As we continue to study God’s word, our understanding of God’s call to holiness grows.
In week one, we discussed His command to “be holy” means that God wants us and commands us to be like Him in His holiness. It does not make us better than anybody else, but it sure makes our lives better. In week two, we talked about the fact that it is not a form of legalism connecting salvation to the law, nor is it lawlessness. Holiness is a matter of the heart and God’s call to “be holy” is a life that flows from a changed heart rather than a list of do’s and don’ts. In week three, we talked about in God’s holiness, He provides forgiveness for sinful acts as well as deliverance from the sinful nature. Holiness then frees us from the grip of sin so we can live a life pleasing to our Heavenly Father. In all of this, the question may arise as to the source of holiness and holy living. In this case, two teachings are supported to answer this question and reveal another misconception.
Misconception No. 4 is the source of holiness is either the Holy One lives in believers making them holy by association, or God actually makes believers holy by transformation. What then is the misconception? It is that only one teaching is the answer. As we shall see, both teachings are not mutually exclusive.
It is true that believers are holy by association to the Holy One living within. In fact, Paul wrote that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise,…that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, Who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness, sanctification,” 1 Corinthians 1:27, 29-30.
And how about when Paul testified, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me,” Galatians 2:20. Jesus described Himself as “the Light of the world” in John 8:12. A real aspect of holy living is that the Holy One lives in believers, and when we surrender to Him, He uses our hands, our feet, our voices, etc. Being holy comes from the presence of our holy God living inside and Holy living comes from God working through us.
It is also true that God transforms the heart of believers, restoring part of the image of God that was lost due to the invasion of sin in God’s wonderful creation. When we surrender to the work of God in us, we do not lose our ability to choose; we gain the power to choose well. That is why Peter wrote that we may be “partakers of His divine nature,” 2 Peter 1:4. Paul taught believers to “work out (their) own salvation with fear and trembling,” Philippians 2:12, and to “walk according to the Spirit,” Romans 8:1. Because of the work of God in His disciples, Jesus, the Light of the world, said to them, “You are the light of the world,” Matthew 5:14.
The misconception then is that only one of these teachings is biblical. Both teachings are true and should not exclude the other. Jesus said, “He who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing,” John 15:5. Consider this picture. A man wished to go skydiving. However, he had no plane or the equipment to do so. Even if he did, he could not do it without a trained skydiver. There came to him an invitation to experience his dream. The professional skydiver would strap himself to the man and they would do it together. The man agreed and they jumped from the plane strapped together. The instructor maneuvered this way and that around and through the clouds. He let the man try, as well. When the time came to land, the instructor guided the man’s hand to pull the right cord to open the parachute and bring him to a safe landing.
So it is with the journey of holiness. Without Him we can do nothing. But He invites us to “abide in Him” so He can guide us to cooperate with Him to experience the joys of holiness and bring us to a safe landing. Holiness is Jesus abiding in me and I in Him. He changes me and continues to do so. However, I never get to the place I can make it without Him. The Holy One flows through me and from His work in me, I bear “fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life,” Romans 6:22.
Gary Wilson is pastor of Lebanon First Church of the Nazarene. Preacher’s Corner features a new local preacher each month writing a column.