Be Ye Holy – In the World

Mr. Chairman, Protestant Reformed Young People and Friends: I am thankful that I may be with you this evening. I have become more and more aware of the debt which I personally owe to the Protestant Reformed Young People and their various organizations, especially the organizations of Beacon Lights, the Federation Board and the Conventions. I feel that that debt is increased this evening.

In the history of the early Church, there was a certain man by the name of Simon who was much impressed with the fact that the world in which he lived was unholy. The solution of this certain Simon was to climb a tall pillar where he remained for many years of his life. That was one solution to the problem of holy believers in the world. There is another solution to that problem, the solution which you find exemplified in the case of Abraham’s nephew Lot. The solution of Lot was to pitch his tent towards Sodom. I submit to you this evening that neither of these two solutions answers to the fervent exhortation of the Apostle Peter to you, “Be Ye Holy—In the World.” But these two examples of Simon and of Lot are embodiments of two strains of thought on the matter of being holy in the world. When I cast about in my mind for an example of the latter solution, that of Lot’s pitching his tent toward Sodom and of finally entering into Sodom itself, I am reminded of a speech given in chapel during my college days by a certain Professor. The subject and the content of his speech, which was later printed in a Reformed magazine, was “Pitch Your Tents Toward Sodom.” In that speech, he advised Christian young people to get as close to the world as they possibly could, to hobnob with the world, to seek out and take advantage of every opportunity—to come as close to the world as possible, in order, if I do not mistake myself, to permeate that world with the leaven of Christianity and raise that world, if possible, to a higher level.

You will find an example of the other strain of thinking, that which defends Simon the Stylite’s solution to his being holy in the world in the monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church, where certain men in order to avoid the contamination of the world, separate themselves from all society and claim to live a holier life than is possible for those who do not follow their example. I submit that these alternatives and the doctrines which propose either of these solutions—as the answer to Peter’s exhortation to you and to me to be holy are false.

I suggest also this evening that the theme which we have to do with is of vital importance to you. It is of vital importance to you because you are children of God, that in the first place. In the first chapter of the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, the fourth verse, we are told that the purpose of God with his divine election of you and of me was that we should be holy. To my mind, nothing more forcefully brings home the truth of the value of the worth and of the importance of holiness than that fact. Of course, God had a higher purpose also. His higher purpose was the glory and the praise of His own grace. But that higher purpose is never achieved apart from your holiness and mine but precisely by it. I consider this theme of vital importance to you and suggest that you consider it likewise, by virtue of the closely related fact that you are Protestant Reformed Young People. Since the inception of our existence as Churches, the charge has been leveled at us that we are guilty of the sin of Simon who climbed his pole to flee from the world. That tag has been pasted on us and continues to be pasted upon us that we are fleers of the world. In the bad Roman Catholic monastic sense, I will attempt to show that that charge is malevolent and false and that although we reject that error, that solution, we nevertheless may never fall into the danger of rejecting at the same time, the truth that we are called into a separation from the world.

The idea of Holiness has two sides. One of those sides is consecration to God. Since that has been effectively demonstrated at length, I would rather spend some time with you this evening investigating the other aspect of Holiness-that aspect which is separation from the world. When we begin to inspect that other aspect of Holiness, separation from the world, it is necessary, first of all, to recall that God is separated from the world. But that leads us to another matter, the matter of what we mean by the world. Scripture uses that term in more than one sense. There is the world that God loves. There is the world of creation and there is the world from which God is separated at an infinite distance and with absolute finality. That world, I take it, is the world described in our theme this evening. As the holy God, inasmuch as the holy God is consecrated to Himself, He is separated from the world which includes the totality of men, of devils, of all things in the service of sin; and it is important to notice that God would not be God if He were not separated, absolutely and perfectly, from that world. The Holiness of God implies such a consecration of God to Himself that He burns with fervent fire of opposition against all that is not consecrated to Him as He is to Himself. Were He to cease separating Himself from the world, then He would cease to be holy; that is, no longer being consecrated to Himself. And if He ceases to be holy, He is no longer God.

Now our holiness is prescribed by God’s holiness. We have no business this evening or any other time, to go about defining for ourselves and our lives holiness as we would like that holiness to be or even as we with our arrogant natures often attempt to do to prescribe what God’s wisdom ought to say holiness is. Our holiness is circumscribed and defined by God’s holiness. Then, it follows that our holiness will consist of a separation from the world from which God is separated. Yet, it will not do merely to say that we are separated from that world of men, devils and instruments of sin. But there must also be, on our part, God’s attitude of opposition against that world from which we separated like He is separated.

