The word “holy” is common in most cultures, but do you know what it really means? Scripture tells us that God is holy, which means God is “perfect” and “set apart” from all other beings in the universe.
“For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:3 NASB).
The declaration that God is holy is made continually by the Old Testament prophets. Holiness is the foundation of God’s nature. While God is our loving, personal God—our Abba or Daddy in Heaven—He is also holy, which means He is truly awesome and all powerful.
It’s important to also remember that Jesus is Himself God—one and equal with the Father and the Spirit. While he put off the power and glory of His divinity to come to earth as our Savior, He was—and He is—still the holy God. While the disciples couldn’t see this, the demons knew who Jesus was in all the fullness of his divinity.
“Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of
Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the
Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34 NASB).
While Jesus is loving and kind, He is also holy. Peter, James, and John experienced this one day when Jesus allowed them to see Him in his glory up on a high mountain:
“He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun,
and His clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2 ESV).
So God is holy. But here is a radical truth from the Bible—God calls you and me to be holy as well! The apostle Peter writes, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16 NIV).
What It Means to be Holy
The apostle Paul reiterates the Old Testament commandment from God:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy
and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4 NIV).
“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” (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV).
God has always desired his children to walk in holiness. We see this when Moses gave the Law to the people of Israel:
“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45 ESV).
So what does it mean to “be holy because I am holy”? How can we be like God?
This is one of the mysteries and wonders of the Christian faith. The calling to be holy is not hyperbole or some religious, but impossible notion—we can be holy.
The Problem of Sin
Every human being on earth is born with a sinful nature. From our earliest years, once we know right from wrong, we are engaged in sinful behavior. We know it’s wrong to steal that cookie when our mothers tell us not to do it, but we do it anyway and hope we aren’t caught. But while our mothers might not notice this infraction of the rules, God sees everything. Because we know it is wrong, but do it anyway, we commit sin in the eyes of a holy (perfect and awesome) God.
The apostle Paul writes about this human frailty in the seventh chapter of Romans:
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but
I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I
do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is
sin living in me that does it” (vs. 18-20 NLT).
As Paul points out here, we human beings have a problem—and it’s called sin. But as we mentioned in earlier chapters, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross paved the way for our salvation, freeing us from the power of sin.
What does this mean for our sin nature? When we confess our sin and ask Jesus to be our Lord, we receive by faith the gift of salvation that was purchased by His shed blood on Calvary (Acts 20:28). In fact, the blood of Jesus not only covers our sin, it obliterates it.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have
fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son
cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV).
“All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our
sins by shedding his blood for us” (Revelation 1:5 NLT).
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions
and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and
crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24 NLT).
“Christ is the sacrifice that takes away our sins and
the sins of all the world’s people” (1 John 2:2 CEV).
Here is the glorious news for the Christian—because of the blood of Jesus, when God looks at you, He no longer sees your sin, but instead He sees you as holy.
Did you catch that? Because of the power of the shed blood of Jesus, which washes away your sin, you can be holy as He is holy.
The apostle John makes this awe-inspiring statement:
“But you know that Christ appeared to take away sins,
and in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 BSB).
When you are born again, your spirit becomes right with God through Christ, who takes away all sins. This is the Good News!
To Repent and to be Forgiven
“Well, that sounds nice and religious,” you might say, “but I still sin.” You may feel like the person the apostle Paul described again later in Romans 7:24 “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”
But Paul answers his own question in the very next verse: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NLT).
Yes, every Christian sins from time to time, but that doesn’t change our position with God. Sin can hinder our relationship with our Heavenly Father, but if you have faith in Christ, it cannot break that bond permanently.
Again, this is very Good News.
Now, that’s not to say that sin isn’t harmful to us. There are consequences to every action in this life. We don’t want to continue too long in our sin. In order to keep close and intimate fellowship with God, we need to repent of our sin and ask God for forgiveness. To repent is to turn from sin. In the original Biblical language, the word repent means “to change your mind” and it implies regret or remorse for your deeds.
This concept is so important that Jesus began his public ministry with a call to “repent.” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15) Scripture gives a truly remarkable promise regarding the act of repentance.
“If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9 NLT).
This is a double blessing. First, if we humbly confess our sins to God, He promises to forgive those sins. Then He gives us the blanket forgiveness of any sin we have knowingly or unknowingly committed, but may have forgotten. God extends this grace and mercy both because of His great love and also because of the power of the blood of Jesus.
