The Holiness Dilemma Resurfaces

We spent time yesterday discussing how sin is not just a misstep, but rather a desecration of God’s character, which is the true measure of holiness. The conclusion? Holiness matters to God; we cannot approach Him without holiness.

Uh-oh. No one is naturally holy. Romans 3:23 reminds us of that. No need to worry though, because this dilemma is as easy to figure out as the Gospel itself because it IS the Gospel. Just a few chapters later Romans gives us hope when it reminds us that we have been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Dilemma Resurfaces

And with that joyful news of reconciliation comes also the question posed on day 1. Hebrews 10:10 states plainly: “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” You can’t get much more straightforward than that. Christ’s sacrifice was efficient in making us holy, once for all.

But turn over the page to chapter 12, verse 14, and you’ll find an apparent contradiction: “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” The New International Version translates that word “follow” this way: “Make every effort”. Effort? Isn’t that another way of saying “work”? Is holiness something we work towards or are we made holy through the death of Christ on the cross? There has to be some kind of resolution, especially considering these two statements appear in the same book.

Holy by Birth

The writers of Scripture must have had quite a task. Trying to convey the immortal Divine in terms that mortal humanity could grasp is no small feat. It’s no mistake that one of the most frequently used metaphors for salvation is being “born again” and becoming a “child of God”; placing your faith in Christ is tantamount to the very moment your head (or feet) popped out of the womb, a brand new member of God’s family.

When once you repent and turn to Christ, the penalty He paid on the cross is now applied to you. Even though you couldn’t ever be holy enough (see Isaiah 64:6), it doesn’t matter because Christ’s righteousness is applied to you. God does not see your unholiness, He simply sees Jesus, who died because of your unholiness. The payment has been made and you are now viewed as holy by God because of Christ. (Theologians like to call this positional sanctification, since we are now made holy by our position in Christ.)

Holy by Choice

The moment you are born into God’s family, you have decisions to make. Your choices can either honor God’s character (holiness) or violate His glory (unholiness). Your choices will not make you any more or less a part of God’s family, but they will reflect what you believe about God’s family. Passing erotic photos around to your coworkers will not make you “unborn again”, but it will certainly be screaming to those around you that you don’t like the family you’re in.

Take for instance a child who is born a king. As king, he has every right and privilege afforded the title. There are days when he loves being king and others when he’d rather be a peasant; but he is a king by birth. As he grows older, he is faced with choices; each one can either be a kingly decision or a shameful, cowardly decision. He may be living in such a way that no one respects him as a king or worse yet, his kingdom is taken from him. (My kingdom for a horse!) But that does not change the fact that he was born a king.

Cart vs. Horse

Don’t get the cart before the horse. Holiness is not a requirement for salvation. In fact, realizing you aren’t holy is the first big step towards reconciliation with God. Holiness is, however, a response to salvation. Now read James 2:14-26 with that in mind. And before you throw your Bible away, frustrated at Phillipians 1:12: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, be sure to read to verse 13: “for it is God which works in you”.

And it’s amazing how much “working out” your salvation helps to ground your faith; but we’ll save that for tomorrow.