It is vital for our survival that we realize that when we became a Christ follower that we were drafted into God’s army. Daily we are engaged in a battle with an unseen spiritual enemy that seeks to destroy us. If we don’t understand that we are at war with dark forces, when trials hit we won’t understand the reality of our situation. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)
We must rely on God’s mighty strength and use the armor He provides. We must take the initiative to put on the armor and stand firm in the battle because we love Jesus. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14) It’s not a matter of “letting go and letting God,” where we are passive and God does it all. Nor is it a matter of gritting our teeth and doing it ourselves, with occasional assistance from God. Rather, it is a blending of His power and our striving. As Paul puts it, “To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” (Col. 1:29)
This world is a broken and sinful world. Before we can put on the armor of God, we must make certain we are right with the Lord. That’s not a one-time thing, it’s a lifetime of submitting to our Lord, and striving to be holy because He is holy (1 Pet 1:15). Holiness is not only a possibility for the Christian; holiness is a requirement. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
To be “holy” means that we are, first of all, “set apart for honorable use.” Whereas we were “once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another . . . God our Savior . . . saved us, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5).
The Lord took the initiative to pull us out of our former lifestyles. He saved us, cleansed us, and set us apart for righteousness. If we have believed in Christ for salvation, we have been washed by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and set apart from the world for godliness. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2).
However, the pursuit of holiness does not end when we come to Christ. In fact, it just begins! We have a positional holiness that we inherit at regeneration and a practical holiness which we must actively pursue. God expects us to cultivate a lifestyle of holiness (1 Pet 1:14-16) and commands us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).
It’s important to note that we cannot ride the fence between holiness and worldliness! “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) We cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).
Bringing holiness to “perfection” means that we should be increasing in spiritual fruitfulness every day. We are to consider ourselves “dead to sin” (Rom. 6:11), refusing to revert back to our former lifestyles. In this way we cleanse ourselves from what is dishonorable, becoming “sanctified and useful for the Master [as He] prepared [us] for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Holiness is the mark of every true Christian because “whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10). Without holiness we will NOT see the Lord!
Cultivating a lifestyle of holiness means we now live according to the dictates of the Holy Spirit. “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:16-18).
We are told, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). Here we see cooperation between God and His children in sanctification. We “work out” what God “works in” us, because God has a timeline for the virtues that He wishes to cultivate in our lives.
Our responsibility is to yield to His wishes, “working out” with focused attention and great care those things that He is causing to grow in us. Holiness will not be brought to completion in our lives with no effort on our part. We are invited to participate in God’s work in us. We will not be “carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,” as the old hymn says.
This is, perhaps, the most important lesson that we can learn as Christians. God’s ultimate desire for His people is that we be holy—conformed into the image of His Son, Jesus (Rom 8:29). Holiness is the will of God for our lives, “without which no one will see the Lord”.
Of course, the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38). None of us will reach sinless perfection in this world, but God has made provision for our sin. “IF we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Our pursuit of holiness in this world includes daily confessing and forsaking (repenting-turning AWAY from) sin (Heb 12:1-3). If we find ourselves confessing the same thing over and over again, we have not repented of our sin. We’re just saying I’m sorry, while choosing to live in sin, not seeking the requirement of holiness.
God helps us in our weakness by giving us His Holy Spirit who reveals the mind of Christ to us and enables us to carry out His will (1 Cor 2:14-16; Phil 2:13). When we yield to the Spirit, we become fruit-bearing Christians, yielding a harvest with which God is well pleased (Gal 5:22-23). On the other hand, when we suppress the work of the Holy Spirit by rebelling against His will for us, we stifle the design of God, sabotage our own spiritual growth, and grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).
Because of God’s grace and mercies, we should be living sacrifices, “holy [and] acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). One day, in heaven, we will be free from sin and all its effects. Until then, we look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” and keep running our race (Heb 12:2). Everyday we must prayerfully ask the Lord to show us what we are wearing. Have we indeed “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and [made] no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14)? Until we do this, we will be unable to fight the enemy in the Lord’s armor.