This teaching will help us to remember who we are!
One of the first impressions we get from reading about holiness in the Bible is that God requires holiness of us. The interesting thing is that the word for “holiness” in these following Scriptures is “hagiasmos,” but this concept was not found in Greek culture. It’s a God thing- not a cultural thing.
1 Peter 1:15-16 “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (Lev 11:44)
2 Corinthians 7:1 “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting (bringing to completion) holiness out of reverence for God.”
Hebrews 12:14 “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
Paul said in Ephesians 1, “…from the very foundation of the world God had chosen us – his people – to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
It is clear from these and other Scriptures that it has always been God’s intention that we would be holy and live holy lives. Believers are actually called “saints,”which means “holy ones”. We as Christ followers can legitimately put the word “saint” in front of our names!
To be holy is God’s standard and expectation for His people.
But exactly what does it mean to be “holy?”
What does a “holy” person look like?
Do you carry a halo on top of your head? Do you have a special aura? Do you have an unusual ability to do miracles?
What does a holy person think like? Act like?
What is a saint? Does it mean someone who is self sacrificing or makes some significant contribution in life or ministry? Is it someone who performs miracles? Is that what holiness is all about?
This is a topic that most of us know very little about, even though the words “holy” and “holiness” are found in the Bible 900 times.
So what really is holiness?
“How little people know, who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible. If even ten percent of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before the year’s end?”- C.S. Lewis
Before you think being holy would be boring, just remember without it you will not see God.
Holiness has been misrepresented more than anything else. Let me take you back a generation or two. What I am about to describe is still believed and practiced in some faith groups.
For many churches of the last century, holiness was defined almost entirely by outward appearance. Holiness was almost exclusively about clothing, hair, and adornment. Women got the worst of it, although men also had strict rules.
- no pants for women and no “short pants” for men
- short hair for men and long hair (uncut) for women
- no jewelry for either men or women, even wedding rings
- no make-up for women
- no hair adornments for women, even hair clips
- no bright coloured clothing for either men or women
- no “worldly” activities such as organized sports, swimming, watching television, movies, dancing, playing cards or playing pool
- no smoking or drinking or drugs
This was the short list of “DON’TS”!
There was a rule list also for things that must be done. Many of these are actually good disciplines for Christian life, but because they were required, it seemed like merely a list of “DO’S.”
- be in church every time the doors are open
- read your Bible and pray
- pay your tithes
- obey the church leadership in every detail of your life
If you did the DO’S and didn’t do the DON’TS, you were holy.
I was visiting an area a few years back and the church had such a distorted view of holiness that they rejected people who did not look “holy.” That particular Sunday, a lady came to church as a guest. She was wearing golden earrings. When one of the elders saw her, he asked her to please go outside and remove the earrings, and only then she could return to the worship service. Can you imagine such foolishness?
St Augustine found out too late that he did not have to castrate himself to be holy!
Distorted views of holiness have plagued the church through the centuries. Let me say that many of these misguided brothers and sisters have been completely sincere in their enforcement of rules and regulations.
But, as we will see, holiness cannot be enforced, it must be chosen. No human can make you holy. You can’t make yourself holy.
So what is holiness?
First of all, it is a characteristic of God. “Be holy as I am holy.”
Holiness when applied to God signifies the moral perfection of his character. God is also holy in that he is utterly distinct from his creation and exercises sovereign majesty and power over it. He is called “the holy one of Israel” or “the holy one.”
He is separate from all that is evil and defiled. His holy character is the standard of absolute moral perfection That is God’s holiness. He is absolutely great and absolutely pure, free of all corruption found on this earth and in human lives. God makes no mistakes.
Think about this. God has nothing in common with us. Outside of Christ, we have nothing in common with God.
This is the picture of the absolute majesty and purity of God- the holy one of Israel. He is the all knowing, all powerful, unchangeable, ever-present God.
When He commands and instructs us to be holy as he is holy, He is not expecting us to become all knowing, all powerful, and unchanging as He is. He is calling us to become like Him in only one aspect: in purity and in righteousness. That is only possible through Jesus Christ.
The thing that makes us “unholy” is sin. We are born in sin. We are filled with it. It saturates our human mind, fills our emotions, colours our hearts, and expresses itself in behaviours that are absolutely abhorrent to God. Human behaviour outside of “the new creation” is absolutely disgusting to God.
For God to really look at humankind in our sinful condition is nearly unbearable to Him. Let me give you some perspective on this. This is a very poor illustration but picture this. It would be like you having been raised in the best of palaces in the world, surrounded by beauty and perfection. Then you make a visit to one of our dreadful garbage dumps, our ‘Smoky Mountain,” and you are asked to walk around it and inspect it. The stench, the squalor, the overcrowding, the filthy people digging through the refuse; it would be extremely repulsive to you. I’ve taken visiting mission teams to Smoky Mountain, and they became physically ill. When they returned to their place, they got in the shower and washed and washed. but felt like they could not get the smell off of their skin. This in some small way describes God’s view of us when we are in sin.
Behavior alone cannot remove the “smell” of sin. That list of DO’S and DON’TS won’t work. Mutilating yourself in penance, sacrificing, or flagellating yourself is a total waste of time. One person described to me his life; he was so sure of his coming judgment that he took a match and held it to his finger to try to prepare for hell fire!
So how do we live something which we are commanded to live when it’s humanly impossible?
In the Old Testament, God set up a pattern of sacrifices so that man could become holy through ceremonies. You could sacrifice an animal on behalf of your sin. But it only covered your sin- it didn’t remove it.
Yet that covering was never what God really wanted. Setting up certain rules in order to please Him was not His perfect plan. The sinful heart of humanity remained the same. Unless God can touch our hearts, there is nothing we will ever do that will make us acceptable to God.
