Christian Growth

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The Path To Holiness

As we grow in our obedience to God, we are being changed into His likeness.

  • Author: Susie Hilsman
  • Published: July 1, 1996

One day, as my neighbor across the street plucked weeds from his flower bed, his 4-year-old son shadowed his every step. When the dad sat down to take a break, so did the son. The father folded his legs Indian style; his son did too. The dad rested his arms on his legs, and the little boy did likewise. They sat side by side, surveying their work. I could tell they enjoyed being together.

As I watched that precious moment, I thought, Why don't I care that much about being like my heavenly Father? I suppose it's because being like my Father requires holiness--something I don't fully understand. It describes God, and yet He commands that it describe His children as well: "Be holy, because I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44)*. In my relationship with God, I have always felt that holiness dangled just out of reach, like a spiritual carrot. It looked good, and I wanted it, but to live it seemed impossible this side of heaven. Yet God commands us to be holy now.

Seeing my neighbor's love for his son reminded me that God loves us and would not command us to be holy without also giving us what we need to obey. "He has delivered us from the reign of sin and given us His indwelling Holy Spirit," wrote author Jerry Bridges. "He has revealed His will for holy living in His Word, and He works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose."1

I have learned that the holiness carrot isn't as far out of reach as I once thought. Through the example of my neighbors, I realized that holiness means wanting to be like God so much that I will surrender everything and obey Him. He then pours Himself into me, and I come to resemble Him more. It's this resemblance that lets others know I belong to Christ. "We must be holy," wrote 19th-century author and pastor J.C. Ryle, "because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God."2

The path toward holiness starts with God's love. "We love because He first loved us," 1 John 4:19 says. Assured of our Father's love, we begin our journey, toting only a desire to be like Him. Though we pack lightly, we do not travel alone; Jesus serves as our model, God's Word provides us with directions, and the Holy Spirit guides and empowers us.

The first stop on the road is a place called Desire. Here we learn about holiness by seeing what God is like. "Anyone who has seen Me," Jesus said, "has seen the Father" (John 14:9). By studying Jesus' life in the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to teach us, we see what we should be like. Bill Bright, founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ, believes that the greatest obstacle to pursuing holiness is simply ignorance of who God is. "If people do not understand how loving, powerful, holy, righteous and wonderful God is," he says, "they obviously will not want to love Him." If they do not love Him, they will not want to be like Him. In Desire, we are filled with a longing to be like our Father.

The next stop comes at a fork in the road. The broader road often appears the best choice, but it just makes a wide circle and lands you back where you started. The smaller path passes through an uninhabited place called Surrender on its journey toward holiness. Jesus visited a place much like this when He prayed, "Yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39). Surrender is really just a cemetery, the final resting place for our selfish plans. Here we say to God, "I want to live my life according to Your will, because I know it is best for me. I trust You." In Surrender, part of us dies; we may hurt or just feel relief, but we will leave bearing a greater resemblance to our Father.

As we travel on in our journey toward holiness, we must constantly check our compass--God's Word--for directions and instructions. "Sanctify them by the truth," Jesus prayed to the Father; "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). The Greek word for sanctify is hagiazo, meaning "to make holy," so Jesus was praying that we would be "made holy" by the truth--God's Word.

After Surrender, the road winds to Obedience, the next stop. "Obedience is the pathway to holiness," wrote Jerry Bridges, "but it is only as we have His commands that we can obey them."3 The Bible must be the dominating influence in our attitudes and actions. "If anyone loves Me," Jesus said, "he will obey My teaching" (John 14:23).

Recently, when a friend asked me to help paint her bedroom, I had to travel through Surrender and Obedience. I wanted to help, but I also felt like I had been giving more than getting in my relationships, and I thought, What about me, Lord? Then I remembered Jesus, who "did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matthew 20:28). Realizing that the Lord cared about my feelings but wanted me to serve anyway, I obeyed. Later my friend said that she'd seen my service to her as a tangible act of Christ's love.

On our journey, we must also walk moment by moment in the power of God's Holy Spirit. We can do this by what Bill Bright calls spiritual breathing. "The moment the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin," he explains, "we should 'exhale' by confessing that sin to God. After exhaling the impure, we can 'inhale' the pure. We receive God's forgiveness and cleansing, and we appropriate the fullness of the Holy Spirit." Breathing spiritually throughout the day enables us to continually surrender to God and obey His Word. Knowing that we are cleansed and forgiven motivates us to continue on in our journey; harboring sin blocks our path and can mire us in complacency.

Refreshed, encouraged and empowered by the Spirit, we press on. With our eyes fixed on Jesus and our lives surrendered and obedient, we reach Holiness sooner than we had thought. The carrot no longer dangles in front of us--we can actually reach out and taste it. We cannot be completely holy, of course, until we reach our ultimate destination: heaven. But even a taste gives hope and joy, and motivates us to pursue holiness even more. As we do, we find that "the joy of a holy walk," as Jerry Bridges wrote, "is infinitely more satisfying than the fleeting pleasures of sin."4

We will also find that as we grow in holiness, we will live in a state of revival. Sometimes God sends revival in a way that man can neither alter nor duplicate; sometimes He uses an individual pursuing holiness to spread revival throughout an area. And as more people begin the journey to holiness, great changes can occur. "The abolition of slavery followed a revival," said author Stephen F. Olford. "Also flowing . . . from spiritual revival were well-known movements like the YMCA, the Salvation Army, missionary societies and most of our charitable organizations and educational institutions."5 Even Campus Crusade was born as a result of a Southern California revival in the late 1940s.

If we are to become holy, we must determine as John the Baptist did: "He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30). As God pours more of His likeness into us, others who know Him will recognize Him; those who don't will be drawn to Him. God can feed thousands of people with just a few loaves and some fish; He can do the same with one little carrot of holiness.

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