So why would anyone want to try to be holy? In fact why wast time thinking about something that seems impossible? In fact, why would we even want to run the risk of being thought of as someone who is out of step with the rest of society? Why should we give others an excuse to write us off as being different, impractical, self-righteous, or just plain naive?
All good questions and all difficult to answer. Here are a variety of views on this topic:
These people believe that the way to get closer to God is to get away from other people and it’s the only way to become holy.
They may differ on the specifics, but they agree on their insistence that true spirituality is found by trying to live up to the laws of their faith.
In sharp contrast to those who insist on “looking good,” these individuals insist that because God is gracious, loving, and forgiving, it really doesn’t matter how they live. They believe their holiness is God’s responsibility.
Some have insisted that holiness comes through a dramatic emotional experience in which a person is suddenly lifted to a higher spiritual plane, freed of the former struggles with sin.
According to those who hold this point of view, is that we often try too hard to be holy. The answer is to simply “Let go and let God.” By relying on God’s Spirit and not self-effort, a person can rise above sin and overcome sinful tendencies. We therefore can achieve what is called the victorious Christian life.
Looking at all of these different views makes it easy to see why we can become confused at times. It can be really frustrating to try and understand what God expects from us and what we can reasonably expect from ourselves.
So, who do we turn to, to find the answers to becoming holy? Well, the best person I can come up with is none other than Simon Peter himself. He was a rough and sun-baked fisherman who worked on the Sea of Galilee. Then everything changed for him the day his brother Andrew introduced him to Jesus Christ. Jesus knew something about this impulsive and unpredictable person that none of us would have noticed on the surface. Jesus chose Peter to teach the world through his life and words and it is he who shows us why it makes sense to be holy.
Peter didn’t always live up to the stability that his name “the rock” seemed to promise. He even denied his Lord. But, Jesus never gave up on Peter. After rising from the grave, Jesus graciously restored the one who had denied Him a few days before.
Through it all, the Lord would use Peter to help Christ’s followers to understand the true and wonderful meaning of holiness.
So Why Would Anyone Want To Be Holy?
Even though there may seem to be a lot of negative ideas about holiness, let’s forget about that and try to look at holiness through Peter’s point of view instead.
Real holiness doesn’t lead us to retreat away from society but to be, as Jesus was, a friend of sinners, a servant of God, a person with a clear sense of purpose, and someone who knows true joy and peace no matter what the circumstances might be.
“Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; sfor it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy'” (1 Peter 1: 13-16)
Holiness can be seen like clean water that has been set aside for our use. Holiness is to unholiness what:
- Whole is to broken
- Usable is to unusable
- Special is to ordinary
- Valuable is to worthless
- A clear conscience is to guilt
- Honesty is to deception
- Excellent is to unacceptable
- Pure is to stained
- Good is to bad
- Happy is to sad
- Fresh is to spoiled
- Gain is to loss
- Complete is to incomplete
Holiness is a positive term, not a negative like society would want us to believe. It is brimming with good connotations, if we understand what it truly means and don’t load it down with all the baggage of bad experiences or improper usage.
What Did Peter Mean We Are To Be Holy?
In reference to God, holiness speaks of the vast differences between Him and us in both His nature and His moral perfection. Because God is holy, we worship Him and can rely on Him to be absolutely good in how He relates to us.
Other occasions the term holy is used to describe people chosen and set apart by God to be His representatives and witnesses among all the nations of the world.
The term “saint” sounds different, but it comes from the same root as holy. In biblical terms, a saint is a person whom God has set apart for Himself. Saints are not just honored people of the past. They include real-life, down-to-earth, common people who have been set apart as the Lord’s own special possession, and as receivers of His special favor.
Then there’s the word sanctification, which is used often in the New Testament, is also from the same root word as holy. This word has three closely related meanings:
- Sanctification is God’s official act of setting us apart as His forgiven children. When we pur our faith in Christ as our Savior, our only hope of forgiveness, God cleanses us and declares us His special children, holy and set apart for service to Him. This might be called positional holiness. It is ours not because we have earned it but because we have placed our complete trust and reliance in Christ.
- Sanctification is the lifelong process whereby God makes a believer more and more like Jesus. This is where we find ourselves right here and now, and this is the set-apart-for-God’s-special-use sense of the term that the Bible spends the most time discussing. While we never arrive at the goal of Christlike moral perfection in this life, we can for the rest of our lives experience the results of being in a right relationship to God.
