“… but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:14-16
God requires us to be holy. When Peter quotes from Leviticus the command so frequently repeated there to “be holy, for I am holy,” he makes it clear that in God’s mind this basic need has not changed despite progressing from the Old Covenant to the New. We must still be holy.
Peter goes on to explain that when Jesus died, He paid for more than just forgiveness of our sins – that Christ, in fact, shed His blood to purchase us for a new kind of life, a holy life:
“… knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19
So, God requires that we be holy, and Christ bought this with His precious blood. Let’s consider, then, what holiness looks like, how we can be holy, and what is the reward for our being holy. What we will discover is that when it comes to holiness, the key to being is seeing.
Holiness is what makes God unlike anyone else. It is His “otherness.” A more complete definition is that God is perfectly distinct, being above everything in majesty, and separate from sin.
In Isaiah 55, God says that His thoughts are not our thoughts; neither are our ways His ways, but as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than ours. That’s God’s holiness. And He is perfectly morally pure. He is so pure and so separate from sin that 1 John 1:5 says that He is pure light, and in Him is no darkness at all. That’s the holiness of God.
What happens when we truly see and understand God’s holiness? Isaiah provides us an answer:
“… I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim… And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” Isa. 6:1-3
Isaiah saw the Lord in His holiness and glory, and his response was entirely appropriate:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Isa. 6:5
When we truly see the holiness of God, the result ought to be humility. We are cut to the heart, struck by our own sin. And this is where holiness begins, when God gives eyes to behold His glory and holiness, and grants godly sorrow producing repentance, which leads to salvation.
Unless this happens, we can never even begin to become holy. In Isaiah’s case, an angel touched him with heavenly coal for cleansing. But what about us? How can we see God’s holiness and then be changed when we haven’t had a heavenly vision like Isaiah?
Our holiness means being like God with respect to His moral purity. It is the same as godliness, being like God in His character. And it still carries the same idea of being separate from sin, which manifests in being separate from and unlike the world (James 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15).
And we do not need a vision like Isaiah. The incarnation provides in Jesus Christ a perfect display of divine holiness in human form. He is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4), the radiance of His glory and the exact imprint of His nature (Heb. 1:3). Therefore, holiness is Christ-likeness, and if we want to be holy, we need to see Jesus. This first happens when God shines light in our heart by His Spirit, so that we can see the glory of God in the face of Christ through the gospel:
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 4:6
Paul calls this the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and it’s the beginning of a new life of holiness for those who have been given new eyes of faith to see the glory and holiness of God in Jesus. However, perfect holiness and Christ-likeness does not happen all at once.
Becoming Christ-like means there’s a target that we are aiming at – getting closer to a goal, which is to say holiness in this life is about making progress, not achieving perfection:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own… forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:12-14
But in order to make progress toward that goal, our eyes must be kept on the prize of the upward call of God in Christ, which is to say that our eyes must be fixed on Christ Jesus:
“…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” Heb. 12:1-2
And as we do that – fixing our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ through the pages of Scripture – something beautiful happens to us, little by little, by the power of the Holy Spirit:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” 2 Cor. 3:18
We become more and more like the one we behold. Beholding is how we become like the Lord. By the power of the Spirit, we behold Christ in Scripture, and are transformed into is image.
So far this may all seem a little too easy, but implied in the verses above is an aspect of sacrifice that is needed to make progress toward the goal of becoming Christ-like. We must “forget what lies behind” and “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.” But we can’t forget what lies behind or lay aside sin and other hindrances while looking back at the world. Remember Lot’s wife. Holiness demands we deal with the reality of temptation in radical ways:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Matt. 5:29
To reach our goal, we must cut out whatever would draw our attention away from the Lord. Sometimes this means sacrificing things that may even be fine and useful in and of themselves (eyes are good and useful). Jesus uses hyperbolic language to make the point that radical measures are needed to cut out whatever would hinder our holiness. So, becoming holy will hurt, but for those who embrace this suffering for Christ’s sake, there is a reward.
As we have already seen, we become holy by seeing the Lord in His glory and holiness. In fact, in the day that we behold Him perfectly, we shall become like Him perfectly:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2
But the real reward for being like the Lord Jesus in holiness, is seeing the Lord in greater glory:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matt. 5:8
Perhaps this seems surprising, but actually it is completely consistent with our great salvation. From beginning to end it is all about seeing the Lord. We were made new when God shone light into our hearts to see His glory in Christ through the gospel (2 Cor. 4:6). We are continually being transformed into His image from one degree of glory to the next as the Spirit is helping us to behold the glory of Christ in Scripture (2 Cor. 3:18). And we will one day become perfectly like Him when He comes again and we behold Him perfectly, just as He is (1 John 3:2).
So, when we are perfectly holy, the final blessedness which fulfills our heart’s desire and awaits us in the new heavens and earth, where all is forever holy, should not really surprise us at all:
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face…” Rev. 22:4