Practical ways to live out a life of holiness
By Stan Toler
Do you remember the first time you heard your own voice recorded and played back? You probably reacted like so many others, “Do I really sound like that?” Or, have you ever had a picture taken and then, when it was developed, you remarked, “That doesn’t look like me.”
Isaiah had a similar struggle with sight and sound. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:1-5).
Isaiah saw the holiness of God and heard the reaction of the adoring angels in its presence. Isaiah then looked at himself and said, “That doesn’t look like me. I don’t sound like that.”
I’ve seen some folks try it, but God’s holiness is pretty hard to fake. They usually end up looking grim and joyless – as if they had been baptized in embalming fluid. What an inaccurate reflection of God’s holiness! And how out of tune they were with the seraphs that sang around His throne.
I’d rather be around the genuine. C.S. Lewis said, in Letters to an American Lady, “How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, it is irresistible.” Isaiah gave us a glimpse of the wholly genuine seated on a throne, high and exalted.
Looking so out of place in God’s presence, the prophet expresses an agonizing longing to reflect what God truly is – holy. But what does holiness look like?
We have a problem here. We’re like the Sunday school student who was asked to draw a Bible picture. “What’s that?” her teacher asked after seeing the “masterpiece.”
“That’s God,” the student quickly replied.
Concerned, her teacher commented, “Honey, none of us know what God looks like.” Puzzled, the student replied, “Well, if we don’t know what He looks like, then how can we be like Him?”
I’m glad that God solved the problem by giving us a glimpse of Himself in His Word – as much as we can stand this side of eternity. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
In the Old Testament, He is seen in the awesome and unapproachable majesty of the throne, the burning bush, or the ark of the covenant. Later, in the New Testament, He is seen in the redemptive vulnerability of the manger cradle, the executioner’s cross, or the borrowed grave.
Holiness characterizes God. And that holiness must be reflected in His people. “It is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy”‘ (1 Peter 1:16).
It seems implausible at first. Reflecting God’s holiness? Because of who He is, He could never be like us. But also because of who He is, He invites us to be like Him – as much as we can be while living in the confines and confusions of planet Earth. The impossible becomes possible through the provision of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the power of His Holy Spirit. Wesley said the Holy Spirit is the “immediate cause of holiness.”
How then should we reflect God’s holiness?
- First – God’s holiness is reflected in an unconditional hatred of sin. Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a Iying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” Reflecting God’s holiness means rejecting sin. “No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him” (1 John 3:6).
- Second – God’s holiness is reflected in an unconditional love for His people. “How great is the love the father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God . . .” (1 John 3:1). God’s heart looks beyond the deed to the doer. He can’t accept the sin, but He can wrap His arms of acceptance and forgiveness around the repentant sinner.
As a boy attending camp meetings, I remember those times following a stirring service when we would gather for a time of praise and reflection around a campfire. One by one, as other young people arrived, the circle was enlarged. Some of those who joined the circle weren’t necessarily the holiest in disposition or conduct (at least, before the service). But the presence of God, the warmth of the fire, and the glow on our hearts made a place for them in the circle.
Reflecting God’s holiness means no more closed circles. That doesn’t mean stamping approval on sin – in any form. It does mean, however, having a heart that is inclusive rather than exclusive. In his message, “The Way of Holiness,” Jonathan Edwards declared, “
- Third – God’s holiness is reflected in unconditional sacrifice for the welfare of others. John 3:16 has been mocked by football fans, wrestling promoters, and stand-up comedians. But it will never be replaced as the definitive word on God’s commitment to His creation. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He loved . . . He gave . . . He paid the ultimate price for every person.
Reflecting God’s holiness means the putting aside of self and selfishness for the redemption of others. According to Paul the apostle, that is seen in the home as well as on the highways. Ephesians 5:25 admonishes: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. ‘ Chuck Colson said, “Holiness is the everyday business of every Christian.”
Though we are not “little gods,” as some religions teach, we can have a little of God in us. “It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
A nineteenth-century Scottish theologian once wrote, “Holiness consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wills.” What is that? Reflecting the holiness of God!
Copyright © 2012 by Stan A. Toler
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