Every born again Christian has an inherent desire to live holy. 1 John 3:3 states that every person who has the hope of spending eternity with God purifies themselves as God is pure. 1 Thessalonians 4:7 says ‘God hath not called us to uncleanness but to holiness’. There is no truly born again Christian who enjoys sinning. Born again people commit sin but they don’t enjoy it!

Now, in my many years of experience as a believer and as a minister in the Body of Christ, I have found out that most Christians struggle with living holy. And a major reason for this is due to what people have been taught and believe about the purposes and methodology of holiness. I use holiness here to refer to godly character and behaviour.

Holiness is not sin-consciousness

There are Christians who think holiness has to do with being sin-conscious all the time, living under guilt and condemnation. Others believe holiness is the means by which we earn God’s favor, and that our level of good behaviour is what will eventually determine whether or not we end up in heaven. These Christians believe that God’s primary job is to keep track of their performance and should they get out of line, He comes pouring out His wrath on them. So their struggle to live holy is not because they love God but because they are afraid of God punishing them.

There was a time when I personally held similar beliefs, but I can say from experience that pursuing holiness with the mentality of trying to earn God’s favor is a pain. You live on constant tension. There is no peace or joy in your walk with God. There is no confidence in prayer. You never can tell whether you are finally hitting the mark God requires, or you are still way below, and therefore not deserving of God’s blessings.

God’s unconditional love

Years ago, the Lord began to open my eyes to the real purposes of holiness and ever since, my walk with God has been radically changed for the better. First, I now understand that God instructs me to live holy, not because He is angry with me or will not bless me if I sin, but because He loves me so much. At my very best, my conduct is still not as perfect as it should be (and never will be as long as I am in this earthly body), so I can never trust in it as the basis upon which God relates with me, loves me or blesses me. The blessings of God, including heaven, are not up for sale anyway, so I must never try to purchase them with my good behaviour. Holiness is a fruit, not a root of salvation!

Many people struggle with holiness because they don’t really understand how much God loves them, unconditionally and totally independent of their performance. Romans 10:13 says ‘love worketh no ill to his neighbour’. Papa God isn’t out to hurt anybody. God isn’t pouring out His wrath on errant believers today. In 2 Corinthians 5:19, we read that ‘… God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them’. God isn’t up in heaven imputing the sins believers commit against them so that He can come down and punish them. In this dispensation of grace under the New Testament, God has already punished His Son Jesus on our behalf, so that He doesn’t have to punish us anymore.

When this truth becomes a revelation to you, you no longer endeavour to behave well as a way of trying to appease or avert God’s anger! Whatever indignation God had toward you over sin was placed on Christ, and having thus taken upon Himself all your sin, God poured out the fullness of His wrath – the due penalty of sin - on His Son, Jesus. Christ suffered the full punishment that you deserved. And Isaiah 53:11declares that Papa God was fully satisfied with the penalty of sin that Jesus suffered at His hands. That is why Romans 8:1 states that if you believe in Christ, you are not under condemnation. All of your sins, personal as well as inherited; past, present and even future sins, all of them, have already been forgiven by God on the basis of the efficacy of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, praise God! God has done this for you, not because you are the best performer in your community, but because He loves you, and He is so pleased that you have believed in and received His love as worked out in Christ’s sacrifice.

Sin is bad for you

Understanding how much God loves you and how He has so totally and eternally forgiven you, will cause you to embrace holiness with joy. It will no longer be something you do as a duty, for fear of being thrown into hell, but because you have the revelation that godly character is good for you.

God instructs us to live holy because sin is bad for us. Sin destroys us right here on earth, even though our eternity is secure in Christ.

When God created mankind, He never meant for us to sin. We were not naturally infused with the capacity to contain sin in ourselves. Our physical bodies, for example, were not meant to put up with negative emotions like anger, depression, self-pity, bitterness, etc. That is why when we indulge in these negative emotions, our bodies eventually begin to break down. Sin is like poison to our system. And so because God doesn’t want to see us suffer with natural, earthly consequences of sin, He tells us to avoid sin. Holiness is for our benefit, not God’s.

Vertical and horizontal consequences of sin

Sin has vertical and horizontal consequences. The vertical consequence is how sin affects our relationship with God. Before Jesus came and paid the price for sin, God meted out punishment on His people who sinned. But now under this New Covenant, Christ has paid this penalty, and when we believe in Christ, we are set free from having to suffer the wrath of God.

