One of the first identifying marks of a growing Christian is the pursuit of holiness. God has called every Christian to a holy life. There are no exceptions to this call. It is not a call only to pastors, missionaries, and a few dedicated Sunday school teachers. Every Christian, whether rich or poor, learned or unlearned, influential or unknown, is called to be holy. The powerful politician and the struggling student, the wealthy professional and the shoe store clerk are all alike called to be holy.
This call to holiness is based on the fact that God Himself is holy. Peter wrote, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15–16). Because God is holy, He requires that we be holy.
What is holiness? Is it obeying a lot of rules or wearing a certain style of dress? As the above Scripture suggests, holiness is conformity to the character of God. God has called us to be like Him.
The basic meaning of holy is separate. When used of God, it denotes first of all that God as Creator is separate from and above all His creatures. He is the Creator; we are His creatures. Even though God created us in His image, we are still dependent upon Him, while He is totally independent and infinitely above us. The expression transcendent majesty best describes this aspect of God’s holiness. Obviously we cannot be like God in this manner.
However, God is separate not only from His creation but especially from sin. We call this aspect of God’s holiness His moral purity. God cannot have anything to do with sin. He cannot be tempted to sin, nor does He ever excuse or overlook any sin we commit, however small it may be. In fact, the Bible says that God hates sin (see Zechariah 8:17 and Hebrews 1:9). This is the sense in which we are called to be holy as He is holy.
When God calls us to be holy, He calls us to separate ourselves from sin. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” And Peter urges us “to abstain from sinful desires which war against [our] souls” (2 Corinthians 7:1, Hebrews 12:1, 1 Peter 2:11, emphasis added). Purify, throw off, and abstain from are all expressions denoting what it means to separate ourselves from sin.
The apostle John wrote,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15–16)
Here again, we see a strong encouragement to separate ourselves from sin, expressed by John as “Do not love the world or anything in the world.” To pursue holiness is to take aggressive action to separate ourselves both from the sin within us: pride, selfishness, a critical and judgmental spirit, irritability, impatience, sexual lust, and so on, and also to take steps to separate ourselves from the ever-encroaching temptations of society around us.
This does not mean we are to separate ourselves socially from the world but from the sinful influences of the world. We are to be in the world but not swayed by the world. As Paul wrote, “those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them” (1 Corinthians 7:31).
How then do we go about pursuing holiness? Actually, all I have written up to this point is relevant. The foundation of the gospel, the role of the Holy Spirit, the renewal of our minds by the Word of God, the application of Scripture to everyday life, a dependent spirit expressed through prayer, and the mutual help of fellow believers all play a part in the pursuit of holiness.
Since the pursuit of holiness, however, involves a vigorous effort to separate ourselves from sin within and without, there is one further area we need to explore—the matter of our daily choices. Life is a constant series of choices from the time we arise in the morning until we go to bed at night. Many of these choices have moral consequences. For example, the route you choose to drive to your work each morning is probably not morally significant, but the thoughts you choose to think while you are driving and the way you choose to drive are moral choices.
The pursuit of holiness involves a constant series of such choices. We choose in every situation which direction we will go, toward sin or toward holiness. It is through these choices we develop Christlike habits of living. Habits are developed by repetition, and it is in the arena of moral choices that we develop spiritual habit patterns.
We see this development of moral habits in one direction or the other in Romans 6:19, “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” The believers at Rome had formerly offered the parts of their bodies to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness. The more they sinned, the more they were inclined to sin. They were continually deepening their habit patterns of sin simply through their practice of making sinful choices. Paul urged them to make right choices, which would over time lead to holy character.
What was true of the Romans can be just as true of us today. Sin tends to cloud our reason, dull our consciences, stimulate our sinful desires, and weaken our wills. Because of this, each sin we commit reinforces the habit of sinning and makes it easier to give in to that temptation the next time we encounter it. On the other hand, making right choices tends to strengthen our resolve against sin. That’s why the right choices are so important.
Bridges, Jerry. 2004. Growing Your Faith: How to Mature in Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.