Beautiful and amazing things happen to you in the moment that you are brought into the Kingdom of God as you place your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Of course, there is the fact that you are “born again” into God’s family. “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. … Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3, 5-6 ESV).
Then there is the wonder of an incredible transformation taking place as you are made new. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, Who through Christ reconciled us to Himself …” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a ESV).
And how can we not marvel that the ugly and loathsome sins that we have borne are carefully and completely cleansed from us! “You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14 ESV).
No less amazing is the fact that God has set us apart for Himself, for His purposes and for our own sake! This setting apart is called “holiness” in the Scriptures and has almost become unknown in the culture in which we live. Today it is clear that we have lost sight of the precious treasure of holiness and drifted from flirtations with “unholiness” to embracing it; from embracing unholiness to flaunting it.
But what is holiness? What does it look like? How do we grasp this lifestyle of living in the Lord, fulfilling His purposes for our lives, and knowing the joy of being wholly His? Well, holiness is NOT self-righteousness, nor is it strict adherence to a rigid code of conduct (although these ideas seem to be the prevailing attitudes and biases folks have about holiness).
Holiness is first of all the nature of God. It is the infinitely high and noble essence of what He is and how He reveals Himself to us. His holiness is unfathomable and so alien to our fallen nature that we naturally contend with the directions in which His holiness leads us.
“Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11 ESV). So majestic that we must revere it if ever our hearts truly turn towards Him, His holiness is overwhelming!
Holiness for us then is both recognizing the unique and precious nature of God and embracing it. It is the pursuit of the pleasure of God as we willingly seek to know Him as He is and to become like Him by the help He grants us through His Holy Spirit.
“Strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV). Righteousness (being considered “upright” and therefore acceptable by God) is granted to us because the true righteousness of Jesus is credited to us once we place our faith in Him: our sin is forgiven and we know that He has made a place for us in heaven. But holiness is the key to intimacy with God because through holiness we turn our attention to His love, His purposes, and His ways and subsequently submit to them. It is no wonder then that God admonishes us to pursue holiness in how we live and will even take steps to correct us and discipline us accordingly.
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:7-10 ESV).
Many Christians today may have no idea what holiness is all about. Or they may wonder why we should seek to live in it. Or they may even scoff at it as a relic of the past or an agenda of a pompous and “kill-joy” group of hypocrites. Nevertheless, holiness is essential to the joy that God intends for us in life. We must remember that we are called to live holy lives and that we are truly set apart for God. We do not belong any longer to the world, nor are we bound any longer to its wickedness.
So what practical steps can we take in the pursuit of holy living? We could try to (and too often do) compose a long and complicated list of “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots,” but the Bible teaches us a simple frame of mind to adopt that lovingly yet firmly leads us into ever-increasing holiness as we lean on God’s empowering through His Word and prayer.
“You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace…. Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:11-14, 19b ESV).
Because you are called to sanctification, which is another word for “holiness”, your body and your mind are now reserved for God and His purposes. Withhold the valuable gifts that your mind and body are from those things that are contrary to God’s will for your life and daily offer them anew to Him so that He might both bless you and bless the nations of the world through you.
“As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest My holiness among you in the sight of the nations.…. You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (Ezekiel 20:41, 1 Peter 2:9 ESV).
Pastor Thom Mollohan leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at [email protected]