When the topic of holiness comes up in teaching or conversation, does your heart sink a little? Our default assumption is that holiness has something to do with rule keeping, and so, when the topic comes up, lists of failures fill our minds.
If we saw holiness as the miracle that it is, I think it would become a topic of conversation accompanied by joy, encouragement, and a sense of opportunity. It would lead to a renewed vision for the church in your neighbourhood.
"Assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, creed after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24)
Holiness comes with the new self; a new likeness, created after the image of God. It is not part of our old nature, which is corrupt. In other words, we don’t have it in us to be holy; we need to be made new. The way to get holy is the gospel.
The gospel is this: by faith we have been crucified with Christ and raised to new life with him. The old self and old manner of life is not calling the shots any more. It still attempts to, but for the Christian, there is a new self, that God has created and delivered to us.
Holiness is living life through the gospel. The new self is given to us through the gospel and the gospel is the instruction manual that comes with it. The gospel doesn’t just save us; it becomes the pattern of life. Because we have died with Christ, we can daily put off our old way of life. Because we have been raised to image him we can daily put on his character.
Holiness is only possible if you have a new self. The world can help someone stop stealing. People can learn to bite their tongue and filter what comes out of their mouths. Psychologists can train us to walk away from angry responses. However, none of those things are change. It’s all about curbing the old self, through effort. In Ephesians 4:19 the community outside of the gospel is shot through with callousness, greed and every kind of impurity. Those impurities flow through relationships and contaminate them.
If you haven’t died with Christ you have no new self to put on. Change can only go so far as restraint; it can’t produce transformation and a new community. But the gospel is a trip through the grave and out the other side to a new self. The death and resurrection of Jesus has made a new kind of human and a new kind of community a reality. Holiness is unleashed on the world through the gospel.
The rest of Ephesians chapter 4 shows us the holy community of the church. It is a new relational phenomenon. People speak truth to one another. Thieves stop stealing, get jobs, and start giving. Verbal behaviour, and anger aren’t just restrained; they are transformed to build relationships.
Holiness expresses itself in relationships that are being put back together through the gospel. It expresses itself in a church community flourishing as a people who have been recreated in God’s image.
Imagine holy communities of renewed people being planted throughout your neighbourhood and the world. I find that an exciting prospect. You don’t need a big budget to do that. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:20-21 that you need to teach people about the new self in Jesus.