walk in the word
As obedient children, … like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.’
1 Peter 1:14-16
What image does that word conjure up in your mind? My earliest image of holiness is standing in a little country Baptist church. I was maybe five years old, staring straight ahead with my brothers all stiff and stale, my suit and tie choking the life out of me. In the same row were my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, each gripping the pew in front of them till their knuckles turned white. They sang “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” at the top of their lungs with a medieval organ backing their trio.
For me, God’s holiness was connected with the clock ever so slowly ticking out the remaining minutes of the monotonous message while I squirmed on the hard seat longing to be free from constraint. Do you relate in some way to that picture?
Possibly you think of holiness as a list of rules to freeze freedom and crush creativity. Maybe you have known some people who claimed to be fired up about holiness but there’s nothing appealing about their legalistic lifestyle or plastic perspective on living a God-centered life.
That’s not God’s holiness. No human standard of goodness or man-made regulation of righteousness could ever substitute for a fearful and wonderful encounter with the living God. A true glimpse of His holiness rocks your world to the core. In fact, we are only prepared to comprehend the grace of God when we have understood His infinite holiness and our incredible sinfulness. Any presentation of the gospel which leaves out that truth is incomplete. It’s the holiness of God that casts us upon His mercy.
Try to remember that next time you are tempted to gloss over a sin in your life. “Well, it’s not that bad.” Or “everyone understands.” Refuse that rationalization. Allow God to grip your heart with this truth and you’ll find you have no more patience for your own lame excuses!
God allowed the prophet Isaiah to peak into His heavenly throne room and glimpse His holiness like no human has ever done. And Isaiah was seriously laid out by what he saw. Isaiah’s vision of this scene above the ceiling (see Isaiah 6) is one we desperately, desperately need in the church today. Why? Because it blows away the comfortable, manageable God we’ve fashioned for ourselves. It reminds us how small we are and how great He is. So great in fact, that He is unapproachable except in the ways He has prescribed.
Isaiah, overcome with his own sinfulness before God’s holiness, experienced the grace and mercy that flows from His throne. Picture the scene in Isaiah 6:6-7: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’”
Contrary to popular opinion God does not offer to forgive us simply so we can come to a crisis of conversion and receive the eternal benefits of His forgiveness. God cleanses us because He wants to transform us, to make us holy just as He is.
First Peter 1:14-19 completes this truth, “As obedient children, … like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.’… Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
So this infinitely holy, immeasurable, unalterable, unfathomable God says, “I’ve cleansed you for holiness.” Think of that. “I want you to be like Me—holy. I’ve done what you could not do so you would have this incredible opportunity to be holy—now go for it.”
I began this devotional sharing the distorted perception I had of God’s holiness as a child. I had to learn that God’s holiness is not some abstract character trait to be admired like a fine painting or an antique car. God’s holiness draws us to purity. What God forbids as sin He does because He knows us. Every time God says “don’t,” what He really means is “don’t hurt yourself.” When we choose to sin we choose to suffer. All the pain and suffering in our world is the result of humanity rejecting this call to holiness. But you can accept it today. You can embrace the reality of God’s transforming work unto genuine, lasting joy-producing holiness.
Will you let the holiness of our awesome God take you and shake you so that you can never see temptation as tempting again? Begin by rejecting the kind of surface adjustments that substitute for holiness in so many corners of Christ’s kingdom. This may be God’s wake-up call to you. Or perhaps you need to examine if a hyper-grace mentality has eclipsed your vision of an exalted and holy God who is calling you to live a lifestyle that is truly set apart for Him! As you are forgiven and cleansed, I challenge you to respond to God today with a passionate pursuit of genuine Christ-likeness.
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