"Be Holy": Does This Apply to Us Today?


The call to holiness isn’t something that went away under the new covenant. It’s an invitation to deeper fellowship with God, and it stands to this day.

Nothing could be better than being close to God. Think of it: intimacy with God isn’t just being in the company of a celebrity or world leader. It’s being with the Creator of everything seen and unseen. And God hasn’t reserved access to His presence for only the most powerful or successful people. He wants to be close to each of us—even more than we want to be close to Him (see James 4:5).

The book of Hebrews tells us about an essential key to this intimacy with our Maker:

Pursue…holiness, without which no one will see the Lord…Hebrews 12:14 NKJV

In sharing this verse again, I want to be clear: holiness is not about earning our salvation—having a relationship with God. It’s about intimacy. We can be in relationship with someone but not see them every day. In the same way, we can be in relationship with God yet not see Him—experience His intimate presence—as fully as He wants us to.

Suppose you had a family member who was constantly disrespectful or untrustworthy. Though you love this person, my guess is you would find it hard to enjoy their company. If they were unwilling to change, you’d have to set some healthy boundaries in the relationship. This would probably include the decision to not be around them on a daily basis.

God is a Person whose presence we seek. But God is also completely holy, and it is impossible for someone to dwell in His presence without being holy. That’s why holiness is a big deal! The call to holiness isn’t something that went away under the new covenant. It’s an invitation to deeper fellowship with God, and it stands to this day.

There’s a lot of confusion in the church about what holiness means. Misunderstanding it leads to one of two things: lawlessness or legalism. If we think holiness isn’t relevant to us, we’ll live like our actions don’t matter. If we approach holiness as a set of rigid rules we follow in our own strength, we’ll become either frustrated or self-righteous. True holiness doesn’t involve either of these things.

We can settle much of this confusion by understanding that holiness has two aspects. One deals with our position in Christ. The other deals with the behavior that results from it. To see this in Scripture, let’s look at a couple New Testament passages:

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. Ephesians 1:4 NLT

And the second scripture:

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14–16 NLT, emphasis added

The first aspect of holiness, which Paul talks about in Ephesians 1, is positional. It is solely due to what Jesus did when He gave His life on our behalf. In Christ, we are righteous before God; we are set apart for Him. We never could have earned this position by our behavior. It’s God’s gift to us.

The second aspect of holiness is about the behavior that results from holding this position. We see an example of this in marriage. Once Lisa became my wife, her role in my life was established. She didn’t have to earn her position in our relationship. But because she had become my wife, her conduct reflected her loyalty to me. She no longer flirted or sought relationships with other men. (And of course, my actions changed in the same way.) This is what 1 Peter addresses: the righteous lifestyle that should result from us being in Christ.

Neither aspect of holiness is produced through our own merits. They’re products of what God has freely given us through Jesus. However, the process of growing in holiness isn’t automatic. God has made us holy, but we choose whether we want to cooperate with this new nature. We decide if we want to live the way God calls us to—and therefore draw closer in relationship with Him.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you find either aspect of holiness hard to believe or embrace? Why do you think that is?
  • Are there signs of lawlessness or legalism in your life? What does this reveal about your perspective on the purpose of holiness?
  • How do you think we can live in holiness without relying on man-made rules?
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