Holy in an Unholy World

Getting a fresh taste of God’s word fills and thrills my soul. Every year, I enjoy reading from a different translation as I travel from beginning to end. This year, I chose the Day-by-Day Chronological Bible. It highlights how God has written the most fascinating story that includes us all. Each daily reading begins with a short paragraph explaining how that portion of the story fits into God’s big story. Then, a question or two helps readers apply it to their lives. This method has opened my eyes to things I’ve missed before. I love it when that happens! But I did NOT love the question that showed up mid-February.

Right in the middle of God’s instructions to the Israelites for “being holy as He was holy” came this question: “How is your life set apart to God today?” I don’t mind telling you I scribbled the word “ouch” in the margin. I wrestled for quite a while with that question, which caused me to ask myself another question: How can I be holy with so much unholiness all around me? 

I hope your soul rests knowing that when the blood of Jesus covered you, the Spirit made you holy. Paul said it this way when he wrote to the believers in Thessalonica, “We are always thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation – a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through our belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT, emphasis mine) It is God’s job to make us holy. Our job is to let Him.

As holy people, we are set apart for a godly purpose. Our purpose today is the same as those who lived under Old Testament laws. We are to glorify God and live holy lives so distinct that we point other people and nations to God. So, how do we do that?

We believe and accept that God has already made us holy inwardly. Only then can our outward obedience be genuinely holy and steer others closer to God. When writing to God’s chosen people, Peter wrote, “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:2) Humble obedience happens as a result of being chosen and made holy. Doing good to look good is never holy, nor is it blessed. Peter’s next words, right on the heels of that verse, encourage me: “May God give you more and more grace and peace.” Knowing my missteps are covered by grace allows me to be at peace with myself. And that makes everyone around me happier. Knowing God loves me enough to teach me through my mistakes causes me to love and trust Him more and more.

We must also allow God to change our desires into HIS desires. If we are honest, we still have a few cravings that are less than holy—okay, they are downright sinful. This modern world is no different than in Adam and Eve’s day. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life continue to lure us away from holiness. Why do we tend to see how close we can get to the fire before we get burned?

When I was about seven or eight, our neighbor set a pile of leaves on fire in his backyard. All of us neighborhood kids were told to stay away, but fire is alluring. After the fire died down a bit, we each got very long sticks to poke the smoldering leaves. I craved fun more than safety. I was having a great time until the tip of a red hot stick slapped my cheek. 

As Christians, we may sometimes step so close to the flames of our temptations that our resolve melts. Other times, our resolve is firm, and we are not tempted by the thing that once melted us. Paul understood that. He told the Corinthians, “You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’ – but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) 

Maybe in a puddle of melted resolve, you’ve heard the Spirit gently whisper, “I still love you, but this is not good for you.” A surrendered heart pays attention. When God changes the desires of your heart into those that honor Him, your life will be noticeably different. When others see the grace and peace you’ve received as a result of holy desires, they might even want what you have. At the same time, we should pay attention to the things that tempt those around us. What tempts me may not tempt you, and vice versa. Paul also said, “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:9)

Those who don’t know the freedom found in the grace of Jesus need to see our holiness expressed – not a “holier than thou” attitude but a genuine desire to walk distinctively in the Spirit. Displaying holiness may seem daunting, but rest assured, it’s a process!

When Paul instructed husbands in Ephesians 5, he taught them to love their wives the same way Christ loves the church. If you’re unsure about your measure of holiness, hear this: God loves you and wants what’s best for you. Jesus loves you and continually stands before God on your behalf, claiming you as His own. He gave up his life for [you] to make [you] holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present [you] to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, [you] will be holy and without fault.” (Ephesians 5:25-27NLT) 

Washing the heart with salvation takes only a moment. Washing our actions takes a minute (actually a lifetime). With an open and willing heart, time in God’s word methodically scrubs away the grime in our lives and allows our holiness to shine through. It blesses my soul to know that the sweet Holy Spirit patiently empowers us to walk confidently in our pursuit of holiness. Be patient with yourself and have faith in the work God is doing on your behalf. He has set you apart for a glorious purpose.

“God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, ‘If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord .’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31NLT)

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