In our previous articles we have delved into what holiness really means and, more especially, how we understand Yahweh our God to be holy. The idea of being holy is more than just the concept of ‘separateness’. It involves a life-focus of worship, praise, speech, thought, and action. What we have discovered is that the Father’s holiness is of such a high standard that it can only be described as perfect. Consequently, if we are to be perfect as He is perfect, we are being held to that same standard, simply because His character can demand nothing less than that!

This exhortation to be holy is echoed by Paul in Romans 6: “as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (v19). And again: “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (v22).

Yielding ourselves to God as His servants allows us to develop righteousness, which in turn generates fruit, leading to holiness. This is a high calling indeed, one where we are asked to be holy in all conversation and godliness (2 Pet 3:11).

But wait! Surely God doesn’t expect us to live up to these high standards? Hasn’t He provided forgiveness? Surely this allows us some ‘grace’ for our shortcomings? It is true that we fail often and forgiveness is available in Christ if we confess and forsake our sins. But that doesn’t alter the fact that He still expects us to follow the example of His Son. The command, “Be ye holy for I am holy,” embraces everything about God’s holiness. “I am holy,” means that every aspect of God’s character, disposition, affection, word, and action is the benchmark of true holiness.

Our failure to meet this standard doesn’t diminish what is expected of us. We can’t use our failures to excuse ourselves from trying to reflect His holiness in our lives. We cannot willfully sin and expect grace to abound.

The holiness of Christ

The Lord Jesus Christ is described as God’s “Holy One” in Acts 2:27; 3:14 and God’s “holy servant” in Acts 4:27,30. In Hebrews 7:26 he is described as “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners”. When we contemplate his life of holiness, our own imperfections stand out more vividly.

The Son’s life of perfect obedience was a perfect manifestation of the Father’s holiness in all aspects. If we are going to make personal progress towards being holy, then looking closely at the Lord will provide much guidance.

There is a powerful constant about the Lord’s life. This is what the Scriptures record:

  • Yet without sin (Heb 4:15)
  • Who did no sin (1 Pet 2:22)
  • Who knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21)
  • In him is no sin (1 John 3:5)
  • The Righteous Servant (Isa 53:11)
  • Loved righteousness and hated wickedness (Psa 45:7)

This, once again, is the benchmark—the example that we need to aspire to, even though every day we fail to even get close to it.

Consider this amazing statement from the Lord: “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” ( John 8:46). What is truly powerful about this verse is not so much the failure of the Jews to answer this question but, rather, the fact that Jesus could even ask it! It emerges from the very centre of a conversation involving conflict with the Jews. He has powerful antagonists all around him, looking to trap him by his every word. He has just told them they are of their father the devil, which no doubt made their blood boil. This was a situation that would allow them to drag up any insignificant blemish or wrongdoing that they knew of. Now would be the perfect time to ‘put the knife in,’ figuratively speaking.

In addition to that, Jesus asked this question in front of his disciples who were right there in his company. They were the ones who spent almost every living moment with him and if anyone was able to challenge this statement for accuracy it would be them. But Jesus could confidently ask this question in the midst of all this opposition and conflict because he knew the answer— he was without blemish.

But then we ask the question,“Does this absence of sin really describe the holiness of our Lord?” And the answer is—only partially. Abstaining from doing evil is only one part of the equation. There also had to be a perfect conformity to Yahweh’s will in his life. Doing the will of God is the positive commandment that the Master gave to his disciples (Matt 7:21; 12:50). This was the standard he constantly set for himself. The words of John 6:38 remind us of this: “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me”.

So yes, he always did his Father’s will—that was how he manifested the holiness of his Father in his life. Further passages of John bring this home to us. Hence we read in John 4:34, “Jesus saith unto them, my meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work”; and again in John 8:29, “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him”.

To always do God’s will and please Him at every turn meant that his motive and attitude was always sharply focused in every thing he did. We know that for us it is possible that we carry out the right action, but actually do it for the wrong motive: of course, that does not please God. But the Lord was entirely different. For him holiness was as much as an important part of his motives and thoughts as the deeds he did.

This once again sets a high standard to follow. Our motives need to be holy, and that means doing things with a desire to know what the will of the Father is. Our thoughts need to be holy because they form the springboard to our actions.

The prophet Isaiah

We may feel discouraged when we see the high calling we are called to, but let us consider the prophet Isaiah for a moment. He was shown an incredible vision of glory—the temple filled with the power and glory of the king of all the earth (Isa 6:1-5). He stood in awe as he witnessed the shouts of the seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts”.

But as he contemplated this scene, he suddenly realised how imperfect he was. He exclaimed: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa 6:5).

The word, “undone” means to be cut off and silenced. Here was a cry of inadequacy. It was a cry from the heart, a groan derived from the imperfection of service, a lament knowing his own personal weakness through transgression. In contemplating the majesty and holiness of God, he first searched his heart inwardly and saw his inability to match the holiness he heard declared. The lips of the seraphim sang unwearied praises; his lips by comparison seemed to be so different.

This reflects our own feelings when we consider the holiness of Yahweh. It is a natural reaction to the enormous gulf between us. God’s moral purity only serves to magnify our own impurity. Yet the Father sought to bridge that gap. He sent one of the seraphim with a burning coal (a symbol of the living Word of God, cp Jer 20:9, 1:4-9) to touch his lips and purify his speech, and by extension purify the source of his speech—the heart. Once that was accomplished, he took away the prophet’s iniquity and cleansed him from his sins (Isa 6:7).

What a wonderful encouragement this is for us. Our hearts need to be purified by faith which springs from hearing the Word of God (Acts 15:9; Rom 10:17). But when we fail and sense a great gulf between us and our God, God offers us a cleansing through forgiveness (1 John 1:9). The more we attempt to grow in holiness, the more we realise we fail, and the more we need this reassurance of mercy.

We must attempt to follow the Lord’s example of holiness (1 Cor 11:1). He always did the things that pleased his heavenly Father. This has to be our aim too. Are we willing to examine every aspect of our life? Do we look at all our goals and all our plans and all of those impulsive things we do, and bring the Lord’s example to bear? Are we able to say, “I am doing this to please God?”

We all know that if we are honest with ourselves, we will find that this question makes us uncomfortable! We know we frequently fall short of the benchmark, often being motivated by our own desires or goals. So, the daily challenge we have—is to develop that thinking which reflects God’s holiness and do the will and pleasure of our Father in heaven.

In summary, then, holiness consists of thinking as God thinks and willing as He wills; whereas we often fall into the thinking that it is about a list of do’s and don’ts—mostly don’ts. Remember, our Lord said, “I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb 10:7) and that is the example we need to follow. Every thought, every action, every part of our character, every principle of motivation and guidance needs to be done with the desire to follow Christ and so fulfill the will of our heavenly Father.