“That We Should be Holy and Without Blame Before Him” (Ephesians 1:4)

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We are saved by God’s grace to follow after Him with all we have, and in so doing we become in practice, before men, what we have already been made in a single moment of time before God – that is holy and without blame. God wants us to be holy and blameless as we stand before Him, that is the stated will of God here in the early verses of Ephesians. As the Christian is belonging to Christ because faith in Christ has positioned him as being “in Christ,” it follows that wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we are standing “before Him.”

We are in His presence to a greater degree than we were before we were converted. God is omnipresent. It is impossible to go anywhere where He is not. But there are degrees of the manifestation of His presence. In the most general degree everybody who has ever lived existed in the presence of God. But, there is “close,” “closer” and “closest” when we are discussing being in the presence of God. The ultimate of closeness as far as human beings are concerned was when Moses was so close, for so long in the presence of God that he literally came down Mount Sinai shining with a brightness that was disconcerting to all who looked at him. He covered his head like the Elephant Man so as not to offend people. There is the presence of the Holy Spirit “falling” on people in the book of Acts. The Christian in repentance and faith has brought their self into the immediate presence of God. In the presence of God there is a manifestation of God’s holiness.

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We are “in Christ” so that we “should” be holy. That is the exact wording of verse 4. It cannot just be referring to God declaring us holy from heaven. “That we should be holy” implies self evidently that there is something we have to initiate to own the holiness that the verse is referring to. This suggests that a person could be a Christian, solidly and truly “in Christ,” and yet not be holy.  We know we are made holy by the blood of Christ, and that is a fait accomplit achieved by God alone. The word “should” automatically implies a conditional holiness that depends on our heart condition, not on God’s declaration over a new convert.  It needs to be added that the conjunction between the words, “holy” and, “without blame,” could also possibly suggest that one could be holy, and yet not be free of blame. What on earth does this mean?

We desperately need to define our terms to make sense of this statement concerning the purpose of God for our lives.

We have hitherto defined the sentence that starts in verse 3 as an exhortation to bless God because He has blessed the believer with every blessing it is possible for heaven to give. He has poured out these blessings upon us in the same attitude as when He chose us before the foundation of the world, i.e. before time began, so that we may be holy and blameless before Him. These statements in Ephesians’ opening salvo of words from heaven are the intrinsic essence of the purpose of God for every Christian.

Holiness, for the uninitiated, is basically meaning to be set apart from the world the flesh and the devil. I am aware that millions of Christians would define being “holy” as living a morally good life, and yes, I believe that being spiritually and morally upright is part of the parcel of being holy, but it clearly is not the intrinsic meaning of the word. The basic gist of being holy is to be set apart as God is, to be unique as God is. None of us can be as “holy” as God is of course, because He is intrinsically holy. He is holiness itself. But it is the issue of (to use the “old school holiness movement” cliché) “being in the world but not of it.” The Christian is saved and called to be separate from those cultural norms that are common in the world that the bible labels as ungodly. That means there has to be a lot of thinking and discussing going on within Christian circles in order to sort out what is worldly and what is not. Having defined what is holy and what is not we can then adjust our world view and cultural norms accordingly

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What is of the world and what isn’t is at two levels. There are things that the Bible tells us is moral and immoral. Murder, sex outside of marriage, theft, idolatry etc, are universally acknowledged as wrong and ungodly. Whatever cultural norm you are in, those things are condemned as sinful practices in scripture. They are ungodly and absolutely so. But there are other “cultural” rights and wrongs that could be unique to one or several cultures and seemingly strange to other. The culture of a people is defined by what they consider normal and socially acceptable. For instance in most evangelical quarters in the USA drinking alcohol marginalises people from many churches. It is generally seen as utterly wrong within that culture. In Germany however, unless things have changed in the last few years, an entire fellowship, including their pastors and leadership often go en bloc for a lunch with alcoholic beverages at a local Bier Keller. So what may interfere with one’s testimony in one place may not bring criticism or blame in another. There are, of course, many more instances I could have selected.

I remember in my college days at Bible College. Many of the Swiss Christians brought crates of wine, and some of them even brought drinks that were much stronger than wine. They were strong spirit filled young men.  I remember also that within the same year’s students there were some spiritually mature young ladies from the USA who were very fashionable wearing “mini-skirts.” (I am referring to the late sixties and early seventies. The Americans questioned  the salvation and character of the Swiss because of their penchant for wine. The Swiss thought the Americans were equally godless because of the way they dressed. It took long hours of debate and discussion, as well as getting down to relate with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ before each group simply accepted each other as normal. Swiss cultural norms would condemn some things that would be acceptable in the USA. That principle dominates Christian cultures all over the world. The main motive for being careful in all these things is not to give offence to people outside of the faith.

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We want to receive revelation in these pages, and none is needed more than on this subject of personal holiness which, according to Ephesians 1:4 is an integral part of the purpose for which God has chosen us and saved us. The purposes of God for us concerning holiness need to be aggressively engaged with in order to be prepared to go where God wants to take us. The degree to which we step into holiness could very well determine the degree to which we are vessels meet for the Master’s use.

