How do you feel when you read the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:48: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” or the words of Peter in 1 Peter 1:15-16: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”? These verses are a challenge to even the most seasoned of believers. Is holiness an impossible command to try and emulate in our life? Do we know what a holy life looks like?
To be holy is crucial to living the Christian life, and without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). When there is loss of understanding of the holiness of God, it will result in unholiness within the church. We need to know who God really is and who we are in relation to Him. If we depart from the truth found in the Bible, there will be a lack of holiness in our lives and the lives of other believers. Although we might think of holiness as actions we take on the outside, it actually begins from within the heart of a person as they encounter and follow Jesus.
What Is Holiness?
To understand holiness, we need to look to God. He describes Himself as “holy” (Leviticus 11:44; Leviticus 20:26) and it means that He is set apart and altogether different from us. Humanity is separated from God because of sin. All of humanity has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In contrast, God has no sin in Him, rather He is light and in Him there is no darkness (1 John 1:5).
God cannot be in the presence of sin, nor tolerate wrongdoing because He is holy and His “eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). We need to understand just how serious sin is; the wages of sin is death, says Romans 6:23. A holy and just God must deal with sin. Even humans look for justice when wrongdoing happens to them or to someone else. The amazing news is that God has dealt with sin through the cross of Christ and understanding this forms the foundation of holy living.
The Foundations of a Holy Life
A holy life needs to be built on the right foundation; a foundation firm and secure in the truth of the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. For us to understand how to live a holy life, we need to understand that our sin separates us from holy God. It is a life-threatening situation to be under God’s judgement, but God came to rescue and deliver us from this. God came into our world as flesh and blood in the person of Jesus. It is God Himself who bridges the gap of separation between Himself and humanity by being born in the flesh in a sinful world. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life and took the punishment that our sins deserved - death. He took our sins upon Himself, and in exchange, all of His righteousness was given to us. When we believe and trust in Him, God no longer sees our sin but He sees the righteousness of Christ.
Being fully God and fully man, He was able to accomplish what we could never do on our own which was to live the perfect life before God. We cannot achieve holiness in our own strength; it is all because of Jesus that we can stand with confidence in His righteousness and holiness. We become adopted as children of the living God and because of Christ’s one sacrifice for all time, “he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).
What Does a Holy Life Look Like?
Ultimately, a holy life looks like the life that Jesus lived. He was the only person on earth who lived a perfect, blameless, and holy life before God the Father. Jesus said that anyone who has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14:9) and we can know what God is like when we look to Jesus.
He was born into our world under the law of God and He followed it to the letter. He is our ultimate example of holiness, but without Him we cannot hope to live it out. We need the help of the Holy Spirit living in us, the word of God dwelling in us richly and to follow Jesus obediently.
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A holy life is a new life.
A holy life begins when we turn away from sin towards Jesus, believing that His death on the cross paid for our sin. Subsequently, we receive the Holy Spirit and have a new life in Jesus. It does not mean that we will no longer fall into sin and “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). However, we know that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
A holy life starts with an inner change which then begins to affect the rest of our life outwardly. We are to offer ourselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” which is true worship to Him (Romans 12:1). We have been accepted by God and we are declared holy through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for our sin (Hebrews 10:10).
A holy life is marked by gratitude to God.
It is a life marked with thankfulness, obedience, rejoicing, and so much more because of all that the Savior and Lord Jesus Christ did on the cross for us. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and there are none like them. They alone deserve all praise and glory for “there is no one holy like the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:2). Our response to all that the Lord has done for us should propel us to live a life of devotion to Him in love and obedience.
A holy life no longer fits the pattern of this world.
It is a life that longs to desire the things of God and not the things of the world. In Romans 12:2 it says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The desires that are not from God can be put to death and have no power over the believer. If we are in awe and reverent fear of God, we will look to Him rather than to the things in the world and in the flesh that entice us. We will increasingly want to do the will of God rather than our own. Our life will look different from the culture that we find ourselves in, marked by new desires from the Lord as we repent and turn away from sin, wanting to be purified from it.
How Can We Live a Holy Life Today?
Can we manage it ourselves? No! It is impossible to live a holy life without the Lord Jesus Christ. We have to come to know Jesus and His saving work on the cross.
The Holy Spirit is the One who transforms our hearts and minds. We cannot hope to live a holy life without the transformation found in the new life of a believer. In 2 Timothy 1:9-10 it says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” It is a lifelong transformation as the Holy Spirit works within us.
It is His purpose and grace that enables Christians to live this new life. There is nothing that an individual can do to bring about this change on their own. Just like God opens eyes and hearts to the reality of sin and the wonderful saving power of the blood of Jesus on the cross, it is God who works in a believer and changes them to be more like Him. It is a life of devotion towards the Savior who died for us and reconciled us to the Father.
Knowing both our sinful state toward holy God and the perfect righteousness manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is our greatest need. It is the beginning of a life of holiness and a reconciled relationship with the Holy One. This is what the world needs to hear and see from the life of believers inside and outside the church building - a people set apart for Jesus in surrender to His will in their lives.
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