Even “good Christians” may have the tendency to interpret the word “holiness” in their own way. Believing in a merciful, non-judgmental God, they acknowledge that they may have some “weaknesses,” but they believe that, because they are good, upright people, they can still be considered holy.
So commonly today we hear the phrase, “Don’t be judgy” or “Don’t judge me.” It is as if judgment is now a dirty word. These people believe that times have changed, and that we are allowed to simply “be ourselves.” The world – and God – should accept us as we are. In this “new world” apparently God is understanding and less demanding than the God of the Bible. Apparently He blesses sinners without charge, asking nothing more than their best effort. When they sin, He lets bygones be bygones.
There is also a very small group of zealous Christians who vow they will live holy if it kills them. With bulldogged determination, they try to suppress their sin. By outward displays and self-righteous thrusts of the flesh, they try to crush the evil that eats at their soul. Some join communes and monasteries. Others torture themselves. A few have decided they must dress and look a certain pious way. Many do battle by giving up things (some perfectly harmless) until there is nothing left to surrender except themselves.
This stubborn group chooses to deal with works rather than sound doctrine. They stress outward appearance rather than inner purity. They “… make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess” (Matthew 23:25). As with the Pharisee, these people’s service to God is more like bondage. Their religion is grim hard, and loveless. Yet, they glory in their spiritual superiority: “…Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou…” (Isaiah 65:5).
In God’s eyes, there is only one true way to respond to the call for holiness. It is the way of the New Covenant: submitting to the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. God no longer accepts man’s futile efforts to live holy by his works; that was the old Covenant way. God now makes man holy by what He does in him and by what man does for God, after his sinning nature is extinguished.
We delude ourselves if we think we can “be ourselves” and simply try to be a good person, and God will forgive all. Since even our motives and attitudes can be sinful in God’s eyes, we cannot be holy without first getting rid of our sin nature, “… the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Then we must put on the divine nature, “… the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 24).
Just as God has a way of saving us by faith, He also has a process whereby He crucifies our old man by faith, kills the power of sin over us, and puts us on the road to holiness – His way. That process is sanctification. Without sanctification, no man shall travel the highway of God’s holiness.
We cannot selfishly believe that God accepts the “old man” within us. Nor can we defeat that old man by external deeds of the flesh. God has fashioned spiritual values so that a man’s holiness may not be discerned by his outward appearance, nor by a weak attempt to “be good.” We are holy only with a full expression of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For more on the path to holiness, please see my recently-published book, America's Role in Armageddon.