Growing up, I largely managed to present myself as a “good person”. I was that conscientious, diligent, rule keeping, and dependable person who rarely missed church. Also, I could quote appropriate Bible verses, exude calmness in crisis, give godly counsel. Some even saw me as a prayer warrior.
My accomplishments fed my hunger for people’s approval. But I didn’t quite like the “holy girl” image that came with it. People teased me with names like “Ms. holy and holy.” It made me bristle and cringe. I felt like the “holiness tag” cast me as boring, clueless about the world, and no fun to be with. Holiness simply did not seem attractive.
Quite honestly, it often does not appear attractive to the world either. To many people, holiness rings of minimalism, asceticism, or being devoted to busy religious activities. The perception is that holy people expend constant effort at outward moral purity and they separate themselves from the world. Holiness, in the world’s eyes, makes you stand out in a uniquely “less than human” sort of way.
Our Distorted View of God’s Holiness
If something beautiful is cunningly presented as unattractive, it kills anyone’s desire for it. Our sin and the devil conspire to distort the true nature of holiness (2 Cor. 11:14).
Biblical holiness really finds its reference in God’s nature. Holiness is where his perfectly loving character meets his uniquely glorious nature and it resonates across the earth (Isa. 6:3).
The world’s source of holiness is external. It is what you do that makes you holy. But God’s source of holiness is internal. It is who he is by his nature.
Biblical holiness certainly has external ramifications, but its source is internal (Matt. 15: 18). God’s holiness makes him glorious. He does good things because he is holy. In fact, it is because God is holy that he is not cold, distant, boring, or emotionless.
Holiness does not make us “less than human.” Far from it. God’s holiness actually makes us stand out as “fully human”.
Holiness Makes Us More Human
Since God made us in his image, the more we reflect his holy image the more “human” we become (Gen. 1:27). Jesus is the most holy person to walk the earth. He also lived as the most perfectly human person. His holiness stood out through his full and perfect humanity.
In his time on earth, Jesus was neither aloof nor cut off from the world. We encounter Jesus in the Gospels, fully immersed in community, feeling its deep sorrows and joys. As one with his heavenly Father, he spent time healing the sick, driving out evil spirits, receiving the hospitality of tax collectors and sinners, seeking out the outcasts, and teaching about the Kingdom of God (Matt. 8:16, Luke 5:29-32, John 4:1-26, Matt. 5-7).
Meanwhile, the Pharisees did well at presenting a “holy” image to the world. But Jesus called them out for inhumanly exploiting people and constantly looking down on others. The holiness of the Pharisees made them less than human. But God’s perfect holiness, displayed in Jesus, showed us what it means to be fully and perfectly human.
God’s Holiness is Unique (And Dangerous)
Even as we marvel at the life of Jesus, it is easy for us to glaze over the uniqueness of his holiness. Sometimes, something is so unique in its goodness that it can be outrightly dangerous. The more unique its goodness, the more we need to be careful and reverent about how we experience it.
You and I cannot enjoy the holy presence of God unless he makes us as holy as himself.
No one climbs Mount Everest wearing a tracksuit, carrying a Kindle reader, and a water bottle, and chewing gum. Unless they had a death wish. Of the several mountaineers who tried to reach the summit—the world’s highest vantage point at 29,000 feet—hundreds over the years sadly lost their lives.
If you want to enjoy the unique glory of Everest, you need to be unique enough in your physical ability. What you wear, how you climb, keeping adequate oxygen reserves can be the difference between life and death. If that is the unique glory of a mountain, we cannot expect to waltz into the holy presence of the one whose word created that mountain. Not with our sin and brokenness.
God’s perfectly loving character means that his holiness tolerates absolutely no sin (Isa. 59:2-3). His uniquely glorious nature simply cannot make peace with the brokenness, death, and imperfection of our world. You and I cannot enjoy the holy presence of God unless he makes us as holy as himself.
God’s Gracious Gift of Holiness
Hear His Call
We know from the Old Testament book of Leviticus that God made a way for the Israelites to experience his uniquely holy presence without perishing in the process.
God gives them a long list of rules. He gave rules about eating, clothing, relationships, cleanliness, sacrifices and feasting! Meticulous detail for every realm of life so that God can relate with them and make them his beloved people.
He said to them, “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Lev. 20:26).
Recognise Our Struggle
The Scriptures show us how the Israelites failed at keeping God’s law and embracing his holiness. Instead of living as God’s beloved people, they constantly failed at keeping the law. They were repeatedly under God’s wrath.
The ancient Israelites could not live holy lives because they did not have holy hearts. We do not have to look long into our own hearts to see that we share the same struggle. Our hearts are not holy.
We try so hard to use what we do to improve who we are. But that just leaves us trapped in an empty cycle of failure, shame, and guilt. All our efforts at making ourselves more holy have only made us less human.
The power of God’s grace opens our eyes to the beauty of holiness.
We know how much misery religion has brought to our world. It places impossible burdens on us and stirs up angry self-righteousness in us. Our false sense of holiness only reveals pride, hatred, and even leads to violence.
In India’s history, “religious purity” has inspired communal carnage so that many disdain any notion of holiness. For those abused in some form by the “holy” godman or the “holy” pastor, holiness may even seem repulsive.
However, the misery we suffer is not because of holiness. But actually because we are not holy enough. We have no desire for the holiness God desires for us.
Receive His Gift
Despite my “good” girl image on the outside, I often struggled with the guilt of not being good enough. I still do. But far less than I used to. Because today I stand on the truth of God’s grace: by our confidence in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God makes us holy from the inside out (2 Cor. 5:20-21).
The weight of my inadequacy before God is unburdened by the sufficiency of Jesus, who stands before God on my behalf. He is my holiness.
The power of God’s grace opens our eyes to the beauty of holiness. It redeems our desire for it. His mercy births a miracle of real holiness in us. Such holiness is nothing like the counterfeit holiness of the world or its religiosity.
Grace-empowered holiness enables us to enjoy the pure love of God. It unites with the essence of who he is: Holy, Holy, Holy. God’s holiness is breathtaking, freeing, and redeeming. It brings deep joy and makes us more fully human. It makes us like Jesus.