From the onset of history God has been calling His people to holiness. This call has not only been placed upon those in leadership or those that are mature in faith, but has rather been placed as a cornerstone to every Christian’s life (In Leviticus 11:45 God states “Be holy, for I am holy”).
However, to many of us the notion of holiness may seem intangible, or even outdated. To others it may hold connotations around dress code, or language, or relationships, or sex. Still to others of us holiness may simply be a synonym for morality. Yet to bring holiness down to the same level as a set of rules or morality is to lose its beauty, lose its power. That is to view holiness through the eyes of the Pharisees and Scribes.
Of course, a life of holiness will have implications on our language, our relationships and values – but holiness is not primarily about a set of rules and moral standards we follow simply because “God told us to”. A legalistic view of holiness can only take us so far – it can clean up the outside quite nicely, but to fully grasp the implications of holiness on us today we must understand it in light of the grace imparted to us through Jesus Christ. It is because of the great hope we have in Christ that, by the grace of God, we can and do live holy lives. Over the next few paragraphs would you join me in exploring God’s call to holiness in our lives through the eyes of the Gospel?
Holiness in the Old Testament
First, let me clarify that God’s call on His people to be holy is an ancient call. It has always been God’s will that His people radiate His image and imitate His holiness, long before the coming of Christ. Although it is not what I wish to focus on, there are calls upon God’s people to be holy all throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In Exodus God gives Moses the Law, calling the people to a higher standard of conduct. The idea was that His people would be different, ‘set apart’ and consecrated to Him – devoted to Him and His holiness. There were laws, and rules – guidelines that were to be followed. Yet Jesus warns us in Matthew 5:20 that a legalistic or rule-based ‘holiness’ is dangerous, and in fact misled, even stating that the ‘holiness’, or religion, of the Pharisees and Scribes would not save them. This is not to say that we should not follow God’s laws or live moral lives – we should – but it is to say that our motivation for doing so is rooted in something deeper than rules. We have hope grounded in something greater than ourselves and our own righteousness. Our reasons for living holy span broader than just “because God said so”.
Our Motivation to be Holy
Our motivation is this: we have a mighty hope. The Gospel proclaims a radical message – that through faith in Christ we have been crucified with Him (Galatians 2:20) and our lives are hid with Him on high (Colossians 3:3). It preaches that through sharing in His death and resurrection we have been unified with Him and our souls are kept in safety. It states that by this union we have died to ourselves and to sin (Romans 6:3, 22) and been granted His holiness. His righteousness has been attributed to us and because of this we have been reconciled to the Father. Because of this grace we are pure, we are right and we will one day live in glory. What a marvelous hope! This hope is secure, and never fading. It cannot be shaken. It is not influenced by the events of the world. It cannot be removed, or defiled, or hindered. It is the source of all joy, of all peace and inevitably it frees us to pursue holy lives.
Christ’s holiness has become our holiness and because of this we have hope of a wonderful future. We have hope that our sinful nature will one day die. We will be perfected and made one with the Lover of our souls. We will no longer be inflicted with pain, heartbreak and sorrow. We will no longer have conflict or anxiety. We will be cleansed of our pride and hatred – and 1 Peter 1:13-16 says that this hope is the reason we pursue holy lives. We mould our lives and conduct around God’s laws and precepts because we have the hope that there is more for us than the immediate pleasure of this world. There is a greater love than the love of the world. There is a greater purpose than the pursuits of the world. We are filled with hope and we look forward, towards the coming of Christ. We want to please the One who saved us. We want to serve Him who redeemed us. We want to be conformed to the beauty that cleansed us. We know there is more. There is greater. We don’t flee from sin because there are rules; but by grace we follow the rules because we have hope.
We want to radiate this hope to others, those that may not have experienced it. We want our lives to proclaim that there is more. We want our conduct to be an act of worship towards God, and an act of love towards man – inviting others to a hope that is far greater than the world’s. Luke 8:16 commissions us to be a light, one that the world can see. Our lives should help people understand the holiness of God and the mercy of Christ. Our witness should mirror the Maker.
“Set your minds fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 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’” – 1 Peter 1:13b-16 (ESV).