
threatened. To his neighboring farmers this action appeared strange and unreasonable. Interestingly enough,
however, over the years this Christian farmer was the most prosperous in his area. Like Abraham, he obeyed by faith
what he believed to be the will of God, even though such obedience must undoubtedly have been difficult at times.
Though we often think of holiness in a narrow sense of separation from impurity and moral evil, in its broader sense
holiness is obedience to the will of God in whatever God directs. It is saying with Jesus, "Here I am...I have come to do
your will, O God (Hebrews 10:7). No one can pursue holiness who is not prepared to obey God in every area of his life.
The holiness described in the Bible calls us to do more than separate ourselves from the moral pollution of the world
around us. It calls us to obey God even when that obedience is costly, when it requires deliberate sacrifice and even
exposure to danger.
During my (Jerry Bridges) service in the Navy, I was once in charge of an operation where a mishap occurred in which a
valuable boat was lost and a dozen or more lives were endangered. It was a situation that could have seriously
jeopardized my future naval service. Though the cause of the mishap was mechanical failure, it was also true that we
were not conducting the operation exactly according to the rules. During the ensuing investigation, the temptation to
protect myself by covering up this fact was extremely strong, but I knew I had to be completely truthful and trust God for
the consequences. God blessed that obedience - the investigation focused totally on the mechanical failure, and my
career was not harmed.
Obedience to the revealed will of God is often just as much a step of faith as claiming a promise from God. In fact, one
of the more intriguing thoughts from the book of Hebrews is the way the writer appears to use obedience and faith
interchangeably. For example, he speaks of the Old Testament Hebrews who would never enter God's rest because
they disobeyed (3:18). Yet they were not able to enter because of their unbelief (3:19). This interchange of unbelief
and disobedience also occurs later in the book (4:2,6).
These heroes of faith were said to be "still living by faith when they died" (Hebrews 11:13). But we will see that the
element of obedience - responding to the will of God - was just as prominent in their lives as was claiming the promises
of God. The important point, however, is that they obeyed by faith. And since obedience is the pathway to holiness - a
holy life being essentially an obedient life - we may say that no one will become holy apart from a life of faith.
Faith is not only necessary to salvation, it is also necessary to live a life pleasing to God. Faith enables us to claim the
promises of God. Faith enables us to obey when obedience is costly or seems unreasonable to the natural mind.
Several illustrations from Hebrews 11, the great "faith" chapter, bring out this truth. For example, by faith Abel offered
to God a better sacrifice than Cain did, and through this received God's approval (verse 4). We can assume that God
had revealed to Cain and Abel the duty of offering sacrifices and the acceptable way of performing that duty. It is
apparent from the rest of Scripture that God's acceptable way was through the sacrifice of a lamb - through the
shedding of blood. Now by faith Abel believed what God said. He took Him at His word and obeyed, even though it is
likely he did not understand why the sacrifice of the lamb was the only acceptable sacrifice. Cain, on the other hand,
did not believe God's revelations regarding an acceptable sacrifice - perhaps because it did not appear reasonable to
him - so he did not obey and thus failed to obtain God's blessing.
The world's values surround us on every hand. Fame, fortune, and present happiness are held as the most desirable
goals in life. But the Bible flatly contradicts the value of these goals: "But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever
will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to
minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:26,27). The rich should not "put their hope in wealth,
which is so uncertain," but are told to hope in God, "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they not be high
minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good,
that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate." (I Timothy 6:17,18). It takes faith to pursue
such biblical values when the society around us is pursuing goals that are totally opposite. This faith focuses on
believing that God ultimately upholds and blesses those who obey Him, and who trust Him for the consequences of
Noah's life is an example of this kind of faith: "By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with
fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the
righteousness which is by faith." (Hebrews 11:7). God's revelation to Noah concerning the forthcoming judgment on the
world was first of all a warning. By faith Noah believed that warning. He had conviction about things not yet seen based
solely upon the revealed Word of God. Noah also had confidence that the way of salvation from the impending
judgment was through God's appointed means - the ark. He responded to that promise, and so saved both himself and
Noah's building of the ark may well be considered one of the greatest examples the world has ever witnessed of
perseverance in a difficult duty of obedience. For 140 years he labored because he both heeded the warning of God
and believed the promise of God.
