Beautiful and amazing things happen to you in the moment that you are brought into the Kingdom of God as you place your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Of course there is the fact that you are "born again" into God's family. "Jesus declared, 'I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again…. no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (John 3:3, 5-6).
Then there is the wonder of an incredible transformation taking place as you are made new. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ…" (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a).
And how can we not marvel that the ugly and loathsome sins that we have borne are carefully and completely cleansed from us! "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us, He took it away, nailing it to the cross" (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV).
No less amazing is the fact that God has set us apart for Himself, for His purposes and for our own sake! This setting apart is called "holiness" in the Scriptures and has almost become unknown in the culture in which we live. Today it is clear that we have lost sight of the precious treasure of holiness and drifted from flirtations with "unholiness" to embracing it; from embracing unholiness to flaunting it.
But what is holiness? What does it look like? How do we grasp this lifestyle of living in the Lord, fulfilling His purposes for our lives, and knowing the joy of being wholly His? Well, holiness is NOT self-righteousness, nor is it strict adherence to a rigid code of conduct (although these ideas seem to be the prevailing attitudes and biases folks have about holiness).
Holiness is first of all the nature of God. It is the infinitely high and noble essence of what He is and how He reveals Himself to us. His holiness is unfathomable and so alien to our fallen nature that we naturally contend with the directions in which His holiness leads us.
"Who among the 'gods' is like You, O LORD? Who is like You – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders" (Exodus 15:11 NIV). So majestic that we must revere it if ever our hearts truly turn towards Him, His holiness is overwhelming!
Holiness for us then is both recognizing the unique and precious nature of God and embracing it. It is the pursuit of the pleasure of God as we willingly seek to know Him as He is and to become like Him by the help He grants us through His Holy Spirit.
"Without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14b NIV). Righteousness (being considered "upright" and therefore acceptable by God) is granted to us because the true righteousness of Jesus is credited to us once we place our faith in Him: our sin is forgiven and we know that He has made a place for us in heaven. But holiness is the key to intimacy with God because through holiness we turn our attention to His love, His purposes, and His ways and subsequently submit to them. It is no wonder then that God admonishes us to pursue holiness in how we live and will even take steps to correct us and discipline us accordingly.
"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness" (Hebrews 12:7-10 NIV).
Many Christians today may have no idea what holiness is all about. Or they may wonder why we should seek to live in it. Or they may even scoff at it as a relic of the past or an agenda of a pompous and "kill-joy" group of hypocrites. Nevertheless, holiness is essential to the joy that God intends for us in life. We must remember that we are called to live holy lives and that we are truly set apart for God. We do not belong any longer to the world, nor are we bound any longer to its wickedness.
So what practical steps can we take in the pursuit of holy living? We could try to (and too often do) compose a long and complicated list of "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots", but the Bible teaches us a simple frame of mind to adopt that lovingly yet firmly leads us into ever-increasing holiness as we lean on God's empowering through His Word and prayer.
"Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace…. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness" (Romans 6:11-14, 19b NIV).
In other words, your body and your mind are now reserved for God and His purposes. Withhold the valuable gifts that your mind and body are from those things that are contrary to God's will for your life and daily offer them anew to Him so that He might both bless you and bless the nations of the world through you.
"I will accept you as fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will show Myself holy among you in the sight of the nations…. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him Who called you out darkness into His wonderful light" (Ezekiel 20:41, 1 Peter 2:9 NIV).