Duncan Campbell was a Scottish minister who lived in the mid-1900’s. He was involved in an amazing revival in the Hebrides Islands in the northwest of Scotland. Years ago he said, “Holiness — a demonstration of godly living — is the crying need of our day.” What Dr. Campbell said may be more true now that it was then. There are SO many people today who claim to be Christians, who say they know God, and the way to God — but nobody listens to them — and often the reason is that they do not live holy lives. What people around us today need to see more than anything else, is NOT just someone says they know God, but someone who really LIVES a holy LIFE! That holy life will speak more powerfully than a thousand empty words. And a holy life is just what God calls for in today’s passage:
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
I. THE GOD OF HOLINESS
Those words, “You shall be holy for I am holy,” are actually a quote from the Old Testament, as your Bible may indicate. This quote is from Leviticus 11:44, where God commanded Israel, “For I am YHWH your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.”
The foundation for everything we understand about holiness, is that God Himself is holy. It all starts with God. God is holy. One theologian said that THE single most remarkable quality of God, over and above every other, is His holiness.
Over and over the Bible tells us that God is holy.
— God told Israel in that passage in Leviticus that He was holy – and that verse is quoted throughout the rest of the Bible. It is a foundational teaching that God is holy.
— When God gave Isaiah a vision of His glory in the Temple, the angels were crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy is YHWH of hosts, the whole earth is filled with His glory.” We’ve talked about this before: when the Hebrews wanted to emphasize something, they’d say it twice; when they want to say something is the ultimate, they’d say it three times. So when they said God is “holy, holy, holy,” they were saying God is ULTIMATE in holiness!
— We see the same thing at the end of the Bible in Revelation 4, where it says that the living creatures around the throne of God day and night do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”
We could quote verse after verse about this. God is Holy! It is THE single most notable quality regarding Him, that He is holy.
But what does it MEAN that God is holy? First, the word “holy” means to be “set apart.” And God Himself IS indeed “set apart” from everyone and everything else. Everything else has been created; God has always been. Psalm 90 says “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” He has always been and always will be. As such, He is totally unique, totally different from everyone and everything else in creation.
And the second aspect of that word “holy” is that God is completely GOOD. He is morally pure and perfect. There is no sin in Him, no evil, not a shade of badness. “For the Lord is good” Psalm 100 says. And He is totally and completely good.
I John 1:5 says: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”
It’s so significant that John begins his book in that way. He says: THIS is the message we really want you to get: God is LIGHT. He is pure, He is perfect. In Him there is “no darkness at all.” “At all” is a Greek Bible word (oudemia) that scholars tell us, “shuts the door” objectively and leaves no exceptions! There is NO darkness, there NO sin at all in God. He is totally pure and good.
In 1876 Proctor and Gamble began advertising their new soap, and they boasted that it was “99 and 44/100s percent pure.” Some of you all are old enough to remember — maybe NOT 1876! — but you have heard that slogan used. (I saw where someone wrote and in and asked: “But what is the other 56/100? That other .056% consists of various impurities.)
But that’s the difference with God. He is NOT 99.44% pure. He is TOTALLY pure. He is 100% pure and perfect. “In Him there is NO darkness, AT ALL.”
He is “holy, holy, holy” God. Ultimate and perfect in holiness. And the holiness of God is the basis for all we understand about our call to holiness.
II. THE GIFT OF HOLINESS
God’s holiness is not just an “abstract theological fact.” It has great implications for you and me. God is totally pure and holy. This means something for us, because God made us to be with Him. As we have seen over the last weeks, the Bible says “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” As C.S. Lewis wrote, “God made us to run on Himself” like a car is made to run on gas. But the problem is, God is holy, and we are not. How can we have fellowship with Him, when He is totally pure and perfect, and we are sinful through and through, in our thoughts, words, and actions?
