I’ll never forget when I first heard it:
“Rules will not keep you from sin. Satisfaction will keep you from sin.”
It wasn’t just new—it was the opposite of what I thought was true. But, slowly my brow unwrinkled as I began to understand and see that the concept was helpful, as well as Biblical.
Being holy and fleeing from sin is not a matter for rules. They are reached in satisfaction in God.
In the Old Testament, “holy” is the only word that gets repeated 3 times (a means of emphasis in the Hebrew language):
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up… Above him stood the seraphim… And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”Isaiah 6:1-3 ESV
Isaiah wants everyone to know: God, the Lord of hosts, is HOLY.
And not just a little bit HOLY. Totally HOLY. As HOLY as HOLY can be.
And it’s clear that the Bible reveals God’s holiness as his ultimate defining attribute. Therefore it is important for us to consider.
But what does it really mean to be holy? And what does it have to do with us mere mortals?
Holiness in the Bible is most often linked to God. Even when it is used in reference to something else or someone else, it is often because that something or someone is being identified with God.
A clear example of this is the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. God tells Moses the purpose of His freeing them from slavery in Egypt:
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples… you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”Exodus 19:4-6 ESV
God brought Israel to Himself to be a holy nation. In relation to God, Israel will be priests, and will be holy.
The very word holy means “set apart” and distinct in a deeply sacred and divine sense.
God is saying that Israel is identified with Him, set apart and made distinct from the people and things that are not identified with God.
As such, they are to model and represent God on earth as an accurate reflection of his holiness. They are to live like God would both to each other and to those who are not part of the nation of Israel.
This “identification” with God was inseparable from action.
Who someone is (their identity) determines how they will be (their conduct). The Apostle Peter said it this way:
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”1 Peter 1:13-16 ESV
God is holy—so also should His people, those identified with Him, be holy.
Peter inextricably links this holiness to obedience and thus applies it to conduct. Peter is saying that in all your conduct you should be distinct, set apart, clearly identified with God.
To be acting in sin and against the will of God (“conforming to the passions of your former ignorance”, emphasis mine) is to be unholy, and this is unacceptable for the Christian. In fact, it is to be acting distinctly unChristian.
I hope you now have a better idea of what holiness is.
You should also know that God is the one who makes you holy—you have no power to do it on your own.
Becoming holy is a progression, not something that happens overnight (Phil 1:6; 2 Cor. 3:18). And yet we are commanded to be holy—so what is my role in this process?
How do we trust God to make us holy not only in our identity (which He has already given us through Jesus Christ), but also in our day-to-day conduct?
How are we to obey Him by actively choosing holiness?
I can’t tackle this huge topic all in one post, but I’d like to give you one helpful and key concept to take away for now to help you pursue holiness.
C.S. Lewis famously recognized something about the pleasures of the world.
“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”C. S. Lewis
It seems that we humans, in our sinfulness and brokenness, are content settling for quick, temporary, and mediocre pleasures, instead of strongly desiring true, deep, infinite and lasting satisfaction in God and the pleasures He has intended us for.
This is often what sin actually is! It is taking the good and twisting it. It is the violation of God’s intended purpose. God Himself put it this way:
“His people have exchanged the fountain of living water for broken cisterns that can’t even hold water.”Jeremiah 2:12-13
In the context of talking about holiness in his first Epistle, the Apostle Peter writes:
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”1 Peter 2:1-3 ESV
Peter likens putting away sin to longing for the pure “spiritual milk” (the truth and the word of God) so that we can grow up into salvation. And then he adds “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Peter wants God’s people to be feeding on God’s word. I think he also wants them to know that it is satisfaction in God (which includes knowing and living His word in a holy life, as He intended us to) that will keep us from sin.
When something satisfies you, you keep coming back for more.
A newborn child has an innate and ongoing thirst for milk, and it feeds to satisfy it—so also the Christian must cultivate an inner thirst for the “pure spiritual milk” of Christ, being nourished by it and keeping him or herself from seeking satisfaction in anything less.
Your desires for true joy and pleasure (and therefore your desire for holiness!) grow, while your taste for the shallow and limited pleasures of sin fade.
A pastor of mine once likened personal sin (or someone’s “sinful nature” or “flesh” as some Bible translations would call it) to a monster.
Every time you feed the monster, it keeps coming back for more—and it comes back stronger!
On the contrary, if I starve the monster that is my sin, it will only get weaker. I will not be “giving my strength to another” and thus weakening myself (Prov. 5:10). The same would be true for my “new self”—as I choose the pure spiritual milk, I long for it more and more, tasting and seeing that indeed the Lord is good!
The remedy here is an obvious one: strive for the satisfying, pure spiritual milk.
Seek holiness, purity, living closely with Christ because it is for your lasting, deep joy and satisfaction.
Not because you have to stay within the rules, but because you want real pleasure.
Read the Scriptures, meditate on them, memorize them.
When temptation to sin comes, fight the lies of your sinful nature and the devil with the truths of Scripture.
Hunger for Scripture as if it were bread for your soul (man does not live by bread alone!), and ask God to grow your hunger for it!
Remember that it is a lamp to your feet, and a means of keeping your ways pure (Psalm 119:5). Let the word of Christ, therefore, dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16).
As God’s word sinks into your mind and your heart, it will transform you and lead you to worship Christ more for His saving work and forgiveness of your sin.
As you worship Christ more, you will find more enjoyment in Him and you will find sin more and more a ludicrous idea.
Even just recently, I was convicted about bitterness and resentment in my own heart.
It was left over from being wronged in the not-so-distant past. My sin boiled to the surface and I found myself tempted to slander people in my heart or just let anger get the best of me.
So I turned to the Word of God.
I meditated on the gospel.
I remembered how much I have wronged God and others. I was reminded how much more God has forgiven me.
I remembered that I have no right to hold grudges. If I did, I could just as easily be called out for the same sins I am holding against others. I had no choice but to let go of my bitterness and resentment, embrace Christ and His forgiveness and resolve in my heart to forgive those who wronged me. I know that forgiveness saps sin’s power.
The sanctification process (being made holy) is an ongoing one. You are a work in progress, and the finished work won’t be experienced until you’re in heaven, the road to which will be a long and hard one.
This endless pursuit must be a relentless one—but take heart! It will surely be a fruitful one too. God is faithful.
As you look ahead to the long race you are running, take Isaiah’s words to heart for encouragement:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV, italics mine)