- Sanctification is the ultimate goal, the moral perfection that God’s spiritual children will one day attain. We who are children of God will one day be like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
What is the Basis for God’s Call to be Holy?
The call to holiness is loud and clear in both the Old and New Testaments. In both, God gives His people overwhelming reasons to be grateful as they separate themselves for His service and pleasure.
The foundational motive of gratefulness is also seen in New Testament calls to holiness. Peter wrote his letter after the sacrificial death of Christ. He looked back to the Father’s gift of His Son to provide for the salvation of all who would put their trust in Him. Peter reminded his readers, “You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1: 18-19)
In the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, we read, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Is There Any Hope for Us?
Right now, we might be thinking, “It sounds like God’s standards are unrealistic. If that’s what He demands, I may as well give up now.” But there is no reason to despair. Remember the encouraging down-to-earth example of Peter. He too had his ups and downs. It may seem to be little comfort, but we’re all in the same boat. Nobody in the world even comes close to being holy in the way God requires. But there’s hope because God is gracious. He can change us, and He has gone to great lengths to help us along the way.
Here are some good reasons why we should be holy:
- We were designed to find our fulfillment in a life that is set apart for God.
- Sin may seem to bring pleasure, but in the long run it is self-destructive.
- It makes sense to live in a way that reflects our special identity and purpose.
- God has chosen us to be special, different, holy, as a testimony of His love and grace in a world that is infected and enslaved by sin.
- Holiness is the appropriate grateful response to the gift of salvation, to the great price God paid through His Son to rescue us from sin.
- God is holy, and if we want to know Him better we must learn to live for Him on His terms.
- God commands us to be holy.
- It’s a taste of heaven now that can help us focus on the wonderful life that awaits us.
In Peters letters he shows how holiness works its way out in everyday life as citizens of heaven, earth, employees, as wives or husbands, or as witnesses to a hostile world.
As Citizens of Heaven
Peter reminded Christ’s followers of who they are. That may sound unnecessary, but it’s not. One of the most common reasons for our unholiness is that we lose sight of who we are as God’s children. We become shortsighted and see ourselves the way others see themselves, material people destined only for a few years in this material world.
That’s why Peter told us that we are part of a huge spiritual project, members of a spiritual priesthood of believers who are to serve the Lord and not merely our own appetites. Because we have officially become citizens of heaven, we are aliens in the world. And we have an obligation to live like members of God’s kingdom.
As Citizens of Earth
A holy life, as life lived for the eternal King of the universe, does not carry with it a disregard for the temporary rulers of nations. Peter wrote that holy men and women will respect their national rulers as enforcers of what is right. We are to respect authority and promote order, not anarchy.
Peter directed his words specifically to slaves. We may think of slave/master and employee/employer relationships as totally different, but the parallels are very strong. We too may feel trapped in a job, working for an inconsiderate and cruel employer. What did Peter say we are to do? We’re to respond differently than we might expect. He encouraged us to give respect to our employers and suffer mistreatment rather than lashing out in an un-Christlike manner.
Peter directed his comments primarily at wives of unbelieving husbands, but the call to holy behavior applies to all wives. Their lives are to be haracterized by winsomeness, purity, and reverence, and the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit that was characteristic of the holy women of the Bible.
A husband who is becoming holy will be considerate of his wife’s needs. He will respect her worth and recognize that his relationship with her is a vital part of his relationship with the Lord.
As Witnesses to the World
Our behavior is to be so exemplary that those around us will have no basis for badmouth us and our association with Christ. We need to be willing to suffer for doing good and keeping a clear conscience.
How Serious Are We About This?
What is our spiritual temperature? Do others see holy, Christlike qualities developing in our lives because we are in close fellowship with Him or are the struggles and frustrations getting us down? Do Peter and Jesus seem to be asking too much from us? Or is it possible that we are self-deceived, assuming that we know what it means to live for Christ but actually setting our sights and standards for living far too low?
Are we just coasting through life without examining our attitudes and actions in the light of God’s Word? Do we view ourselves as pretty decent individuals who don’t do any of the “big” sins that get people tossed into jail or out of churches?
