Called to Be Culture Warriors
To be a culture warrior, it takes courage. It takes courage to be different. It takes courage to seek the higher ground. It takes courage to resist the tide of sinful societies. It takes courage to resist false premises that are commonly believed to be true. But for those who identify as Christians this is exactly what God has called us to do. God, speaking the through the apostle Peter, gives a clear command, “…Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16).” This is just one of numerous passages that calls us to a lifestyle of holiness.
Obviously, God takes holiness very seriously, and yet the topic of holiness is one of the most divisive subjects among Christians of all flavors. Don’t panic, this article isn’t intended to be a list of do’s and don’ts (I’ll save that for another time). Before we can have a conversation about any of the outward or inward manifestations of holiness, we must first agree that holiness actually matters.
Holiness in Action (God Begins the Process)
Some theorize that holiness is something like forgiveness; God grants it to us and then we go our merry way without any responsibilities whatsoever. This argument is odd because although it is true that only God can pardon our sins, even that pardon comes with an expectation. Consider the woman caught in the act of adultery; Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven with the stipulation that she stops sinning from that moment forward (John 8:1-11). In a certain sense, holiness is the continuation of a work (sanctification) that God sets in motion within us.
Holiness (the Process)
The apostle Paul makes it clear that holiness is a process in which we are active participants, “…let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).” Notice that we are to cleanse ourselves and that we are to perfect holiness. This is not a flippant elective that we may approach casually; we perfect holiness in the fear of God.
We Are More than Mere Bystanders
To be clear, holiness is not something that we can achieve through ourselves, by ourselves, or because of ourselves. Neither are we clueless bystanders free of responsibility or obligation. God calls us to a higher standard of living both internally and externally. Thankfully, God has promised that his Spirit will empower us when our strength fails us (Luke 24:49; Romans 8:11).
God Is Holy
We can all agree that God is holy, but what does that mean? Passages like 1 Samuel 2:2 and Isaiah 6:3 are just two examples of many passages about God’s holiness. We could describe the holiness of God as absolute sinless perfection. God is unlike any other (Hosea 11:9) and His holiness is the essence of that “otherness.” His very being is completely absent of even a trace of sin (James 1:13; Hebrews 6:18). He is high above any other, and no one can compare to Him (Psalm 40:5). God’s holiness pervades His entire being and shapes all His attributes. His love is a holy love, His mercy is holy mercy, and even His anger and wrath are holy anger and holy wrath.
What does it mean for us to be holy?
When God told Israel to be holy in Leviticus chapters 11 and 19, He was instructing them to be distinct from the other nations by giving them specific regulations (or standards) to govern their lives. Israel is God’s chosen nation and God has set them apart from all other people groups. They are His special people, and consequently they were given standards that God wanted them to live by so the world would know they belonged to Him. When Peter repeats the Lord’s words in 1 Peter 1:16, he is talking specifically to believers. As believers, we are commanded to be “set apart” from the world unto the Lord. Therefore, we are to live according to God’s standards, not the world’s. God isn’t calling us to be perfect, but to be distinct from the world. First Peter 2:9 describes believers as “a holy nation.” And it is in fact! We are separated from the world; we must live out that reality in our day-to-day lives.
Resist Irrelevant Relevance
I’m not advocating that the Church should seek to be irrelevant; what could be more relevant than endeavoring to save a lost world? However, relevance for the sake of relevance makes the Church irrelevant because we lose sight of our priorities quickly. Relevance at all costs leads to compromise no matter the cost. In all of our noble efforts to reach the world, let’s not forget that a holy people cannot assimilate into an unholy culture and remain holy.