12 Marks of Holiness
July 1, 2007 - What do we mean by holiness? What does it say about who God is, and how should this affect the way we understand Him and approach Him? As fallen and wholly unholy people, how can we have any hope for relating to God properly—and practically? In this feature on holiness, Decision explores answers to these questions.
by J.C. Ryle
“Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
The text that heads this page suggests a question that demands the attention of all professing Christians: Are we holy? Shall we see the Lord? In this hurrying, bustling world, let us stand still for a few minutes and consider the matter of holiness. First, let me try to show what true practical holiness is and what sort of persons are those whom God calls holy.
- Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according to His mind as we find it described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing with God’s judgment—hating what He hates, loving what He loves—and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word.
- A holy person will endeavor to shun every known sin and to keep every known commandment. He will have a decided bent of mind toward God, a hearty desire to do His will—a greater fear of displeasing Him than of displeasing the world, and a love of all His ways.
- A holy person will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ. He will not only live the life of faith in Him and draw from Him all his daily peace and strength, but he will also labor to have the mind that was in Him and to be conformed to His image.
- A holy person will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind temper, government of the tongue. He will bear much, forbear much, overlook much and be slow to talk of standing on his rights.
- A holy person will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will labor to mortify the desires of his body—to crucify his flesh with his affections and lusts. He will curb his passions—restrain his carnal inclinations—est at any time they break loose.
- A holy person will follow after charity and brotherly kindness. He will endeavor to observe the golden rule of doing as he would have others do to him and of speaking as he would have others speak to him. He will be full of affection towards his brethren.
- A holy person will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence toward others. He will not stand all the day idle. He will not be content with doing no harm—he will try to do good.
- A holy person will follow after purity of heart. He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit, and seek to avoid all things that might draw him into it. He knows his own heart is like tinder, and he will diligently keep clear of the sparks of temptation.
- A holy person will follow after the fear of God. I do not mean the fear of a slave, who only works because he is afraid of punishment and would be idle if he did not dread discovery. I mean, rather, the fear of a child, who wishes to live and move as if he was always before his father’s face, because he loves him.
- A holy person will follow after humility. He will desire, in lowliness of mind, to esteem all others better than himself. He will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world.
- A holy person will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life. He will try not merely to fulfill his duties as satisfactorily as those who take no thought for their souls, but even better, because he has higher motives and more help than they.
- Last, but not least, a holy person will follow after spiritual mindedness. He will endeavor to set his affections entirely on things above and to hold things on earth with a very loose hand.
Neither do I say that holiness comes to ripeness and perfection all at once, or that these graces I have touched on must be found in full bloom and vigor before you can call a person holy. No, sanctification is always a progressive work.
Are you holy? We must be holy if we would see the Lord. Where is our Christianity if we are not? We must not merely have a Christian name and Christian knowledge; we must have a Christian character also.
Let me offer a word of advice to all who desire to be holy: Would you be holy? Then you must begin with Christ. You will do nothing at all and make no progress until you feel your sin and weakness and flee to Him. He is the root and beginning of all holiness, and the way to be holy is to come to Him by faith and be joined to Him. Christ is not only wisdom and righteousness to His people, but sanctification also. People sometimes try to make themselves holy, and sad work they make of it. They run in vain and labor in vain; and little wonder, for they are beginning at the wrong end. They are building up a wall of sand; their work runs down as fast as they throw it up. Without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).
Do you want to attain holiness? Do you feel a hearty desire to be holy? Then go to Christ. Wait for nothing. Wait for nobody. Linger not. Think not to make yourself ready. Go to Christ and say, “Lord, not only save me from the guilt of sin, but send the Spirit, whom Thou didst promise, and save me from sin’s power. Make me holy. Teach me to do Thy will.”
Would you continue holy? Then abide in Christ. He says Himself, “Abide in me, and I in you. ... He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit” (John 15:4-5, KJV). He is the Physician to whom you must daily go if you would keep well. He is the Manna which you must daily eat, and the Rock of which you must daily drink.