Today we will be exploring the topic of holiness, and how achieving and maintaining holiness, or being set apart, is an intentional and voluntary result of doing what is right from the heart.
The apostle Paul spoke about it in this way:
Romans 6:16-19 – Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching to which you have been entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing lawlessness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.
There is so much in this passage I would like to take some time to isolate a few different aspects for closer inspection.
First we see how Paul uses the imagery of slavery: he says they were slaves to sin, but now have been set free from sin, only to now be slaves of righteousness.
This idea of slavery may seem harsh to our modern sensitivities, but Paul says he is using an example from “everyday life.” Slaves were common in Paul’s day and in the Roman realm. When we think of slaves today, we typically think of the unwilling souls who were kidnapped and sold against their will into a life of hard labor and physical abuse. While that was certainly a reality in Paul’s day, there was also another type of slavery that was much less severe, yet just as binding on the individual: indentured servitude. In this type of slavery, it was not uncommon for someone to intentionally and voluntarily bind or sell themselves to an estate as a way of working off debt. While they were in servitude, the master provided for their needs while they worked off their debt. Once the debt was paid or their obligation honored, they could go free. Many times, at least among the Jews, they were treated well and sometimes desired to stay on with the family because they had become attached to that familial group.
To give you an idea of this type of servitude, here is just a brief excerpt from the Law regarding slaves:
Exodus 21:2-6 – When you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for six years; then in the seventh he is to leave as a free man without paying anything. “If he arrives alone, he is to leave alone; if he arrives with a wife, his wife is to leave with him. “If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children belong to her master, and the man must leave alone. “But if the slave declares, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I do not want to leave as a free man,’ “his master is to bring him to the judges and then bring him to the door or doorpost. His master will pierce his ear with an awl, and he will serve his master for life.
So we can see that this type of slavery, sometimes listed as a bond-servant, was a formal contract that bound the individual to the master or the estate until the obligation was fulfilled, and sometimes the servant would want to stay with the family permanently.
In the biblical sense, a slave is someone who does not have any ownership rights of their own for the time they are in bondage; they belong to another. Paul takes this common understanding and then applies it to believers in the context of obedience. Everyone serves a master, he says, whether sin or righteousness. As believers in Messiah they were encouraged to follow righteousness that would ultimately set them apart, or make them holy.
Secondly, notice the type of terms that Paul repeatedly emphasizes in this passage besides the concept of slavery. His overall premise is that sin leads to death, but obedience leads to righteousness, and then righteousness leads to holiness. So the contrast he is drawing is between sin and obedience.
If sin is the opposite of obedience, then it can be said that sin is simply disobedience. But disobedience to what?
In relation to obedience, he says the obedience is based in “the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted.” This is an interesting word here that is used for a specific type of teaching. Paul calls it a pattern of teaching, but the underlying language expands on that meaning. The word typon can mean an example, pattern, or model. But it also includes the idea of an imprint, as in a die that is stamped into something, revealing as consistent a pattern as the original.
Obedience to this “stamp of teaching,” he says, is considered righteousness, which then leads to holiness. Therefore disobedience to the pattern of teaching is sin, which leads to impurity and ever-increasing lawlessness.
What is this pattern or “stamp”of teaching?
In one sense, we learn from the apostle John that sin is disobedience to the law:
1 John 3:4 – Everyone who commits sin practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
Lawlessness is anything that is against the law. In relation to the type of law that is used throughout the writings of Paul and the apostles, the law, nomos, is typically associated with the law of Moses, summarized in the Ten Commandments.
Paul says to the Roman believers, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching to which you have been entrusted.” The pattern of teaching that the Jews had been entrusted to was the Law of Moses. When it is obeyed from the heart, that is an indication of the New Covenant:
Jeremiah 31:33 – “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days” – the Yahweh’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
Notice the prophet says God’s teaching would be “within them, on their hearts.” The teaching he is speaking of here is the torah, the law of God. I believe this is the same teaching that Paul is speaking of in Romans 6. But he doesn’t simply call it the law, because the law is a static thing that is written in stone and has no power to make anyone comply with its demands. However, using the New Covenant imagery, when the law is upon the heart, it has the ability to transform actions from the inside out. Obedience is therefore voluntary and desired. This leads to righteous actions and ultimately to holiness.
2 Corinthians 3:6-9 – He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, chiseled in letters on stones [could this be an allusion to the “imprint” or the “stamp” language Paul used earlier], came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to gaze steadily at Moses’s face because of its glory which was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry that brought condemnation had glory, the ministry that brings righteousness overflows with even more glory.
Paul writing to the congregation in Corinth expands on this idea a little further by saying the letter of the law kills, because it is an unflinching and permanent standard that cannot be abrogated. However, when the Spirit applies the law to the heart (through the teaching of the anointed Yeshua), the law chiseled in stone can no longer condemn because the actions that would bring death have been changed into actions of righteousness! Therefore the “ministry of the Spirit” is more glorious than the stone law because the ministry or law of the Spirit actually produces the desired result in those who are obedient to it!
This is why Paul can confirm the same thing with the Roman believers when he writes:
Romans 8:13-15 – But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For all those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father! “
Beyond the spirit of slavery he mentioned in chapter six, Paul says to the believers that they don’t only have to be a slave for life in the house of God, they have become adopted into his family!
In one primary respect, the life of a believer is simply an honest recognition that the life they are living is not their own. Paul uses this type of illustration with the Corinthian congregation.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.
The life they were living should have been voluntarily offered back to the One who provided it to them in the first place. This is so simplistic, it is almost inconceivable that it has been lost among the masses of believers today. Unfortunately, we are so used to viewing our lives as belonging to ourselves that we easily fall back into old practices of doing whatever we want with them. We many times unwittingly go back to serving impurity and lawlessness simply out of habit.
However, a believer, once freed from sinfulness, must by default accept another intentional yoke upon themselves. But this is a yoke that is bearable and easy.
Matthew 11:29-30 – “Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This yoke is easy is because it is a life being lived as the Designer has created it to be: a life separated to Him according to his law obeyed from the heart. This is a life of holiness.
Holiness is not some sort of mystical state of existence, but a continual practice of doing what is right, or righteous actions. We can only know what is right or wrong in God’s eyes because of the revelation of his law.
Acts 10:34-35 – Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, “but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
So this is why God is holy, not just because he is magnificent and removed far above all he has created, but because he always, always does what is right. He can never be convicted of wrongdoing or injustice.
Isaiah 5:16 – But the Yahweh of Armies is exalted by his justice, and the holy God shows that he is holy through his righteousness.
Romans 9:14 – What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not!
As believers we recognize that all life flows from God and we are simply yielding ourselves to live righteously within the parameters of the life that he has given us.
Genesis 2:7 – Then the Yahweh God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.
Job 33:4 – The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Paul cautions the Corinthian believers to purposely maintain their righteous lifestyle through the fear of God which leads to holiness.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18, 7:1 – Don’t become partners with those who do not believe. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What agreement does Messiah have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? And what agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said: I will dwell and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Yahweh; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you. And I will be a Father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me, says the Yahweh Almighty. So then, dear friends, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
A life that is set apart in holiness is separated because it is constantly being renewed in the image of the One who made it.
1 Thessalonians 4:7 – For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness.
Our mindfulness in remaining intentionally and purposefully bound to this life of righteousness, that is, doing what is right from the heart, is what causes us to become holy and set apart for use by God.
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