Holiness Is What I Need
“Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
by John David Hicks
The songwriter said it well: “Holiness, holiness is what I long for; holiness is what I need. Holiness, holiness is what You want for me.”
Holiness recognizes God as creator, set apart from all He created. Hence, holiness is associated with God as being morally pure, perfect, and righteous. It is a state of spiritual soundness and unimpaired virtue. Holiness is God’s portrait and the summation of all His attributes. “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). The goal of holiness is to be like God. Sanctification is what God wants to do in you if you will let Him make you holy.
Man was made originally in the image of God and could walk and talk with God in the Garden of Eden. In the fall, man’s sin and rebellion made him selfish. God is agape love—unselfish love. God wants you to be holy and righteous. Righteousness has to do with the just compliance to God’s law, and holiness has to do with the condition of your heart.
Holiness is about God, you, His presence, and others. First, holiness is about the character of God. His very nature is holy. Holiness is about who God is, what He has done, and what He has decreed. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:5-6). Light represents what is good, pure, healthy, true, holy, and reliable. Light shines and exposes hidden things. Light makes God’s presence known. Darkness represents what is sinful and evil, hiding from the light. To walk in darkness is to live and act in ignorance, error, and untruth, and to be immoral and impure.
How do you get rid of the darkness? Expose it to the light. Light always overcomes darkness; darkness cannot exist in its presence. Jesus is the light of the world. By walking in the light we have fellowship with one another and with God (1 John 1:7), for Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin and makes us holy.
But many Christians have grown up in a “culture of prohibition,” of do’s and don’ts, thinking that this was holiness. Legalism is a ministry of death (Romans 8:2). Some have been turned off because of Christians who claimed holiness, then lived selfish, conceited lives. In Romans 10:2-4, Paul says that the Jews missed salvation because they sought to establish their own righteousness and not that which comes by faith in Jesus Christ.
Scripture tells us to pursue love (1 Cor. 14:1), to pursue holiness (Heb. 12:14). For without love you are nothing, and without holiness you will never see the Lord. “The love of God has no meaning apart from Calvary,” says Jerry Bridges. “And Calvary has no meaning apart from the holy and just wrath of God. Jesus did not die just to give us peace and a purpose in life; He died to save us from the wrath of God. He died to reconcile us to a holy God who was alienated from us because of our sin. He died to ransom us from the penalty of sin—the punishment of everlasting destruction, shut out from the presence of the Lord. He died that we, the just objects of God’s wrath, should become, by His grace, heirs of God and co-heirs with Him.”
David Wells adds that “without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of judgment that obscured the cross and exacted the damnation of the Son in our place. Furthermore, without holiness, grace loses its meaning as grace, a free gift of the God who, despite his holiness and because of his holiness, has reconciled sinners to himself in the death of his Son.”
God’s holiness made the atonement a necessity. Love and holiness now have meaning.
Holiness is about the character of God.
Second, holiness is about God making you holy. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14 nkjv). Holy people will see God. Unholy people will not see Him. God’s holiness will not let sinful man enter His presence. “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Rev. 21:27 esv).
Listen to the songwriter: “Purity, purity is what I long for; purity is what I need. Purity, purity is what You want for me.”
Eliphaz asked, “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” (Job 4:17 esv). How can a holy God make you holy? 1 Peter 3:18 has the answer: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.” And Paul wrote: “For the grace of God…teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12). What God’s holiness demanded, God’s grace provided in Jesus Christ.
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thess. 4:3). Richard Watson summed it up, “Sanctification is that work of God’s grace by which we are renewed after the image of God, set apart for His service, and enabled to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. It comprehends all the graces of knowledge, faith, repentance, love, humility, zeal and patience, and the exercise of them toward God and man.”
To restore our relationship and holiness, God “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Theologically, salvation includes both the event of our justification and the process of our sanctification. Justification is the forgiveness of sin, regeneration, adoption, and the imputation of righteousness. Sanctification is being “holy, set apart for God; cleansed for service.” Thus, holiness is your walk in the Spirit.
But sin has caused us to “miss the mark” and to miss God’s perfect will. Sin has messed up our thinking about God, our self, and others. If you can control your thoughts you can control your actions, your attitude, and your life. Sin makes you judgmental and prejudiced, incapable of making the right choices. When you die to the law, to your performance, the power of sin is broken and holiness can break through. Holiness corrects your “stinking thinking” as you see things from the source of truth.
What you think you will become (Prov. 23:7). Right thinking is important. Our lives are powerfully affected by what we permit to enter our thoughts from people, books, music, and media. In sanctification God gives to us the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). That is why He tells us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9).