It can be easy to start to coast spiritually. After all, growth requires hard work.It means sacrificingsome short-range “want to’s” for some long-range “need to’s” that will honor the Lord. There are no quick fixes. Mountaintop spiritual thrills are followed by valleys of spiritual battles and even crushing failures. Becoming holy and Christlike takes a lifetime.
We Have Tough Enemies to Fight
Just look around you, we have some formidable opponents to fight. The unholy sinful tendencies that come from within all of us, the unholy world all around us with its attractive bait that camouflages the hook of sin, and the lies and deeds of evil personified, the leader of the fallen angels we all know as the devil.
We all carry the damaging effects of the disease of sin within us. Even though God has declared that we have been forgiven of sin, are spiritually born again, and will never be condemned by Him, we will have a battle with sinful desires that “war against our soul” as long as we live.
The term “flesh” refers to the sinful tendencies that rise from within us, lust, coveting, pride, self-centeredness, which lead us into sin.
The unbelieving world all around us can be hostile to those who follow Jesus. Peter warned about the likelihood that believers would suffer as Christians and be objects of ridicule and attack because they identify with Christ. (We can see what Peter is talking about in today’s world, even in our own country right here and now!) Jesus Himself told His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
The term “world” refers to the sin-permeated, fallen world-system of life on this planet that draws us away from holy living. It is everything that has been distorted by sin and opposes what is good and holy!
The Devil and His Lies
Just as Satan deceived Eve in the Garden, so he continues to spin his web of deceit today. He is a liar by nature, and Peter wrote that the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us as his prey. He is called the “ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” in this world. He is doing his worst to lead people astray and hinder the work of God.
Peter instructed his readers, “Resist him, (the devil), standing firm in the faith.” By knowing God, rooting our thoughts and actions firmly in the Word, and by relying on the Holy Spirit within us all, we will not fall easily into Satan’s traps or give him a foothold in our lives.
Peter tells his readers and even us that there are pieces of “armor” that we must learn to use in our spiritual battles:
- Belt of Truth – Know and live by the truth.
- Breastplate of Righteousness – Even though we are given the righteousness of Christ, we must still be committed to doing what’s right.
- Shoes of Readiness – Be ready at every moment to obey and represent Christ.
- Shield of Faith – Trust God. Choose to believe Him when you are attacked by doubts or the lies of temptation.
- Helmet of Salvation – Keep in mind all that Christ has done for you in providing complete forgiveness and the power to live for Him.
- Sword of the Spirit – Read and use the Bible to guide your thoughts and actions.
- Prayer – It’s not a piece of armor as such, but it’s an essential weapon in our arsenal. We are to pray always about everything!
What is the Biggest Threat to Our Spiritual Well-Being?
We all too often have a misconception about the size and danger of sins. We tend to recognize the big ones like murder, robbing banks, rape, kidnapping. But we often don’t recognize that the biggest threat to our spiritual life comes from what we might casually think of as smaller sins.
A little sin? A little fun that violates God’s standards? A little lie? A little temper tantrum? A little dishonesty? A little gossip? A little lust? Let’s not “give the devil a foothold” in our lives so beware of the little sins as well!
Why Does It Have to be So Hard to be Holy?
If God wants us to be holy, and we want to be holy, why then does it seem so hard to actually attain it? Why doesn’t God just remove every trace of sin from us right here and now?
We are caught between the “already” and the “not yet” of God’s plan for our lives. We are already saved, forgiven, and cleansed from sin, but we are not yet living in heaven. We have important work to do for the Lord on this earth to lead others to know God as we know Him. And the struggles of this present life are part of His plan to make us more like His Son, the One who faced the temptations and trials of life and came through it all perfectly.
How God Uses Pain & Suffering in Our Lives to Make Us More Christlike
“Since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4: 1-2.)
Trials in life, and a right understanding of God’s goal for our lives, help us to see the folly of sin. Suffering helps us to see what is really important in life. When all is well, we tend to become complacent and our lives get cluttered with unholy nonessentials. Painful situations have a way of sifting out what is not important.
Understand, God is more concerned with our long-term progress toward holiness than our short-term feelings of happiness. We have a somewhat warped understanding of life if we imagine that living for Christ means that we will not have troubles, sorrows, or opposition. Just look at the life of Jesus Himself. He was mocked, betrayed, denied, tortured, and crucified. His apostles suffered persecution and martyrdom. Do we think we are somehow exempt from the same?