An amazing truth is that sin is no longer really the biggest issue between the believer and God! Jesus resolved this issue once and for all for the believer. It is only those who reject Christ’s sacrifice for their sin, the non-believers, who will have to themselves suffer the vertical penalty of their sin!

The horizontal consequences of sin refer to how sin affects our relationships with other people, with the devil and even with ourselves. God has forgiven you, but if you steal from people, for example, they won’t just forgive you. They will throw you in jail! It won’t be God personally punishing you, but your sin will make you miserable.

Also the Bible says in Ephesians 4:27 that we are not to give place to the devil. A believer who indulges in ungodly behaviour in effect comes into agreement with the devil and thus invites him into their life. God will love the believer just the same, but the devil will come in and steal from, kill and destroy that believer in all kinds of ways (John 10:10). Sin will steal your peace and joy. Sin can result in the destruction of your health, family or ministry. If you are promiscuous, you might end up with a broken marriage, or a sexually transmitted disease or people might stop responding positively to your ministry. Your ungodly behaviour will cause a lot of pain in your and other people’s lives, though God will still love you and your salvation will still remain intact.

And so because of the horizontal consequences of sin, Papa God, motivated by His immense love for us, commands us to stay clear of sin.

Beholding the glory of the Lord

In His love for us, God does not just instruct us to live right, He also shows us how to. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Scripture teaches that change in our character and behaviour so that we begin to manifest the glory of God doesn’t come by us struggling and fighting with sin, but rather by the Holy Spirit within us changing us from the inside out: ‘But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’

Holiness is really Christ living His life through us, and not us struggling to live for God in our own strength and wisdom. We have no ability in ourselves to change ourselves or anybody else. The way to godly character – and this is the only way – is that as we spend time with the Lord in His Word and prayer, beholding the glory and holiness of Christ in our born again spirits, as revealed in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit takes what we are beholding and reproduces it in our outward lives.

So many believers in Christ try so hard to deny themselves, overcome the sins in their lives, renew their minds, etc, by endless fleshly efforts, and they just keep failing again and again, year and after year. My friend, it is not by your own effort, wisdom, power or struggle; it is by the Spirit of God working out His Word in your life.

The easy way to holiness is to totally surrender and rest in God. Stop trying to make yourself holy and let God make you! Yes, you have to put out effort but that should be ensuring that you are spending quality and quantity time with God in the Word, studying and meditating! And even in this, you have to depend on the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Holiness is not a product of human struggle. It doesn’t come by hating or condemning yourself. It isn’t even by repeatedly confessing all your sins (which is impossible!) What I have learnt from Scripture and experience is that as I put focus and priority on seeking God, changes occur in me ‘effortlessly’! As I enjoy fellowshipping with my Lord, worshipping Him and meditating on His Word, my level of peace and joy increase without me even being conscious of it. With time, I am amazed to realize that I no longer struggle with issues that were a bother to me in the past! This is the easy way to holiness! It is not by human power or might, but by the Holy Spirit’s ability working powerfully in me (Zechariah 4:6).

By faith

Just like we receive the new birth by putting faith 100% in Christ, the way we grow in Christ and develop His character in our lives is by trusting Him 100% to work in us. That is what Paul meant when He said in Colossians 2:6, ‘As you received the Lord Jesus, so walk ye in Him’. You received Him by faith, and you walk in Him by faith.

Faith means you agree with God, even when your experience may be contrary. For example, Galatians 5: says that those (quote). Your experience right now may be that you have strong passions and lusts, or adductions of the flesh dominating you. But God says, those things were crucified with Christ. They died. Now, whose report will you believe? Will you believe God’s report that that addiction, lust, habit or passion was crucified, or your experience? If you place your experience above God’s Word, you might remain in bondage for good. But if by faith you will choose to rate God’s Word above all else, the Spirit of God will go to work in you, and as you keep believing the report of the Lord, your experience will soon catch up with the truth of God’s Word.

Faith means you will agree with God and contradict your experience.

It can be fun

The pursuit of holiness can actually become fun! Oh, yes, there may be times when you have to go through pain as you let go your past loves and behaviours, but once you gain the victory and you know how to maintain it, it is fun. It is fun to be free.

When you understand how much Papa God loves you, and that He wants you to live holy even more than you do, you rest in Him, and you let Him accomplish His good pleasure in you! Your part is to give Him time by making fellowshipping with Him the priority of your daily life, and to trust Him to do what He only can do. He will give you the strength, the guidance, the wisdom to deal with different issues in your life, one at a time, so that you experience character change from glory and to glory, and all of it while wrapped up in His loving arms and grace.