Just as necessity is the mother of invention, the need for a break plus a lack of funds spurred on the creation of a unique group activity for my friends and me back in college.
It was the end of the quarter. Lots of exams and not a lot of cash left us looking for a way to take a break together on the cheap. One of my crafty friends suggested we find some scrap wood, borrow some paints and brushes, and gather to make each other plaques with verses or sayings on them. (Come to think of it, we were really ahead of our time. This was nearly twenty years ago, and now there are all kinds of places you can do stuff like this with friends!)
After we were done painting, we drew names to see who would get each board. Here’s the corny exchange my dear friend Jenna and I made that evening . . .
“Be Holy.” Jenna cleverly embraced the holey-ness of her board and passed these wise words on to me. Hilarious? Yes. Truth I needed? Absolutely. Since that night and this photo was so memorable, I often thought of those two simple words in circumstances when I needed to apply them.
What Is Holiness?
So what does it mean to “be holy”? In the days and years that came soon after that fun night, I thought holiness was more of a list of what not to do. But as my knowledge of God’s Word and my own experience increased, holiness changed from a don’t-do list to a pursuit.
How? I learned more about what holiness means. Sacred, selected, consecrated, set apart, and pure. God alone personifies holiness. It is declared by the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2–3 as they cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Yet throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God’s people are also instructed to be holy as He is holy (Lev. 11:44–45; 1 Peter 1:16).
We are to pursue holiness. Hebrews 12:14 talks about this pursuit: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
It’s a Process
The word pursuit automatically implies a process. Neither holiness nor peace with everyone is ever going to be accomplished until we are in God’s presence for eternity. But here the writer of Hebrews instructs us to pursue both. To work toward holiness. To persevere. To take each step necessary. Jerry Bridges describes this in his book The Pursuit of Holiness:
Holiness is a process, something we will never completely attain in this life. Rather, as we begin to conform to the will of God in one area of life, He reveals to us our need in another area. That is why we will always be pursuing—as opposed to attaining—holiness in this life.
So then, in each circumstance and relationship, I need to ask God to conform my will to His and then act and respond accordingly. There will be times when I’ll do that faithfully and display His holiness. Other times I’ll fail. When I’m willing to acknowledge that failure through confession and repentance, then not only can the pursuit continue, but often my desire to continue will be strengthened through those failures.
I also must be diligent to bring myself before my Holy Father, asking Him to reveal sin and temptation in my life. Holiness and hidden sin are simply not compatible. If I’m seeking to “be holy,” then I must be willing to recognize and deal with the sin in my life.
Paul describes a way he pursues holiness in 1 Corinthians 4. First, Paul clarifies the roles he and his partner, Apollos, have as “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (v. 1). Then he states that managers must be found faithful through a willingness to be judged by God and a consistent awareness of any sin that might be getting in the way (vv. 4–5). Paul doesn’t just instruct the Corinthians to seek God’s perspective and how to take steps toward holiness, he models it. He both describes and displays the pursuit of holiness.
God Will Help You
So can you live a holy life? Yes. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and a life lived in response and obedience to God’s Word, you can. While no human can be completely holy in this life, we can (and should) still pursue holiness. The fact that God even gives us the opportunity to pursue it is amazing. So do not be discouraged or overwhelmed. If He has commanded us to be holy—and He has—then He will enable us to do it (Heb. 13:21).
And why should we pursue holiness? Because He alone is worthy. Because it will put Christ on display. And because we should desire to respond to His holiness, love, grace, and mercy, knowing that God’s ways alone are eternally purposeful and meaningful.
Even though it’s been almost twenty years since I received that sign from my friend, Jenna, those two little painted words “Be Holy” remain as a sweet memory and a strong exhortation. I pursue holiness to both respond to and display the glory of God. Will you choose to pursue a holy life, too? What small step can you take today to pursue holiness?