Do you see a God who is sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present and who loves and accepts you? The “mind of Christ” changes your thinking, your actions, and the direction of your life. When you are sanctified, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
The character of holiness is found in Jesus and is imparted to you by the Holy Spirit. Look at the fruit of holiness in Galatians 5:22-25 (nasb):
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
Note how the Holy Spirit manifests the holiness of God in your life. He gives you love for the unlovable. Joy in the midst of tribulations. Peace in the midst of war. Patience in affliction. Kindness to the unkind. Goodness to those who upset you. Faithfulness to the unfaithful. Gentleness to the harsh. Self-control when you have reason for revenge. With such things there is no law or self-righteousness because you have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires and are walking by God’s Spirit in holiness.
Holiness is about God making you holy.
Third, holiness is about the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life.
When you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit comes into your life—all of Him, not just a part of Him. When you are filled with or baptized in the Holy Spirit, you do not get more of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit gets more of you. Ephesians 3:20-21 explains this: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” The Holy Spirit is in you, but you have to release Him. He must have unchallenged control of your life.
Paul describes two kinds of Christians in 1 Corinthians 2:14 to 3:4, the carnal man and the spiritual man. The carnal man lives by his power in the flesh. He has divided loyalty and the mindset of the world. “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17). The apostle James refers to this situation as “double-mindedness.” The flesh and the Spirit are at war, fighting for control. John describes them as hot, cold, or lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-17). Peter declares, “If it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18). Again we see the sinner, the man in the flesh living with no regard to God and the righteous man. Although it may seem strange that a Christian would be carnal (Romans 7:21-25), this is consistent with Christian experience.
Look at the righteous man: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). James says the foundation of a powerful and effective prayer is righteousness. When you know you are right with God, right with others, and right within, there is boldness in living and boldness in your prayers. Sanctification makes you righteous with a clear conscience before God and man.
Jesus spoke of the gift of the Holy Spirit as the Father’s promise. That is why He prayed for us, “Sanctify them in the truth [set them apart for Your purposes, make them holy]; Your word is truth” (John 17:17 amp). Then Jesus adds, “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory” (17:21, 24). He wants you to be in fellowship with the Trinity, and He wants you to be with Him now, in an intimate relationship. His presence sanctifies you by transforming you into His image (2 Peter 3:18; Romans 8:29).
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19). His presence is better than physical contact, because He is always within you. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8 nasb).
Koinonia, a Greek word that means communion, intercourse, fellowship, describes this relationship. Applied to the believer, it is personal communion with God. You become God-centered, one in Spirit. You are invited to participate in the fellowship of the Godhead (John 17:22-23). John wrote: “Our koinonia is with the Father and His Son.” Peter wrote: “We are partakers of the divine nature.” Paul wrote: “God has called you into koinonia with His Son.” Jesus prayed: “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am that they may behold My glory.” As the “bride of Christ,” you can experience this koinonia in intimacy with Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3).
Paul tells the Colossians that God “has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (1:22 nlt). You are made holy only in the presence of God. That is why David cries out, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:3). Then David tells us what this holiness is like: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).
The purpose of His presence is to make you Christ-like. God is calling you to share in His unique character. Your behavior will grow out of your understanding of who you are in Christ and who God is. When you worship God you are not exalting Him, for He is already exalted as sovereign of the universe. You worship God because it aligns your body, soul, and spirit into the truth and reality of God. Jesus said in John 4:23, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” It is “the will of God” (1 Thess. 5:23) that you “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4), because this is worship “in spirit and truth.” This kind of worship is what makes you spiritually sensitive to the presence of God.
This loving relationship is only possible when you have free will. Because God is agape love, unselfish, unfailing, and eternal, He allows you to exercise your will even if it means you might reject His love. For a loving relationship to take place, a choice and a commitment must be made. God has chosen to love you. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). This is God’s commitment to be faithful to you. That is why Joshua 24:15 says to you, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”
Holiness is about choosing to live in God’s presence.
Fourth, holiness is about God’s love for people. When the Holy Spirit makes you holy, you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissioned His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit and power to do what He calls us to do. Peter could boldly say, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32). Every Christian is commissioned to reproduce in others what God has done for you. You are to witness to the Good News that Jesus died on the cross to forgive sins and to give eternal life (John 1:12).
Paul says we witness “because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). John says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:17-20). “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because in this world we are like him” (1 John 4:16-17).
Like Jesus, when you live in His holiness you are able to love others. He gave us the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). Then He reduced the law to just two commandments: Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. “On this hangs all the law and prophets” (Matthew 22:40). For sin is the violation of love, of relationships and God’s holiness.
Increasingly, I have seen how important a role the Body of Christ must play in our growth in holiness. It is in giving and serving one another that our selfishness is daily crucified. It is in loving those with whom we have little in common, who rub us the wrong way and get under our skin, that we grow in real holiness. There is a tendency for Christians to withdraw from the church and isolate themselves. No matter what experience they have had at the altar, this withdrawal usually unravels holiness and ends spiritual progress.
God wants you to trust Him with everything in your life (Phil. 4:13, 19). You can’t earn holiness, but you can demonstrate it by your stewardship and service: in your stewardship by managing your time, talents, and treasure, and in your service by following Jesus’ example (Matthew 20:28). Holiness looks like Christ—you begin to talk like Him, act like Him, and walk like Him.
