And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
Acts 5:11, ESV
On Sunday we were challenged not to take God's holiness lightly. In this Second Look article, we'll take a look at our motivation for the pursuit of being holy as God is holy.
Dear ICB family,
Imagine a king adopts a beggar boy from the street. The king by his sovereign right makes the boy his son and brings him into his house. It is on the basis of the fact that the boy has already become a son of the king that the king expects the son to begin replacing the habits of his former life with habits that befit a prince. At no point is the boy striving to become a son of the king. The king has already given the boy his word to care for him as his son, and good kings never break their word.
At the same time, precisely because the king has made the boy his son, the king will most certainly set about to conform the boy into the image of his new destiny: a prince fit for the king's palace. It will take a lot of time and effort. The king knew that going in. Undoubtedly the boy will often revert to habits that were ingrained into him on the streets. The king is very patient. The boy will fail, embarrass the rest of the royal family, make messes, rebel against the king's good rules for his household, not understand how to play nicely with his new brothers and sisters, and not act very regal on many occasions. It's a good thing the king is more committed to his son's good than the son is.
Though it's true that the boy is not expected to live in such a way so as to become the king's son, it is also true that the reformation of the boy is not optional. Had it been optional, from the king's point of view he never would have adopted the boy in the first place. The boy was adopted, made a son, and given all the rights and privileges associated with his royal title in order to be made into an honorable prince.
In like fashion, the consistent message of the New Testament is that God's children are called to be holy precisely because they already are God's children.* For example, Ephesians 1:4 says, "[God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (ESV, emphasis added). The very reason God makes people his children is so that they would be holy and blameless before him. That's his goal for them in their salvation.
Follow Paul's train of thought through the rest of Ephesians for a moment:
You have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (1:3). You were chosen to be holy and blameless before him, predestined for adoption, and given redemption through his blood (1:4–10). You've obtained an inheritance and were sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:11–14). Paul prays that believers' eyes would be opened to all that they've been given in Christ (1:15-23). Next he describes how the Gentiles were made "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (2:19), meaning, even if you're a Gentile, you're not second class citizen, and God has given you all the very same blessings of Israel (see 2:1-3:13). Next he prays again that the believers would be able to grasp the unfathomable love with which Christ loves his people (3:14–20).
After describing who we are as believers in some of the most magnificent terms that we could ever imagine, what is the very next thing Paul says?
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (4:1, emphasis mine).
In other words, you've been made a child of the king! You've been sealed with the Spirit! You've been granted all the privileges of a son or daughter of Israel! Therefore, on the very basis of that fact, go live like it!
Perceiving the Christian life in these terms guards us against two false views. First, it keeps us from thinking that we're striving to progress in holiness in order to become children of God. To think that is to put the cart before the horse and expect to get somewhere. Second, it also prevents us from thinking that holiness is optional in the Christian life. It is not optional. It's expected of us. It's commanded of us. It's the end goal God had in mind when he made you his child in the first place. Holiness is the only natural result of having been made a son or daughter of God.
Therefore, be holy.
Longing for holiness with you, dear brothers and sisters,
*For more examples of this very same logic at work, see 2 Peter 1:3–11, Galatians 5:1, and Romans 12:1–2, to name a few. In the case of Galatians and Romans, note the entire thrust of Paul's argument up to that point in the letter, and then notice how he uses his previous arguments as the grounds upon which he gives the command to live holy lives, very similarly to what he does in the example from Ephesians.