CAMPBELLTON, New Brunswick, May 2, 2023 – Many Christians try their best to be holy. They do what they think are “holy things”, like attending church services, reading the Bible, and praying to God. They do these things on their own volition, thinking it’s required of them. But the truth is, you can’t do anything to make yourself holy, no matter how often you attend church or how many Bible verses you read every day or how hard you pray.
Only God can make you holy, because only God is the source of holiness.
You can’t make yourself holy, but you can become holy by the grace of God. It’s the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in you that makes you holy. You’re not the source of your holiness; God’s Holy Spirit is.
As born-again believers, we all have a measure of God’s Holy Spirit in us. That is God’s grace, which he gives to his adoptive children at rebirth. God’s Holy Spirit is part of the rebirth deal. If you’re genuinely reborn, God’s Holy Spirit is with you all the time, which means you’re automatically holy.
So what then does it mean to be holy?
When you’re holy (that is, when you’re genuinely reborn and God’s Holy Spirit is in you), you’re drawn to godly things and have an aversion to ungodly ones. This aversion is particularly acute when you’re newly reborn, when, for instance, hearing or seeing curse words is almost like a physical attack on you. Thankfully, God takes the edge off that experience over time, so that you can at least tolerate being around people who curse. If he hadn’t done that, you wouldn’t be able to be around unregenerated people at all, since my experience has been that people tend to curse and use the Lord’s name in vain much more frequently when they’re around me than otherwise (or so they confess).
God’s children are holy by virtue of being God’s children, through the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in them. They don’t have to work at being holy; they simply are holy. But that doesn’t mean they can’t lose their holiness, like the formerly holy angels who fell from God’s grace.
So even though God has made you holy, you still have to make the right choices (righteous choices) to remain holy. That part is up to you. I don’t mean there’s a to-do list that you have to check off every day to remain holy. There’s no such thing. There’s only living your life by making righteous choices, like Jesus did.
And you don’t have to go out looking for choices to make; God will bring them to you. Every day, he’ll lay before you countless options to choose from, such as what to mull over in your mind, what to talk about, what to read and write, what to watch, how to interact with people, how to make a living, etc. Jesus didn’t go looking for ways to be holy; he simply was holy by virtue of the full measure of God’s Holy Spirit that was in him. Throughout his time on Earth, Jesus retained the full measure of the Spirit by making righteous choices in everything he did. This is why God was “pleased” with him.
We don’t have the full measure of God’s Holy Spirit, but we do have a measure, if we’re genuinely born again. How big a measure we have depends on the kind of choices we make and what we do with the talents God gives us.
Many people like to parade around thinking they’re holy, as Jesus pointed out. They make a big show of praying in public or wearing ‘holy garb’, like priests wearing special robes. (I actually wore a long black priest’s robe as a coat when I was a rebel teen atheist. I paired it with leopard-skin high heels and black tights held together with safety pins. From first-hand experience, I can tell you that wearing that priest’s robe did not make me holy!) Fake holy people are all over the worldly church, draping themselves with crosses and other paraphernalia and intoning God’s Word rather than speaking it. They also like to think of themselves as “holier than thou” and are perfectly captured in the parable of the Pharisee who stands at the front of the temple, congratulating himself on a presumed holiness that comes from fasting, praying, giving alms, tithing, etc. He also congratulates himself on not being like the poor wretch at the back of the temple who can’t even bring himself to lift his head before God. But Jesus informs us that it’s the poor wretch whose simple humble confession justifies him, while the presumptuous pompous Pharisee falls ever deeper into his sins.
We cannot make ourselves holy (only God can do that, through his Spirit), but we are responsible for making sure that we retain our God-given holiness. We do this by making righteous choices with our free will as long as we’re still here on Earth.
As for who is holy and who isn’t – people can be fooled, but God knows who’s holy, and so do the demons.