The apostle James taught that suffering produces in us a receptivity to the work of God. He wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1: 2-3).
Suffering and hardship give God opportunities to replace our unholy character traits with godly ones. So, the Lord uses difficulties to help us see and clear our lives of those attitudes that distract us from producing the fruits of righteousness.
The road to holiness is not without its bumps and dangers. Mistaken ideas and outright lies have sidetracked God’s people from making progress toward the goal of holy Christlikeness. Instead of standing firm in their secure position in the truth of the Word of God, they fall into error in both thinking and living.
Peter warned his readers of false teachers who not only spread false theology but who practiced an unholy morality. He addressed the kind of scoffing opposition that believers can expect from the world, and urged his readers not to cave in to pressure and abandon the struggle to live faithfully for Christ. This hold true even in today’s world, if not more.
Here are some possible detours to holy living that we should try to avoid:
- Loveless Legalism – This is the belief that we can please God and earn salvation or approval in the Christian life by measuring up to a list of external rules of conduct. Legalism focuses on rule-keeping as the road to holiness, and it neglects the essential heart relationship with Jesus and a response of love toward people.
- Self-Deprivation or Asceticism – Some people have mistakenly thought that worldliness could be avoided if they lived in isolation or if they deprived themselves of ordinary human pleasures like eating certain foods, relating to other people, wearing comfortable clothes, speaking with others, and experiencing married sexual relations. But holiness is not achieved by withdrawing from society or giving up the God-given good things of life; it is a matter of separating ourselves from the sinful, self-destructive, and God-denying elements of life.
- Self-Effort – We may mistakenly focus on trying to be holy by spending time in prayer, Bible study, Scripture memorization, church attendance, and worship, as if we are holy simply by doing all of these things. As good as they are, self-discipline and good habits are not holiness. God, wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We must remember that all these activities are means to the end of knowing and loving God, not an end in and of themselves so that we can feel religious.
- Passivity – Some people feel that the answer is simply to trust God and not try so hard. They say we are to just rest in Jesus and allow Him to give victory over sin. But the Bible never promises that we can gain “voctory” in the sense that sinlessness can be achieved at a point in time in this life.
- Perfectionsism – This is the idea that we can become sinless here and now through a special work of God’s Spirit as we surrender our heart and life to God. Sometimes referred to as a “second blessing” or “baptism of the Spirit”, this view lacks biblical support. The Bible never speaks of a two-stage view of the Christian life, in which we are saved and then experience another life-changing encounter with the Spirit that takes us to a higher level of living. Paul testified that the battle with sin was lifelong, and the best we can hope for is progressive improvement, not sudden perfection. Even the holiest person has impure motives and lapses of thought and action.
- License – On the other hand, we must not fall into the error of thinking that we can sin because “God understands we’re only human.” Nor can we separate what we do in the body from our spirit.
- Self-Satisfaction – “Modern Christians tend to make satisfaction their religion.” We show much more concern for self-fulfillment than for pleasing our God. This is a “gimmie-gimmie” attitude toward our relationship with God. The Bible teaches us, however, that holiness comes from dying to self and living for Christ.
- Emotionalism – Holiness is not a feeling that we achieve in a highly charged and very moving worship service or prayer time. Holiness is not an emotion. Holiness is a way of thinking and living.
- Serving – Trying to do great things for God but not having a close relationship with Christ is misdirected action. We may be evangelizing the lost and serving the needs of the helpless and homeless of the world, but if we are not pursuing holiness we are doing good for the wrong reasons.
- Procrastination – We may fall into the error of thinking that we will give serious thought to this matter of holiness later in life, or at a more convenient time. But, to consider again what Peter had to say, we have no time to lose. The apostle Peter wrote, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief…Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.”
To become Christlike and to finish well, we must take step number one, accepting His gift of forgiveness and holiness. We then need to focus our thoughts daily on the goal, patiently enduring and persevering. We have to keep our eyes focused on the finish line, the day we will meet face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ.
But remember, it’s not just a matter of trying hard to be holy. Without the transforming, life-giving and holiness-producing power of Jesus Christ working in and through us, we couldn’t make any progress toward holiness. That’s why we need to live the Christian life from start to finish by faith, depending on God’s ability, His power, and His grace.
Let’s remember this prayer by Paul:
“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” (( Thessalonians 5: 23-24)