This is what Christianity is all about: that God made us to live with Him and be satisfied with Him forever. But from the Garden of Eden on, we have all chosen to sin. And our sin separates us from God. It HAS to. Because God is holy, as we have seen. And sin cannot abide in His presence. It would be vaporized in His presence like a piece of paper would be immediately consumed on the surface of the sun.
So we were made to be fulfilled and satisfied with God, but we have separated ourselves from the only One we can be satisfied with. How do we solve that problem? Well, GOD solved it for us, in the only way it could be solved. He Himself came down to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, and lived a totally, 100% pure and perfect life, and paid for our sins with His death on the cross. So now God can GIVE the righteousness (holiness) that Jesus bought for us on the cross. He washes us from the guilt of our sin, and sends His Spirit into our hearts as belonging to Him, and now He sees us as totally righteous and holy before Him. When we die, He will make us totally perfect and take us to heaven to be with Him forever. And our bodies, tainted by sin, will die – but when Jesus returns, He will raise them up, and will transform them into eternal bodies, holy and perfect and without sin.
But all this starts when we realize that we have sinned and ruined our relationship with God, and ask Him to forgive us, and make us holy in Jesus Christ. That’s called being “saved.” When that happens, He does forgive us, and from that moment, He doesn’t see our sin any longer, He only sees what Jesus did for us on the cross.
The other day one of my friends shared this picture of a church in Germany. As you can see, it was built in the shape of a cross. Looking down from the sky, as in this picture, you can’t see the people inside, with their various outfits and uniforms, relatively clean or dirty, or whatever. All you can see from above, is the cross.
When I saw this picture, I thought: this is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. When we accept Him as our Lord & Savior, God covers us with the cross of Jesus. He doesn’t see our sins any longer; all He sees when He looks from heaven on us, is the cross of Jesus. When God says here, “You shall be holy for I am holy”, He has actually DONE this for us. He has MADE holy in Jesus Christ — every one of us who has given our life to Him — and all God sees, when He looks at us, is the cross. We are now holy in His sight.
This is why the ultimate issue in your life, is what have you done with Jesus Christ? Jesus is not just some “religious philosopher.” He is the ONE way that you can be made right with a perfect and holy God.
Do you know for sure, that when God looks down from heaven at you, that the only thing He sees is the cross of Jesus? See, most people — even in church — think of religion as “doing their best to be good.” They try to go to church as often as they can, try to treat people right and do their best. But if that is all that religion is to you, then God does see those things you are trying to do — but He also still sees all your sinful deeds, all your sinful words, all your sinful thoughts, and attitudes — as well as all the things you have NOT done that you should have. And that’s not good enough to get you into heaven to live with a holy and perfect God.
This is why you have to realize that Christianity is not just about “coming to church and being good;” it is about receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior, and making sure that when Holy God looks at you, He doesn’t see your sin, He sees the cross of Christ instead. That’s why you need to make sure today, that Jesus is your Lord & Savior. You will never go to heaven to be with a Holy God and His people, if you don’t.
III. THE LIFE OF HOLINESS
So God IS holy; and He has given us the gift of standing before Him in holiness through Jesus Christ. But the real thrust of these verses here is that God is calling us as His children to actually BE holy in our daily lives. He’s “declared” us holy in Christ; now He says, if you’re thankful for that, then strive to actually BECOME holy in your daily living.
This call to holiness is put two different ways here in these verses, one negative, and one positive:
— first, he puts it negatively in :14. He says “Do NOT be conformed to the former lusts which were your in your ignorance.”
In other words, holiness involves NOT continuing to do things that you now know you should not be doing. Maybe at one time, you didn’t know any better:
— maybe like a lot of young men today, you thought pornography was just “normal”;
— maybe at one time you thought drug use or drunkenness were just legitimate ways to seek pleasure;
— maybe at one time you thought nothing of sleeping with someone who wasn’t your husband or wife;
— maybe at one time you thought nothing of cheating somebody in a business deal, as long as you could get away with it.
But now, since you have become one of God’s children, you know better. So he says, make sure you are NOT doing those things. “DO NOT be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.”
