Holiness is a biblical concept and mentioned in the Bible over six hundred times. It is one of the central themes of Leviticus and other books of the Bible. 1 Peter 1:16 says, “Be holy because I am holy.” But what does that look like for Christians today? How do we live lives that are holy? Is that even possible? To grasp the concept of holiness we need to go back to the very beginning of Genesis.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. – Genesis 1:3-5, NKJV
God saw that the light was good! Then He did something remarkable. He divided the light from the darkness. This act of separating the light from the darkness has been happening ever since the beginning of creation. We need to remember this as we go forward in this series because living holy lives for a Christian requires we separate ourselves from the darkness. But what is the “darkness”? How do we define it? We start by looking at how God established the light. How did He go about showing people how to live in the light? He began with a chosen nation He called Israel.
It was to these people that God gave The Ten Commandments and other laws that would teach them what it meant to be holy. They, in turn, were to be an example to the world of what holiness was supposed to resemble. This was after Adam & Eve sinned. It would be many, many years before God “laid down the law” so to speak – literally. He had to give His people laws or boundaries to follow so they could learn what holiness meant, how holy God was, and how wrong it is to approach a holy God in a sinful state.
These laws covered everything from the actions of the priests, to what the people could eat and wear, to sexual sins. Up until God gave these laws to Moses, everyone was pretty much doing their own thing. They did what they thought was right in their own eyes. And when we do that, we slowly start to step away from living holy lives for God, to doing what “feels” right to us and before we know it, we are living in the darkness once again.
So God established Laws for His people to follow. To set them on the right path – one that honours Him. Once these laws were established, a priesthood was created responsible for making sure the people they led followed the rules (Deuteronomy 33:10). These priests were considered holy before God (Leviticus 21:6) because they were responsible for setting an example for the people on how God expected them to live. Unfortunately, even the priests fell into sin, and when that happened, the nation of Israel modelled their behaviour. Ezekiel 22:26 says the priests profaned the Lord. Meaning they treated Him as common and did not honour or respect Him.
In Leviticus 10:1-5, the priests of God who were sons of Aaron (Moses brother) profaned the Lord by offering Him “strange fire.” It is thought that this strange fire was similar to what the pagan Canaanites offered to their false gods. For their disobedience and betrayal, God consumed them with fire. As priests of God, they were supposed to be an example to the people, but their actions (incorporating idol worship with the worship of God) could have lead the people of Israel into further sin. To prevent this, God destroyed them.
So how does this apply to us today? 1 Peter 2:5-9 confirms that believers in Christ have the same responsibility as the priests of God did in the Temple. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “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.”
As representatives of God in the world our behaviour, what we do, what we say, should always be to glorify God, to treat Him as Holy. God established Laws for the Israelites to separate them from the evil nations around them and to define sin (Ezra 10:11; Romans 5:13; 7:7). But as I said last time, rules will not make you holy. The Laws God gave resulted in the people becoming slaves to those Laws, but it also demonstrated that no one could purify themselves enough to stand before God. We needed a Saviour!
1 Peter 1:15-16 says, “…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’”
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says we “are the light of the world” and so that “light” or holiness must be evident to those who walk in the darkness.
Last week I challenged you to ask one question before you spoke or acted on anything – will God be glorified? So how did you do? How do you think the church as a whole is doing in this area? As priests of God are we profaning His name or glorifying it?
Some Christians have locked themselves away in their church community “too holy” to associate with sinners. Forgetting that the church is already full of them (redeemed but still sinners). They are not following the example of our Lord who regularly associated with those who were still trapped in darkness. Jesus offered friendship to the sinner. He ate with them, talked with them, met them on their level and no doubt laughed with them. He healed them of not just physical diseases but emotional and spiritual as well. He didn’t berate them for their lifestyles. He didn’t call them hateful names. He accepted them for who they were, welcoming them with love, and because He was the Light of God, He didn’t have to point out to them what their sins were. They already knew. How? Because God’s light reveals to everyone their darkness – those areas where they are still trapped in sin.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some Christians have made the mistake of condoning specific sins to appease those living in the darkness. This is not the way of Jesus either. Jesus’ never tolerated sin but left it up to the individual on what they would do with their lives. More often than not, most people, when confronted with the love and light of Christ, know they are not worthy to stand in His presence, and so they repent and turn from the darkness to begin life anew.
As believers in Christ, it falls to us to be God’s light in a dark world. But for many Christians, believing in Jesus and knowing “about” him is not the same as “knowing” him. And sometimes it takes a lifetime of learning to figure that out.
Galatians 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” We understand this to mean that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within us. Yes, we can learn more about Jesus through the Holy Scriptures. But, to know Him we have to listen to the Holy Spirit that resides in us. We can have “Christ-like” behaviour, but practising holiness is not about behaving like Jesus, it is allowing the Holy Spirit free reign to live in us and work through us. This is super hard to do because much of what we experience in this life is fear-based – fear of illness, fear we’ll lose our jobs, fear a loved one will die, fear we’ll fail a test, fear of rejection, fear of pain, fear for our children, and a general fear of the unknown. We unknowingly give ourselves over to fear every day without even thinking about it in one form or another. And what does the Bible say? “Perfect love casts out fear.”
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
The second step in practising holiness is to allow the Holy Spirit to reign in your life. Recognize that if you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, then He has done what He said He would do – He sent His Holy Spirit to live within you. Now let Him show you what being united with Him is like. Don’t become a slave to the law and your fears again! You can never be good enough on your own. Let the Holy Spirit inhabit you in all areas of your life. He will convict people of their sin. Not you. He will speak the words that need to be heard through you. He will be the one bringing love and light to the lost. You will be the vessel that He uses to do it. All glory goes to God so that your heart and head do not get puffed up with pride.
Take stock of yourself this week and check what fears still enslave you in this world. Confess them to God and trust the Holy Spirit to work through you. And remember, we are not of this world. Eternity doesn’t start after death, it has already begun. Live with that thought in mind. You are a child of God and not of this world. This week, remember who resides within you and listen to Him. Everything else will fall naturally into place as you walk in step with the Spirit.