Separation from the world is not something that you or I have accomplished. Separation from the world on our part is something that is exclusively God’s work. I do not separate you from the world, but it is God Himself who has separated all of us, His people, from that world which He hates. He spoke of that separation already in the opening chapters of the Bible, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed.” That separation was realized at the Cross of Christ. That separation becomes an actual reality through the work of the new birth; for in that new birth, when God calls us irresistibly into fellowship and consecration to Him, at the very same moment, He calls us into separation from the world. None of us maintains himself in that separation from the world. That again is God’s work so that you see that our holiness, the goal of election, may be to the praise and the glory of His grace, not to the enhancing and the boasting of men. But we may not take the wrong point of view. Our reaction, often to such a statement is that we become rebellious, as if God dares to deprive us of all of the pleasures in this life. That work of separation both in its origin and in its maintenance is a work of grace. He keeps us from returning to wallowing in the muck of the licentiousness from which He has called us. It is easy to see that that is a gracious work because the verdict is written upon the muck of the world from which we are separated, that world and all that is of the world perishes.

When we apply those ideas to those two solutions mentioned a little while ago, the solutions of Simon the pillar climber and Lot the Sodom dweller, then it is not difficult to see that the maneuver of Lot, who entered into Sodom, is condemned out of hand, I do not have reference now to the practical sins in the life of the children of God when they slipped and fell by their sin into the camp of the Sodom world, but I refer to the bold-faced theories which propagate that it is our calling to come as near to the world as we possibly can for any reason imaginable. I have reference to that which is preached in churches, that there is a common terrain on which the world and Church may stand together, a common basis on which worldlings and believers may go forward in certain programs or accomplish certain cooperative ventures. There are no bridges between the world and the Church. There is no common terrain upon which we can stand. Any discoveries of such common ground, whether it be God’s common love, God’s common purpose with us or God’s common grace to us, are to be characterized as sheer inventions which make it difficult, and in the process of time, impossible for us to heed the word of Peter, “Be Ye Holy—In The World.” You probably ask, “If that is so, are you not driving us to the other alternative, the alternative of those who attempt to flee out of the world altogether?” But before that objection is answered, it must be insisted upon that any man, any organization, any deed, any venture, which has as its motivation and ruling principle the power of sin, is a man, is a venture, is an organization in which and with which a child of God has no part. This does not, however, drive us to the other alternative. We do not flee the world. Notice the theme is “Be Ye Holy-In The World” and the implication is that God, who has called us unto holiness, has not taken us out of the world and does not deem it good for us to go out of the world at all. The separation which He has established, which He has maintained, and in the maintaining, of which He comes to His rational, moral creatures, with the urgent work, “Be Ye Holy.” It is in that world that the child of God is called to a spiritual separation—as Scripture states elsewhere, “Ye are in the world, but ye are not of the world.” It is precisely that fact, the fact that God does not take us out of the world, that constitutes the real urgency this evening as it always has in the history of the Church when this exhortation “Be Ye Holy” is given. You are surrounded with filth, you are surrounded by a crooked and perverse generation and you are going to be as long as gives breathe in your nostrils. You are surrounded by perversity and crookedness, you are surrounded by darkness; and in the midst of that filth and darkness and perversity, you are to shine as lights, you are to keep yourselves unspotted from that filth, you are to keep yourselves clean from that corruption, and it is impossible to go out of the world. When the Roman Catholic monk runs to his monastery, he carries the world with him, for he carries with him his own old nature where the principle and power of sin still rages. Not only does God, in his making of us holy, not take us out of the world, but He does not remove altogether the world from us. You have heard before, and I may only underscore this truth, that “Be Ye Holy” does not mean, first of all, that we who hear that word begin to search into the manifested life of the ones around us or even the ones sitting next to us. It does not mean that each of us begins to examine what he did today or what he said today. It does not examine even though it implies separation from the world, that we gird up ourselves to battle against the world as it takes form all around us.

