We are commanded, not asked, to be holy. It’s our spiritual ‘destination’ in Christ and requires us to daily crucify self in absolute surrender and worship.
And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Leviticus 20:26)
How easy it is, in the rough and tumble of the pressures of life, to forget this truth. The call to salvation is also a call to holiness. This is not a hope, a wish, a suggestion, or a recommendation. It’s an imperative from a holy God to His people. God, who is the very definition of holiness, has sovereignly declared that His people shall be holy. That little word ‘shall’ is all inclusive. The reason for this is that we are destined to eternity in His presence. Nothing that is not holy can exist in the presence of a holy God.
God Himself can only be holy.
When we consider the nature and character of God, we cannot separate any aspect from His holiness. It is the intrinsic nature of God to be holy. Every other characteristic or name of God must include and be preceded by the word ‘holy.’ Anything less is to deny the vast, eternal reality of who and what He is. We spend a lot of time considering the things God can do. But it’s worth our while to pause and consider the things He cannot do. Top of the list is that God cannot be ‘unholy.’
Evidence of this can be found in the tiny snatches we are given of eternal worship in heaven. What is it that saints and angels cry as they worship at the throne of God? Holy, holy, holy. It’s not within the capabilities of either men or angels to fully capture the essence of God in worship. We can, however, focus our adoration on the single most definitive characteristic of our God. If this is what heaven’s worship sees, He must be holy.
To be holy is to manifest the nature of God.
Just as Jesus was sent to earth as a man to manifest the nature of God, so we who claim His name must live the ministry of Christ. If the very nature of God is holy, then we must be holy too. If we are to ‘wear’ the name of God and claim sonship and to be His people, we must reflect Him. We are His ambassadors and all we do and say must manifest His perfect, holy will. It isn’t a question of what we want but what God wants.
We cannot claim to be a Christian and separate ourselves from the imperative to be holy. Today’s verse makes this very clear. Holiness is part of the package of salvation. When we choose Christ, we choose holiness. We cannot evade it, avoid it, or defer it. It’s an unequivocal ‘destination’ for anyone who professes to be a Christian. We shall be holy. What God speaks, He accomplishes. Those who are called by His name will manifest His nature.
To be holy is an act of worship.
We misunderstand worship in the broader context of the Church. It’s not about the songs we sing, the music we make, how good our band is, or whether or not we ‘make a (suitably) joyful noise.’ To worship God in songs, praise, and thanksgiving is good. It’s a part of our worship He desires. But it isn’t the sum total of worship. It’s simply not enough to sing with enthusiasm and get goose bumps on a Sunday morning. The pinnacle of worship is to be holy.
To understand this clearly, we must consider what being holy entails. Essentially, it means being fully surrendered, absolutely obedient, and to crucify self. It is to live as Jesus did, wholly and completely yielded to the perfect will of God. To be holy requires everything we have, are, can do, could be, and will be. It is that place where God is first, where His Word is more important than our desires. Holiness isn’t something we wear. It’s how we live. As living sacrifices, our all is immersed in the all of God. We no longer exist.
We must be set apart to be holy.
1 Peter 2:9 tells us: But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. It’s a reminder that the ‘new covenant’ and its grace doesn’t exempt us from this critical imperative. If anything, our responsibility to be holy is greater because we have grace to empower us. This verse in Peter echoes today’s verse. It reminds us that it has absolutely nothing to do with us at all. God Himself has set us apart. He has saved us, forgiven us, redeemed us, cleansed us, and justified us.
We can understand the power in this when we consider just how great the difference between a holy God and unholy mankind. The reality is that without Christ and salvation, we could never cross that ‘great divide.’ If the truth be told, man cannot fully comprehend the holiness of God. In and of ourselves, we cannot imagine being even a ‘little bit holy.’ This is the statement God makes when He sets His people apart. It’s not that we’re special in any way. We’re sinners, bottom line, with no hope but in Christ. He sets us apart so that we can be freed from the constraints of the world. But, most importantly, He does so that we can be holy, and so manifest Him to a lost humanity desperately in need of grace.
To be holy is to belong to God.
What God sets apart cannot be reversed on the whim of man. His will is sovereign. When we turn to Him, He responds with grace and sets us apart. From that moment, we belong to Him. There’s no ‘if I feel like it,’ or ‘not right now, maybe tomorrow.’ It’s a done deal. When we claim His name, we yield ownership of ourselves back to Him and agree to be holy. This is an important truth.
God owns us three times over. First, He owns us through the right of the creator. He’s the potter, we’re the clay, and He owns what He creates. Second, He owns us through right of conquest. In defeating the devil at the cross, He has ownership of all that belonged to Him. That’s us. Finally, He owns us through redemption, or the slave price. To seal the deal His victory afforded Him, He made doubly sure that His ownership could not be challenged by buying us back from our master, Satan. Then He gave us free will. When we choose salvation, we automatically honour the ownership of God over our lives.
Realistically, it’s not possible for us to be holy.
At face value, this sounds like a contradiction, because it’s absolutely true. You and I, no matter how much we may desire or strive to be holy, simply don’t have what it takes. But this is where the immeasurable grace of God manifests. It all comes back to that little thing called free will. When we choose to confess and repent, God forgives and cleanses us. If we choose salvation, He sets us apart as His children. Our choice to obey bring the strength and courage to do so.
The incredible truth is that our God asks nothing of us that He hasn’t already made provision to empower us to do. He knows we are weak, often self-centred, and distracted and seduced by our own desires and temptations. It is because He knows that I can never be Holy that He has filled me with His Spirit. What I cannot do, the Spirit can. My part is simple. I simply have to choose – daily, moment by moment, to live, speak, act, and behave according to His Word. When we choose to be holy, God fulfils His promise that we shall be holy.
Living the reality of what it is to be holy.
There’s a lot of teaching around about ‘long term goals.’ The principles used in the world aren’t original. They are all variations of what God has already revealed in His Word. Too many Christians are discouraged at the get go because they see only what is impossible. If they can’t be holy, what’s the point in trying. Holiness, for a Christian, is the ‘long term goal.’ We reach it through a consistent progression rather than instant transformation.
I often think of the Christian walk as a race of ‘crurdles’ – a combination of cross country and hurdles. All kinds of things lie in wait to trip us up or test us. But God has said we shall be holy and all things are possible with God. If we make the choice each day to reach the level of holiness God has ordained for that day, we’ll move forward in His strength, power, and grace. To look forward to the end goal is necessary and good. But the leg of the race we’re on today is just as important. To be holy is to be so in this moment, right now.
God alone directs the journey that leads us to be holy.
We need to remind ourselves that we don’t understand holiness, not in the vast, awe-inspiring sense that God is holy. It stands to reason, then, that we cannot understand the way there. Only God knows how best to bring His will to pass. Our part is to be willing, and to desire it with a hunger and thirst the world can never satisfy. Surrender of each moment is our part. That’s the choice of obedience, and God will honour that by transforming us a little each day until His Word is fulfilled. If God says we shall be holy, then holy we shall be. But it will mean that on the day He makes us ‘perfectly holy,’ that’s the day we cease to exist as self. The all of God’s holiness requires the removal of the all of our unholiness.
Lord, we acknowledge Your holiness today, and that we are simply weak and sinful creatures that desperately need Your grace. Stir up in us a hunger and thirst for Your holiness. Help us to remain set apart from the wickedness of the world, so that we can manifest You to those who need You so desperately. Grant us the grace to seek holiness in every small moment, and to rest in the faith that what You have decreed shall come to pass.