More Like Jesus: Holiness (Part 2)

September 13, 2016

by Peter Amsterdam

(This article is based on key points from the book The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges.1)

As we look for ways to be more like Jesus, it’s important to examine what God’s holiness means and how we can partake of it. In God’s plan of salvation, the second person of the Trinity—God the Son—became human, lived a sinless life, and then was sacrificed on the cross for the sins of humanity. Through both His life and death, He made our salvation possible. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.2

Throughout the New Testament, we read of Jesus living a sinless life. He appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.3 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.4 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.5 In the Gospels we hear Jesus’ own testimony concerning His holiness. In the presence of His disciples, who had lived with Him day in and day out, He challenged the Pharisees with:Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?6 It wasn’t only that Jesus had an absence of sin, He was also in perfect conformity to the will of God. I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.7 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”8 “I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”9

Of course, we aren’t sinless as Jesus was, nor can we be; but we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus’ righteousness is credited to us. Salvation makes us “in Christ,” so that His holiness and righteousness are credited to us. Because of His holy life and death on the cross, God imputed or credited our sins to Christ, and He credited Jesus’ righteousness to us. We are able to be in the presence of God, the ultimate holiness, because we are made holy through Christ. Because Jesus died for our sins, we are members of God’s family and can enter into relationship with the Father. All of this is due to God’s grace. However, the quality of our relationship with God depends on us.

Being Christlike, being holy, fundamentally has to do with our relationship with God, our Father. Jesus’ perfection cannot be attained in our lives, but it can be seen as a model, an ideal for us to move as close to as possible. He focused on doing God’s will, on doing the things that were pleasing to God. Have we made it a goal to do what pleases God? Are we willing to think as God thinks and to will as God wills? This is how Christlikeness is pursued. Jesus entered our world to do the will of His Father, setting an example for us to follow. If we are following His example, the motivating principle that guides our thoughts, actions, and character should be the desire to do the will of our Father.

When speaking of doing the will of God in this context, the focus isn’t on finding God’s will for specific decisions (such as what career to pursue, whom to marry, etc.), but rather doing the will of God as expressed in Scripture, actively pursuing those things He has specifically instructed His children to do. Part of that pursuit is putting off sin and putting on the new self Paul spoke of.10 By God’s grace and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can live in a more holy manner, more in alignment with His will; however, the responsibility to do so lies with us.

Sanctification, the progressive growth in holiness, in Christlikeness, isn’t something that simply happens because we are Christians. Through His grace, He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son;11 yet we are also told to not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.12 We have been delivered from the kingdom of sin and the rule that it had over us, but we still suffer its attacks. Indwelling sin has been dethroned and no longer has the same grip on us that it did previously, but it is still there, and something we need to regularly face and overcome.

To overcome sin in our lives, it is helpful to have the right understanding of sin. We are saved members of God’s family, and therefore we have a relationship with Him. Our sins don’t cause us to cease being His children. They do, however, affect our relations with Him. In the pursuit of Christlikeness, we need to realize that sin, all sin, is against God. King David, after sleeping with another man’s wife and then having him killed, understood that while his sinful offenses were done to the hurt of others, they were ultimately sins against God. In praying for God’s mercy and forgiveness, David prayed: Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.13 When we sin, no matter what the sin, we ultimately sin against God.

Sin is more than a personal weakness, and it’s more than some area in our lives that we need to work on. It’s a serious matter. Sin is a personal act of turning away from God and His will, an act against God on our part. It is deeply and profoundly personal to Him. Of course, some sins we commit aren’t a conscious decision to defy God, but are committed because we are ignorant or have an unguarded moment. While these are still sins for which we need forgiveness, they are different from those times when we make a conscious decision to sin, when we knowingly decide to act against God’s will.

For many Christians today, there is a tendency to not take most sin that seriously. Of course, when it comes to a heinous sin like murder, we see that as obviously being serious; but we often look very differently at “a little” lying here or there, or boasting, gossiping, etc. It’s easy for us to mentally categorize some sins as acceptable, or at least not totally unacceptable. If we are aiming at godliness in our lives, then we need to understand that all sin is wrong and is offensive to the holiness of God. Therefore, Christlikeness doesn’t allow for categorizing some sins as being okay. It calls for willingness to take personal responsibility for our sins. We of course have the wonderful grace of God to help us overcome our sins, but while “grace alone” works for our initial salvation, action is required to progress in our growth toward holiness.

It's important to know that though we sin, we don’t lose our salvation, and we continue to be members of God’s family. We also can be forgiven our sins if we acknowledge them, repent, and ask God for forgiveness.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.14 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.15 

The idea of taking action against sin in our lives isn’t a “works trip” or a campaign to make ourselves perfect, neither is the goal to reach perfection. The purpose of actively opposing sin in our lives has to do with our relationship with God and our desire to draw close to Him and stay there. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.16

Our desire is to be relationally close to God. We are already His children through salvation, but we want a close personal relationship with our Father. Part of that drawing near to Him has to do with personal holiness. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.17 Throughout the Epistles we read of the need to take action, to put to death,therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature;18 to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and … runwith endurance the race;19to be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish;20 toresist the devil, and he will flee from you.21

This doesn’t mean we have no help in overcoming sin in our lives, as we have the help of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit dwelling within us, we have the means to conform to the character of God.

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.22 We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.23 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.24

The Holy Spirit plays a role in our progressive sanctification; we’re not all on our own, but we do play a vital part.

One key aspect is taking personal responsibility for our spiritual growth, which includes putting off and putting on. Referring to putting off sin, the apostle Paul writes:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…25 The Greek word used here, nekroō, has the meaning of both to kill as well as deprive of power, to destroy the strength of.

So this verse speaks of weakening and destroying the strength and power of the things in our lives that are sinful. How do we do that?

The first step is to decide that Christlikeness—part of which is holiness—is important to us, and that we are willing to work toward it by making right moral decisions. This calls for having personal conviction about believing, obeying, and applying what Scripture teaches about sin and then living up to that conviction. This brings about internal conflict, as our scriptural values and beliefs bump up against our “fallen” human nature and ungodly values of the world. When they do, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we choose to obey what Scripture teaches, even when it’s difficult or goes against what we’d prefer to do.

This is where the rubber meets the road in our desire to be Christlike. At its core, Christlikeness comes from believing the same as Jesus as far as what is good and right and what is wrong and sinful. The foundation of becoming more like Jesus is being transformed in our spirit, so that our outward actions reflect our transformed inner selves. This calls for being purposeful in our pursuit of godliness, confronting our sins, and overcoming them through prayer and action. Prayer for the help of the Holy Spirit in overcoming our sins, and action through purposefully resisting sin in our lives.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006).

2 Hebrews 4:15.

3 1 John 3:5.

4 1 Peter 2:22.

5 2 Corinthians 5:21.

6 John 8:46 NIV.

7 John 6:38.

8 John 4:34.

9 John 8:29.

10 Colossians 3:5–10.

11 Colossians 1:13 NAU.

12 Romans 6:12 NIV.

13 Psalm 51:4.

14 Proverbs 28:13.

15 1 John 1:9.

16 Psalm 15:1–2.

17 James 4:8.

18 Colossians 3:5 NIV.

19 Hebrews 12:1.

20 2 Peter 3:14.

21 James 4:7.

22 Romans 8:8–9.

23 2 Corinthians 3:18.

24 Galatians 5:22–23.

25 Colossians 3:5.