" . . . Holy And Without Blemish"
Nothing less is worthy of our Holy Father whose glory fills heaven and earth.
Nothing less is worthy of our Holy Saviour, who shed His blood to redeem us from sin.
Nothing less is worthy of His Holy Spirit whose temple we are.
By Del Fehsenfeld, Jr.
God was angry, and with good reason. Less than six weeks earlier, His newly-redeemed people had pledged their allegiance to Him and affirmed their intent to obey His commands. Now they had spurned His grace. They had flagrantly violated the first and most fundamental of His laws.
Only the fervent intercession of His servant Moses stayed His hand from utterly destroying the whole congregation in a moment.
The final, cataclysmic judgment averted, God instructed Moses to lead the people on to the Promised Land. He assured Moses that the nation would be sustained by divine provision, promises, and protection. An angel would be sent to lead the way. However, God Himself would not go with them, "lest I consume thee in the way" (Ex. 33:3).
However, in spite of God’s mercy and gracious offer, Moses still insisted, "If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence" (Ex. 33:15). In other words, "God, if You do not go with us, we are not going!"
The desperate leader went on to explain to God that His presence was the only thing that set His people apart from everybody else in the world. In the absence of God’s presence, there would be nothing to distinguish them from anyone else.
Why could God’s presence not go with His people? The explanation is simple. God is holy. His presence cannot co-exist with an unholy people.
That is why, 40 years later, as the people prepared to enter Canaan, Moses warned, "The Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp…therefore shall thy camp be holy: that He see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee" (Deut. 23:14).
The prophet Habakkuk reverently affirmed, "O Lord my God, mine Holy One…, Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Hab. 1:12-13).
The Old Testament Israelites had frequent reminders of this fact. In the Golden Calf incident, over 3,000 people paid for the nation’s sin with their lives (Ex. 32:25-28). Why? Because God is holy.
On the way from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, the fire of God consumed many of those who had displeased Him with their murmuring and complaining (Num. 11:1-3). Why? Because God is holy.
A short time later, an entire generation was sentenced to die in the wilderness (Num. 14:26-35). For what reason? God is holy, and He could not ignore their sin of unbelief.
When 250 of the nation’s leaders initiated an insurrection against Moses, the earth opened up and swallowed the ringleader, and the rest were destroyed by fire (Num. 16:1-35). Why? Because God is holy.
Many years later, God revealed to Ezekiel why He was justified in sending the nation into captivity. In a vision, the man of God was carried, not to the prostitution districts, not to the taverns, not to the halls of government, but to the temple in Jerusalem, and told to look inside. From the outer court to the Holiest Place, idolatry and sensuality were rife. God said to His prophet, "Son of man, seest thou what they do? Even the great abominations that the house of Israel committeth here, that I should go far off from My sanctuary?" (Ezek. 8:6).
When God proclaimed judgment on the backslidden nation, He said to those given the responsibility to carry out the judgment, "…begin at My sanctuary" (Ezek. 9:6).
Perhaps these are the words Peter had in mind when he wrote to the New Testament church, "The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17).
You see, God is no less committed to holiness in the Body of Christ than He was in the nation of Israel. The word "holy" is used no fewer than thirty times in the Old Testament to speak of the tabernacle where God’s glory dwelt. Every piece of its furnishings was to be holy – having been cleansed and consecrated for God’s use. The priests were to be holy. Even their garments were to be holy.
How much more ought we to be holy, who are "builded together for an habitation of God"? (Eph. 2:22). "Know ye not that ye [plural] are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16).
Let us briefly consider five questions regarding our call to be a holy temple for God.
Why Should the Church Be Holy?
We must be holy because we are the dwelling place of a holy God. An unholy temple is not a fit place for our God.
We must be holy because we have been purchased and washed by a holy Saviour. We are not our own. We have been bought with the infinite price of His life-blood.
We must be holy because we have been justified for the purpose of being sanctified. Christ "loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word…" (Eph. 5:25-26). To be holy is our calling. God’s purpose for the church is not that it might have a myriad of programs or large budgets, or that people might feel good; His purpose is to make us holy.
We must be holy because we are the Bride of Christ. Paul wrote to the carnal Corinthian church, "I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). We have been engaged to a holy Christ. As the bride adorned in white speaks of a woman who has kept herself chaste and pure for her husband, so, as the Bride of Christ, we long to stand before Him one day in white. To be able to do so will cause great joy:
"Let us be glad and rejoice…for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints" (Rev. 19:7-8). Our chastity as His espoused Bride here on earth, is motivated by our anticipation of the glorious consummation of our love in heaven.
What Does It Mean to Be Holy?
To be a holy Bride is to be clean through and through. It surely includes being blameless in every matter that is visible to others – in conduct, speech, dress, and in habits and lifestyle. But holiness runs far deeper than that which can be evaluated by men. True holiness is produced in the heart of the believer, by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It means being clean inside, where only God sees. It means to have only holy attitudes, values, thoughts, and motives. To be holy is to be like Jesus – "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). It is to be without spot, pretense, or guile.