Abraham's life also illustrates the obedience element of faith. The call of Abraham consisted of two parts - a command
and a promise. The command was to leave his father's house and go to a land God would show him. The promise
was that God would make of him a great nation and through him bless all the families of the earth. Abraham believed
that both the command and the promise came from God, so he obeyed the command and expected fulfillment of the
promise. It is recorded of him, "By faith Abraham...obeyed." (Hebrews 11:8).
The Bible records the story of Abraham's faith and obedience in such a matter-of-fact way that we can easily overlook
the difficulty of his obedience and the faith it required. John Brown (An Exposition of Hebrews, 1862, Edinburgh) likens
the case of Abraham to "a person, previous to the discovery of America, leaving the shores of Europe, and committing
himself and his family to the mercy of the waves, in consequence of a command of God and a promise that they should
be conducted to a country where he should become the founder of a great nation, and the source of blessing to many
The path of obedience in the pursuit of holiness is often contrary to human reason. If we do not have conviction in the
necessity of obeying the revealed will of God as well as confidence in the promises of God, we will never persevere in
this difficult pursuit. We must have conviction that it is God's will that we seek holiness - regardless of how arduous and
painful the seeking may be. And we must be confident that the pursuit of holiness results in God's approval and
blessing, even when circumstances make it appear otherwise.
Often in our lives a specific act of obedience will require both conviction and confidence. God's commandments to
Israel to keep the sabbatical year was one such instance. He commanded that every seventh year the land should
have a sabbath rest to the Lord, during which no sowing or pruning was to be done (Leviticus 25:3-4). Along with this
command God promised that He would bless their crops in the sixth year so that they would have enough to eat until
crops in the eighth year were harvested (Leviticus 25:20-22). Only as the Israelites had confidence in the promise of
God would they dare to obey the command of God. Sadly, the Old Testament record seems to indicate they had
neither the confidence in God's promise nor the conviction that His revealed will on this matter was important to their
national and spiritual prosperity.
A New Testament application of this spiritual principle is found in the words of Jesus, "But seek ye first the kingdom of
God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33). The command is to seek
God's kingdom first. The promise is that as we do, God will provide for our temporal needs. Because we are often
fainthearted regarding the promise of God, we find it difficult to obey His command. Consequently we often give the
affairs of this life top priority in the basic decisions of our lives.
Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom of God promised: "And it shall be, if thou wilt hearken unto all that I
command thee, and wilt walk in my ways, and do that which is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my
commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with thee and build thee a sure house, as I built for David, and will
give Israel unto thee." I Kings 11:38
Did Jeroboam believe God and obey Him? We read that he did not:
sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord,
even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.
Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go
up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." I Kings 12:26-28
We could well think that Jeroboam had not even heard God's command and promise, so flagrantly did he disregard
them. He certainly heard, but the message he heard was of no value to him because it was not combined with faith
(Hebrews 4:2). But before we condemn Jeroboam, let us consider our own lives. How often do we fail to obey God's
clearly revealed will because we do not exercise faith?
Because we do not believe that humility is the path to God's exaltation (I Peter 5:6), we jockey for a place of position
and power in our relations with others. Because we do not believe that God takes note of and will in His time avenge all
wrongs done to us (Romans 12:19), we study in our own minds how we can "get back" at someone we feel has wronged
us. Because we are not convinced of the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13), we play with it, thinking we will thereby
find satisfaction. And because we do not have a firm conviction that "without holiness no one will see the Lord"
(Hebrews 12:14), we do not seriously pursue holiness as a priority in our lives.
Faith and holiness are inextricably linked. Obeying the commands of God usually involves believing the promises of
God. One definition of faith might be "Obeying the revealed will of God and trusting Him for the results."
"Without faith it is impossible to please him [God]" (Hebrews 11:6). If we would pursue holiness we must have faith to
obey the will of God revealed in the Scripture and faith to believe that the promises of God will then be ours.
The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges, Copyright 2006, NAVPRESS.
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