I am more than aware of the biblical teaching of imputed holiness.  This is that glorious concept of biblical statements that let us know that in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, the Saviour became sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthisns 5:17-20). This means that when I approach Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus and in faith, God responds to me as He responds to Christ, not as if I am the sinner that I once was before I turned to Christ, but literally as I am “in Christ.”

It is a wonderful and uplifting truth for the Christian that he/she is the very righteousness of God in Christ through faith. It is in itself quite a transforming idea once believers have settled themselves in their newly discovered faith. That aspect of God ascribing Christ’s righteousness to the Christian is generally referred to as “imputed righteousness.”  To impute something literally means to attribute or ascribe to someone something as being theirs. God Himself imputes Christ’s righteousness to those who chose to have faith in Christ. In the biblical sense, therefore, “imputed righteousness” means that God has attributed righteousness to a believer vicariously before Him simply because the believer has put their faith in Christ. The believer is then seen by Heavenly Father as being “in Christ” as He has wilfully declared that His righteousness belongs to the believer. It is a wonderful biblical truth.

But it is only half the story!

Can I therefore be a Christian and rest assured of my imputed holiness, yet carry on lying, cheating, swearing and doing a whole raft of things that are plainly neither Godly nor Christ-like? If one lives in such a manner one does not need a University Doctorate in Theology to see that something would be plainly out of synch’ in the believers’ relationship with God for those who would act in an ungodly way.

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It cannot be argued against when I say that repentance, as the Bible presents it, includes living holy (i.e. imparted holiness) as well as standing in one’s imputed holiness.  How can I say such a thing? Simply because repentance, by definition is a change of choice, purpose and intention for life that is in line with the invite of the gospel and the dictates of the intelligence leading to ever increasing and ever deepening choices, purposes and intentions that aligns the believer with the plan and will of God for their lives. Repentance is a turning from a settled state of sin with all its corollaries and actions, to a state of holiness (imputed as our standing before God) that is by exercise imparted to us by God’s grace, enabling us freely to choose righteousness, and Godly actions and motives in all that a person says and does. It is a complete about turn from a wilful deliberate choice of dedication to self and selfishness, to deliberate choice of dedication to Christ. I may have repented on a Monday, but the impact of that repentance must empower me every day for the rest of my life to pursue Christ, or it was not true repentance. When Jesus preached, “Repent for the kingdom of God is near,” He did not mean, “Repent for today while I am here. You can carry on living your old life tomorrow when I have moved on.”  The repentance Christ calls for is the repentance that determines to turn from one direction away from God, and commence the consecration to God having turned 180 degrees, continuing in that new direction in pursuit of Christ until one’s last breath. That is the intention and the purpose of Repentance and conversion. Anything short of this is not true repentance. Anything less than that makes one’s conversion questionable!

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That this is the truth cannot be doubted or debated by Christians. The only debate and discussion is, “How can I step into a greater degree of holiness, and a greater measure of sanctification?”  We were saved to be holy. Period! Yes, there are many other aspects of following Christ that do not come directly under the heading of holiness, but holiness  is obeying what His word says, even when the Bible instructs us to do things that are not directly integral parts of that holiness. Tithing, praying, attending the gathering of the saints,  – these things may not constitute holiness in themselves, but obeying Christ in everything He said is indeed part of that imparted holiness that needs to be sought by every believer.

Being holy, I believe, is arrived at by the same dynamics of being happy. One cannot sit down and aim at being “happy.” One labours to fulfil a purpose, a call or an achievement, and in so labouring and/or achieving one is made happy. In exactly the same way one needs to pursue Christ and to love God with all one’s heart and mind and soul. In that way one cannot miss becoming holy. The process and the dynamics of the sanctification of the human soul cannot NOT be effected. To love, pursue and obey God in faithful abandonment is in itself holiness.

Christianity is an experience with God in Christ, and an engagement with the Holy Spirit. The church of Christ is not an intellectual or academic organisation that sets out to be intellectually superior and then argue with the world until they believe in Christ. Most western pastors that are known as “powerful men of God” are incredibly intellectual and powerful in arguement and strong theological opinion. I don’t have any arguement with such a character. But far too many “powerful men of God” in the western world are not powerful as Paul or Peter was, i.e. rich in revelation, discerning in what they hear from heaven, easily stepping into the realm of the miraculous, and depending on things revealed to them much more that things learned in the natural. Too many are rich in academic learning yet without the revelation of the invisible and the manifestation of the miraculous. To go even further, many in the west have had the expectation of the miraculous knocked out of them by the very academic streams that they laboured in.

It is never love or power, grace or works, miracles or character. It is always, love and power, grace and works, miracles and character. These issues need to be seen into much deeper than is commonly received across the body of Christ world-wide. It is revelation that facilitates spiritual sight. It is revelation that saves and builds the church.

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