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The Truth About Holy Living

The Truth About Holy Living poster

Holy living in an Unholy World: How can we be holy in a sin-saturated world?

“I looked for the church and found it in the world, and I looked for the world and found it in the church.” So said hymn writer Horatius Bonar.

Those words resonate with me. We are living at a time when the distinction between the world and the church is blurred; we want to love God, but we are pulled into the orbit of worldly values and an array of temptations. And, quite frankly, we often don’t know where the lines should be drawn. When I was growing up, we were perhaps a bit clearer about what worldliness really was. But even back then, we forgot worldliness and holiness were, first and foremost, matters of the heart, not of conduct. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7 KJV).

But—and this is most important—we are living at a time when being conformed to the world is more tempting than ever. I remember the days when you had to intentionally search for temptation, it was not accessible on your cellphone or your computer—indeed, we didn’t have such technology when I was young. Sinful attitudes and conduct were “out there.” Now they’re ever present and easily accessed through a device you can carry in your pocket. The world is pressing us into its mold.

And yet, God’s admonition stands, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14–16). Peter goes on to say that we should conduct ourselves “with fear” as we live in this present world.

But what does holiness mean? So often, the word is associated with the monastery, we think that holiness is only for those who have attained a certain level of spirituality—those who, as one put it, “go to heaven in the evening and return in the morning.”

Not so.

To be holy is to be separated unto God; it means waking up every morning, living for His glory and the advance of His kingdom. It means loving God more than loving our sin. It means rearranging our priorities to comply with God’s blueprint. It means God has our hearts, not just our deeds; it means we take up our cross and follow Christ, even if it means accompanying Him to Golgotha.

Holiness means we abstain from the sins of the world, but it also means much more. One day, as a young pastor, I called Rosehill, a large establishment in Chicago, asking how many inhabitants they had. The answer was 65,000. Not one of them smoked cigarettes, went to degrading movies, spent time venting on social media, or grasped for the latest trappings of wealth. You see, Rosehill is a cemetery; it is a place where people no longer participate in the sins of the world. What they lack is life!

My point? Holiness is much more than abstaining from the sins of the world; it’s a positive attitude of a Spirit-filled life living for the world to come. Holiness means living with the certain knowledge that all that matters is what matters for all eternity. Holiness means you are alive, living for God with all of your heart, soul, and mind.

Understanding—and Living—True Holiness

How We Can Obey God’s Command to “Be Holy”

Pastor Lutzer strikes a clear balance between two undesirable extremes to help you chart a path of authentic, God-pleasing holiness in your daily Christian life. He knows that despite the many obstacles the Enemy places in our path to lead us astray, the principles of God’s Word can equip us for truly holy lives.

Q: You have written a book entitled: Holy Living in an Unholy World. Why did you write it?

A: I wrote it to explain both the dangers of legalism (thinking that holiness is simply a list of rules) and the dangers of the opposite extreme, antinomianism (living without rules, guidelines, or railings). Neither of these views is biblical, nor can they make us holy. You would be surprised at the number of Christians who have no plan to resist temptation and just allow into their lives whatever is trending for the moment.

Q: You began your article by saying that the world is in the church and the church in the world. How so?

A: Well, certainly one reason is because there is often no distinction between the conduct of Christians and non-Christians. Plus, some Christians are deceived into thinking that if they imbibe the conduct and values of the world, it will give them an opportunity to be a loving witness for Christ. But in the early church, there was a clear distinction between believers and unbelievers; some were repelled by the holiness of the church, while others were drawn in because “they loved one another.” So, the early Christians distinguished themselves from the world and did not bend over backwards to be like the world.

Some churches are also in league with the world regarding what is taught. In other words, the world is dictating to the church the views it should have on issues of sexuality, social justice, etc. It is better that Christians stand our ground and be rejected than to submit to the culture under the false idea that we must go along with the world under a false view of “love.” If we speak truth and are considered unloving, that is better than speaking lies with a compassionate voice.

Q: You often have spoken on the subject of technology and how it can be used for good, but you see it filled with dangers.

A: Yes, I know I might be alone on this, but sometimes I wish the internet had not been invented. Just think of what “social media” has done to our young people. The Surgeon General of the United States published an extensive report on loneliness, depression, etc. Much of this contagion is because of the internet, where young and old often retreat in privacy, watch videos, and try to outdo their friends on social media platforms. Intergenerational relationships are, for the most part, a rarity.

That’s why I have written a chapter in this book titled “Guard Your Heart.” I show how technology is not neutral, but actually weighted against us; it has brought satanic deceptions right into our homes and minds. Technology is instantly addictive.

Q: What happens to a church (or person) who does not see the world as an enemy?

A: James has something to say about that. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (4:4).

God takes worldliness seriously. Christians don’t realize that the further we allow worldly inroads into our lives, our fellowship with God is compromised. I could go on and explain what this means for individuals and churches, but will only say this: If we serve the world, God no longer fights our battles. It is only when we see sin as bitter that we realize grace is sweet.

Q: Final thoughts?

A: The Israelites proved that you can’t fight for the blessings of Canaan with a wilderness heart. Facing the impossible task of living a perfectly holy life in this world, we are driven to Christ for forgiveness of sins and for superhuman ability to resist temptation. We are called to live in a manner radically distinct from the accepted conduct of mediocre Christianity.