God's desire is to have a holy church which glorifies Him. He chose each of the members of the church to "be holy and blameless before Him" (Ephesians 1:4). Jesus died for the church so that He would one day be able to present her to Himself as "holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:26). God has predestined each member of the church to be "conformed to the image of His Son" which is the image of holiness (Romans 8:29).
This means that the church itself must be concerned with the growth in holiness of its members. Not simply with growing the numbers but whether the number that God has sovereignly given it is growing in holiness. (As the book of Acts makes clear for us, it is the Lord who adds to the number of the church through the church’s faithful work of sharing the gospel and praying for conversions.) Each individual believer in the fellowship is called to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16). If a brother or sister in the fellowship continues on in unrepentant sin, they are to be lovingly confronted on it and called to repent (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1). Paul chastises the church in Corinth for failing to do anything about the member in open ongoing sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). He actually calls them to kick the man out of the fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:3-5). The reason for this is the concern that his ongoing unrepentant sin will corrupt the holiness of the church. To use his imagery, that the little bit of leaven of the man’s sinful wickedness will cause the whole dough of the congregation to be affected (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). Holiness MUST be a major concern for the church.
Now does such a concern for growth in holiness distract the church from its mission to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19)? Obviously not because the same One who desires for us and calls us to be holy is the same One who gave the church this commission through His Son. We have to understand that holiness itself is an important and necessary part of the church’s witness. It actually aids and adorns the church’s mission.
It is the holiness of the church that makes the church attractive to the unbelieving world. That shows it to be distinct. Unless unbelievers notice a difference in how the church lives and worships, they will see no reason to take any interest in the gospel the church proclaims to have transformed them. They will not see the reflection of the church's Savior and Lord. They will instead see themselves and no reason to pay the church any attention whatsoever.
As Mark Dever said at a recent conference, “your most important contribution to others is your knowing God in a way that makes you different from others. That's the whole nature of the contribution you have to give them. This is how we will bring other people in. With a compelling holiness.” When people notice our different set of priorities, see us spend time each Sunday morning (and throughout the week) with those we really have nothing in common with other than our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, love those that they find hard to love, or give of ourselves without any immediate reward from it, it will make them question what is different about us. And we can explain to them that it is not because we are any better than anybody else. But in light of the amazing grace that God has shown us in Christ, how else can we respond but to give our own poor version of that love we have experienced to others? That it is only because of Who He is and what He has done for us. He is Who makes that difference. I remember in high school a major act of kindness a college student did for a group of us. When we thanked him, he was quick to point out that he only shared a little bit of what God had done for Him in Christ.
One of the greatest concerns for the church today ought to be its holiness. That they are genuinely set apart by God to glorify Him in both their profession and their practice. That the church’s members are continuing to grow in the holiness of their living. Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of the visible church in America today is the lack of concern for holiness. Let’s be sure that that is not a tragedy for us here at Mt. Joy but let us strive, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit within us, to be holy as God is holy. May that attract the unbelieving world to wonder what, or better put, Who, serves as responsible for such a distinction.
Love in Christ,