As children of God, we are called to walk in holiness.
However, holiness is frequently viewed as a huge unattainable feat. It is perceived as an attribute that describes God and Jesus, but not us. After all, “we are only human.” But regardless of how we may feel, the believers in the New Testament were often referred to as holy, which means that holiness should be a central part of our lives today.
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters who share in the heavenly calling… Hebrews 3:1
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…. Colossians 3:12
Table of contents
- 1 What is holiness?
- 2 We are commanded to live holy lives
- 3 Holiness comes from God
- 4 Conclusion
- 5 Walking in Holiness, Walking in the Love of God
- 6 1. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Avoid Basic Mistakes
- 7 2. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Combat Grave Dangers
- 8 3. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Cultivate Joyful Dependence
- 9 The Love of God
- 10 4. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Recapture a Biblical Vision
- 11 5. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Be Recaptured by a Powerful Story
What is holiness?
Holiness is simply ‘separation unto God.’ It involves walking with God and allowing Him total access to all areas of our lives. It is daily yielding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit so that our attitudes, behaviors and responses line-up with the living Word of God.
Holiness involves purity in our thoughts, words and deeds. This includes having a pure heart and meditating on the Word of God instead of allowing dark negative thoughts to overcome us. Speaking God’s words of faith into all situations instead of allowing our tongues to stir our lives in the wrong direction; and acting like Jesus would when confronted with different circumstances.
Holiness is putting God first and obeying Him even when we do not feel like it. Casting off the flesh with all its deceitful desires and imitating God.
We are commanded to live holy lives
God has commanded us to be holy.
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14
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
As we obey God’s command, our fellowship with Him is strengthened resulting in a deeper walk with Him as He manifests Himself to us more and more. But we need to rely on Him daily because our holiness comes from Him and not from our own strength.
Holiness comes from God
You cannot ‘holy’ yourself. Holiness comes from God.
First and foremost, you are made positionally holy at the new birth by God because He has made you the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Then, as a result of your position in Christ, you are enabled to walk in holiness through the grace of God by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives and dwells in you.
SELAH: Stop and Ponder!
Then, I’m going to say the same thing again in a slightly different way for emphasis.
Holiness is imputed to us by God because of Jesus Christ. Then, we are to respond by walking in holiness through the help of God.
Therefore, as believers, we are both declared holy by God (positionally) and also called to live a lifestyle of holiness, which reflects our relationship to God. Holiness not only refers to what we do, but also to who we are.
Reflect on the Scriptures below.
But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. Colossians 1:22
He saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. 2 Timothy 1:9
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. Ephesians 1:4
If He saved us, called us and chose us to be holy before the beginning of time/creation of the world, then it means that our holiness originates from Him, not us (because we weren’t here at the beginning of time). As the Scriptures point out, He did it because of His own purpose and grace not based on our works or anything we may have done.
God has made you holy and given you the ability to walk in holiness. However, it will not manifest in your life until you make a concrete decision to obey Him and walk with Him in light of what He has already done for you.
I pray that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened so that you will fully accept God’s gift of righteousness. And as you do, I pray that you will live a holy life, set apart to God through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in you.
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Except where indicated, Scriptures are taken from the NIV.
Walking in Holiness, Walking in the Love of God
The testimony of Scripture is clear: if we want to walk in the way of holiness, the love of God is indispensable to our progress. God’s love for his people is the foundation for all holy living and our love for him its most essential mark. In turn, to remain on the path of holy obedience, we need the power of God’s love in the present and the hope of its fullness in the future.
For Christians who want their growth in holiness to be informed by these biblical truths, five implications follow:
1. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Avoid Basic Mistakes
Scripture holds together truths that God’s people are prone to separate. Holiness is motivated by the grace of God’s love for us and requires the work of loving him by obeying his commands; God’s love is freely offered in forgiveness and is a blessing promised on condition of obedience; loving him is a matter of the heart and the will. Though the relationship between the love of God and growth in holiness has a fundamental rhythm (“We love because he first loved us” ), it is a mistake to allow one aspect of biblical truth to drown out others. Likewise, it is a mistake to conceive of love for God in a way that divorces passion for him from obedience to him.
Holiness is motivated by the grace of God’s love for us and requires the work of loving him by obeying his commands;
2. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Combat Grave Dangers
The steadfast love of God should thrill us as “better than life” (Ps. 63:3). But as the case of Jonah reminds us, it is possible for God’s love to become nothing more than a sterile fact that we recite and resent (Jonah 4:2). Jesus similarly warns that in the last days, as “lawlessness” increases, “the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). In a hostile world, surrounded with temptations to idolatry and given to hardness of heart, we can sustain a holy life only through passionate love for God and appreciation of his love for us.
3. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Cultivate Joyful Dependence
To combat danger, we must cultivate passion—but how? Jesus teaches that where many sins are forgiven, much love results (Luke 7:40–47); to state the principle more broadly, divine love is best appreciated by those who need it most. Passionate love for God will therefore flourish best when we joyfully embrace our utter dependence on his love—whether as sinners in need of forgiveness or as creatures in need of daily bread. Let us then “keep selves in the love of God” (Jude 21), employing every means possible to discover in all of Scripture, and in all of life, the ever enduring, earth-filling, steadfast love of the Lord!
The Love of God
Christopher W. Morgan
Featuring contributions from a number of well-known evangelical scholars, this comprehensive study sets forth a biblical understanding of the love of God from the perspectives of systematic theology, biblical theology, ethics, apologetics, and more.
4. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Recapture a Biblical Vision
Rather than softening the demands of holiness, emphasis on the love of God intensifies them: to properly honor God’s love for us, we must love him, and him alone, with all that we are (Deut. 6:5), and we must be ready to serve sacrificially not only neighbors but even enemies (Rom. 5:8). Nor, if we truly love what God loves, can we be satisfied with a privatized piety, for we are called to delight, as he does, in “practic steadfast love, justice, and righteousness” in all the earth (Jer. 9:24). Simply put, God’s vision for the world, and for the role of his holy people in it, is too spectacular to be achieved in response to anything less than his love.
5. To Walk in Holiness, We Must Be Recaptured by a Powerful Story
Thankfully, the love of God not only defines the demands of holiness but provides us with strength to pursue it. Therefore God’s vision for the world, and for his people, also includes frequent retelling of the story of his powerful love. It is powerful enough to awaken the dead: “God . . . because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5); powerful enough to save the world: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); powerful enough, even, to change the way we live: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
1. In classical terms, love for God requires both complacentia (satisfaction) and benevolentia (good will); see David Clyde Jones, Biblical Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids. MI: Baker, 1994), 44–48.
2. In view is love for Christ and the gospel; G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 230–31. Cf. Rev. 2:4 with Hos. 6:4.
C. D. “Jimmy” Agan III (PhD, Aberdeen University) is professor of New Testament and director of homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the author of The Imitation of Christ in the Gospel of Luke: Growing in Christlike Love for God and Neighbor.