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Wholly Holy?

August 14, 2006

Note to TJ who on attending services outside a non-PCA church, took exception to the lyrics of certain contemporary hymnody, which affirmed the desire to “be holy.” Said song being written by neither Luther nor one of the Wesleys, who seldom used electric guitars anyway, was immediately suspect. The objection it would seem is that in Christ we are already holy, and that to speak of “becoming holy, smacked of semi-Pelagianism. Queried on the subject over enchiladas, I opined that we do have Bible on such a proposition, it seemed to me, somewhere in Peter for example, where we are told to “be holy.” So now having regained my word processor, I offer the following observation.

First, of course the Greek New Testament uses at least two different words translated in English as “holy.” The most common and readily cited in theology is hagios, which carries in general the idea of being “set apart.” Another word is hosios, which is listed in my lexicon as “holy, devout, pious.”

It is true that the NT usage of holiness refers largely to a positional truth, and being holy, we do not anticipate an increase in that perfect holiness. However, we do also have imperative language in regard to being holy:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (all instances hagios) 1 Peter 1:14-16.

And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy (hagios) in body and spirit. 1 Corinthians 7:34

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy (hosios), and disciplined. Titus 1:7-8.

Consider also the related term “holiness” (hagiasmos):

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor (both hagiasmos). 1 Thessalonians 4:4

Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. 1 Timothy 2:15

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14

In fact, theologically we recognize “sanctification,” which involved progress in holiness in this life:

Westminster Confession; XII: They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created within them, are further sanctified really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and then more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.
This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.

In which war, although the remaining corruption may for a time must prevail, yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 14, 2006 8:21 am

    Marv, this blogging thing is pretty cool. Do they have automatic spell checks?

    Help my feeble mind. What is the connection between Luther, the Wesley’s and electric guitars to our conversation? You have quotation marks around “becoming holy, smacked of semi-Pelagianism.” Are you attributing that quote to me?

    I’m sorry if I did not adequately convey my awareness of the biblical distinction between positional and progressive holiness. (And what a great quote from the Confession!)

    As we discussed, in matters of sanctification, the bible is written in the indicitive/ imperative model, i.e. God has done this for you (indicitive), therefore, in the power of the Spirit who sanctifies you,live out what He has made you to be (imperative).

    My concern is what seems to me to be an emphasis on the imperative “be holy”, without awareness of the positional holiness involved in our union with Christ thru the Spirit.

    Positional holiness is, as you say, what the NT refers largely to, and with reason, for the Lord says, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

  2. marv permalink
    August 14, 2006 1:59 pm

    TJ, you get along with astute biblical and theological commentary, the added benefit of sophisticated ribbing. No you didn’t mention guitars or St. Pelagius, etc. I did however indicate that somewhere Peter gives the admonishion to “be holy.” As I recall your objection was to a song along the same lines. One point I tried not too successfully to make is that among “your people” there is an up-tightness with the way other types of Christians express themselves, not sufficiently RT–an uptightness that would indict many of the writers of the Bible themselves, who had not been keeping up with their Calvin.

    So what you’re saying is that your objection came not so much from the unbiblical nature of the lyrics (since there is Bible to support them), as to your piercing reading into the inner psyches of the singers or songwriter. I think you may have experienced a word of knowledge to discern that the people responsible for this song were unaware of the positional holiness involved in our union with Christ through the Holy Spirit.

    I have come to the conclusion that complaints of “emphasis” often reflect more on the observer’s bias, insufficient sampling, or tendancy to assume the worst.

    I don’t know what specific song you heard, but I can think of a number in this category. I don’t find it particularly inappropriate for a redeemed people committed to daily/continual repentence who are admonished in the Scriptures to “strive…for holiness…” to sing of this to the Lord in worship.

    To retell one of John Wimber’s stories, once at a point of struggle, he cried out to the Lord for help… What came immediately to mind (through the Spirit): “How much help do you want…SEEING YOU CAN DO NOTHING?”

  3. Anonymous permalink
    August 15, 2006 2:57 pm

    Marv,please enlighten your readers.

    Does this “up-tightness” you’ve observed come from a “piercing reading into the inner psyches of” “my people”? Perhaps it’s something you’ve obseved in your attendence of “RT” services or conversations with your “RT” friends. Please share some insights.

    Also, is it only possible for people other than yourself to make errent observations? For example, is your “conclusion that complaints of “emphasis” often reflect more on the observer’s bias, insufficient sampling, or tendancy to assume the worst” made from your inerrent piercing reading into inner psyches”, while my observation (taking from Paul, “Have you who began by the Spirit…) that there seems to me to be a counter-biblical emphasis on progressive over positional holiness frought with error? In other words, are you alone able to discern bias and tendancies of the heart?

