Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

(2 Corinthians 7:1)

In a recent sermon, I used the verse above as my primary text to encourage the congregation regarding our obligation to seek after holiness in order to honor the Lord. In the context of this verse, Paul speaks frankly to the Corinthians, telling them that they were no longer what they used to be, morally speaking. He also quotes a promise made by God that He would dwell in them and walk among them as their God and they would be His people. For this relationship to prosper, the recently born-again Corinthians had to rid themselves of the influence of the sinful nature and give increasing expression to the new life they had received in Christ Jesus.

I imagine that this must have been an overwhelming challenge to those who lived in the culture of the first century. Corinth was a major center for commerce. All of the negative influences that could be found throughout the Empire would be present in this city. Idolatry, for example, was universal; self-gratification was the primary concern of most people. The environment encouraged rebellion against the Law of God. In time, however, the gospel was preached and the Corinthians were regenerated by the Holy Spirit. They are told that they are called to be the opposite of what they had been all their lives.

Regardless of when in history the people of God exist, this command from the apostle is always paramount. The gospel changes us by giving us a new disposition, one that is oriented toward Christ and holiness. This orientation must be nurtured and guarded and I would suggest that there are three essential and highly effective elements involved in “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

First, we must fill our hearts with the truth of God given to us in the Bible. Bible reading, Bible study, listening to Biblical sermons, and reading Biblical literature are a few of the ways in which we can saturate our minds with the principles of righteousness. With the help of the Holy Spirit, these principles soon began to produce fruit. Another way in which to establish holiness in our hearts is through interaction with other Christians. These relationships produce an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth and the development of wisdom.

Second, we must battle against every influence of our previous nature. This requires us to avoid certain habits, perhaps, or particular places where we know temptation awaits. Relationships that will not contribute to our growth in Christ must be abandoned. Again, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will develop discernment as we become more sensitive to the contrast between the holy Word of God and the many potential transgressions that we encounter every day.

Third, we must pray. We must seek God’s help so that we can walk peacefully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must ask God to identify those areas in our lives that are weak and need to be strengthened. We must call upon Him to reveal those subtle sinful tendencies that we might overlook.

What are you reading these days? Do you find gladness in a sermon that is true to the Word? How often do you pick up your Bible simply to read for a while? Are you being built up by Christian friends? Do you fortify yourself through prayer each day? Much grace is needed to live honorably before God in this fallen environment. It will never be easy, but it will always be our calling. Be assured that the mercy of God is abundant towards those who desire to honor Him through thankful and joyful obedience.

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