Hebrews 10:8-10 “First he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
If we have been made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, all we can do is accept Him and His sacrifice in order to be holy!
Let’s go back to something here. We humans in our fallen condition are absolutely unacceptable to God. His holiness cannot tolerate our lives which are covered and controlled by sin.
Then God loved us.
“For God so loved the world.”
His love did not excuse us. His love motivated Him to provide a way out for us. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Can you see the wonder of this? We weren’t holy, having nothing in common with God- He knew that. He loved the world enough to send Jesus to transform us into His children. You cannot appreciate the Love of God if you do not appreciate the holiness of God.
1 Corinthians 1:30 “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
There is the secret! Jesus has become our holiness. It is in Jesus- it is possible to be holy, fully accepted by God.
When we by faith
-open our lives to Christ,
-when we surrender our lives to Him,
-when we confess our sin,
-when we actually acknowledge our un-holiness, our wretchedness, our sinfulness,
-when we by faith accept that sacrifice and yield to the Lordship of Jesus, with the forgiveness of our sin,
WE BECOME HOLY!
If you’d like to see
of a saint,
look in the mirror!
We receive a new nature, a transformed nature. We become a new creation in Christ. We are changed. Not by our human effort, but by the spirit of God who comes to live on the inside of us- our spirit comes alive.
At that point, when Holy Spirit births our spirit into God, there is nothing separating us from God, His presence and His life. The holiness of God has transformed the unholiness of our human hearts and changed us.
Sin, however, is not done with us. The battle is still there. Why? Because we still live in a human body with a fallen human nature. That is the struggle- and the Holy Spirit helps us in the war against sin.
So what then is actual holiness? Fundamentally, holiness is a “cutting off” or separation from what is unclean, and a consecration to what is pure.
At the time of our new spiritual birth, we are made holy in Christ- what do we do now?
The New Testament places great emphasis upon practical holiness- separation from sin- in the Christian’s daily experience. The God who freely declares a person righteous through faith in Christ, commands that the believer continue on in holiness. In God’s plan, a growth in holiness should accompany believing.
Paul urged the Christians at Rome to “yield your members to righteousness for holiness.” The Book of Hebrews urges believers to strive for holiness- “without which no one will see the Lord” (12:14).
The goal of the Christian life is to become like Christ. Paul told the believers at Ephesus to “put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:24). God provides us with the spiritual resources to enable us to “participate in the divine nature.” (2 Pt 1:4).
I have a new nature. I need to “yield” or give in to this new nature. If I literally submit to the Holy Spirit’s power in my life, I can resist the residual sinful part of my nature. The Holy Spirit will empower me to live a holy life.
Here’s an illustration of our identity as Christ-followers who live in holiness.
The Duke of Windsor once described how his father had treated him when he was a boy. “My father, King George V, was a strict disciplinarian. Sometimes when I had done something wrong, he would correct me saying, ‘My dear boy, you must always remember who you are. You will become king.’”
That’s a good lesson for us. Remember who you are! Remember that the old “sin nature” has no power over you. Remember you are a child of God. You have a holy destiny. We pursue and practice holiness because we remember who we are. We choose to express Christ.
Here’s an explanation of the process of receiving a new nature through Christ.
Only one Person in history did not have a sin nature: Jesus Christ. His virgin birth allowed Him to enter our world free from Adam’s curse. Jesus lived a sinless life. He was “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14) who “had no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because He was a spotless human being, He qualified to be sacrificed on the cross as our perfect substitute, “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). As John Calvin wrote, “For certainly, Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to ruin.”
Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are born again. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). When we are born “of Adam,” in other words of human parentage infected with sin, we inherit Adam’s sinful nature. When we are born again in Christ, we inherit a new nature that comes from God. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Unfortunately, we don’t lose our sin nature just because we receive Christ. The Bible tells us that sin remains in us! Our struggle with that old nature goes on as long as we’re on this earth. Paul struggled immensely with this. Romans 7:15–25.
But we have the assurance of the divine help of the Holy Spirit because He come to live within us. He supplies the power we need to overcome the sin nature within us. “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). God want us to be totally successful and victorious over sin. Christ (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 John 3:2).
At the cross, Jesus satisfied God’s price for sin. He gave believers victory over their sin nature: “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Because of His resurrection, Jesus offers life to everyone bound by corrupt flesh. Those who are born again must do this: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
We were saved from our sin so that God in His holiness could fellowship with us. We have been made holy as He is holy. 1 John 1:5-7 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
If we choose to fellowship with God, His holiness will continually rub off on us. Sin will become undesirable because of our fellowship with God. Romans 8:13-14 “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”
How do we practice holiness? Not by rules, not by requirements. There is a choice. We choose to walk with God.
1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
I stand holy before God through Christ. I have fellowship with God Himself. I am by no means morally perfect, but God does declare me to be guiltless before the bar of His justice. What a glorious situation to be in- guiltless!
Although the Christians at Corinth were plagued with numerous sins, Paul could address his erring friends as those who were “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). Despite their problems, the Corinthian believers were “holy ones” in Christ. Despite your problems, you are holy in Christ today. Set your mind and heart on who you are and on God’s purpose for you.
Put your will into this today. Make a choice to express Christ rather than expressing your fallen human nature. Every situation offers a choice; every temptation offers a choice. As the text says, “having been made holy, be like God.”
Holiness is a possibility. Remember who you are. No matter how you struggle, pause a moment and worship the Lord, because in His absolute holiness He has lovingly reached out to us. Not out of sympathy or pity, but out of love- with the intention of lifting us up to be like Him.
Thank you Jesus, for finding me, saving me, changing me, and making me holy like You.