    Do you think I would look uptight if I got one of those pointy hats Calvin wore?

  4. marv permalink
    August 16, 2006 12:09 pm

    TJ, bear in mind that there are approximately 5,999,999,998 people in the world who do not access this site at any time. So my “readers” consisting of yourself and myself are already aware.
    Complaints of “emphasis” have a long history. In regard to your revered self, I think you once made a comment that a certain person might have an over-emphasis on healing. However, I was reading a book called “Matthew” the other day, and sure enough there was this preacher man, who seemed to spend half his time just healing people–talk about over emphasis.
    What I was trying to say to you in my overblown and highly irritating way was that a single visit might be insufficient to grasp the emphasis of a certain church.
    In regard to RT, I am thinking of everyone from the Family Calvin to your esteemed self to Dr. Sproul, to Dr. Horton. To be fair I am reacting most particularly to Horton and friends from The Whitehorse Inn, which as I told you I think has an important message, just an unbalanced emphasis—oops, there I go myself…
    And just for my “readers'” understanding, I do think full disclosure requires that I inform them that in sparring with my esteemed colleage TJ(anonymous) I am likely to overstate my case a tad for effect or maintain an air of indignation that is in reality playful banter.
    Bottom line is, even the Biblical writers don’t speak with the theological precision the RT-types do. I think if someone’s words can be backed up biblically (such as the words you quoted from this song) you basically have to give them a break, even if you imaging you detect some sub-standard theology.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    August 16, 2006 3:02 pm

    I’m confused. The purpose of my asking if you alone could make inerrent observations was to try to get you to elaborate on what to me is some very confused writing on your part about who, if anybody, is qualified to make human observations. I perrot an observation Paul made to all the Galatian churches and it’s not OK; you make an observation that it’s not OK to make observations (huh?), but that observation is OK…. Unless you are claiming papal infallibility, I don’t understand your position. Instead of clarification, you recall what to me is an obscure conversation where, to your thinking, I made another errent observation about a faith healer. I could use some faith to follow your logic.

    About this other errent observation of mine about some faith healer I don’t recall, are you suggesting as a matter of principle that it is impossible for anybody anywhere anytime and in anyway to overemphisize healing? Is your objection then in principal, or in particular?

    You say, “What I was trying to say to you in my overblown and highly irritating way was that a single visit might be insufficient to grasp the emphasis of a certain church.” It’s not that I think you’re overblown or irritating, I just don’t know what you’re trying to say. If you’re speaking personally, I’ve never visited a Vinyard Church, but would welcome the invitation, just as I have welcomed you into my church. I don’t know what else to say about this.

    I was surprised that a person with your love for language made such an observation about perceived disparites in the level of theological precision between “RT” and biblical writers. If I asked you to cite an example of a passage in the bible that is not theologically precise in its intention you would tell me that’s a loaded question, …and it is. But don’t miss the point. Give the biblical writers AND Reformed writers, and for that matter Vinyard writers the benefit of lattitude, intent, and circumstance. Moses didn’t intend “precise” creation language, but it was precisely what God inteneded to communicate thru Moses. The Reformers often needed precise language to expalin their position over and against 1,000 years of ingrained theological error. If you take into accounte context, I think this straw division dissappears.

  6. marv permalink
    August 16, 2006 4:30 pm

    Someone needs a chill pill. Let’s just say I’m not really reacting to you, but to a general impression I get that I think is worth discussing. Perhaps I am wrong in this, and as I think I specified in my self introduction, even if I consider a certain position to be true and write it in here, one of the purposes is to hear from the 3 or four people on earth who have any idea that this blog exists, and they can set me straight, or try. Boy, the pope rhetoric!!! Wow!
    Take for example the epistle of James. Obviously, nothing wrong with God’s Word. But if someone preached a SERMON today along these lines, the fact that specific items such as the substitutionary atonement are not explicitly mentioned…well, I imagine charges of moralism, all law no gospel, wrong emphasis, living out of the imperative.
    What I am getting at is that it is probably more IDEAL for a Christian today to sound like Romans when he talks, or better yet like the Wesminster Confession or the Institues. But if he is heard to utter matters more akin to gaining endurance from trials, not showing partiality to the rich, praying with faith, being kind to strangers, being slow to get angry…we can conclude that the poor deceived wretch thinks we can reform our morals by our own power. I’m just saying, give our brothers and sisters a break. One can hold to salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, even if one is not speaking about it at the moment.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    August 17, 2006 6:52 pm


    Sorry if I offended you with the pope comment. I was trying to use what I thought was a pretty common rhetorical device often used to explore other’s positions. That device is where you take that which is proposed and extend it to an absurd conclusion which, hopefully, will cause one to rethink the orginal position.

