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The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of our inner self. Here the King, our Lord Jesus Christ, is enthroned. He asks that there be no other kings in the throne room. And here at “heart central” you and I, with the Holy Spirit as our Guide, make decisions regarding everything from momentary choices to life-long plans. Here we house our emotions and nurture our attitudes.

Christ’s kingdom has a charter, the Sermon on the Mount, and in that charter are “as” commands. One of them is “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Each “as” command challenges our spiritual nature to crucify some ungodly attitude and replace it with a godly one.

The most challenging “as” or “like” command is found in the first epistle of Peter: “Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16; citing Lev. 11:45).

This is an incredible command.

Are We Afraid to Respond?

We’ve all heard the story of a bride who was well aware that her husband-to-be had faults, but who said to herself, “I’m sure when we’re married and I explain to him that he has some improving to do, everything will be all right. He’ll be glad to stop blowing his nose at the table.” Of course, she soon discovered, with bitter tears, that wanting someone to change and having them change are two different things. We may hear the call to be holy, but hearing is not the same as choosing to be holy, and choosing is not the same as putting the choice into practice. Just as physical habits are hard to change, so are spiritual ones.

If we define holiness as perfection, we pale at the requirement. How can a human being be sinless, to say nothing of being compared to the Holy One? The most stalwart Christian would feel like a mother without sewing experience if she were required to make a formal dress for her just-20 daughter.

What strikes us immediately about these kingdom of heaven commands is that they appear to be impossible to obey. To say that a sinner, by effort and intent, can be favorably compared to God in moral purity is a contradiction of Scripture. “There is no one who is righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23). If this conundrum is not distressing enough, we are faced with yet another Scripture that suggests that our entrance into eternal life depends upon our holiness. It reads, “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Without question, every Christian craves seeing the Lord, both now spiritually and at the end in reality.

Although this scripture tells us that holiness is essential, it certainly seems impossible to pursue. But upon closer study we see that it is not impossible. “Holy” does not mean “perfect.” Its principle meaning is “set apart from common uses for God’s use.” A secondary meaning of “holiness” is “becoming complete in Christ.” As referred to in A Word to the Reader, the “set apart” meaning is the theme of Chapters 1 to 13, and the “complete in Christ” meaning is the theme of Chapters 17 to 23.

Making Holiness Easy to Understand

The “set apart” meaning is illustrated in the produce section of the supermarket , where we find several varieties of apples. Each variety is set apart from the others; they are not all mixed together. One variety might even be featured on a separate counter. Separate. Distinct. Easy to identify.

First, to understand 1 Peter 1:14-16 and other Scriptures on holiness, let’s find out in what ways God is holy. Then, in what ways is it possible for a sin-distorted human being, like you and me, to be holy or “set apart” as He is?

God is holy in that He is distinct and separate from all creation. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. Because no other being can be compared to Him, He stands out. He is easy to identify. He is holy in that He alone is the source of all life and righteousness. In His vast domain He is without a peer. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isa. 46:9, 10).

A person who decides to set himself apart from worldliness is “holy.” How is that? As he in faith responds to God’s love as it radiates from the cross, he is “holy,” for he has set himself apart from unbelievers. As he responds to the meaning of the cross and makes it clear to God and to his neighbors that he is surrendering his life to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he is “holy.” Although he remains in the physical domain of Satan, he has chosen to set himself apart from others in this corrupted domain as a gift to his Savior. He is “holy.”

In order to avoid gross misunderstandings about God’s invitation to walk His kingdom’s pathway of holiness, we need to immediately add this verse: The children of Israel were told: “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes, and observe them; I am the Lord; I sanctify you” (Lev. 20:7, 8). We begin with a desire to separate ourselves unto God and to practice obeying Him. That’s our response to His command “consecrate yourselves.” In submissive prayer we give our consent, and the Lord Himself makes us holy, sanctifies us, sets us apart unto Himself! What a glorious blending of our faith and His grace!

Our Frustration Turns Into Joy

Now our frustration melts away and our joy becomes supreme. We understand that the call to holiness is a call to devotion. If you said, on first reading 1 Peter 1:14-16, “I can’t possibly do that,” now you can say with relief and anticipation: “Yes, I can do that. I know how to be devoted! I am devoted to Christ now! I am holy!”

Holiness is consecration and devotion. It is distinctiveness and dedication. Because our human nature is so saturated with pride and self, it often takes years following conversion before we can see that we possess the attitudes that Christ modeled for us. But we are on the right path.

As we search the Scriptures for guidance in establishing an attitude of consecration in every aspect of life, we find this wonderful guide for daily life in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

Multitasking: The Wrong Approach to Consecration
        
In our everyday lives our time and energies are divided among several required concerns: family, employment, housing, transportation, health, worship, and sleep, to name a few. We tuck reading the Bible, worshiping, and attending church in among all the other things we do. We even try to do two or three of these duties at once. We pray while driving. We study the Sabbath school lesson as we go to bed so our minds can be processing it while we sleep. We specialize in cutting corners! Do these practices reveal a full devotion to God?

It’s not surprising that we have formed these habits. In the rush of daily life, we have to snatch time for our Maker whenever we can. We can’t spend all our time reading the Bible, can we?

Consistent Consecration Is Within Reach

We see now that responding to God’s call to “be holy” means (a) to have no other gods in our hearts, (b) to apply the principles of kingdom life to every situation, and (c) to desire the success of His kingdom above all else. This level of consecration (holiness) is indeed within our reach. Even though our devotion to Him is flawed by our inexperience, we may be confident that our skill in reaching out to hold onto the hand of Christ will increase day by day.

One mistake many Christians make is to swing too far one way or the other. That is, waiting for the Holy Spirit to do it all for them, or trying to do it all themselves. This work is not all ours nor all God’s. “God and man cooperate together throughout the lifetime of the believer.” (1)

Another mistake is not to practice. A prospective teacher, while in school, is assigned one or more laboratory courses we call “practice teaching.” Being dedicated to Christ includes practicing right thinking and right living, led by the Holy Spirit hour by hour, day by day. Just as practice teaching does not enhance the student’s original enrollment in college, so our practice of holiness does not enhance our standing with God (called “justification”). That is not its aim. The aim of holiness is not to secure a right standing with God. Rather, the aim of holiness is to model Christ’s ways of thinking. As in all skills development, practice leads to success. In Christianity, this character development is called “sanctification.”

“Beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). We must not draw back from the call of “perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” Isn’t “perfecting” another way of saying “practicing”? The way of holiness provides daily opportunities to display patience, to show mercy, and to love genuinely as we repeatedly recommit and reconsecrate ourselves to the principles of God’s kingdom charter. These repetitions produce inner joy, peace, assurance, and contentment.

Have you heard the call?

Note.–Continuing to set oneself apart for Christ’s sake, after first declaring Christ as Lord, may not appeal to everyone. Certainly a new Christian would not be misunderstood if he or she would say, “I’m confident about what Jesus has done for me. His grace has provided salvation, and I’ve accepted His gift of eternal life by faith. Holiness sounds important, but why should I “pursue” it, as the Scripture says? Does it benefit me? Does it benefit the Lord?” Future chapters will address these questions.