We believe that Christians are called to live a holy life of service and testimony for the glory of God and the well-being of their fellow man.
There never lived a man who was too holy, and there never will live a man who will imitate Christ too closely. Throughout the pages of the Bible, there is a consistent call for a disciple of Jesus to pursue holy living. How would you define holy living? What if you were approached and asked, “Why does God place a high premium upon holy living, and what does that mean for my life?” How would you respond?
There are many passages in the Bible that discuss holy living, but Leviticus 11 is the introduction. “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44-45). We often skip Leviticus as it can be confusing; however, in the context of this passage we see God forming the people of Israel into a nation, a people set apart for Him, different but attractive to a hurting world, who will bless the nations and reflect God.
Be holy. It’s hard to miss how straightforward God’s command is, yet we struggle with living it out. The Barna Research Group conducted a study on Americans and the concept of holy living, and their findings are fascinating. When asked to describe what it means to be holy, the most common reply was, “I don’t know.” Of those who identified as “Born Again Christians,” only 46% believed “God has called them to holiness.” The study concluded, “The results portray a body of Christians who attend church and read the Bible but do not understand the concept or significance of holiness, do not personally desire to be holy, and therefore do little, if anything to pursue it.”
The Holiness of God
Could it be that we struggle to define holy living because we have a limited understanding of God’s holiness? Notice how God concluded his call to holy living in Leviticus 11: “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” What does it mean for God to be holy? The essence of God’s holiness is that He is separate from us and unlike anything we can imagine.
When our youngest son was 3 years old, he unwaveringly requested us to sing the great hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” each night before he went to bed. He loved the hymn! But I soon realized that singing this hymn was equally about my heart as it was for my son. I would sing those words, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God almighty…” each night, but I did so with little awareness as to what I was singing. Never did I stop and consider what was coming from my mouth and what it really means for God to be holy. This was a far cry from the experience Isaiah had with God’s holiness.
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah witnesses the angels around the throne of God, and they are crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3) Three times the angels refer to God as holy, but what does this mean? Jerry Bridges provides some helpful insight here:
“Such a threefold repetition in Hebrew indicates the highest possible degree or, as we could say, the infiniteness of God’s holiness. What is infinite? The distance to the known edge of the universe is said to be about thirteen billion light-years away. Stated in miles, that would be about 78,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. To save you counting, that is twenty-one zeros! Seventy-eight billion, trillion miles. That is an exceedingly vast distance, but it is not an infinite distance. Infinite means without limits and immeasurable. Only God is infinite, and He is infinite in all of His glorious attributes. But it is only His holiness that is given the threefold ascription “holy, holy, holy.”
There are times in life when we live and view ourselves as much bigger and more powerful than we truly are, and there are times in life when we are right-sized and get a glimpse of how very small and weak we are. For example, have you ever stood at the base of Pikes Peak in Colorado or at the shore of the ocean? In that moment of looking up at Pikes Peak’s 14,000-foot elevation, you will undoubtedly feel small. Why does a massive structure like Pikes Peak right-size us, but the infinite holiness of God doesn’t shrink us an inch?
First, we tend to have a deluded view of God’s holiness. A.W. Tozer explains, “God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable… Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard.”
Second, we tend to have a deluded view of ourselves. The Puritan John Owen said, “There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of men…a due consideration of God, and then of ourselves. Of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject and sinful condition.” Instead of taking an honest assessment of our brokenness and nothingness, we play the comparison game in hopes of feeling better about ourselves. We justify our lack of holiness by comparing ourselves with those whose behavior is less holy than ours. Notice that we rarely if ever involve God in our comparison game, because deep down we know He would dominate.
The comparison game isn’t the only way that we deal with our lack of holiness. Sometimes, we drift into isolation because we are paralyzed by the guilt and shame of our unholiness. Do you tend to keep conversations at a surface level? You only talk about your kids, your career, your hobbies, and your lawn, and you never let people in to the messiness of your life. Is preserving your reputation more important to you than living in transparent community that seeks sanctification in Christ?
This is where Isaiah is a great example for us as to how we embrace the infinite holiness of God and our infinite lack of holiness. After getting just a small glimpse of God’s holiness, Isaiah responds, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5) An authentic response to God’s holiness produces a desire to live holy lives, and God’s holiness refines out of us our old desires.
How do we grow in holy living? We must first understand that holy is not something we are told to be to arrive at a religious “status,” but holy living is something we give our lives to, because holy is what we already are! The greatest motivation for you and I to live holy lives is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t seek holiness out of shame, or the possibility of feeling guilt when we stumble, or because we know that we are supposed to be living holy. God has given us a much more sufficient motivation. Scripture tells us, “For our sake he made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Christ, in his infinite holiness, took on the dirtiness and darkness of our hearts, often referred to as “The Great Exchange.” Jerry Bridges sums it up in this remarkable way, “God took our sin—even that which causes immediate distress— & charged it to Christ. He took His perfect righteousness & credited it to us.” Jesus didn’t die for us because we were holy; he died for us to make us holy! You are fully loved and accepted by God not because of your trying to live holy but because of Jesus’ holiness and sacrifice for you. Do we truly understand that right now, our standing before God is the perfect and holy life of Jesus, which means we are free from the guilt and condemnation of sin and are sufficiently clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ? Why is this vital to grasp? God has cleansed us and freed us to live a holy life that glorifies Him and points to the world to Him! Therefore, the anthem of our life should sing out, “Be holy, as He is holy!”
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges