"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'"
1 Peter 1: 14-16
Many Christians ignore or deny these Scripture verses, stating that holiness is unattainable this side of the grave. Their synonym for holiness or perfection is "impossible". This error has so permeated Christian thought that grace has become a cover-up, not a covering. And one who suggests otherwise is accused of vanity. But this scripture in Peter wipes out all argument. Read it again. Does it mean what it says or not?
Much of the Christian world has assumed the value of religion without righteousness. "The purpose of Christ's redeeming work was to make it possible for bad men to become good -- deeply, radically and finally. When God declares a man righteous He instantly sets about to make him righteous. Our error today is that we do not expect a converted man to be a transformed man, and as a result of this error our churches are full of substandard Christians. God translates men out of the kingdom of the Son of His love. To believe that such translated men must still dwell in darkness is a reflection on the blood of Christ and the wisdom of God." (A.W. Tozer) And even if we put illustrious labels on it such as grace or justification, it is still error.
I would like to suggest that the idea that holiness is not possible comes from a human effort to soothe ourselves when we are confronted by the holiness of God and the depth of our own unrighteousness. In the beginning of our walk with Jesus we are filled with the joy and love of our first encounter with His love and forgiveness. We have acknowledged that we are sinners and feel so clean. But knowing that we are sinners and knowing our sin are two different things. As we begin to study the Word, the Holy Spirit reveals to us little by little the darkness still within us, depths of darkness that we find difficult to admit. It is so damaging to our ego and self-image. This is a very frightening experience. Many of us retreat at this time -- some to our former lives -- B.C. -- before Christ. Others embrace humanness, calling it grace. If we are part of this second group, we are destined to remain forever in the seventh chapter of Romans, chained there by our own unbelief and hardening of heart.
A few, confronted with this new knowledge of themselves, forge on. For we are not to, "continue in sin that grace may abound." Those God dearly and tenderly loves, He reproves and tells their faults. If we confess our sin, He forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. As we turn away from our iniquities through repentance we are becoming holy.
There is a definition for holiness or perfection that embraces the teaching of the Word about both holiness and grace. It is this: If at this moment in time I am as far along in my Christian walk as God intended me to be; if I have acknowledged and asked forgiveness for every sin He has revealed to me; if I am continually reading His word, growing in the truth, obedient to His commands, and walking in all the light that I have been given -- then today I am holy. Tomorrow I know that there will be more to learn, new light to see, sin as yet unknown to me to be uncovered and confessed, areas of darkness within me awaiting the Light of the World to shine and set me free. But because I am following hard after Him, conforming myself in thought, word, and deed after the example of Jesus, then I am walking the "highway" of holiness.
And where does grace enter in? It is by grace that God continues with me, picking me up when I fall, bringing circumstances my way that give me every opportunity to follow Him, drawing me, loving me, correcting me, showing me my sins that I might not be condemned with the world.
"For God's gifts and His call are irrevocable -- He never withdraws them when once they are given; and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace."
Romans 11: 29
He has committed Himself to continue with me, He will always remain faithful to me, He will not leave me. (However, grace does not cover my leaving Him.)
It is by this same grace that my sins are covered by the blood of Jesus until He uncovers them for me to see. And by grace I then have a place to bring them to be rid of them forever. "For if I confess my sin He is faithful and just to forgive me and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness." Did you not know that this is the way our sins are removed and never mentioned again? Did you think that they disappeared as if by magic in a puff of holy smoke?
As I follow Jesus, obeying His commandments, patterning my behavior after His example, He gives me His divine personality. I am being conformed to His image. And in His sight I am holy. Praise His holy name.
"God's children live by laws as hard and severe as those that govern nature. Grace operates within those laws but never contrary to them. Our fruit will follow its native tree and not all our frightened prayers can prevent it. If we do holy deeds we must be holy men, every day and all the days that God grants us here below."