Holiness is about God’s love for people.
How does God sanctify you and make you holy?
First, believe that God’s promise of the fullness of the Holy Spirit is to make you holy.
God cannot lie. He has given His word (John 17:19-20). When you see your need and when you hunger and thirst for the fullness of God Himself, you will find it (Matthew 5:6).
Jesus’ prayer for your holiness is found in John 17—that we would be protected from the evil one. His command is to “tarry…until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The Holy Spirit is not a doctrine to be debated, but a person to be received. You may have all the right theology, but miss His presence, power, and splendor. When the Holy Spirit indwells you, your life will show the fruit of the Spirit. Without Him, your attempt at spiritual ministry will be lifeless. Remember that a holy life is not based on the law or your performance but is by faith. Paul wanted to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phil. 3:9).
Faith is the instrument by which you receive salvation and sanctification, not the reason for it. Only by trusting God can you please Him. In God’s economy you cannot possess what you do not have the faith to ask for. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).
In salvation God has put you “in Christ.” “In Christ Jesus, [He] has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). The gift of righteousness gives you the right to dwell in His presence (Psalm 140:13).
John Wesley emphasized that Christ doesn’t just cover our sinfulness. He cleanses us and makes us holy. God’s holiness is actually imparted, not just imputed, as He dwells with us. Our lives are hidden in Christ, but not our sin. He charged some who had mistakenly thought that sin magnifies the grace of God when they acknowledge that they live a life as helpless sinners. But this position robs God’s grace of the power to make us holy as He is holy. The idea that God’s holiness is only imputed and not imparted is a great hindrance to growing in holiness.
The promise is, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). Believe God’s word.
Second, surrender everything to God.
In your consecration you seek Him (Matthew 6:33) by turning everything over to Him, including yourself (Luke 22:42). Quit depending on your performance and surrender to the lordship of Christ. “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus…. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:11, 14).
Man’s part is consecration. The apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2).
God’s part is sanctification (Eph. 5:26; Heb. 13:12). It’s one thing to be forgiven and another to be accepted as righteous. “Those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
God’s plan is to conform you into the image of God. He “has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9).
Third, receive the Holy Spirit by faith.
In Acts 15:9 Peter testifies that God makes “no distinction between us and them [Jews and gentiles], for he purified their hearts by faith.” Paul reminds us, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). By faith you have died with Christ so that you can live with Him.
God commands you to “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). As you take the step of asking, surrendering, and receiving by faith, the Holy Spirit will bear witness with your spirit. Again Peter affirms, “God, who knows the heart, testified to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us” (Acts 15:8).
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11). Life in the Spirit is “in Christ,” where you are holy, loved, and accepted. Your part now is to abide (John 15:5). Abiding brings the branch into relationship with the vine. Fruit only comes through union. The branch is completely dependent on the vine to be loved, accepted, made righteous and holy. Jesus said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love” (John 15:9 nasb).
My response to God’s holiness is to know that I am abiding in the vine. Since Christ is holy and accepted with the Father and I am “in Christ,” I am holy and accepted with the Father. That is why the Bible calls us saints!
You receive the Holy Spirit by faith.
Fourth, God’s part is the sanctification.
The Spirit-filled life of holiness (wholeness) is lived from the inside out—by God’s power, not yours. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24).
In the New Testament, what was it that impressed demons? Holiness. What did they cry out when they saw Jesus? We “know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24). Holiness gives you spiritual authority. If you are not sanctified to the purposes of God, you will have no authority over demons. If the devil can get you to sin, he knows that you have surrendered your spiritual authority. Authority and power come out of holiness.
In sanctification God graciously gives us two gifts. First, the gift of Himself in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. “You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:10). Second, the fruit of this fellowship is power. “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
God does not give you power without first giving you authority. Authority is knowing who you are in Christ. God changes your self-image by freeing you from guilt, shame, and condemnation, and replacing it with His love, acceptance, favor, and grace. “I have given you authority…to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19). If God gave you power without the authority, you would not know what to do with that power.
Conviction and peace are the two witnesses that confirm that you have the authority of the Holy Spirit. Conviction confirms your inner peace (Romans 9:1; James 1:6; Heb. 11:1), and the peace of the Holy Spirit in you will govern and guide you (Phil. 4:6-7). “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).
The life of holiness includes a lifelong process of spiritual growth and being continually refilled with the Holy Spirit. You keep filled in part by obeying God’s Word. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9). The Lord is faithful to keep you blameless and in fellowship (1 Cor. 1:8-9; Romans 14:23).
Listen to the songwriter again: “Take my life and form it; take my mind transform it; take my will conform it—to yours, to yours, oh Lord.”
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13).
God’s desire is for you to be holy, “conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29). That is why Jesus prayed for you: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
You have heard the promises of truth from the Word of God; let God sanctify you. “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).