If you gave your life to Jesus as an adult, there should be a whole list of things about which you can now say, “I used to do that, but I don’t do it any more.” Because like this says, you are no longer conformed to your former lusts. Jesus came into your life and changed you. And if you haven’t changed, and there is nothing any different in the way you have been living since you gave your life to Jesus, you’d better check to see if He is really in you. Because II Corinthians 5:17 says “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away; new things have come.” Have “old things passed away” from your life, and now new, better things have come in their place? If not, you are NOT a “new creature,” and you are not “in Christ.” When you become a Christian, you will not just continue to live in your former lusts. You will turn away from them. God’s Spirit inside of you will not let you just be content living in those same sins.
So the question is: HAS your life changed? Are there things you used to do, that you are not doing now?
But if you’re like many Christians, you might say: but Pastor, I was saved as a child, so I can’t really say my life has “changed.” You know, when I was 7 I wasn’t out getting high and sleeping around; so I can’t say there has been a “change.” No, and that’s a good point. But what you CAN do — and this has been helpful to me, and maybe it will be for you — is look at what you did NOT get into because you started following Jesus when you were young. I can look around at some of the friends I had when I was 7 years old, who did not follow Jesus, and I can see the things they got into, that I did not. My life didn’t “change” that much, but there were a lot of things that I avoided because I had followed Jesus.
So maybe you can see the same thing. Maybe your life hasn’t “changed” because you were saved when you were young. But the fact that you did NOT get involved in those things of the world indicates that you really did give your life to Jesus when you were young. I think this can be helpful to the person who became a Christian at a young age. You shouldn’t have to wish you’d experienced a bunch of harmful things just so you’d have some kind of “testimony”! But on the other hand, if you WERE really saved as a child, you should be able to list a lot of things that you did NOT get into, because you gave your life to Jesus when you were young. Is your life different; have you stayed away from those “worldly lusts” that other people your age are involved in, because you are following Jesus?
Now let me make it clear; Christianity does NOT consist of just avoiding a big list of “don’t’s.” But if you really are a Christian, there WILL be things you are not doing because you belong to Christ. Like Peter says here, You will NOT be conformed to those former lusts. There is a “negative” aspect to holiness; there are things you will NOT be doing.
— And then he turns around and puts it positively in :15 “BUT, like the Holy One who called you, BE HOLY yourselves also in all your behavior.” He says DON’T do all those old things, but positively, BE holy — BE “set apart”.
So: just HOW holy is that? What are we talking about here? Well, the Bible is very specific. It gives us a couple of qualifiers in these verses which show us just how holy God wants us to be:
— First He says in :15, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” How holy does he say that we should be? “Like the Holy One who called you.” He says we are to aim to be as holy as God: “Like the Holy One who called you.” We are to be satisfied with nothing less.
The problem with most Christians is, we have decided we can never really be as holy as God, so we’ve found what we consider to be a “comfortable medium” and just camped there. Like the Pharisee in the Temple, we look around at other people and say, “I thank God that I am not like this other man.” We think, well, compared to them, I’m not too bad. I’m not perfect, but I’m ‘ok.’”
The problem is, we’re not comparing ourselves to the right standard.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus said God Himself is our standard of holiness.
It’s like one of our kids came home one time and said, “Well, I only made a 68 on that test — but it was a really, really hard test, and Bobby only made a 45!” They felt pretty good because they were comparing themselves to someone else. But that child’s grade was not about Bobby; it was about them. And YOUR holiness is not about what anybody else is doing with their life, it is about YOU compared to the holy standard of God in His word.
Too many Christians have just kind of “camped out” where we are spiritually, thinking, “Well, I know I have a lot of compromises, but at least I’m not like those other people” and using it as an excuse to not live a holy life. No wonder you don’t feel close to God. The truth is: You AREN’T close to God. You CAN’T be close to God, when you’ve become satisfied with habitual sins in your life.
