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« A Member of God’s Holy People | Home | Week in Review: April 22-27 »

Called to Holiness

By Mark D. Roberts | Friday, April 27, 2007

Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

In my last post I explained that all Christians are saints, in the biblical sense of the word. All who put their faith in Jesus Christ have been set apart by God for relationship with Him and to serve Him as special people in the world. So, if you’re a Christian, you are a saint, no matter whether you live like it or not.

Of course the ultimate Saint, the One who is uniquely set apart from creation, is God Himself. In Scripture, God claims to be holy (Lev 19:2), is worshipped as holy (Ps 99:9), is called “the Holy God” (Isa 5:16) and “the Holy One of Israel” (Isa 43:3). God’s holiness embraces, not only His distinctness from creation, but His utter perfection: morally, spiritually, and aesthetically.

For those of us who belong to God, acknowledgment of His supreme holiness leads to a surprising implication. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus God calls His people to be like Him in holiness: “You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own” (Lev 20:26). The context for this passage shows that Israel’s holiness impacts how people live, in a moral and spiritual excellence modeled after that of God.

Lest we think that this standard applies only to the Israelites, in the New Testament Peter applies it to those who are God’s children through Christ:

Obey God because you are His children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of doing evil; you didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God—who chose you to be His children—is holy. For he himself has said, “You must be holy because I am holy” (1 Pet 1:14-16).

That which the Lord once applied to Israel now directs our lives. We must be holy because God is holy. Our holiness comprises, not just our religious activities, but everything we do. Since we have been set apart from the world, we must no longer engage in the evil behavior that characterized our “old ways,” but instead we must live in obedience to God as his children.

Returning to the Olympics analogy, every now and then we hear of scandals in which athletes test positively for illegal drugs. These stories make news, in part, because they are so rare. The vast majority of Olympians recognize that their “sainthood” or “set-apart-ness” requires a “holy” or “set-apart” lifestyle. They refrain not only from illegal substances, but also from the junk food the rest of us love to consume. They don’t abuse their bodies through inactivity. They live differently because they have been dedicated to a special, higher athletic purpose. (Most Olympic athletes don’t choose to be couch potatoes.)

And so it must be for us, as God’s holy people. Many of the activities we once enjoyed are now seen in a new light, as compromising our sainthood by drawing us away from God and God’s purposes. Consider Sunday mornings, for example. Most non-Christian people I know fill their first waking hours of Sunday with “doing nothing” — eating food, relaxing over the morning paper, or watching news shows and sporting events. None of these activities could be counted as obviously sinful. In fact, they sound pretty attractive, to tell the truth! Yet, even new believers in Jesus understand that their sainthood requires a change in Sunday morning behavior. They start attending worship services, often rising early enough to join an adult class or fellowship group. Sleeping in and lounging around in slippers become some of the “old ways” left behind by new believers. Even though a part of us may still yearn for such leisurely moments, we nevertheless commit ourselves to the “set-apart” disciplines of Christian community and celebration. That’s part of what is means to be a saint, a person who is holy even as God is holy.

There are a couple of dangers in what I have just written. First, by choosing the example of church attendance, I might have wrongly implied that holiness is mostly a matter of “doing religious stuff.” Nothing could be farther from the truth! Holiness encompasses all of life.

Second, given what I said about changing your Sunday behavior, you might conclude that being holy is simply a matter of your own effort. Even if you’d rather sleep in on Sunday mornings, you must grit your teeth, drag yourself out of bed and into church because God demands it. To be sure, God expects us to invest our hearts and bodies in living as holy people. But this perspective neglects the true source of our holiness. We are to be holy, not only in imitation of God, but also by His power. In another passage in Leviticus, God says:

So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I, the Lord, am your God. Keep all my laws and obey them, for I am the Lord, who makes you holy (Lev 20:7-8, emphasis added).

Here God commands our holiness, but also claims to be the one who makes us holy. Not only does He set us apart for Himself, but He also supplies the motivation and ability to live holy lives.

I realize that holiness is not a familiar concept in our world. That’s one reason why I’ve used the illustration of Olympic athletes. In your own mind, you might find it helpful when you hear the word “holiness” to replace it with “set-apart-ness” or “specialness for a purpose” or something like this. Indeed, holiness is more than this, but for many of us the word “holiness” sounds old-fashioned and narrowly religious.

When we think of holiness, we might wrongly envision a kind of reclusiveness, something that involves being wholly cut off from the world. In my next post in this series I’ll talk about what it means to be “in the world, but not of the world.”

Topics: Christianity and the World |


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