By Vince Antonucci
Most christians struggle in their pursuit to live a holy life. Pursuing holiness is a process that occurs when we choose to be obedient to God instead of giving in to our self-gratifying desires. We all have a part of our life that we want to hold on to. We also want holiness but we only want it on our own terms.
God Is Holy
It all started with holiness, God’s holiness. God is holy. His holiness means He is separate from sin, and that He hates sin. He hates sin because it’s not befitting His character and because it’s not beneficial to His creation. God’s love for us leads Him to hate our sin. When we sin we settle for a less-than life. Sin is a cancer that comes in, spreads, takes away our spiritual health and leads to death.
God wants us to be without sin. God sent Jesus to live on earth and to die on a cross so He could take our sin off our record. So He could look at us as pure. And so He could let us into His presence and a relationship with Him. If we say yes to His offer, accepting Jesus as our Savior, we are no longer guilty of our sins.
But that doesn’t mean we don't continue to sin. And that doesn’t mean God doesn’t continue to hate the sin in our lives. He hates every bit of our sin because He loves every bit of us. That’s why, even though our sin may no longer be counted against us, God still implores us to be holy.
- But 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 1:15-16)
- “Pursue holiness, for without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14)
We need to pursue holiness in all of our behavior. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like most Christians are very committed to holiness.
It reminds me of a study on the new generation of vegetarians. They interviewed Christy Pugh, who gave a statement that captures the new vegetarian approach. Christy said, “I usually eat vegetarian but I really like bacon.” As you might imagine, committed vegetarians don’t care much for these new vegetarians. That led the new vegetarians to come up with a name to describe themselves: flexitarians. They don’t eat meat … unless they really like it.
I wonder sometimes if there are a lot of “flexi-Christians.” These are people who are committed to following Jesus and pursuing holiness … unless they really like a particular sin. In other words, they pursue holiness while thinking about the taste of bacon.
While writing the book "unChristian", George Barna researched the commitment level of Christians in America. Christians surveyed were asked whether they were “absolutely committed to the Christian faith”. Only 48% of those age 42 and over, and only 20% of 18 to 41-year-olds said yes.
They also looked at the behavior and moral choices of Christians, and found that almost no difference in the level of “holiness” between those who claim to follow Jesus and those who don’t. They said that Christians and non-Christians were “statistically equivalent.”
When asked to identify their activities over the past thirty days, Christians were just as likely as non-Christians to gamble, to have visited a pornographic website, to take something that didn’t belong to them, to be involved in physical abuse, to have been legally drunk, and to have said something that wasn’t true.
Apparently, for the most part, Christians are not avoiding sin, despite God hating their sin and the fact that their sin hurts their witness, hurts their lives, and hurts the lives of people they love.
Spirit Versus Flesh
Jesus said that Christians should be different, describing that difference as being “salt and light” (see Matthew 5:13 and 14). He also said, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out” (Luke 14:33-35). Jesus says Christians who aren’t different from non-Christians would ruin manure if thrown on a pile of it.
Have too many Christians lost their saltiness?
Why is it that Christians struggle so much to pursue holiness? Part of the reason is how they think they are expected to pursue holiness. In those studies, 80% of Christians agreed with this statement: “The Christian life is well-described as trying hard to do what God commands.”
That’s ironic. You’d expect that if 80% of Christians think it’s about trying hard to do what God commands they’d be doing better at doing what God commands.
What’s unfortunate is that 80% of Christians are wrong, and their wrong thinking is at least part of what keeps them from holiness.
It is true that we need to possess a desire to do what God commands. God has given us the freedom to choose, and if we don't want to do what He commands, we won’t. We need to have that desire, but then it’s still not about trying hard. Holiness doesn’t come from us trying; it comes through us relying.
God has provided the resources we need to live a holy life. The primary resource God has given us is Himself; through the presence of His Holy Spirit in us. When someone becomes a Christian the Holy Spirit, moves into that person. The Holy Spirit moves into us to help us live a holy life. God so badly wants us to put sin behind us that His Spirit empowers us. He knows trying hard won't cut it, so He doesn’t ask us to try harder. He knows that relying on his strength does work, and that’s what God expects us to do.
Inside of every Christian lives the Holy Spirit, who wants to lead that Christian to say no to temptation and to do good. Also living inside the Christian is what the Bible calls our “flesh,” our natural self with its sinful inclinations, which leads Christians to give in to temptation and do wrong.
“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:17)
Who will win? Will we live holy lives, or unholy lives? The answer is not about trying hard and willpower. The answer is about relying.
Feed and Starve
In addition to relying on God for His strength in walking out our faith, we could also say the answer is about feeding and starving.
I heard a story about a guy in Alaska who owned two big dogs. Each Saturday he would take the two dogs into the local village and have them fight until one wasn’t able to fight anymore. Every week people would come out to watch and bet on who would win. One man from the village started watching the guy who owned the dogs, and noticed he always won his bets. Somehow he always knew who would win. Finally, he confronted the man who owned the dogs, “Hey, I know something’s up. If you don’t tell me what you’re doing, I’m gonna tell everybody your fixing these fights.” The dog owner said, “Fine. Starting about Wednesday of each week I only feed one of the dogs until the fight on Saturday. I starve the other one. And every week the dog I feed always wins, and the dog I starve always loses.”
We need to feed the Spirit. We rely on the Holy Spirit God gave us to make us holy.
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)
We feed the Spirit by reading the Bible, praying, listening to Bible teaching, singing worship songs to God, building community by being a part of a small group, being supported by Christian friends. But, we also need to starve the flesh.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24)
We starve the flesh by staying away from things that tend to pull us down and live in ways that drag us away from holiness.
God wants you to be holy. We should want to be holy. God has given us everything we need to be holy.
"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (1 Peter 1:3-4)
The choice to be holy is ours, and the power to be holy is His. We need to decide to be holy, and then stop trying, and start relying.