Remember what I John 1:5 said: “God is light, and in Him is NO darkness at all.” God is light. God is pure. God is holy. You cannot walk in fellowship with God on the one hand, and continue to hold on to sin with the other hand. God’s going to the right and sin is going to the left, and you’re trying to hold on to both of them, and you CAN’T! You have to CHOOSE. And perhaps God brought you here today specifically to say to you, YOU NEED TO CHOOSE! You cannot continue trying to walk with sin and walk with God at the same time.
If you are really walking with God, He will be constantly calling you to turn away from sin. We’ve talked about how important it is to spend time with God every day in His word. Well one of the things that will happen as you walk with Him in His word daily, is that His Holy Spirit will show you sins in your life that He wants you to turn away from, so that you can walk closer to Him. But if you hear what He says, and don’t turn away from those sins, you begin to harden your heart, and soon you may not hear His voice any longer. You will lose your fellowship and closeness with God, because you cannot walk with sin, and with God, at the same time.
And notice this verse also speaks to the SCOPE of holiness that God is calling us to. How much of your life does this apply to? Notice He says you are to be holy: “in ALL your behavior”. My old 7th grade Sunday school teacher used to say, “ALL means ALL!” ALL of our behavior as God’s children is to be holy. That means there is to be NO area of your life in which is not to be holy! ALL your behavior is to be holy:
— That means you are to be holy in your moral life. Sexuality for the Christian is to be between one man and one woman who are committed to each other for a lifetime within the bounds of marriage. Anything outside that is not “ok” with God, and you need to change that if you are a Christian. You are to be holy morally.
— You are also to be holy ethically in your job and business dealings. It is not “ok” for the Christian person to do business just like everyone else does, just because “that’s the way of the world.” It may indeed be “the way of the world,” but as Jesus said: “It is not to be so among you”!
Christians are not to cut corners on the job
Christians are not to falsify reports
Christians are not to rip people off, or go back on your word
God says you are “be holy in ALL your behavior, and “all” includes the business world. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does, YOU are to be holy in ALL your dealings with everyone.
Too many Christians have compromised in business, and they give God a bad name in the community. When I first came to Angleton, I was talking with the man who inspected our home, and he was very helpful to us. And as we were visiting, we talked about church and things, and he mentioned our real estate agent — who happens to be First Baptist Church member Pamela Brooks. He told me that Pamela is one of the best, most honest Christian business people he knows. He said unfortunately not everyone who says they are a Christian really lives that way. He said, “I hate it when I see people saying ‘Praise God’ and things like that on Facebook — and then turn around and are dishonest in their business. He said, I’ve seen that way too much.
We’ve all seen that. And it gives Christianity a bad name in the community, when so-called “Christian” people are not holy in their business. So God says here: be holy in ALL your behavior — and that includes your business; it includes whatever kind of work you do. There is to be no “separation” between your faith and your work. There is to be no separation between your faith and ANY area of your life. If your walk with God is real, it will affect your WORK; it will affect your BUSINESS; it will affect your HOME; it will affect everything you do. God says you are to be holy in ALL your behavior.
Listen: sin is not something to play around with. Too many Christians these days seem to be playing a game of: “how close to sin can I get and still be ok?” Which is a dangerous game to play.
One of my friends put a picture on Facebook this week of a dead snake in their yard, and they said, “My husband rescued me from this!” Someone looked at the picture and commented, “But that was a GOOD snake!” But my friend was like, hey, we weren’t gonna get up close and see! We’re not messing around; we’re gonna kill it first, and ask questions later.
Well, truthfully, there ARE some good snakes. But just as truthfully, there are no good sins. The old Puritan John Owen famously said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” You cannot play around with sin. Sin is like a poisonous snake. It will kill you. And too many Christians today are toying around with sin. They’re seeing how many “wild oats” they can sow and not get hurt. They’re seeing how close the cliff they can get without falling off. Never play games with sin. It will literally AND spiritually, KILL you!
That’s why God says, “DO NOT be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance. But like the Holy One who called, be HOLY yourselves also — in ALL your behavior.”