The New Testament Emphasis
That there is a definite and consistent emphasis of holiness throughout the New Testament cannot be wisely denied. The wonder has been that so many have seemingly overlooked this significant emphasis, for it is there from beginning to end.
On the very threshold of a new era of divine revelation we hear John the Baptist as he announces the place of holiness in the coming days of divine manifestation. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Matt. 3:11).
The emphasis is obvious. Our attempt to add to it would be futile. John, at the very dawning of a new dispensation, declares that his ministry is merely prefatory. The work of repentance and faith in Him who was to come was but a means to an end. The work that Christ would do was as much greater than the work of John as He himself was personally greater than John. And just as John himself declared that Christ must increase while he himself decreased, so the work of Christ would swallow up in its grandeur the foundational work of repentance and faith, Not that the former could be dispensed with — it must ever be fundamental and foundational. But the ministry of repentance, after all, was but a means to an end — the spiritual restoration in holiness of the human personality. And so it is, as the Old Testament type portrays, God brought His people of former times out of Egypt that He might bring them into the promised land of Canaan. We too are to be brought out of the bondage of sin in order that we may be brought into the spiritual freedom and liberty of a purified heart and nature.
Later, when the new dispensation of grace was catching its stride, we find the same consistent emphasis upon the part of the leaders of the church. “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: for as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:14-17). The dominant thought of the apostles was apparent, for the moment the leaders of the church at Jerusalem heard of the stirring revival that had taken place under the effective ministry of Evangelist Philip, they immediately dispatched two of their number to Samaria to climax the ministry of Philip with the baptism with the Spirit in cleansing and empowering presence in the lives of those who had believed.
But turning back the pages of time for a moment we call your attention to the same emphasis upon the part of Jesus himself. Turning to His high-priestly prayer recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel we hear him passionately praying, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth [truly sanctified]. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:17, 6, 9,19, 20).
We cannot help believing that, at this crucial point in the life of Jesus, he would instinctively pray for His disciples in terms of that which He felt to be the most important issue of their lives. And thus it was at this high point in his life, his spirit reached out to the Father in their behalf — not that material security should be theirs, nor that the world should bow at their feet, but that above all they might receive the promise of the Father, the Comforter whom He would send them after the resurrection and ascension triumph. Here was the greatest need of His followers through whom His Church on earth would be begun — the sanctifying of their inner natures by the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Nor was this prayer to be encompassed merely in His day. He prayed, as well, for all who should believe on Him through their word.
Once more we turn to those momentous days when the disciples breathlessly wondered what the immediate hours might bring, Christ had risen from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, He had made Himself known to His followers repeatedly and now they wondered if at last Israel should be redeemed and once more take her place among the nations. And thus it was that someone ventured their common query to Him, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8). Not now, was his reply. It was not yet God’s time to restore the nation. Before this could be the sheep of another fold were to be brought in, And the important One through whose ministry these other sheep were to be brought into the fold was He for whom the disciples were to tarry at Jerusalem — the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the Trinity.
This, then, is the constant emphasis of the New Testament — the work, the presence, the purity, the power of the Holy Spirit. Dispensationally all was to climax in Him. His coming to the individual heart of the believer in purifying empowering presence was the final fruition of all the ages past. Not that He should receive the pre-eminence but that He might give it, It was to become His task to crystallize and conserve the work of Calvary, He was morally to equip the Church, He was to unify, co-ordinate and direct their effort, He was to manifest and interpret Christ in and through the lives of those who received Him.
The dispensation of the Father has long since passed. Already nearly two thousand years have elapsed since the dispensation of the Son. We live today in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, He is the sovereignly chosen member of the Trinity to carry out the purposes of God in the earth. To Him we must give heed. His ministry must be reckoned with. His indwelling presence must be recognized and established as an experiential reality in the heart of everyone who would do the will of God, This is the emphasis of the New Testament.