Christianity 101: Holiness
Last week, we talked about God’s solution to sin: Jesus’ death and resurrection. He died as a sacrifice for us. He paid the penalty for our sins and restored our relationship with God.
Before the cross, we were enslaved to sin. We couldn’t avoid it. But because of the cross, we’re free to live lives that please God.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…
Now, people throughout history have been tempted to say that since God forgave us, we can do whatever we want. Even the Jews were tempted by that idea: after all, they were God’s chosen people.
But remember, God is a God of holy love. He loves us and accepts us and forgives us, and He also wants us to do what’s right. That’s why He gave the Law to the Jews in the first place: to show them right and wrong, to show them how to live a life that pleases Him.
I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
And it’s not just for those under the Law. Look at what Jesus says:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Clearly, God wants us to live holy lives. He wants us to live lives that please Him.
Now, I must acknowledge that how this works is a point of contention for some. Beliefs about the details of holiness are dividing lines between a number of Christian denominations. While this lesson will have a bit of a Wesleyan slant, I’ll try to stick to the basics we all agree on.
Back to Matthew 5:8. When I first read that, I got pretty scared. I didn’t think it was possible, certainly not for me. I had read the other passages that say everyone has fallen short, and I couldn’t figure out how they fit together.
But God has given us a way to live holy lives. He has forgiven us through the cross, and He Himself empowers us from within to do what we otherwise couldn’t.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…
Our personal holiness is made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit within us. When we become Christians, God comes to live in us. The third person of the Trinity enters us, changing us from the inside out. Here’s how God puts it in the Book of Ezekiel:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
With the Holy Spirit within us, we become more sensitive to God. We are more deeply connected to Him. We are empowered to follow God in ways we never could have otherwise. And yet (here’s the Wesleyan slant), we still don’t have to do what He says. We can choose to cooperate with Him or not.
Do not quench the Spirit.
-1 Thessalonians 5:19
The implication is, we have the option to quench the spirit. Similarly:
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Thus, it’s our duty as followers of Christ to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. So, where does the Holy Spirit lead us? What does practical holiness look like? The passage in Ephesians has some great examples. He leads us to become forgiving, kind, and compassionate; He leads us to get rid of bitterness, anger, fighting, and malice.
Paul gives us another helpful list in his letter to the Galatians:
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
For the most part, this is stuff we all know. Our conscience tells us we should be kind, not vengeful; self-controlled, not lustful; generous, not jealous; and so on.
The fact that so much of the New Testament gives us guidelines in how to live suggests that holiness is a process. We don’t become perfect as soon as we become Christians. But then, I think we all know that.
So what happens when we fail? What if we sin, even though we’re believers, even though we’re expected to be holy?
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
-1 John 1:9
God is a God of holy love: righteousness and forgiveness. He wants us to turn back to Him, admit that we’ve done wrong, and try not to do it again. That’s what the word “repent” means. It literally means “turn” (in Hebrew) or “change your mind” (in Greek).
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
-2 Corinthians 7:10
Paul is saying that the point of guilt is to lead us to repentance. And if we repent, we don’t need to feel guilty anymore. But if we hang on to guilt, it drags us down. It can even hinder us from pursuing holiness.
Holiness is a continual process. We won’t be done with it until we reach Heaven. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit to make it possible, and to help us along the way. Not only that, but there are lots of practical things we can do to cooperate with the Spirit. Next week, we’ll talk about the disciplines we can use to maintain our connection with God and grow in holiness.
Posted on April 2, 2012, in Christianity, God, Holiness, The Bible and tagged Christianity, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, love, redemption, religion, spirituality, The Bible. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.