Among God’s characteristics, as he has revealed himself, none is more significant than his holiness (seeLev. 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7). “Holy” and “holiness” occur more than 900 times in Scripture, and both the Old and New Testaments speak more about his holiness than any other attribute. Because of this characteristic God is not able to tolerate our sin. As Habakkuk 1:13 says, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.”
Christ does not just save us from our sin, though, he saves us so that we might become holy (Eph. 1:3-4). And as Peter says, “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:13).
“The Bible could not be any clearer,” Kevin DeYoung says, “The reason for your entire salvation, the design behind your deliverance, the purpose for which God chose you in the first place is holiness.”
Holiness is associated with separation from the ordinary or the profane, on the one hand, and connection with God or the divine, on the other. Holiness is not only being separated from sin and worldliness but also being set apart for God’s purposes.
Sanctification is the lifelong process by which we become holy. But there are five specific ways we strive to become holy.
Make Holiness Your Purpose
Of all the goals we have for our life, the most important is to pursue holiness because it is God’s goal for our life. As Oswald Chambers said,
God has only one intended destiny for mankind—holiness. His only goal is to produce saints. God is not some eternal blessing-machine for people to use, and he did not come to save us out of pity—he came to save us because he created us to be holy.
If we truly love God we will commit to making holiness the primary purpose of our life.
Don’t Resist the Holy Spirit
Sanctification is by the Holy Spirit and is part of our conversion (1 Pet. 1:2). In this form, known as definitive sanctification, the Spirit sets us apart in Christ so that we might be saved. The Spirit also works in us so that we can be obedient to Christ, a process referred to as progressive sanctification, because we are progressing toward holiness.
In this latter sanctifying role, the Spirit: (A) exposes our sin so that we may recognize and turn away from it, (B) illuminates Scripture so that we may understand its meaning, and (C) helps us to see the glory of Christ. The Spirit is always willing to do this for us, which is why we must not “resist” (Acts 7:51) or “quench” (1 Thess. 5:19) the Spirit.
Commit to Obedience
There is no holiness without obedience. As Peter hints at in verse 2, the Spirit’s sanctifying work is done so that we may be obedient to Christ. As Jerry Bridges notes, “The heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 . . . obeyed by faith . . . obedience is the pathway to holiness.”
Pursue Jesus, Not Moralism
As we become holy we will naturally become more moral. But that is not the goal of growing in godliness. Our pursuit is of Jesus, not moralism. “Holiness is not ultimately about living up to a moral standard,” DeYoung says. “It’s about living in Christ and living out of our real, vital union with him.”
Expect Improvement, Not Perfection
Too often Christians don’t strive to be holy because we consider it an impossible standard. But God is not leading us to an unattainable level of perfection. Our lack of perfection should merely lead us to continually strive to meet God’s goal for us. John Calvin wrote,
As even the most perfect are always very far from coming up to the mark, we ought daily to strive more and more. And we ought to remember that we are not only told what our duty is, but that God also adds, “I am he who sanctifies you.”
Because We Are Loved
As believers we are to be holy not because we want to be loved by God but because we are already loved in Christ. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). And the best way to show that we love God is by seeking to become holy because he is holy.