What do you think of when you hear the word, “holiness”?
- Do you picture angels with harps?
- Do you have a vague image of Old Testament priests in the Temple?
- Do you think, “Holiness is for Super Saints like Mother Theresa and Billy Graham…”
- Do you groan inwardly and think, “Holiness Again? Time to tune out…”
Does hearing the word “holiness” make you feel a little guilty? Maybe you find yourself thinking, “I’ve tried but I just can’t do it!” Or maybe, when you saw the title B.O.L.D. Holiness, you thought, “What on earth does boldness have to do with holiness?”
Today I want to share some thoughts with you about holiness. Hopefully some of you will come away with a different idea about what holiness really is and how it relates to BOLDness.
What Biblical Holiness is NOT
Let’s start by trying to figure out what Biblical holiness really is.
One way we can do that is to take a look at what it is NOT:
- Holiness is not about wearing white robes and speaking in Thees and Thous:
Pardoneth me, Wouldst Thou happeneth to knowest the timeth?
- It is not lording it over other people with a “Holier Than Thou” attitude, looking for opportunities to point out other people’s failings, or flaunting your own religious activities:
Thank God I am not like those people!
- It is not separating yourself from people that are not Christian:
- Hermit’s Hut: Stay Out! Sanctification in process…
- It is not about keeping a checklist of “Do’s” and “Don’ts”:
Do this, Do that, Don’t do this or that…
So, if those are all things that holiness ISN’T, what exactly IS it?
The Holiness of God
Well, in its fullest sense, Holiness applies uniquely to God, because God is by nature HOLY.
We might define holiness as being “set apart” in the sense of being distinct from, as God is set apart from His Creation. When it comes to His nature, God is entirely set apart and in a class by Himself.
We might define God’s holiness as being “without sin or imperfection”; not only in the sense of being cleansed from sin, as we are in Christ, but in the sense that He has never sinned and, indeed, is incapable of sin. Holiness and sin cannot co-exist.
We also might define holiness as being perfectly all as it should be. When God said of Himself, “I Am that I Am” He was in one sense expressing this facet of holiness, that He is perfectly and entirely, exactly as He ought to be and nothing else.
So, what, then, does it mean when God commands us, “Be holy as I am holy”?
Once again, consider what it does NOT mean:
- It does not mean God expects you to be like Him in His DIVINITY. He does not expect you to become a god.
- God is OMNISCIENT, He knows all things. But God does not expect you to have perfect knowledge or perfect understanding.
- God is SOVEREIGN. But He does not expect you to always have everything under control. He alone has final authority in everything in heaven and on earth.
- God is OMNIPOTENT, that is, all powerful. But He knows you have limitations: You cannot do everything, you get tired, you get hungry, you have physical, mental, and emotional limitations.
God created you to be a human, not to be a god. As the Psalmist wrote,
“He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14)
When God says, “Be holy as I am holy” He means for you to be like Him in character. He means for you to be perfectly and entirely, exactly as you, as a redeemed human being, ought to be.
So, what does holy human character look like? It looks like this:
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)
- Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; (1Cor. 13:4-8)
At this point you might be thinking, “That’s great in theory, but how do I do that? How do I become that? How does it happen? I’ve tried and I just can’t do it on my own…”
You’re right you can’t do it on your own, and neither can I. If we could do it on our own, we would not need Jesus to be our Savior. We would not need God’s Holy Spirit to bear the fruit of His character in our lives.
This is where B.O.L.D. Holiness comes in!
B.O.L.D. Holiness begins with the letter B, for Being.
Holiness is about who you are–what kind of person you are–because your being defines your doing. Or to say it another way, the things you do arise out of your character.
Who you are under pressure – when things are not easy, when you are tired, when you have a headache, or when people say unkind things to you for no apparent reason – the way you react in those moments reveals your true character. This is what Jesus meant when He said,
“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45)
Being is about the state of your heart.
Thankfully, God does not leave us to try to clean up our act all on our own. Jesus provided a way for your heart to be made clean, and here’s the secret to how it works: BE IN God! Paul described it this way,
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2Cor. 5:17)
As you live your life IN CHRIST, the Holy Spirit provides grace for the moment, but He also works to shape your character to bring it into alignment with His own. This re-forming of character into Christlikeness is what the Bible calls sanctification.
It is God’s grace that actually does the work of transforming our character.
But God will not violate free will in the process. That’s why you and I need to do our part. We need to cooperate and work together with Him.
And that brings us back again to B.O.L.D. Holiness:
- Not only do we need to BE IN God,
- We need to be Obedient to Him,
- We need to Listen for Him, and Listen to Him,
- And we need to follow through with what He shows us to Do in His power.
So yes, holiness requires doing, but we get it backwards when we try to shape ourselves into holiness by doing. And although it may sound like it should be the other way around, Obedience needs to come BEFORE Listening and Doing. Why? Because an Obedient heart is a heart that is ready to Listen. And if you are not Listening, your Doing may be in vain.
Dealing with our attitudes of pride and stubbornness, those things that keep us from having truly obedient hearts, are sometimes the hardest things we can do. It can be a real struggle. When we talk about surrender, this is where it happens.
Think about it, your heart is like a rebellious child, saying to God, “You can tell me what you want me to do, but I’m not going to do it!” Although as parents we may sometimes need to force the issue with our children, God is not going to make you do what you stubbornly choose not to do! God has given you free will. When it comes to your free will, He draws a line in the sand and will not violate it.
Now that does not mean He will just leave you alone. God’s Holy Spirit will work to bring you to the point that you are ready to say yes to Him, or at least to ask for help. But, in the meantime, your rebellious heart is the source of the struggle. You must surrender the stubbornness of your heart.
Once you have surrendered your heart in Obedience, you are ready to Listen–to REALLY Listen to Him. But Listening is more than hearing. To listen, you must be attentive. It requires a conscious choice and purposeful action. If you are willing to invest time and energy into Listening through prayer and study, you will hear from Him.
And then you will finally be ready to Do the good work God has planned for you. This kind of Doing is not the firing of a gun at the beginning of a race. It is not taking up a task that has been given you and running off to get it done. It is a paced partnership, keeping in step with the Holy Spirit as you work together with Jesus day by day.
Through it all, the grace of God will continue to work in your heart to transform your character… which brings us back to Holiness. John Wesley described the character made holy through the process of sanctification as one that Loves the Lord God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength and that loves one’s neighbor as oneself.
I chose the acronym B.O.L.D. in describing holiness, because true holiness loves with boldness. Boldness without Holiness is simply obnoxious! But true holiness is willing to be BOLD to love as Christ loves.
If you desire to be BOLD for Christ, commit yourself to B.O.L.D. Holiness. Choose to:
One with the
So that you can experience:
In partnership with Christ.
[adapted from a sermon preached 2/19/2017]