Holiness: Is It Attainable Anymore?
by Dale Reeves
Last summer I attended the funeral of my wife’s aunt, who was the twin of my mother-in-law. We spent a week with our family who had gathered in Columbia, Tennessee, to comfort one another, enjoy time together, and celebrate the wonderful life of this selfless servant, the one we all called Aunt Donna. While working on a memorial card to be distributed at the funeral, I asked Aunt Donna’s two daughters what Scripture verse we should put on the card, and they responded, “Why don’t you pick something out, because our mom has soooo many verses underlined in her Bible!” This lady spent many hours praying on behalf of her children, grandchildren, and many other family members and friends. I love this line from her obituary: “She had a true servant’s heart, always caring and giving to others.”
A servant. Caring more about others than herself. Giving, loving, showing compassion. I would describe all of these as godly traits. We don’t use that word too much these days, but I would use it to describe Aunt Donna. To be godly means to pursue a life that pleases God, one that seeks to pattern thoughts and actions after the life Jesus modeled for us. It means to pursue a life of holiness, also a word we don’t hear too much about these days.
Perhaps when you hear the word “holiness” it brings to mind a certain group of religious people who try to follow God based on what they don’t do outwardly. You may have grown up with a concept of holiness that said, “I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls who do.” Holiness is not just an outward thing, it begins in the mind and the heart. At least six times in the book of Leviticus, God told his people to “Be holy because I am holy.” In the Old Testament, the idea of separateness or holiness was inherent in who God is. He was unapproachable in the tabernacle or temple by ordinary people, being accessible only to priests and only under specified conditions. This was to emphasize God’s separateness from the sins of the people and from the pagan idols of the lands surrounding Israel. To be holy for us means to be “set apart” for God’s purposes.
In his classic book, The Pursuit of Holiness, author Jerry Bridges has said, “We become so accustomed to our sins we sometimes lapse into a state of peaceful coexistence with them, but God never ceases to hate them. . . . As we grow in holiness, we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin.” A person striving after holiness might be described as having strong moral character and integrity in the midst of an ungodly culture—like Noah, Abraham, Esther, and Joseph exhibited in the Bible.
Si Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, said this, “I go out into America, and I am literally navigating a minefield. Godliness has become abnormal.” https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/godliness
That’s the problem. What’s the solution? Is living a life of holiness attainable in the sex-crazed, self-absorbed, me-first social media culture we must navigate today? Is it really possible to be “in the world,” but not “of it”? (See 1 John 2:15, 16.)
I think part of the key to not being consumed by the ungodliness of our age is found in 1 Peter 1:17-19, “Live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ” (NIV). In describing us, the New Living Translation uses the phrase “temporary residents.”
We must view our time here on earth as a temporary “current status,” not our long-term eternal home. To pursue holiness in our day-to-day living requires that we intentionally focus our eyes toward God and our desired forever home in Heaven. If we spent more time asking, “What kind of eternal consequences does this decision have?” we would avoid lots of pitfalls and sins in our lives. Our actions would be different from much of the rest of the world not because we are perfect, but because Christ has saved us from ourselves. People are looking for authenticity in our lives, not perfection, because we all recognize that none of us has it perfectly together.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not exactly. The arsenal God has provided at our disposal consists of a number of essentials. What provisions for holiness has he supplied? And how do we access them and put them into practice? He has provided his Word for us, something that is so easy to take for granted—because it is always there. He has provided his peace that surrounds us in those dark times when we simply do not have any answers to the tough questions like “Why did this happen to my loved one?” He has provided full access to boldly approach him any time with our prayers and petitions. He has provided a place for us to be ourselves, to gather together in his name as the body of Christ that meets regularly for mutual edification, teaching, support, and comfort. All of these he has provided as a means for us to counteract the corruption (unholiness) we face in this world.
It’s interesting that part of the definition for “religion” that James, the Lord’s brother, uses in James 1:27 includes keeping “oneself from being polluted by the world” (NIV). This is not just a passive avoidance of bad behavior but an active pursuit of good behavior. It doesn’t describe a void as much as it does an intentional presence of good—of holiness. We don’t need any special talent or equipment. God has given to each of us everything we need to pursue holiness.
So, what do we do to pursue this holiness in our personal lives? Say yes to the right things and no to the wrong things? Is it more than that? I believe it is achievable when we realize we cannot do it on our own, but only through the power we are given through the Holy Spirit. For it is in knowing that we, in and of ourselves, are far away from holiness that allows us to pursue the holiness Christ calls us to.
Want to hear more about this topic? Join us this coming Sunday at Christ’s Church at 9:00 or 10:30 am or watch online here as we talk about committing our very selves to God.