In our culture, there is a great deal of confusion concerning holiness. Some people view holiness as an impossible burden. Other people see it as the end all to their Christian faith. Anyone who has grown up in church knows that holiness is a vital component of a healthy Christian life. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
However, due to the current state of compromise in the culture and the many compromises occurring in the Church, many Christians have some confusion concerning holiness.
As I was thinking on this subject, several different ideas were going through my mind. But then all of a sudden the Holy Spirit spoke to me and clarified the issue. There are two main types of holiness a believer can be working towards. True holiness or legalistic holiness. It is vital to know the difference.
True holiness comes from a disposition of heart that is so in love with God that a person desires to be set apart unto godliness and separated from evil. This type of holiness is based upon one’s surrender to God. This is the type of holiness that God is looking for.
Legalistic holiness comes from a misunderstanding of God’s grace. Instead of a person putting their full trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross, they feel burdened to prove their faith and belief by separating themselves from the world. Legalistic holiness is fundamentally rooted in fear of not being good enough for God. Therefore, someone seeking legalistic holiness attempts to perfect themselves and also feels compelled to make a big deal about it.
Because Jesus Christ paid for the penalty of sin in full, when a person comes to Him in repentance, faith, and surrender, they are entirely forgiven. Their salvation is not based upon their ability to make themselves holy. In fact, no person can truly make themselves holy if they are relying entirely on their own efforts. They can try to, but they can’t.
God enables us to become holy. I’m not saying that as believers we don’t have the responsibility to live holy lives. In fact, if there is no holiness, it does raise the question if the Holy Spirit has really entered into one’s life and made them “born-again.” But I am saying that the motivation for our desire to be holy makes all the difference.
2 Timothy 1: 9 says “He has 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.” You may be struggling with something that you don’t feel that you can overcome. The good news is the God offers grace for deliverance. Sin is serious, don’t get me wrong. If a person has no desire for holiness or victory over sin, there is a good chance that they are in a very dangerous spiritual place. Generally, they can either think they are saved when they really are not, or part of their life has been taken captive by the devil. If this is you, cry out to Jesus with all of your heart. He will answer. “All who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” – Romans 10:13.
True holiness is based upon God’s grace. When a Christian understands this, they no longer have to live in fear of failing God. God wants us to become holy by submitting to His transformational work in our lives, not because we fear failure. The Gospel is that we are failures. That’s why we need a savior – the Lord Jesus Christ.
True holiness is not easy. It does not come natural. In fact, legalism is more natural, when speaking only of the two, to sinful man than the pursuit of true holiness. But this does not let us off the hook.
God is perfect in every way. His very nature never conforms to anyone or anything. That means that as we experience relationship with Him, we must be the ones to conform. This entire world is rooted in rebellion to God’s authority. That is why the Bible says, “The whole world lies in the hands of the wicked one.” We all must make a choice to pursue God above the entrapments and ensnarement of the world. Legalistic holiness is a snare in itself. It offers no joy and no peace.
True holiness is radical. It makes radical demands on our lives. But it is filled with joy and peace, and it offers something more valuable than what it demands that we give up. It would be like if you had bird food to eat and a person came over and said that they had an entire Christmas dinner with Turkey, Ham, mashed potatoes with piles of gravy and assortment of pies for you. The condition: give up the bird food.
The things that God asks us to give up in this life, the things that at the time seem so real, important, and satisfying are like the bird food. But in this case, a lot of what is offered in this world is offered by Satan with the purpose of bring slavery and death. That is why God as a loving father wants to separate us from sin, to set us apart, to make us holy. He wants to bring us into all He has to give to us: infinite love, unsurpassable joy, never-ending peace, unfathomable community, and an incredible identity.
These things come as we pursue true holiness. Because as we purse true holiness, a holiness that is not based in legalism, we are actually pursing love. To pursue love is to purse God because God is love (1 Jn. 4:8).
So I would like to encourage you today. If you have not been seeking holiness, your destiny and quality of Christian life depends on it. If you have been pursing holiness, I challenge you to determine if you are seeking true holiness or legalistic holiness.
God is making His Church into a people that are set apart from defilement and sin. True holiness is a journey. There are ups and downs. But regardless of how much God would ever ask us to give up in this life, He repays infinitely with His love.