    So, let me try it again, in as inoffensive way as I know, and perhaps you will reply. You scoffed that I was somehow able to exercise a “piercing reading into the inner psyches” of some people who wrote a song (actually, I was not talking about those who wrote it, but on the congregation that was singing it- a congregation I have observed to one degree or another for 47 years). To hear it from you, no matter the reason I said what I said, I have no such power and should not have made the same observation Paul made in Galations. So far, I don’t agree with you, but I do follow you. Then I saw where you said that people’s complaints of emphaisis are often errent because of their bias and tendency to assume the worst. When one speaks of bias and tendencies, aren’t those matters of the heart also? I don’t understand the difference. To emphasize the point, I took what I perceived to be a logical extreme, i.e. that the only explination of why you would be able to excercise such an observation is because your observations were infallible in the way Rome claims papal infallibility. In other words, I was suggesting the absurd to enable you to better understood what I was asking. Does it make more sense this time and would you now care to respond?

    A couple other things I noticed. I don’t understand what you’re talking about regarding the book of James. I suppose one can imagine anything, but have you ever actually heard anybody offer “charges of moralism, all law no gospel, wrong emphasis, living out of the imperative” against somebody who was preaching thru James? My pastor preached thru James last year, and I don’t recall a single cat-call. But that’s just me. Please elaborate to your readers something of your actual experiences in this matter.

    Similarly, you say,”…it is probably more IDEAL for a Christian today to sound like Romans when he talks, or better yet like the Wesminster Confession or the Institues.” Really? Over the past 10 years, ministers in my chruch have easily spent more time in the gospels than anywhere else…. Last time I attended another chruch, not my own, the sermon was on “Jesus, the Bread of Life.” Wonderful sermon followed by a wonderful Communion Service that happended to be a PCA church.

    I’m not criticizing others, I’m simply saying that in Reformed Theology, we understand the bible to be so inner-connected that we go from one book or even testement to the other pretty seemlessly. So, from my experience, your claim of these stiff categories simply does not resinate, but I’d love to hear your particular experiences that lead you to this belief.

    In conclusion to all of this you say, “But if he is heard to utter matters more akin to gaining endurance from trials, not showing partiality to the rich, praying with faith, being kind to strangers, being slow to get angry…we can conclude that the poor deceived wretch thinks we can reform our morals by our own power. I’m just saying, give our brothers and sisters a break.

    Again, help please. I’ve heard sermons on all these wonderful matters and can’t imagine that our respective church’s teachings are all together too different. So, what “break” are you speaking of? Is this oppresion of your brothers and sisters also in your imagination or do you have actual experiences you’d be willing to share?

    PS I’ll pass on the chill pills, but I’d love some energy pills.

  8. marv permalink
    August 21, 2006 2:33 pm

    I agree you completely missed my point in regard to the epistle of James. I will try to remake that point and then maybe have done with this thread, which was merely to demonstrate Biblical support for growing in experiential holiness in contradistinction to positional holiness.

    My point is as follows:
    I note that certain Christians are prone to criticise the practices of others. In particular I am thinking of critiques coming from a Reformed Theology camp. I am having some trouble understanding exactly what is happening with such criticism.

    In general there is a claim that in preaching, teaching, even hymnody some Christians display an inadequate amount of attention to the indicatives of the faith, that is that Christ’s work on our behalf is finished and that justification and sanctification are His works. This being said, there is a great deal in the Scriptures describing how the life of a redeemed person is to be led, and believers are urged to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. This, of course, is possible only by the power of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.

    Nevertheless, on repeated instances I seem to hear Christians associated with the Reformed camp treating others who happen to preach or teach something of this latter aspect, the imperatives, so to speak, of the Christian life, as if by so doing they implicitly deny the indicatives or else display ignorance of their existence.

    I cited some specifics.

    One example is the Promise Keepers organization. This group has the focus of calling Christian men to their responsabilities as husbands, fathers, church members, and citizens. I frequently see them criticized as if by so doing they are manifesting semi-Pelagian heresy. Many of the participants are clearly Arminian and doubtless Semi-Pelagian, but teaching the Biblical imperatives of responsible roles for men is none of the above, but is simply Biblical.

