Being holy is a hard thing to wrap our minds around. In our culture it sounds so terrible, immoral to think of one’s self as ‘holy’ but in the end we are what we are.
We don’t want to walk around introducing ourselves, “Hi. I’m holy. How are you today?”, but the realness of our status should inform our faith and practice and bring us a sense of humility; we’ve been given a gift and that gift is extraordinary.
On the one hand, simply being in Christ makes us holy, so being holy isn’t something that flows from our virtue. At the same time, being holy is an ongoing battle with our own minds in regard to motivations, actions and responses. There seems to be an ‘automatic’ holiness that we get for free and an ‘ongoing’ holiness we need to work out.
The maintenance of our holiness is a bit controversial but Jesus was holy and we follow Him. The Apostle Paul encouraged us to be holy because we already are, so that’s a little confusing but not so strange that we can’t figure out. We should strive to live up to what we already are.
The church can get a bit obsessive about “holiness”, so we need to be careful. Some things that might seem holy aren’t really very good for us. The “Desert Fathers” of the early church moved out into the desert to practice a deeper spiritual life; they lived in dark caves and craggy rocks; there isn’t much evidence that kind of thing is helpful. There was a man that was considered a saint because he climbed up a pole and lived there for 20 years. Others became eunuchs in hope of reaching holiness, or engaged in eastern style meditations with prayer beads and repetitive prayers, or gave up the hope of ever having a family, or children, or normal responsibilities. But these don’t seem to reach the life of Jesus, or Paul or Peter for whom being holy was a life in excess more than a life of abandonment. Weirdness to the world might be a prerequisite for being a Christian but living up a pole might qualify as a general all purpose weirdness.
Still, there is a holiness we have and a holiness toward which we reach. We reach for it everyday in caring for our own souls and the souls of others; the biggest part of not allowing ourselves to be “polluted by the world”. As in Paul’s analogy in Romans, the eating of unclean things can’t make us unclean any more than caring for the worldly will make us careless. The abandonment of the world seems the surest path to worldliness and the Great Commission demands a vivid confrontation.
We as Christians are world embracing, world changing, in the world but not of the world, and building the world even as it falls apart, and in this we are holy not by avoiding the world but by being a light in a dark otherwise invincible.
1 Peter 1:13-16