You may feel guilty after committing a sin, but when you confess that sin and turn away from it, the Bible promises that you are once again clean in the eyes of the Lord. Here is another amazing promise from Scripture: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT).
If you confess your sin you are forgiven for all sin—and there is now no condemnation from God. As long as it is “now,” there is no condemnation. And it is always “now”!
You may be thinking, “But what if I forget to confess my sin, and I die in an accident. Am I going to hell because of that sin?”
The answer is no. While man may look on the exterior, God looks on the heart. Our salvation is based on our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross—not on whether every sin we ever did has been confessed.
If you have faith in Jesus as your Lord, then He is your Savior—forever!
God Forgives and Forgets
“But you don’t know the bad things that I’ve done,” you may say with a guilty conscience. If you have confessed those sins and placed your trust in Christ to forgive and save you, then you are free from the mistakes of the past in God’s eyes. This is His promise to you:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has
passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).
Any time you start to feel guilty or condemned for past sins, you need to say this promise out loud. Make it a declaration for yourself: “I am a new creation in Christ. The old has passed away, and the new has come!”
Are you still having difficulty comprehending the love and mercy of our God? Check out this promise from the Bible:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies
never come to an end; they are new every morning; great
is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV).
Every morning when you wake, no matter how you may be feeling, this is another promise to declare over yourself. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ends in my life. His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness to me!”
Know Who You Are in Christ
In one of his famous sermons, the apostle Paul declared, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28 ESV). As you grow in your faith and in your walk with God, it is important to see yourself as being “in Him.” Again, here is God’s promise:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that IN HIM we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).
So what does it mean to be “in Him”?
God is both loving and just, and so in His dealings with mankind throughout the ages, He has done so through what the Bible calls a “covenant.” This is an agreement between God and man that has both promises and conditions—so if the conditions are met, the promise is maintained. In what Jeremiah called the “New Covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31), Jesus represents both God and man through His death and resurrection.
You see the Bible calls Jesus both the Son of God and the Son of Man. Both titles are correct. As the Son of God, Jesus is part of the Trinity—and He is fully God. That is why He was able to truthfully say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 ESV), and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). But Jesus is also fully human, born of a woman with flesh and blood. The Gospel of John tells us of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14 ESV).
So through His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus made a covenant between God and humankind that was sealed by His shed blood. Because He was the Son of God, he could live a sinless life. Because He was the Son of Man—a human being—He could be sacrificed as a representative of mankind. Because He is holy and all powerful, He never sinned and never will sin—and therefore, this is an unbreakable covenant.
God then extended an invitation to all of mankind to be a part of this New Covenant by faith. When we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and then receive the gift of salvation through the cross, we enter into this New Covenant “IN HIM.” We had no part in the making of the covenant, but we become a part of it through our faith “IN JESUS.”
When we finally understand this wonderful reality, everything in our lives changes. We no longer see ourselves as guilty sinners without hope. Now we see ourselves as “the righteousness of God IN CHRIST” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). We no longer see our old sin nature. Now we see ourselves as “a new creation IN CHRIST” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).
So every time you begin to feel bad about your self-image, remind yourself of who you are “IN CHRIST.” Remind yourself “there is now no condemnation for those who are IN CHRIST JESUS.” This is the Gospel—which means Good News.
Sanctification—Growing Into Maturity
While our spirit is completely renewed at the time of our salvation, we still have to deal with the transformation of our soul—our mind, will, and emotions. This is a lifelong process called “sanctification.” God desires for us as His people to adjust our behavior and habits to line up with His will, His plan, and His standards for living. This is not for the purpose of placing undo hindrances on us—in fact, it is just the opposite. The sanctification process actually guides us into a place of peace, joy, and victory as we do things God’s way.
It’s like the old board game The Game of Life. You can try to make up your own rules, but you will never win this way. The better plan is to read the actual game rules from the top of the box—and by mastering the rules, you become a winner, and maybe even a champion, in The Game of Life. In our day-to-day lives, the rules and principles for victorious living are found in God’s revealed will—the Bible.
The apostle Paul writes:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let
God transform you into a new person by changing the way you
think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which
is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NLT).
Jesus taught, “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 NASB), but then he also instructed us to pray “Your Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10 NASB). These are “truths in tension.” In the same way, we are made holy in our spirit when we are born again, but the sanctification process continues throughout our lifetime—again, these are “truths in tension.”
Part of walking in holiness is being surrendered to the will of God for your life. In chapter 9, you will learn how submitting to God’s will for your life brings tremendous liberty.