Some Christians don’t believe holiness is attainable in this life. So they don’t strive for holiness. Others relegate holiness to a scholarly, academic discussion. But the Bible calls us to be holy is the Lord is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:14-16).
If God commands us to do something it is possible. But we cannot strive for holiness on our own. It must be done through the help and power of the Holy Spirit. As we obey the Spirit by doing whatever He commands us to do we will attain holiness and live in victory over sin and temptation.
We’re coming to the end of our study on holiness and how to apply it to many of the situations in our lives. We will talk about how to live in victory in this post and conclude our study in our post on Holiness Matters for Today.
Chasing after God
James highlights two approaches to holiness (James 4: 7-10). We must employ both of these approaches to become holy. The first approach is to submit ourselves to God. When we submit ourselves to God we surrender every part of our lives to Him.
Nothing is kept from the Holy Spirit. Everything is on the table for Him to change. But many times we find it hard to completely obey the Holy Spirit. Jesus saves us by His grace. Most Christian preachers and teachers leave it there. They say that is all that’s involved in Christian discipleship and maturity.
But there is one thing Jesus commands us to do. We must submit ourselves to God, being obedient to the Holy Spirit in everything. Even though that’s the one thing we must do as part of our salvation it is the hardest thing for us to do.
The Holy Spirit will address parts of our character that don’t please God. When we must do what He says we struggle to be obedient and complete the tasks He lays before us. The issues the Spirit addresses are flaws in our character that we had before we met Jesus.
He will bring up our pride, lust, coveting, materialism, and other issues in our character. These are long-term issues, things we have had in our character since birth. While God may change some of these issues in us at salvation, most of the work must be done by the Spirit as we walk with Jesus.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)
The Bible tells us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But how do we accomplish this? This is why I say we are commanded to obey the Holy Spirit in everything. The Holy Spirit guides us but we must follow Him.
Notice Paul mentions the word “obey.” He is not only speaking of obeying him as he taught the Philippians. Paul is not physically present to know that the Philippians have obeyed in his absence. Therefore, it cannot be Paul the Philippians are obeying. So who are they obedient to? The Holy Spirit. So it is with all of us who are walking with Jesus.
We work out our salvation by listening to and obeying the Spirit. He leads us by telling us what we must change to please the Lord. Then we change those parts of us. We change them through being tested as the Holy Spirit places us in situations that we must be obedient.
For example, the Holy Spirit teaches me patience as I wait at the doctor’s office and the doctor is behind. As I stand in long lines at the grocery store He is teaching me patience. In each of these examples I can continue to be impatient or I can surrender this character flaw to the Holy Spirit and learn to wait.
Paul says it is God who works in us (through the power of His Spirit) to will and to work for His good pleasure. He does this through His Spirit. As we obey the Holy Spirit he leads us into holiness through His testing and our obedience.
Paul reminds the Galatians that the Holy Spirit is not only at work in our salvation but also in our sanctification, our chasing after God in holiness (Galatians 3:2-5).
“Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—” (Galatians 3:2–5, ESV)
Only God can give His Spirit to us at salvation. But we didn’t earn the Spirit through our own works or following laws. God gave the Holy Spirit to us through our faith in Him as a gift of grace.
We began our walk with Jesus, saved by the Holy Spirit’s work in us. But we cannot turn to her own means after we are saved. We must continue in sanctification with the Holy Spirit. He is our Guide. The only way we become holy is through listening to and obeying Him.
James tells us that when we draw near to God He draws near to us (James 4:8). We must practice purity and resisting the world to draw near to God. Many Christians are resisting the devil, temptation, and their fleshly desires but are not as fluent in the language and practice of drawing near to God.
Freedom from Sin
The second approach James gives is to resist the devil (James 4:7). This is the one most Christians are very good at. We fight the battle of temptation with vigor. We jump on the battlefield of crucifying the flesh and surrendering our desires.
Martin Luther was famous for his prayers against the devil. He pulled no punches. Today if we heard his prayers we may be surprised by some of his language. But he saw the devil in the right sense, as the enemy against the Christian believer.
There are many volumes written on how to resist the devil and temptation. And many of these strategies and tactics are biblically sound and effective. But holiness includes both resisting the devil and submitting to God.
You may find you are better at one then the other. But as a pastor and Christian I have found I know much more about resisting the devil and temptation than I know about how to draw near to God. This is not easy for me to admit.
After all, as a pastor I feel I should know much more about how to draw close to God. To be sure there are many volumes written about this subject as well. We want to shore up our defenses against temptation. But many of us have sacrificed knowing how to draw near to God for this goal.
Paul counsels us when temptation comes after us to look for the way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). God always provides a layout of our temptation. But we must look for it. We must want the way of escape.
Jesus also gives us a superb example of resisting the devil and his temptation when he was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He was tempted three times by the devil and each time used Scripture not only to defend Himself but to go on the offensive.
We know from this account that the devil knows Scripture as well as we do. But he twists it and misuses it. So we must not only have versus memorized but understand the intent and context of those verses. Our memorization is best done as we study God’s Word. We must be able to discern the difference between bad and good interpretation of Scripture.
These are just a few of the many strategies we can use against the enemy of our souls. We must be prepared for such encounters. And we must also consider that the devil is but one being. He cannot attack all of us at once. I suggest to you that he is after the bigger and more dangerous targets to the gates of Hell.
But he also has many demons who would love nothing more than to distract us from our walk with Jesus. This is why we must be prepared for temptation. Resisting the devil includes more than just temptation. We must also consider spiritual warfare. There are some Christian teachers who place resisting temptation as one of the levels of spiritual warfare.
Let us all be ready for when temptation knocks on our door. Have a plan in place for the temptations that come after your weaknesses. What in your background and before you met Jesus was a temptation you never resisted? These will give you a head start in fending off the attacks of temptation.
Passion for Holiness
If anything you have seen as you have studied holiness with me throughout these almost 150 blog posts, we must have a passion for holiness. Through holiness we please God and set ourselves on the path toward heaven.
Holiness calls us to draw near to God. Volumes like Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God and many more volumes like these are excellent classics. They help us to learn how to draw close to God.
We can practice holiness and live in victory over sin. But victory is much more than just defeating sin and the devil in our lives. Living in victory requires Christians to have such a strong faith that they cannot be denied by this world.
How did Peter, Paul, John, and many more in the New Testament, especially the bulk of Acts, become so used by God that they did miracles, set people free from demons, and preached the gospel without abandon?
They had the most vibrant relationship with Jesus. That is the key to witnessing the power of God in our lives. And that comes through living holy lives that please and glorify God. This is the task set before every Christian.
Holiness brings with it deep relationship with God, the power of God through our hands, a life desired by people in the world, and the ability to please and glorify God. We must develop a passion for holiness.
Many blessings come through living a holy life before the Lord and the world. James gives us the twofold key to holiness, submitting to God and resisting the devil and temptation. We must become proficient in both of these areas.
Which one of these areas are you weaker in? Seek books and resources that will help you become victorious in your walk with Jesus. Victory is not only the resistance of evil but the persistence to pursue God with all your might. What are other ways you can experience victory in your walk with Jesus?