“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Cor. 7:1 (KJV)
Is holiness possible? Does God really expect us to be holy? Only God is holy. Holiness is more like a goal that everyone should strive for but no one really expects to attain, right? Wrong! God would not ask us to do anything that is impossible and He has told us to be holy (Lev. 11:45). As enter into the second week of Lent, I’d like to focus our attention on perfecting holiness.
Believers admit in a recent Barna Research report that they do not know what holiness looks like in their daily life. It isn’t surprising that there is much confusion and anxiety about personal holiness. Believer’s inability to accurately communicate what holiness looks like is usually the results of misinformation they have received in the form of legalistic lists of “do’s and don’ts” which individuals attempt to satisfy in their own strength. These lists do little to move believers closer to achieving personal holiness.
Holiness in the New Testament means to be set apart. In our text, the Apostle Paul admonishes the Church at Corinth to cleanse themselves from “filthiness” and demonstrate life styles of moral purity and dedication to God’s purposes. God’s Word, as communicated by Paul, is still true for believers in the 21st century. So how is the believer to achieve holiness?
Holiness begins as we accept God’s plan of salvation for our life. Once saved, we can come boldly into His Presence at His throne of mercy (Heb. 4:16). In His Presence we renew the relationship that was severed during The Fall (Gen. 3). In relationship with God we learn “His ways” and the paths He has chosen for us (Ps. 24:4-5). In relationship with God, we begin to be transformed. As we stand in the presence of His holiness, we become holy.
Holiness increases as we demonstrate obedience to God the Father. Christ, who was equally with God, submitted Himself to His Father and was obedient even to death on the Cross (Phil. 2:7). Obedience (hupakoe) infers a “willing subjection” to the will of God. Unlike the animals used in sacrifices, Christ came willingly to the Cross, as He expressed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not My will but Yours be done” (Matt. 26:39). Through obedience to God, we become conformed to the image of Christ. We take on the holy character of Christ.
Holiness flourishes as we are filled by the Holy Spirit. We cannot live holy lives in our own physical strength. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are able to take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). We trust that “it is God who is at work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Through the filling of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled and empowered to walk holy.
While it is true that God is holy, He has told us that we too are to be holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). We are to live a lifestyle that reflects our faith and that glorifies His name. Christ will return someday to “present to Himself His glorious church, not having spot nor wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). Holiness is not perfection but it is an expectation.