If you are wondering, “How can I know God,” here are three different answers you might hear: 1. “We cannot know God.” This is the position of many people today. If you look at any of the recent religious surveys, it is clear that don’t knows are on the rise. That may well be...
Recently, I have been captivated by 1 Peter 1:14-16:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 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’ (see also Leviticus 11:44).
The Bible, as clear as day, calls us to be holy, imitating Christ. At first glance, I might think: Okay, I can strive to be moral, ethical, and generally good. I can do my best at that.
But the more I’ve read about holiness the more in awe of this passage I’ve become. For, the more I learn, the more I’ve realized how active the grace of God is in our imitation of holiness.
What is Holiness?
Paul David Tripp has a wonderful line about holiness that helped break open this topic for me. He writes, “To be holy means to be cut off, or separate, from everything else. It means to be in a class of your own, distinct from anything that has ever existed or will ever exist.”
That’s so much more than being “generally good”! And while we might use phrases like “in a class of one’s own” as a way of saying “so much better than the competition,” clearly this is not what Tripp means here. He says to be holy is to be “distinct from anything that has ever existed or will ever exist.”
In other words, it means to be of a completely new category of being. A singularity—that is, something unique of which there is no copy.
Does that sound like something I can do? Not in a million years. Here’s the truth: We live in a world of duplicates wherein each copy is tempted to believe they are singular, alone, cut off from others.
Don’t believe the lie. There is only one in all of history who belongs to a separate category of being. Only one man is singular, unique, and new. His name is Jesus Christ.
And yet the question remains, how in the world am I supposed to be holy? If holiness is above me–in a completely different category–is there any hope for me to do what the Bible commands?
As we get to know the who of holiness, we will see the answer, praise God, is yes.
Who is Holiness?
I love this simple line from The Bible Project’s website: “Christ… is God’s holiness in human flesh.” Don’t move past that phrase too quickly. Consider the movement implied in what’s being said here in this allusion to John 1:14.
Return for a moment to 1 Peter 1:14-16: “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” There is movement in this verse. By itself, it seems that all Peter is saying there is upward movement only: for you to move toward holiness. In other words, to do the impossible—achieve that divine category, make yourself into a new substance, be different than anything that has ever existed!
But that is not what Peter is saying, it’s an interpretation formed out of context. Because 1 Peter 1:14-16 isn’t the whole story. In fact, the main scene of the story has already happened and if you don’t know it, you are going to miss out big time.
John 1:14 shows us that there was a great downward movement: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus Christ, the Holy One, descended into our lower category and became a copy for the sake of copies. Why did he come?
John 1:14 continues, “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” To show us God’s glory! To give us a sense of his holiness in a way that we could comprehend.
Allow me for a moment to tell you a little about a short book I once read. It’s a fascinating story titled, Flatland, and it was written by Edwin Abbott. It’s a different kind of genre, maybe you are unfamiliar with it, called mathematical fiction. The story is all about shapes and dimensions!
You might be wondering why I’m referencing this—and others of you are wondering why in the world I ever read such a thing! Here’s why: the conflict of the story is revealed when the narrator, a square, encounters something bigger than its reality: a sphere.
The square did not know the sphere was a sphere right away. How could it? It had no idea sphere’s existed. When it first saw it, it looked a lot like a circle. But it did things no other circle had ever done—it could appear and disappear as it passed through the 2-D plane, and as it went through it would grow and shrink. (Imagine a slicing off the top of a basketball, and then again through the middle, the diameters would be very different).
As you can imagine, such an encounter shattered the square’s worldview. The square had never realized the sameness of everything around it until it saw something so completely new. It became captivated with the newness of the sphere. It wanted to be like the sphere!
But as enlightened as the square was, the mere presence and revelation of the sphere could not change the square into a cube. The square was a square. It could not change.
God’s Holiness Changes Us
There are similarities in this story to the story of Jesus Christ, with some major differences. A similarity is that as the square thought the sphere was a circle at first, so when Christ, “God’s holiness in the flesh,” came to earth it was possible for people to choose to reject him as their Lord, believing him for just another person:
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:10-11)
Many people make the mistake of seeing Jesus, our Lord, as just another human. Don’t make that mistake!
The huge difference is that Jesus Christ came not only to reveal holiness but to change us from the inside-out so we could participate in his holiness. John 1:12 says,
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
What amazing grace! Jesus took on human flesh, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross as the spotless sacrifice in order to welcome us into his holiness. In Christ, we are “born of God.” Holiness is not achieved through our effort, but through believing in Christ his holiness is given to us.
Borrowing the words of The Bible Project again, God’s holiness is a command, yes, and it is also “a gift, able to heal a broken and impure world.”
So, let’s return to our question. Is it possible to imitate God’s holiness? The answer is this: Due to Christ’s great grace, all those who are in him are separate from the world of duplicates and given the right to dwell in his holiness- to be children of God.