More Like Jesus: Holiness (Part 3)
October 11, 2016
by Peter Amsterdam
More Like Jesus: Holiness (Part 3)
(This article is based on key points from the book Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen.1)
As we saw in Holiness parts 1 and 2, Christlikeness or godliness comes from transforming our will to be in alignment with God’s will. If we wish to become more like Jesus, the starting point is understanding God’s will in order to align ourselves with it. Doing what God wills means aligning ourselves with God’s moral will.
God has revealed His moral will through Scripture, which teaches us how we ought to believe and live. He makes it clear that some things are morally wrong, and thus are sin. Through God’s grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we endeavor to avoid sin and to take on specific traits, characteristics, and attitudes that reflect and imitate the nature and characteristics of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). For example:
Holiness: 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.”2
Righteousness: Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.3
Purity: Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.4
Love: Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.5
Forgiveness: Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.6
Compassion: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.7
Submission: Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.8
Humility and obedience: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.9
Kindness: Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.10
Through these and numerous other examples throughout the Bible, we are instructed on how to live in a way that aligns with God’s moral will. We are called to keep His teachings, to make them our own, and to use them as a compass throughout the course of our lives. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.11As we apply the teachings of Scripture, we manifest a familial likeness to our Father. Be imitators of God, as beloved children.12
Becoming God’s children through faith in Jesus has made us new creations,13 those who are to be conformed to the image of his Son,14 who have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.15 Part of the process of being renewed in His likeness is conforming our lives to His moral will. We align our external behavior and actions as well as our motives and attitudes with His Word.
Knowing, understanding, and applying God’s Word is key to living in alignment with God’s moral will. From His Word we learn which attitudes and actions are right or wrong, what is sin and what is not, what pleases God and what doesn’t, and what reflects His character and what doesn’t. We can visualize God’s moral will as an area enclosed by a circle. The interior of the circle contains all the commands and principles that are morally binding upon believers. Any thought, attitude, or action that does not conform to the teaching of Scripture falls outside the circle and is unacceptable, displeasing to God, and is sin. And any decision or action which falls within the circle is acceptable to God, and is not sin. (Those which are not addressed in Scripture, such as which car to purchase, or what to eat at your next meal, are also acceptable.) So it’s essential that we know what lies within and outside of the circle.
We know this as a result of reading, meditating on, accepting, and applying God’s Word. Accepting what God says means that when we read of God censuring some actions, desires, and attitudes, we accept that they fall outside of the circle of His moral will, and thus are wrong and sin. For example, when we read in Ephesians that we aren’t to steal or let corrupting talk come out of our mouths, or in Colossians that we’re to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander and obscene talk, evil desire, lust, and covetousness, then we are to understand that these things fall outside of God’s moral will and thus are sinful and displeasing to God.16
For believers who are serious about becoming more like Jesus, it can be helpful to dig deeper in order to better understand what Scripture teaches about these things so as to recognize them in ourselves and rid them from our lives, as well as avoid them in the future. For example, the apostle Paul wrote about getting rid of slander in our lives. Looking up the definition of slander tells us that it is making false and damaging statements about someone. This is often done when we gossip about others. When we look up verses on the topic of slander, we get a deeper understanding of God’s view of it—God’s moral will. Let’s take a look:
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He … who does not slander with his tongue.17
Whoever utters slander is a fool.18
Out of the heart come evil thoughts … slander. These are what defile a person.19
You must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.20
Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.21
They learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.22
You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people.23
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.24
Clearly the Bible is telling us that slander, gossip, backbiting, spreading rumors, and being a talebearer are all outside the circle of God’s moral will and thus sin, which means that whenever we do these things, we sin. The same holds true of the many other prohibitions within Scripture: lust, unrighteous anger, dishonesty, envy, immorality, jealousy, pride, etc.
Of course, every command of God’s moral will is an expression of the greatest command of all: to love God.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.25
We are called to act in love toward others:
Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.26
These teachings of Jesus summarize all of the teachings about sin, and when we make love for God and others our guiding principle—when our actions, thoughts, and attitudes are based on the premise of a heart that fully loves God with all of our being, and has the same love for others as we have for ourselves—then we will avoid sinning.
As fallen human beings, we are sometimes inclined to justify our actions as being loving when in fact they are not. Or we may think some action is loving, and therefore not sinful, without fully exploring all of the potential ramifications of our actions, which can end up being unloving toward others. There are also occasions when through a lack of sufficient study we may misinterpret Scripture, thinking that something is not sin when it is. While Jesus did say that acting in love and doing unto others as we’d have them do to us summarized all of the Law and the Prophets, He also referred to specific sin. Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.27 Clearly it’s important that we have a good understanding of what is and isn’t included within God’s moral will, which comes through reading, studying, and meditating on what the Bible teaches.
Our goal is not perfection. We aren’t trying to robotically obey every jot and tittle of Scripture, with the goal of being sin-free—that’s impossible. Our goal is to respond to God’s declared moral will in a manner that is a genuine expression of the reality of our saved soul, from a heart full of gratitude. We obey Him because we love Him. We love Him because of who He is—our Creator and Savior. We desire to imitate Him because He is pure love, pure goodness, and pure holiness. We want to emulate Him both inwardly and outwardly. Since God is the standard of godliness, and since He has revealed what He is like and what He approves and disapproves of, if we wish to be like Him, we will take these things to heart. When His Word tells us certain actions, desires, and attitudes are right, we are to believe and accept what He has said and act accordingly; and when that same Word tells us what is wrong and sinful, we will believe and accept His judgment, and do our best to avoid doing those things.
God is perfect good, perfect love, holiness, and righteousness. He is an example to us of moral and ethical perfection. While we can’t attain perfection, we are expected to understand and believe that His standards are right and true, and as such we should adopt them as our own. We’re called to internalize God’s standards and live by them, to do our best to reflect Him.
You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.28
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 Garry Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004).
2 1 Peter 1:15–16.
3 1 John 3:7.
4 1 John 3:3.
5 Ephesians 5:1–2.
6 Colossians 3:13.
7 Luke 6:36.
8 1 Peter 2:21–23.
9 Philippians 2:5–8.
10 Luke 6:35.
11 1 John 5:3.
12 Ephesians 5:1.
13 2 Corinthians 5:17.
14 Romans 8:29.
15 Colossians 3:10.
16 Ephesians 4:28–29; Colossians 3:8.
17 Psalm 15:1–3.
18 Proverbs 10:18.
19 Matthew 15:19–20.
20 Colossians 3:8.
21 1 Peter 2:1.
22 1 Timothy 5:13.
23 Leviticus 19:16.
24 Exodus 20:16.
25 Mark 12:30–31.
26 Matthew 7:12.
27 Matthew 15:19–20.
28 Leviticus 19:2.