In Ephesians 4:24 the Apostle refers to “true holiness.” This expression clearly reveals that Paul considered it possible that there might be a counterfeit holiness. One of the dangers of the church is that of being satisfied with a supposed holiness that falls short of the Divine standard.
It is possible to call something “holiness” which does not deserve the name, or to which it can be applied only in some partial or limited sense. Such a false holiness may be a deliberate attempt to imitate the true, as was the case with Ananias and Sapphira. But it is much more likely to be an unconscious counterfeit arising from deception, misinformation about vital spiritual issues, or from sheer carelessness. It frequently happens, also, that what passes for holiness is but the dead corpse of a once vital experience. The life has departed, but the form has been maintained.
With such dangers of deception by a false holiness constantly confronting us, it is well to inquire if there is not some test by which the true may be distinguished from the counterfeit. A careful examination of the Scripture reveals four major characteristics which always mark true holiness. Those traits of true holiness are:
1. A clear-cut separation from the world. Mark the constant appeals to the Christian to be done with the world. He is commanded not to love it. He is to be crucified to it. He is to be “not of it.” He is not to be surprised if the world hates him, and the reason given is that he is not one of its “own.”
2. A transformed attitude in the soul. The streams of bitterness which poisoned the soul are healed. The fountain sends forth only sweet water now.
3. A liberty or freedom. This is primarily a freedom from sin but will also show itself in the spontaneity and freedom of a Spirit-inspired worship of God.
4. An evangelistic passion. Nothing is deserving of the name of holiness that is content to sit in self-admiration while a world perishes at its doorstep.
These are the hallmarks of holiness. Where true holiness exists, all four will be found. This provides us with a valuable check on the true character of anything that passes for these traits of true holiness. Any one of these four may be easily counterfeited, but when such is the case, its false character is revealed by the lack of accompanying traits which mark true holiness.
A spirit of asceticism sometimes passes for separation from the world, but the presence of a bitter spirit reveals that this is not true holiness. A broad-minded tolerance that can see no wrong in anything often is supposed to be Christian kindness and love, but the lack of separation from the world explodes the myth of its supposed holy character.
Human emotionalism frequently passes for Christian liberty. Excitement or enthusiasm may be supposed to be the freedom of the Spirit. But any supposed freedom of the Spirit is shown to be false if the other constituent elements of true holiness are lacking.
Even the fourth element—passion for souls—may be counterfeited by a sectarian passion or sensational evangelism. But the false always breaks down in one of the other vital relationships of true holiness.
True holiness is not a trait of human piety. It never arises from a self-caused religion. It comes from the mightier inner-empowerment of the Holy Spirit which breaks the last tie with the world, delivers from the treadmill of stereo-typed devotion, and fills the soul with love for the lost.