How Can Christians Be Holy As God Commands Them?

The Bible admonishes us to be holy, but how is that possible with sinful creatures?

Living in Holiness

A Christian is commanded to be holy, which includes living a life that is holy and abstaining from things like sexual immorality, but the Christian should realize that this doesn’t save them. We can’t assume that just because we’re told to be holy, and then strive to please God, that this has anything to do our salvation. It’s not part of our salvation but a byproduct of our salvation. We seek to please the Father as Jesus did because we love Him. Don’t we do things for people we love in order to please them? To try and live lives that please God, we must be diligent in obeying God’s Word, even though we’re swimming upstream against the current of the world, the pulls of our own flesh, and our Enemy. The Apostle Peter wrote, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1st Pet 1:16), and that was in the context of being told to “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” (1st Pet 14-15). Christians realize it’s not a part of their salvation but it comes as a result of their salvation, so even our trying to be obedient is birthed out of a desire to please God. At least it should. The believer should be different from the world, and I’d say, radically different, and so much so that it’s clear to others that that person is a believer. That does not mean there is any superiority in them, but rather the opposite because believers are told to esteem others better than themselves (Phil 2:3-8), whether they are believers or not. God never saved us because we are better than others…but only because He loved us (Rom 5:8).

The Command to be Holy

God would not command or require something of us that we couldn’t do or something we couldn’t have done for us, so the command to be holy, although it sounds humanly impossible (which it is), is not impossible for God (Matt 19:26). When a person is born again, they become new creations in Jesus Christ (2nd Cor 5:17), which means they now have the same righteousness that Jesus has. In one of the most powerful and profound Bible verses in Scripture, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2nd Cor 5:21). If it was not for His sake, we’d have no chance of ever being seen as holy before God, but once a person has been brought to repentance and placed their trust in Christ, they have Jesus’ very own righteousness accredited on their behalf. Now, God only sees Jesus’ righteousness and not our sins. Because of Christ, our sins are removed forever (Psalm 103:12), and that is essential because nothing or no one who is unclean will ever enter the kingdom (Rev 21:27).

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An Alien Source

An old retired pastor friend of mine was once asked if he was a good person and he said, “No, no one is good,” which is scriptural, but then he was asked if he’s sure he’ll go to heaven, and he said, “I have an alien righteousness, or a source outside of my own self. It had to come from God and only through Jesus Christ and I’m so sure I’m going to heaven, it’s as if I’m already there!” On one occasion, an angel of God told the Apostle John, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy” (Rev 22:11), and this was written in the context of Jesus’ return, because in the very next verse, Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done” (Rev 22:12). So whoever is deemed holy by Jesus’ atoning work (2nd Cor 5:21) will be living a holy life. Not a perfect life but one that is motivated by love to obey God, so when Jesus comes again, they will still be striving to live a holy life (“holy still”). As for those who are filthy, meaning they have never been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb of God, they will still be living a filthy life when Christ returns, and for both those who are saved and those who will be judged, Jesus is coming to judge those who rejected Him (Rev 20:12-15; 21:8) and reward those who trusted in Him (Rev 21:1-4). It is not because Christians are better people or are living better lives so that they can be saved, but it is because they are saved, they strive to avoid sin. Jesus said “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (Rev 22:14), so without the blood of the Lamb, we’d have no means to become clean before God and we have zero reason to boast (1st Cor 4:7).


Clearly we are called to be living a holy life but Christians acknowledge they are not sinless, however there should be a drift towards sinning less. Over time, a believer becomes more and more like Christ by His Spirit and by the washing of the water of the Word. It’s called sanctification. The Apostle Paul makes it clear who will be saved and who will not be saved by the way they live, so Paul asks a rhetorical question; “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1st Cor 6:9-11). This explains why the Apostle John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1st John 1:16).


Holiness is not the way to Jesus….Jesus is the way to holiness. Far too often people say, “I’m waiting to get my life cleaned up before I come to God” but the problem is, they can’t do anything without Christ (John 15:5) and only through Christ can we do anything (Phil 4:13), so it’s sort of like saying, “I’m going to drive the car but I’m waiting for it to be fixed.” The worst thing an unbeliever can do is wait and think, “someday,” but that day may not come before Jesus returns or the person dies, and by then, it’s too late (Heb 9:27) so procrastination can be deadly. Today is the best day for you to be saved (1st Cor 6:2), because tomorrow may not come, and all of us are one breath…one heartbeat…away from eternity…and that will be too late to make a decision for Christ.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is host of Spiritual Fitness and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

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