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Holiness is More Than Behaving Yourself

If we are going to take holiness seriously and see progress in our lives in the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, the place to start is...

“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2, NIV84) 

We try so hard to be holy. After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). The pursuit of holiness is constituent of the Christian life (1 Thess. 4:1-8). God’s will is for our sanctification, wherein we die more and more unto sin and live increasingly unto righteousness. We are to be holy as He is holy, a calling expressed in terms of obedience and the conduct of our lives (1 Pet. 1:14-15). 

Yet we regularly, often emphatically and even willfully fall flat on our faces, plunging back into the dissipation from which God rescued us, despite scriptural warning to the contrary (1 Pet. 4:1-3). The Spirit convicts us of our sin and, once again, we repent and confess our sin, claim forgiveness in Christ, and purpose with the Spirit’s help to try harder – all quite sincerely. 

And on it goes. It’s reminiscent of the cycles in the book of Judges. We forget God, presume upon our position as His people, and give ourselves over to sin. From the bondage into which we have subjected ourselves, we cry out to God and He points us to His Deliverer, only for us to wander again. 

What can we do? Simply try harder? God shows us a better way. 

If we are going to take holiness seriously and see progress in our lives in the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, the place to start is not in rolling up our sleeves to behave ourselves. The place to start is in seeing ourselves as set apart. That’s the basic and foundational understanding of holiness. 

We are saints (holy ones) in the Lord. We must first see ourselves as holy, set apart by God for God. As Paul put it to the church at Corinth: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). We are holy and, therefore, are to be holy. 

Paul describes this dynamic in his letter to Ephesus: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph. 5:8–10). We are light and, therefore, we are to be light. We live in newness of life. 

As admirable as it may seem, when we fall into sin the answer is not to confess our sin and try harder. We want to remember that we are set apart to belong to God. He chose us to be His. He sent His Son to redeem us for Himself. He knows us as His very own children. 

Researchers say that 95% of people who diet will gain back the weight they lost. Part of the reason is their focus is on losing weight. In the same way, if we look at holiness as simply behavioral change achieved by sticking to the program, we will not realize essential change, or as Jesus described it in John 15 – authentic fruit, much fruit, fruit that will last through living out our union with Him. 

When we think of holiness, our first thought can’t be “I need to try harder to obey.” Rather, our first thought must be “I am set apart for God.” When we dwell upon that reality and all that means, the rest will follow as the tail follows the dog.

1. What are the two meanings of holiness and which is foundational to the other?

2. What is an area of sin that you keep falling into and how can you begin to address it?

"Father in heaven, holy is Your name. Teach me to be holy as You are holy."

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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