We don’t talk much about holiness. The word itself carries an almost archaic feeling. For some reason, the concept has lost appeal, gotten pushed aside and been intentionally (or at best, unintentionally) ignored. Perhaps “holiness” reminds us of the Puritans, or of the kind of Christians we never want to be—those repugnant with legalistic judgement and self-righteous airs. Or maybe “holiness” just seems empty and boring… good only for stifling our fun, especially in college when life is meant to be a free-flowing and enjoyable.
BUT, if we could get a clear vision of what “holiness” looks like we’d see that God means it to be the fire blazing at the core of our being, giving us passion for Him and a sense of purpose in life! If we really knew, we would do everything possible to understand it, uncover it, pursue it and be wrapped in it–rather than toss it aside like some ill-fitting, scratchy sweater.
As believers we know that God has revealed Himself as holy (Ex. 15:11, Lev. 11:44-45, Is. 43:3) –a trait that speaks of His unique apartness, otherness and separateness from creation. To speak of God’s holiness is to speak of His absolute perfection—the fact that He is morally and spiritually pure. It is the one trait of God that gets repeated for emphasis three times, both in Isaiah’s throne room vision and John’s vision of heaven as the living creatures cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy” without ceasing (Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8). The result causes Isaiah to cry out in broken repentance and the twenty-four elders in Revelation to fall down before Him in worship. One glorious glimpse of God’s holiness causes the same awe-filled response in us! When was the last time you worshiped that way?
And then God calls for a crazier response yet. For though we do not share this attribute with God, He calls us to be holy. “Just as He is holy, so be holy in all you do” (I Pet. 1:5). “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We are to “purify ourselves…perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (II Cor. 7:1). “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (I Thes. 4:7). God wants our lives to be set apart and devoted unto Him that we might reflect Him accurately.
So why is this so hard for us? Why do we resist the idea of holiness so much? Why, of all things, does it seem to be a particular struggle on Christian campuses, which are by nature set-apart from worldly campuses where “really bad sin happens?”
- We are lulled into complacency. In the United States in general, and particularly in a Christian college, we are surrounded by a plethora of Christian teaching. Biblical input is so readily available it’s commonplace. Often, we begin to take for granted our “green pastures”—the opportunities always at our fingertips. We grow so accustomed to worship, prayer times and spiritual teaching that we become lazy and spiritually “fat.” If we are not intentional to exercise our faith by taking risks with the gospel and stepping out to serve in ways that challenge us to depend on God, our faith will slowly atrophy without us even knowing it.
- We are conformed to one another (instead of to Christ-likeness). When everywhere we look we see other believers filled with Jesus’ light, it’s easy to forget we’ve been rescued from utter darkness. The temptation is to look horizontally (at those around us) instead of vertically (straight at God Himself). When we begin to compare ourselves with others, we often pat ourselves on the back that we are doing better than the person struggling with _________ (fill in the blank). Yet God call us to be conformed to the image of Jesus, not each other who are so easily influenced by this world’s standards (Rom. 12:2).
- We become comfortable with compromise. Complacency and conformity soften us around the edges. We become mentally dull and spiritually dry. Then begins the downhill slope of life-sucking compromise. Like a low-grade fever, compromise spreads undetected through a friend group and slowly through an entire Christian campus or community, infecting many. A number of years ago Jerry Bridges wrote a book entitled “Respectable Sins” in which he described the sins many Christians find acceptable or “petty” including pride, anger, jealousy and unthankfulness. When we lose sight of God’s holiness, sin becomes something we justify and excuse away.
Fortunately, we are not left unarmed in the battle for personal holiness. When we are aware of these dangers we become watchful rather than slothful and guard our lives with all diligence. As we daily offer ourselves fully to Christ—our hearts, our minds, our hands, our mouths, our feet–keeping our eyes focused on Himself alone, He begins to change us, restore us and make us whole and new.
Ultimately, being holy is not something we attain by our own efforts, but by consistently abiding in Him, recognizing that Jesus Christ “has become for us… our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (I Cor. 1:30). There is literally no substitute for God’s Presence, and no thrill greater than watching His Holy Spirit transform every piece of you!