What comes to mind when you think of a holy person? Some of us see the beauty of holiness lived out on a regular basis in our churches and homes. But others fail to see the appeal of a holy life lived out, either because they haven’t seen it in practice or because less-appealing counterfeits have filled their horizon. Sometimes it’s helpful to articulate what holiness is not in order to gain a clearer understanding of what it is and why we want it. Here are five false views that you may have encountered.
1. Holiness is an honorary status.
Some speak of saints as if they were some sort of extra-dedicated class of Christian, a select few who have earned a special status. But the Bible does not make this distinction. Paul calls all Christians saints (1 Cor. 1:2). He tells the Corinthians that they have been “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified.” This is our position before God. We are sanctified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” at the moment of salvation (1 Cor. 6:11).
Because we are saints in Christ, we are to “put off your old self” and “put on the new self” (Eph. 4:20–24). In other words, our practice should match our position. This growth in holy practice is what the theologians call “progressive sanctification.”
There are not two tiers of Christians. All Christians are saints, and all of us are becoming holy in practice.
2. Spirit-empowered holiness feels easy.
The idea that sanctification requires effort may seem unspiritual to some, but the Bible is full of athletic metaphors that encourage us to do just that. Paul told Timothy, “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7), and the author of Hebrews tells us to “strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
Spiritual disciplines are essential for growth. As we study God’s Word and pray, our will and desires change to become more like Christ. As we daily resist sin and make God-honoring choices, we are working our spiritual muscles and making progress in the right direction.