Unfortunately, all too often the church today has measured herself by the world’s standards, and has been satisfied with being "relatively" holy. That is to say, by comparison to the world, we think ourselves to be in pretty good shape. But there is no such thing as "relative" holiness. Holiness is not a matter of degrees. The church is either holy, or it is unholy.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to be diligent and thorough in purging all the leaven out of the church. Leaven in Scripture is often a picture of sin or that which defiles. "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" (1 Cor. 5:6). Nothing that is unholy must be permitted to defile the House of a holy God.
As C. H. Spurgeon stated so clearly, "We…have no need to fear excessive strictness in getting rid of sin. With as scrupulous a care as the Israelite purged out the leaven from his house [in preparation for the Passover], we are to purge out all sin from ourselves, our conduct, and our conversation."
What Things Defile the Temple of God?
We might rightly say that any deviation from God’s holy character, any violation of His holy Word, defiles the Body of Christ. But the Scripture highlights a number of specific sins in the Body that particularly grieve the Spirit of God.
In the Old Testament, there are numerous specific instances in which God judged His people for the sins of idolatry, murmuring, discontent, covetousness, unbelief, and rebellion against God-ordained authority. Whether the sin was committed by a leader, a single individual, or the entire congregation, a high toll was always exacted for defiling the nation to which God had entrusted His glory. "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition…" (1 Cor. 10:11).
The Apostle Paul frequently wrote to the New Testament churches about various sins that contaminated the Body. He warned them to put away anything that could possibly offend a holy God and grieve His Holy Spirit.
For example, doctrinal impurity of every type was dangerous and not to be tolerated. Paul knew that ultimately doctrine determines practice; false doctrine inevitably results in wrong living. He taught that those entrusted with the spiritual leadership of the church have an awesome responsibility to safeguard believers from teaching or philosophies that are unscriptural.
Paul also addressed the matter of disorderly conduct in the church. Whether in the exercise of spiritual gifts, the role of women in public worship, or in the case of believers who refused to work but expected the church to meet their material needs, the entire Body was affected by failure to adhere to God’s standards.
On a number of occasions, Paul expressed grave concern over contentious members of the church who were guilty of creating divisions in the Body. These schisms were invariably an evidence of pride. He chastised those who made absolutes out of personal preferences, as well as those who exalted mere men over the Lordship of Christ, the Head of the church. Those who threatened the unity of the church were, in fact, destroying the Body belonging to Christ Himself.
Paul was especially severe in his warnings against tolerating any type of moral impurity in the church. He was astounded to learn that there was in the church at Corinth a professing believer who was involved in an incestuous relationship. However, rather than directly confronting the one who had sinned, Paul sternly rebuked the church for their failure to deal with this matter.
Perhaps the Corinthian believers had adopted the philosophy that is so prevalent in the church today: "It is not my responsibility…I am not the one who is guilty…I am sure he would not listen to me if I said anything to him…It would probably be better if someone else talked to him…Besides, it is really none of my business…."
Perhaps they did not realize the extent to which the entire Body was affected by the sin of one unrepentant brother. Perhaps some were even harboring private sins of their own that made it more difficult for them to face another believer over his sin. At any rate, they were going on with business as usual, as if nothing had happened, oblivious to the extent to which the whole Body was being subtly infected by the unconfessed sin of one man. It was imperative, Paul insisted, that this matter be dealt with thoroughly and promptly.
Paul often stressed the necessity of absolute moral purity in the church of Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for her sanctification. "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting…For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them (i.e., unregenerate people) in secret" (Eph. 5:3-4, 12). What is he saying? "You are saints! So live like saints! Do not allow the smallest sin to defile the temple of God."
What Are the Consequences of Unholiness in the Church?
An unholy church will lose its sense of God’s presence and destroy its ability to fellowship with Him. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). "Follow…holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). A holy preacher of a past generation reminded his hearers that "the fellowship of heaven is not enjoyed where the leaven of hell is endured."
An unholy church is an impotent church. Sin that is not dealt with God’s way robs the church of the supernatural power of God on its behalf. On the eve of their passage over Jordan into the Promised Land, Joshua did not call a committee meeting to determine the best strategy for reaching the other side. He did not schedule a rally with a popular vocal artist to get the people psyched up for the trek. He did not even call a prayer meeting. Rather he exhorted the people, "Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you" (Josh. 3:5). Only an unwillingness to part with all known sin could limit the mighty hand of God.
An unholy church forfeits its distinctive testimony and witness in the world. When God told Moses that the rebellious nation would have to go into the Promised Land without His presence, Moses protested: "For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not in that Thou goest with us? So shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth" (Ex. 33:16).
Apart from practical, genuine holiness, we cannot enjoy the manifest presence and glory of God in our midst. And apart from His presence, we are really no different than any other social club or religious institution.
