Holiness and a holy lifestyle are without question very important for us who are Christians. However, regarding the question how we are to get there, the opinions differ. A major belief in the body of Christ is that we are saved by grace, but that we after having been saved must strive to become holy. The message we often hear is subsequently that we need to “chase after”, “long for”, or “cry out for” holiness. As a result, we sing songs with lyrics like “Lord, I am desperate for You”, “Come and be with me”, “I hunger and thirst for more of You”, “Make me holy”, and so on.
It all sounds spiritual and good, and the intentions are probably good, but I submit to you that this actually contradicts the Gospel and the New Covenant. There are some scriptures in the New Testament that seem to indicate that we need to strive, or work, to become holy. But I claim that if we were to read those scriptures in light of the context, we would understand and interpret them completely differently.
For example, in the book of Hebrews, we read:
”Pursue [other translations say, “strive for”] peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord”. (Hebr. 12:14)
This scripture seems to tell us that we can only see the Lord if we pursue, or chase after, holiness. But in order to understand this verse correctly, we need to study the verses before and after, and have some knowledge about the context and what the whole book of Hebrews is about. The following verse actually says:
”looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God…” (Heb. 12:15).
In connection to the admonition that we should pursue holiness, we are told to be careful so that no one steps out of God’s grace! Grace means undeserved, or unmerited, favor. The point with grace, is that our fellowship with God is not based on our performance, but only based on what Jesus has done for us.
The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians, who suffered persecution because of that they had received Jesus. Because of this persecution, these Jewish Christians were tempted to turn back to Judaism and the Old Covenant, in order to be accepted again in the Jewish society. The whole letter is written in defense of the New Covenant and the finished work of Jesus. The message is: Don’t go back to the Old Covenant, stay in the New Covenant. Don’t go back to the law, stay with grace, even if it leads to persecution!
Earlier in chapter 10, the author points out that we believers have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10), and that those who have been sanctified also have been “perfected forever” (Heb. 10:14). This seems to contradict the notion that we must strive for, or pursue, holiness to see God.
I believe that when the writer of the book of Hebrews said that “without holiness no one will see the Lord”, he was saying that the only way we can have fellowship with God is through faith in Jesus, and not through the Jewish religion. To “strive for holiness” is to pursue fellowship with God through Jesus Christ alone, because scripture teaches us that Jesus himself has been made holiness for us.
“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30)
Sanctification, or holiness, is not something we should chase after as if we do not already have it. Holiness is a person, and that person is Jesus Christ! When we have Him we are righteous, holy, and blameless before God. To pursue holiness is stay focused on Jesus and what He has done for us. I have good news: He is not far away. He lives in us, if we have received Him. To always connect with Jesus who lives in us – that is true holiness and sanctification.
The approach of the Old Covenant is that we are not holy and therefore must strive to become holy. Only after we have lived holy enough, will God love us, work in our lives, and have intimate fellowship with us. The New Covenant turs this way of thinking upside down. When we receive Jesus we are made righteous, holy and blameless before God as a free gift. It’s part of the salvation package. It’s a done deal. The work is finished. That is why Paul was writing to the “saints” in Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, etc. Paul called them “saints” although they were far from perfect in themselves and in their conduct. Before He instructed them about how to live out the Christian life, he always began by establishing them in who they – by grace – already were in Christ.
How can we live holy? It starts with us receiving this simple but profound truth: I am holy because I have Jesus. He is my righteousness, sanctification and redemption. The more we renew our mind in conformity with this truth, the more godly and holy our lifestyle will become.
Respectfully, I say the following: If your approach to holiness (if you are a born-again Christian) is that you are not holy, and need to strive for, cry out for, or work for, holiness, you will still be in the same situation 10, 20, and 30 years from now. Even then, you will still have the same sense of being insufficient, neither good nor holy enough. The same prayer requests you have today, you will also be having then.
Could it be that we have put the cart before the horse when it comes to sanctification and holiness? Could it be that we have more to learn than what we traditionally have been taught on this subject? Is there a better and more effective way to arrive at the end result we all desire: that Christians live a holy lifestyle?
I humbly submit that we need to renew our minds with New Covenant realities regarding holiness. Holy living is not a rootof relationship with God, nor the condition for intimacy with Him. Holy living is a fruit of relationship and intimacy with God.
”Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh. (Heb. 10:19-20)
Jesus has opened the way for us to come before the throne of grace, into the most holy place. There is no more intimate place than that! Intimacy with God is not for a Christian elite group, who has measured up to a certain standard of holiness. Intimacy with God is for every child of God, i.e. every believer in Jesus!
The way is open. Let us walk through the open door, boldly approach the throne of grace, and have intimate fellowship with God. In that fellowship, we are changed, from glory to glory, into the image of Christ.
”But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord”. (2 Cor. 3:18)