    Critiques of the type are sometimes called “moralism.” One example can be found here (

    You yourself pointed out the lyrics of a song regarding “holiness,” and my response, not knowing which spicific song was in view was that it appeared to be nevertheless a Biblical concept. And this I demonstrated by a few select verses. Your response was, I believe, that it might be a Biblical truth, but still it betrayed an unbiblical emphasis (these are not your exact words and perhaps I do not do your point justice. However, I am tired of this exchange and do not wishe to defend my characterization of these last remarks.)

    My point in citing the epistle of James was that it is a Biblical book that nevertheless showed about the same kind of emphasis on the imperatives of the Christian life as many of the messages that are criticized for this failing.

    One such critic, Todd Wilkin of “Issues, Etc.” regularly critiques the sermons of others. He uses a three point criterion:

    How often is Jesus mentioned? For his purposes, a simple tally will suffice. (note: it is not enough to simply speak of God, he means explicit reference to Jesus)

    Is Jesus the subject of the verbs?

    Is Jesus the one who acts, or are you?
    What are the verbs? What has Jesus done and what is He doing?

    I will grant that he finds some rather egregious sermons to which to apply these questions. It also is not my purpose to question the rightness or wisdom of these questions.

    However, if we were to apply them to the epistle of James, it would score rather low.
    References to Jesus Christ (2) both objects. Multiple references to God. Multiple references to the Lord: some of these may be references to the second person of the Trinity. If so the Lord comes, the Lord is compassionate, the Lord heals etc. For the most part the one who acts in James is the believer.

    So on the one hand this epistle scores badly on Wilkin’s scale. On the other hand it is inspired scripture.

    My conclusion is that the Bible, not traditions or even confessions or theologies (though these are all important), is the criterion for comparison. If our brothers are backed up by scripture, then they at least deserve the respect of being approved for this (by fellow servants of our Lord).

    Many things out there in the church, “evangelicalism” can be/needs to be improved. I grant this. But I simply want to put my voice in for a fair standard of evaluation.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    August 22, 2006 3:58 pm

    I think we’re going in a circle, so I think it’s time to wind it down too. I’ll simply note two things.

    1. I would gladly appeal to any independently minded arbitor(s) to assess whether you have provided a single specific, in context, coherent example of your allegations against “my people.”

    2. I find it interesting that you identify Allister Begg, R.C. Sproul and Francis Schaeffer, (all lock-step anti-Dispensational, Covenental Calvinists, and the latter two being ordained PCA pastors) as ones whose theology you admire, but you deride the theolgogical confession of faith they have ordainationally bound themselves to, i.e. as in you comment that RT people are more interested in conformity to the Institues and the WCF than the bible. If that’s true, and these three are as about RT as they come….do you see the disconnect?

    John Wimber AND R. C. Sproul? Bill Gothard AND Francis Schaeffer? Piercing into your heart, I think these are the thoughts of an unsettled mind. But you can expalin it to me over tacos next month.


  10. marv permalink
    August 22, 2006 5:27 pm

    1. I really do not care about any arbitration. I must admit that Wilkin is a Lutheran, not precisely the same as an RT.

    2. I actually cannot recall any such rhetoric from Sproul, Begg, or Schaeffer. I do not have anything against the PCA, and I don’t believe I have ever said so (I do admit to teasing you by accidentally saying PCUSA from time to time). My beef is not with RT, but with a tendancy that certain individuals within this movement (or school or whatever the correct word is, I believe I have said “camp” before). I readily admit that I do not hold to some of the doctrines within RT, nor am I an enemy to people in the Reformed Theology camp. They are fellow servants my Lord and theirs as well as brothers and sisters, and by our Lord’s instruction I owe them love. I have not said that the people you mention are more dedicated to the confessions than to the Scriptures. I suspect some people may in fact be. I have some suspicions that for some people Sola Scriptura is applied through the intermediary of the historic confessions. Perhaps they are right to do so, perhaps not.

    3. I reserve the right to believe the Scriptures that there is no brother or sister that I have no need of. You can admire Augustine without accepting his view of Mary for example. I can admire John Calvin, with the sure and certain knowledge that he would not like me very much. I can see the Holy Spirit at work in gifting Martin Luther to call the church back to Biblical soteriology, and yet find his views on baptism or eschatology unconvincing. I can praise God for using any of his servants for His building in my life through them, without having to give carte blanche to any of them or subscibe uncritically to their systems. None of this is an unsettled mind (though this is certainly true on other accounts), but is I think the direction a balanced mind needs to aspire to.

  11. grapaslingo permalink
    September 14, 2006 10:46 pm

    This is one of the funniest and most interesting exchanges I have ever read. I’m kind of secretly hoping that you were posting both sides of the argument, Marv.


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