I Peter 1:14-16 “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'”
Wow, tall order. And not a popular topic in today’s culture. What does it mean to be holy? Holiness is to be morally blameless and set apart for God. Is that even possible? How can we be holy as God is holy? We aren’t God–how can we ever be like Him in this life? We can’t be perfect! We still have a sin nature!
To really understand this concept, we read Romans chapter six, where we are told that we were once slaves to sin, but that Christ defeated sin by his death and freed us. This passage has always been somewhat confusing to me, but I recently heard a word picture that really helped me grasp this concept. Imagine that you were born and lived your whole life in a country where your people were enslaved. You had no choices, you did what you were forced to do and you didn’t even know whether these things were right or wrong–it’s just how it always was. Then one day a man came who defeated the government and overthrew it. He freed you and your people and asked you to come with him to a new free country. Many go with him, but many more are afraid of the unknown and stay in their slavery. In the new country, you have freedom, but sometimes you forget. You were hungry all the time in the old country, so you often stole food. When you see food, you sometimes snatch it without thinking, forgetting that the leader in this country will provide for you if you ask. It takes time to learn that the things you were used to and saw and heard daily were not right. You thought all bosses beat their workers, you thought the language people used was the way it was. You were used to seeing stealing and murder and lying and greed. You came to accept that as the way of life, doing what it took to survive. Now, if you feel like you are in a similar situation, you are tempted to react in the way you would have in the old country. You cringe when you do something wrong, expecting a beating or a bullet. It takes a long time for you to get used to the ways in the new country and the kindness of the leader there. Sometimes, habit gets you before your brain catches up to think through the situation in light of the new circumstances.
We have been freed from sin and transported to a different realm where we are no longer in bondage. But, we have been in bondage so long that sin is habit. As we grow and learn, we replace those sin habits with good habits. But, just as it may take a lifetime to heal scars from abuse or shed an accent, it takes our entire lives of striving to learn holiness.
Many think that once we have made the decision to follow Christ, we just have faith and Jesus changes us. We hear “trust God” or “let go and let God” and think that anything else is faith by works. Others think that if they just read the Bible and do what it says, they will make it. Keep the list of do’s and don’ts and you’ll be fine. Many don’t realize that it is BOTH! Faith and action. We cannot do what we need to without the power of the Holy Spirit helping us and we can’t give up and expect that God will instantly change us without us doing some work and fighting and resisting and praying and studying. God did the hardest part, but we still have work to do. We were justified and made holy and righteous by his death on the cross. Now we are to continue in that holiness, walking worthy of the calling. We are being sanctified as we seek to be like Christ each and every day. It’s not a sprint, but a marathon.
The fact that we have been freed from being slaves to sin is a fact whether we realize it or not. Truth is still truth whether you acknowledge it or not. You can say the sky isn’t blue, but that doesn’t make it true. You can not know what the speed limit is in a new town, but that won’t stop the police officer from writing you a ticket if you speed through. We are free and now we have the job (with the help of the power of the Holy Spirit) of breaking our old habits, resisting sin, and replacing those habits with good ones.
We have to take responsibility for our own actions. We can’t just pray that God will take away this temptation or use the excuse that “God’s not through with me yet.” That throws the responsibility off of ourselves. The fact is that we choose to sin. We now have a choice in this new realm where we are free from bondage and we often choose wrong. Does it then follow that we could be perfect in this life if we choose not to sin? As we ask God to search us and see if there is any wicked way in us (Psalm 139:23, 24) because our hearts deceive us if we try to search ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9), God reveals our sin and convicts us through the Holy Spirit, who also gives us the power to resist and defeat that sin. But, I think God only reveals part of our sin at a time. I think if He revealed the whole magnitude of our sin to us at once, we would be utterly overwhelmed and devastated.
Now, let’s look at this from a different perspective. You are free. Look around at those that aren’t. Those that are still slaves to sin. Those that don’t know another way, that think this is the way it is, that don’t know they can be free. Suddenly you feel compassion for others. Before, their sins made you angry. Their criticism of your beliefs hurt your feelings. Now you see that they are still in bondage and you feel sorry for them. They don’t know any better. They serve a horrible master that has deceived them. We cannot hold them to the same standard that we are held to because they are still in bondage to sin. It does little good to condemn the world of its sin without them having the Holy Spirit to convict them and cause them to view that sin as God views it. They need to be freed by Christ and come to a relationship with him before they can even attempt to change their habits.
I recommend the book The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. We are going through it in our ladies’ Bible study. It wasn’t a book I would have chosen on my own, but now I am so glad I decided to participate. I have learned so much and God has really spoken to me through this study.