Do I have to be perfect to be holy? No, holiness is something more—more profound, more excellent, and more attainable.
Why do we think holiness is unattainable?
I think it’s because we don’t understand the meaning of holiness. What do you think holiness is? Most of us probably would answer “perfection.” And because we think this way, we give up. I’m not perfect and you’re not perfect—therefore, so much for holiness.
But a better definition of holiness is being set apart for God’s exclusive use. In that definition there’s no mention of perfection. So is holiness attainable? You bet.
We know holiness is attainable for the Christian because God has called us to it. “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 Peter 1:15-16).
When you think of a holy person, what does your mind conjure up? Here’s what I once thought:
“I think of a super-sweet woman, who no experience of life can ruffle or discourage. She has a smile for every occasion. When she speaks there is a saintly aura of serenity about her. You can almost hear symphonic music in the background. She never has a bad attitude, or a bad response to criticism, pain, or rejection.”
No wonder we think holiness is unattainable! This is the result of equating holiness with perfection.
God, of course, is holy, and it’s more than just one of his attributes. It is his essential nature. All of his attributes are holy. Everything related to God is holy.
Furthermore, there is no true holiness in us apart from God. Various religions are said to have their “holy men,” but apart from a relationship with the living God there is no such thing.
In the Old Testament, God consistently revealed his holiness in the temple. The temple was his dwelling place. Men came to the temple to meet with him, to confess their sins, and to worship him.
The place in the temple where God’s presence was manifested was called the Holy of Holies. Once a year on the Day of Atonement the high priest went into the Holy of Holies and offered a sacrifice for the sins of the people.
These sacrifices meant that the temple was a place of reconciliation between men and the Holy God. Here God met them and rendered mercy instead of judgment.
When Solomon dedicated the first magnificent temple in Jerusalem, he prayed, very appropriately, “Even the highest heaven cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). And yet God was there—it was his dwelling place. Here he was worshiped. It was holy—a place for God’s exclusive use.
But now look at Ezekiel 8. The setting is hundreds of years later. Most of the Jews are in captivity in Babylon, including the prophet Ezekiel. But in a vision God takes Ezekiel back to Jerusalem and tells him to look in the temple.
What was going on there? God described it for Ezekiel: “utterly detestable things, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary.” The Israelites were practicing idolatry. On the temple walls were pictured “all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel.” Women were mourning the fertility god Tammuz, who was worshiped with orgies of indulgence. In the inner court men had their backs to the altar and were bowing down to the rising sun.
It was God’s temple, not theirs, and yet they were desecrating it. Their concept of God had shrunk: They were saying, “The Lord does not see us.” All this provoked God to jealousy, for in his dwelling place they had allowed idols to exist with him.
What is the equivalent of the temple today? Where is God dwelling We learn from the New Testament that we are God’s temple. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?… God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
God dwells within me and within you—not just in your mind or your spirit, but in your physical body. This New Testament temple belongs entirely to God just as the temple in Jerusalem did, and must be kept undefiled for his use. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
We tend to think that it is only the Holy Spirit who lives in us, and therefore something less than the full Godhead. But to anyone who loves and obeys him, Jesus promised, “My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). Jesus and his Father live in us, as well as the Holy Spirit. The Trinity indwells our temple. God has honored us with his presence. The new Holy of Holies is in us.
Now doesn’t that give you a new respect for your body? Absolutely everything connected with your body is relevant to God, because your body represents God. So, we must ask, is God comfortable in our temple? Or is he competing with our idols? How much control does he have of his temple?
Romans 12:1 makes especially good sense here: “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” Does this kind of sacrifice mean you’re doing God a generous favor? No, because he deserves your body. It’s his temple. It should be set apart for his exclusive use.
The Old Testament temple was a place of reconciliation, and so are our bodies. When I sin against God in my mind, I don’t bring an ox to a priest and have him slay it and intercede for me. No, I simply confess within my own heart to the Lord and immediately I am cleansed.
This reconciliation is necessary because sin contaminates our temple. I believe sin can be classified in two categories. Some we know about, and we can confess them specifically. But others are what David in Psalm 19:12 called his “hidden faults.” These can be our blind spots, things that others see but we do not. As David said, “Who can discern his errors? (Psalm 19:12).
But these sins often are hidden from us because we don’t want to see them. Maybe it’s a problem I don’t want to have, so I prefer not to acknowledge that I have it—it’s not the kind I want to be known for.
For years, those close around me knew I had a rather short fuse, but I would justify it on the basis of my Middle Eastern descent. As you read the Bible you see a lot of Middle Eastern people throw dust in the air and tear their clothes as they rant and rave. So I thought, Well, I’m just one of the bunch, so God doesn’t mind my temper. But this kind of justification is simply more evidence that we’re self-centered creatures.
Remember too that our minds are the source of sin. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of clean thoughts. In the mind, daily battles are won or lost. Our thoughts determine our character. A friend of mine says that each morning when we wash ourselves we should also wash our thinking, and start the day with clean thought patterns. Have you ever noticed that when you start a day with thoughts of anger, bitterness, jealousy, or lust, you battle these thoughts for the rest of the day? So capture them first thing.
Right now, what are you resentful of? What are you fearful of? What are you complaining about? Is your mind set apart for the Lord’s exclusive use? Or is there an idol there?
To be holy in our thoughts, we are to be single-minded. The Old Testament temple was for one purpose—meeting with and glorifying God. Our temple should also be for one purpose—single-hearted devotion to the Lord.
To be single-minded is to pursue one thing. To be double-minded is to look two ways at once. Double-mindedness is trying to get the best out of both worlds, but it results in instability. The doubleminded man, lames wrote, is “unstable in all he does” (James 1:8).
Several years ago I knew a woman who was beautiful and gifted, with a magnetic personality. She had an enthusiasm for the Lord that encouraged other people and made them want to be around her. They loved her.
However, she had a problem. I didn’t fully understand it then, but I now see it had to do with sensuality. Her skirts were always a little too short and too tight. When she was with men there always seemed to be something going on, some emotional undercurrent.
Later she went back to a more worldly environment and her mind reverted back to her old desires. Without the control provided by the fellowship of other believers she fell into sin, and eventually committed suicide. To be double-minded is a very serious thing indeed.
Whenever I find my commitment to the Lord being threatened by some desire, I begin to sing a song based on Psalm 73—
There is none, no not one,
not anything nor anyone,
that I desire in my heart, Lord, but thee.
Singing that to the Lord, along with some confession, brings my heart and my mind back to a proper focus.
Along with single-mindedness should be an increased sensitivity to sin. The priests in the Old Testament were continually having to cleanse themselves and the temple. It will be a continual process for us too, as God reveals sin to us.
The Old Testament temple was a place of worship, and this can be true of our bodies too. On a noisy street or in a crowded room you can quiet your mind and praise him. I have done this. It doesn’t matter what is going on around you. You can immediately have him give you peace or joy or whatever you need at the moment. Others who see you will be able to tell that you have been with Jesus.
As you search for ways to more fully present your body as a living sacrifice to God, remember 1 Corinthians 2:16—”We have the mind of Christ.” The Lord is very creative, and we have his mind. Just pray, “Lord, give me an idea,” and when he does, you’ll know it. This can make us very excited about walking and talking with him. Life is rich with Jesus.
God intends for us to be holy. But we must be willing to have him make us that way. We can set ourselves apart for God’s exclusive use by an act of our will, by deciding to be men and women of one purpose—knowing and glorifying Jesus Christ.
Holiness is possible.