I don’t think that the writer of Hebrews intends that we understand these three words – holy, harmless, undefiled – to simply be different ways of saying the same thing. I believe that what we have here are the three different stages in the development of personal purity in the life of the Christian.
The first stage of personal purity is holiness. Holiness is that grace God gives to the silent soul. It comes from time spent in fellowship with the Father. If you want to be holy spend time with God, for the scripture says that our God is holy.
Next comes the stage of harmlessness. This may seem more mundane that holiness, but it’s not. You see, holiness can be found when nobody else is around, but harmlessness can only exist in the fellowship of others. Holiness is found in the garden, but harmlessness belongs to the city. Holiness will not eat the apple, while harmlessness refuses to offer the apple for another – Adam – to eat.
Then comes the third and final stage in the development of personal purity in the life of the Christian – that of being undefiled. Like harmlessness, being undefiled requires that there be the companionship of others. However, to that companionship is added the possibility of corruption. Undefiledness is a more complete conquest of corruption because where as harmlessness refuses to do wrong, to be undefiled is the determination to do what is right.
Being undefiled means that you come into contact with the pollution of this world while remaining pure. It means to touch the stain of the sinner and remain unstained. It is the summit and summer of the soul. The whiteness of an untempted soul is beautiful indeed, and the whiteness that comes from the miry clay is even more beautiful, but most beautiful of all is the whiteness that can touch the miry clay and remain undefiled. The is the level of our Lord. The power to touch the stain of the sinner and remain spotless still.
Three different times I see the curtain raised on His unparalleled life of purity and each time it reveals to me a new stage of His unbelievable beauty. I see Him first as the holy child Jesus growing up in the city of Nazareth, being nourished in the Father’s temple. Then there comes the time of temptation. He leaves the safety and security of His home and is taken out into the wilderness. He moves from untested purity to tempted purity. He was tempted to do wrong, but kept His hand from evil. He refused to partake of the bread of selfishness. He avoided the leap of reckless recognition. He rejected covetous’ prize and inward holiness blossomed into outward harmlessness. But then the curtain is raised a third time revealing for us the highest level of personal purity – undefiledness. You see, it is a wonderful thing to be in the world and do no harm, but it is an even greater thing still to be in the world and flourish.
In Nazareth Jesus was inwardly holy. In the wilderness He was outwardly harmless. But in the third and final stage we find Him in constant contact with sinner – yet without sin. He was sinless, stainless and “undefiled” even though all of human life pressed in upon Him. The lepers ran to Him, the demoniacs fell at His feet, and the outcasts cast themselves on Him. It is a wonderful, beautiful thing for one to be morally harmless, but it is even more so to be morally unharmed.
This final glory of the life of our Lord is to be the goal of the growing Christian. You see, you may be untempted when nobody is around or flee from the temptation of others, but the ultimate reality of the Christ-life surpasses both of these. It is to meet the hour of temptation and remain undefiled. That is the summit of the Christian soul.
The purity of the untested heart is not enough. Nor is the refusal of the tied hand. I would that my heart should see the world, that my hand might touch the world. I pray for an unrestraint that remains unstained. I long to walk through the wheat fields and not break the Sabbath, to join in the wedding feast at Cana and still keep His command. I would travel Sidon’s coasts and still love the Lord’s Israel. I would touch a cloud and not become clouded. I would carry the heavy load and still remain light. I would meet with the sinner and still be saintly. I would lift up the fallen without fading. I will reach the summer of the Savior’s glory when I can come into contact with sin and my garments remain undefiled.