To the church at Ephesus that had wandered from her first love, Jesus warned, "I…will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2:5). The church that has exchanged eternal, heavenly values for the things of earth, and that refuses to repent of her sin against the Lord of the church, will ultimately have her light extinguished and will no longer be able to draw people to Christ.
God’s Word promises a particularly severe consequence for individuals who are guilty of defiling His church. "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye [plural] are" (1 Cor. 3:17).
God takes seriously the purity of His temple, and those who dare to promote or tolerate ungodliness in the Body of Christ must pay the price for doing so. Indeed, the entire church pays the price for failure to maintain corporate holiness.
How Can Purity Be Maintained in the Body of Christ?
There is both a personal and a corporate responsibility for preserving the purity of the church.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul deals with the need for each individual believer to be cleansed from all known sin. First, he says to examine yourself (v. 28). Honestly and humbly compare your life to the unchanging, absolute standard of Scripture and to the heart and life of Jesus. Be thorough. Do not allow even one "little" sin to escape the scrutiny of His holiness and the searchlight of His Spirit.
Then, he says to judge yourself (v. 31). Agree with God that every sin is an act of very great rebellion against the Lord of the universe. Acknowledge the seriousness of every unholy thought, word, or action. And be quick to repent of the sin, to place it under the blood of Christ, and to utterly forsake and renounce it.
However, it is not sufficient that we should deal merely with our personal sins. We also shoulder an awesome responsibility to help preserve holiness in the church. We are all members of one Body. When one member sins, we all bear the burden and reproach of his failure. We cannot ignore those who violate God’s righteous standard. On the other hand, we are not to attack and destroy those who have fallen. What, then, are we to do? Paul gives the answer.
First, we are to seek to restore the offending brother, by means of scriptural steps of discipline. That process requires that we lovingly and humbly reprove or rebuke the offender (Gal. 6:1; Matt. 18:15). That is to say, we show the professing brother how his behavior fails to measure up to the standard of God’s holiness and His Word.
If necessary, others may be brought in to confront him as a group. As a final resort, he may have to be brought before the entire congregation.
Whatever is required, we must keep in mind that the objective is not to punish the offender, but to restore him to obedience, and to maintain holiness in the Body. Prayerfully, in response to wise, loving reproof, his eyes will be opened and he will be brought to genuine repentance.
In that case, though there may be the need for a period of restoration, and though his future public ministry may be limited (depending on the nature of the sin), the Body is gladly to "forgive him,… comfort him," and "confirm [its] love toward him" (2 Cor. 2:7-8). In other words, the Body is to continue to prove its love for him, by walking with him through the process to complete restoration.
What if the offender does not repent, in response to reproof? This is the point at which the church often stops short of complete obedience to God’s Word, with tragic consequences in the entire Body. In his instructions to the Corinthian church, regarding the incestuous man, Paul is clear that if the professing believer was unwilling to repent and forsake his sin, he must be removed, or purged, from the Body (1 Cor. 5:7, 13). He must not be allowed to continue to enjoy the benefits and privileges of fellowship with God’s people.
As harsh and extreme as this might sound to some, Paul recognized that such action was truly in the best interest both of the sinner, who, hopefully would be motivated to repent, and of the church, which would be preserved from spiritual defilement.
By and large, the church in recent generations has been unwilling to take responsibility for dealing with sin in its midst. The path of least resistance is to let these things go. To become involved in the process of discipline and restoration requires time and effort and energy. It requires that we be willing to forsake all known sin in our own lives. It may not be the easiest path, or the most convenient. But it is the way of true love. It is the way of holiness. It is God’s way.
There are those who cling to the text, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matt. 7:1), as a basis for their failure to become involved in restoring fallen brothers. But God’s Word clearly indicates that we are to "judge them that are within" [the Body of Christ] (1 Cor. 5:12). Purity in the Body is every believer’s responsibility. "Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person (v. 13); Purge out...the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump" (v. 7).
In his powerful sermon on that text, C. H. Spurgeon called the church of Jesus Christ to do whatever was necessary to preserve purity:
"The toleration of sin in the church soon leads to the excusing of it, and then to the free indulgence of it, and to the bringing in of other sins yet more foul. Sin is like the bale of goods which came from the east to this city in the olden time, which brought the pest in it. Probably it was but a small bale, but yet it contained in it the deaths of hundreds of the inhabitants of London. In those days one piece of rag carried the infection into a whole town.
"So, if you knowingly permit one sin in a church, none can tell the extent to which that evil may ultimately go. The church, therefore, is to be purged of evil as diligently as possible. That sour and corrupting thing which God abhors must be purged out, and it is to be the business of the Christian minister, and of all his fellow helpers, to keep the church free from it."
Nothing less is worthy of our Holy Father whose glory fills heaven and earth. Nothing less is worthy of our Holy Saviour, who shed His blood to redeem us from sin. Nothing less is worthy of His Holy Spirit whose temple we are.
So let us make ourselves ready for our marriage to the Lamb, that we may be "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white" (Rev. 19:8), and that we may be presented to Him a "glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that [we] should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).
– Used by permission of Life Action Ministries.