The finger of the Apostle Peter and the direction of the Holy Spirit points, first of all, to the battle ground of the inner self of each one of us, where the most fierce, the most uncompromising, the most intense and the most continual struggle is carried out. The struggle of the principle of the new man, which is holiness, rages against the power of the old nature, putting down, as Peter implies in the text which you have chosen, the old lusts that still are there although they do not rule anymore. We neither flee the world nor do we join ourselves to the world, but in the world, we are holy. To imagine your thoughts still further, I propose that you say, “But how does this find application in everyday concrete life? How does this total, uncompromising separation from the world find its application when I eat, when I work, when I play, when I read and when I speak with the men with whom I come into contact?” In answer to that question, I would propose that the spiritual separation established by God, maintained by God and to which you are called has its application in very physical, tangible and actual separation in your daily life.

In the last election, we were told repeatedly that religion and politics were separate and that when you went to the polls, you had better keep your religious convictions at home. In many cases, that implied that holiness will be given a certain special and very narrowly restricted nook in some corner of our life, maybe on Sunday. That is just as far from the meaning of the Apostle Peter as anything can be. Holiness is not restricted to any one particular aspect of our life. Holiness is to permeate, to fill, to determine and to regulate every single thought, word, desire and action that we perform in our life here below; and when the question arises how this separation takes form, I recall what was said in a book by a certain British author, C. S. Lewis. In that book, he made the point somewhere that that in which we are least endanger of falling into is that against which we raise the loudest and fiercest warnings. He used the example, if I recall, that when the boat is tilting to the right side in the water, then everybody rushes to the right side of the boat. But to apply this in terms of what we have said this evening, it is true in the church world of today that, when the Church is most endanger of going under in the direction of amalgamation with the world, then it is that everyone raises the hue and the cry that world flight is erroneous. There is little, if any, danger today that the Church goes wrong in the direction of climbing the pillar of Simon the Stylite. Yet, the whole Church is anonymous in condemning that flight from the world, while the real danger, the danger which has destroyed most of the Church, that of union and fellowship and amalgamation with the world, goes unheralded. As Protestant Reformed Young People, we are not in danger of fleeing the world. We are not in danger of entering our monastery. We are not in danger of that which Paul condemns in I Corinthians 5 that we go out of the world, but we are in danger of amalgamation with the world.

There are many examples which could be used but since you know them and since you agree to the gravity of their danger, and I think now, for example of the movies, I will not spend any time with them because the first battle ground of the struggle to be holy is found in the inner man. I would rather take time this evening to examine with you the threat to you and to me and to our churches of such a thing as Materialism. We are quite adept at discovering heresies and that is something for which we ought to be thankful. But we ought never to forget that when Christ leveled his most rallying accusation against the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he did not condemn them for their sexual perversity but he condemned them for their earthly mindedness, for their materialism—for the fact that they ate and drank and were merry, farmed and bought and sold and never got their eyes off this present earthly sphere—the grasping, money-loving, pleasure-embracing principles of the world that God hates and from which God is separated.

I consider it a very great evil that young men and young women in the Protestant Reformed Churches fail to contribute to the causes of our churches in a matter corresponding to their great income and slight expenditure as far as families are concerned. Budgets in their minds are for their parents who are least able to afford to pay those budgets while the money which young people gain for themselves trickle out in dimes and in quarters when collections for the Church, for Beacon Lights, for Standard Bearer and for the program of radio missions is gathered. When we begin to ponder on what jobs and what occupations we will have, the matter of holiness very little influences us either in our choice or the reason for our choice. If you have heard many times that you must consider the ministry and the teaching professions, perhaps, you have not heard quite so often the fact that when you are not called to those professions, you have not escaped the calling to be holy in your labors. Why make money? Why work? If that answer excludes the possibility of your being able to enhance the Kingdom of God financially, then you have desecrated your calling to be holy in the world. If any man would object that too much
emphasis is placed upon holiness and that, after all, we ought only to consider the Cross of Christ, that man really mutilates the Gospel and all that we must do is point to him this solemn truth, as contained in Hebrews 12:14, I believe, “Follow peace with all men and holiness without which no man shall see God.” That is one thing, the matter of the use, stewardship, if you will, of the money which young people can and do make in abundance in our time. There is no reason why our school, why our magazines and why our radio mission work must go begging in an affluent society in which we share.

There is another attitude of the inner man, an attitude which is relevant to the struggle of the principle of holiness within—against the principle of filth of this world—that is our love for one another. The world is cruel and even in their tender mercies, the wicked are cruel. The child of God alone can love, especially his brother. Now it is possible that friendships be used, just as it is possible that marriages be used, for ones’ own selfish interests. That is even possible to do at conventions where we limit ourselves in our expressions of friendship and manifestations of love just to a certain few and very deliberately and consciously avoid and shunt aside others who are less appealing both to us and to our fellow conventioneers. If it is true that after this Convention is over, there is one person who experiences the bitterness in his soul or her soul that he has been avoided, that he has been ignored, that manifestations of hatred have been shown to him or to her because of dress or whatever it may be, then this Convention has not realized the fellowship and the calling to which it has been called be God Himself. That is an attitude of the world, an attitude of the grasping, selfish, self-centered world, to love those who do you good, who can enhance your reputation, who can make your prestige greater and to tread upon those who are of little account when those matters come up.

In the second chapter of the Book of Philippians, that essential nature and characteristic of holiness is described for us. Remember Christ who humbled Himself for those who were not worthy to be loved and who did that because God is holy, because He was consecrated to God, because He was separated from all the cruel and hateful principles of the world and who humbled Himself so much for those towards whom He was friend though they were His enemies that He walked the way of the Cross. Nothing is more bitter, more destructive of the holiness of the people of God than the absence and the perversion of the love of friendship for God’s sake and to name no other practical matter in which the spiritual separation of the sons and daughters of God comes to concrete manifestation.

I would mention with you the matter of our relationship in schools to which we necessarily must go now, that are perhaps our public schools or even our schools that are not Protestant Reformed. Perhaps when this theme was given, and I experienced that myself, my first thought was “O what a glorious concept, ‘Be Ye Holy’. What a great challenge. Now we will all go forward with holiness and everything will be rosy and fine.” But then this thought came and that thought impressed me with the question, “Do I really want to be holy?” When you do this, when you are holy for God’s sake, from within and from without, with separation from all that is opposed to God, then you will find that the world will separate herself from you because when you are holy, you not only keep yourselves apart from the world, you battle the world with the Word of God wherever the world manifests itself in sin. When you battle that world, the world will respond. The world will bring upon you that misery of isolation, of taking away job, taking away name and finally of taking away your life. That may not be forgotten. I believe that by the grace of God, this theme will be written upon the hearts and minds of the young people gathered here; and that by God’s grace, they will by holy. But then, they should be only in the consciousness and awareness that that means in the future, a road of persecution and oppression. In the schools where we necessarily must go, where again, we are in the world but not of the world, where the various programs, foolish ventures and godless sidelights are attempted to be foisted upon us, then that concrete, actual separation must again characterize us. The battle with the Word of God must go on. Life is too broad for a thousand and a million rules to cover every possible experience that you have or that I have. In the final instance, this theme cannot be explained in rules—this theme has to be lived.

You, Be Holy, wherever you go, whatever you do, whatever you say. There is a motive for being holy. Thank God for that. If the rules for holiness were never so clearly and explicitly stated, if there was no motive for holiness within you and me, this theme would fall to the ground, absolutely, without positive affect. Your motive must be that God is holy; and still more, the motive for being holy is an over-whelming, inexhaustible awareness of gratitude. The life of holiness is the life of obedience to God because you know that God as the One who planted the Cross on Calvary and you know that God as the one who with His Son Jesus Christ went all the way to the depths in order to lift you into that state of holiness in which He has placed you and me. It is that sense of gratitude that motivates and inspires those to whom Peter speaks with the living Word of God to respond, “I will be holy.”

In the world, which sees the glory of God when you are holy, that is God’s purpose for making you and me holy and for calling us to that holiness; that the world may see the amazing glory of God, that those who were filthy now are consecrated to Him. Then as the Catechism also expresses it, it may very well be, and that may also be your conscious purpose, that you be, when you walk in holiness, an instrument in God’s hand to bring some to the preaching of the Word, and thus, to Jesus Christ. “Be Ye Holy.” The great goal of divine election. The great achievement of the new creation. The great calling than which there is none higher for you and me.

Saint Augustine said once, “Love God and do what you please.” That is a dangerous statement and it has been dangerously used; but when properly explained, there is a wealth of truth in that statement. I would rather re-phrase that statement this way, “Love God, the God of Jesus Christ, whom you know, and walk in every one of His Commandments which He graciously has given you so that your swelling tide of gratitude may be fulfilled here below.”

“Be Ye Holy” with that love, in the way of a struggle, in the way of a struggle of repentance, in the way of a struggle of sorrow for sin, in the way of the struggle of renewed, resolve to please Him. Then, there will be that reality in you and in me of a growth in holiness until that day when we all together are made perfect, holy saints with a fullness of the obedience of love, with a perfectly realized separation from the world in the Kingdom of our Holy God.