Romans 7:1-6 – Becoming Holy

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Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (NIV)

Romans chapters 6-8 are the Apostle Paul’s pointed discussion of how we become holy in a real and practical way. The theological word we typically use for this is “sanctification,” which means “to become holy,” and “set apart” for God. To be delivered from sin, death, and hell through the person and work of Jesus Christ is not the end of the story; it is just the beginning of becoming a new creation.

Becoming holy and righteous in our everyday lives boils down to this: identity and belonging. One of the healthiest ways of looking at the entirety of the Bible’s message is that we belong to God. Our identities are thoroughly wrapped around Jesus. The process of realizing this and coming to grips with it is how we grow as people in holiness and righteousness.

Because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, we have been delivered from the realm of sin. Our change in status from condemned to accepted provides us the awareness to make daily affirmations of faith and live a new life. However, the sinful nature (flesh) or the old person is still there. Although it is now toothless, our past can and often does exert a powerful influence on us. Even though there is a medium-rare T-bone steak on the table for us to enjoy, there are times we go back to the old bologna sandwich with stale white bread.

Yet, we need no longer live falling short of our true humanity because we belong to God. We are adopted into God’s family, having been orphaned by sin’s cruel influence. Yet, just because we have been saved from the power of sin, sin itself has not become extinct. We still must deal with it. We are alive to God and need to take up this great spiritual reality and live into it, for the force of sin still exists in the world.

We deal with sin’s continued presence (the world, the flesh, and the devil) through embracing God’s grace versus trying to overcome it with the law. Paul used an illustration from marriage to expand our understanding of grafting grace into our daily lives. By law, a married woman is bound to her husband (keeping in mind this sense of belonging was the predominant view of marriage in Paul’s day). Yet, if the husband dies, the wife is released from the legal marriage. If she were to give herself to another man while her husband is still alive and they are married, then she becomes an adulteress. However, if she is a widow, then marries again, she is not an adulteress.

Paul applies this understanding to our relationship with the law. Death has separated us from the law. We died with Christ. Therefore, we have been set free from the law and have become alive to grace. As believers in Jesus, we “belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead” (Romans 7:4). “When Christ’s body hung upon the cross, when God spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32); “when Christ took on himself for us all the curse of the law which inflicted all of us (Galatians 3:13); then, we died to the law. God’s grace has made the death of Jesus the death of all from the realm of sin (2 Corinthians 5:14).

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As a married man, let me use Paul’s illustration to get down to the gist of his teaching. Yes, I am legally married and belong to my wife. I made vows to my wife on our wedding day which bind me legally to do what I said I would do. Yet, if I fulfill those vows in a strictly legalistic manner, I can vouch for my wife that this would qualify as an acceptable situation for her. You see, my wife (and, me, too!) are freely bound to one another in love and grace. I care for my wife because I love her deeply, and not because it is my legal duty to do so.

The Christian life was neither designed nor meant to serve as a bare legal contract or covenant between us and God. God forbid such a thought! Jesus died to clear us from all the legality stuff so that we could freely love and serve God with joyful abundance and gratitude. You see, I am follower of Jesus because I love him deeply. What impels and motivates me is God’s grace. The law is there and has its place. However, it is not the law that causes me to be a Christian; it is the love of Christ which saved me from myself and compels me to live like Jesus.

We pray that God himself, the God of peace, will make you pure—belonging only to him. We pray that your whole self—spirit, soul, and body—will be kept safe and be blameless when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. The one who chose you will do that for you. You can trust him. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, ERV)

1 Peter 1:13-16 – Be Holy

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Therefore, your minds must be clear and ready for action. Place your confidence completely in what God’s kindness will bring you when Jesus Christ appears again. Because you are children who obey God, don’t live the kind of lives you once lived. Once you lived to satisfy your desires because you didn’t know any better. But because the God who called you is holy, you must be holy in every aspect of your life. Scripture says, “Be holy, because I am holy.” (GW)

 This is the Christian season of Eastertide. It is a time with a focus on new life in Jesus Christ. God did not save us only for a future life; believers are delivered from sin, death, and hell to also be holy in all we say and do in the here-and-now. The life of the Christian is to be characterized by holiness.

Everything comes down to God. As God’s image bearers we are to reflect God’s character in all things. Unity, harmony, love, and peace always exists within the triune God. Therefore, we, too, are to be characterized with these same qualities. We are to be holy because God is holy. Just as God separates himself from evil, wickedness, impurity, and all that is wrong in the world – so, we are to live a holy life separate from everything that creates and fosters division, hate, abuse, oppression, violence, pride, greed, theft, gluttony, avarice, adultery, and the host of human sins which bedevil the world. God is not at all okay with racism, favoritism, gaslighting, bullying, selfishness, hubris, and all kinds of crimes against humanity which destroy both creature and creation.

Thus, holiness of life involves both a separation from immoral and unethical thoughts, words, and practices; and, a connection with integrity and righteousness which becomes thoroughly grafted into daily life.

The Israelites of the Old Testament had a clear understanding of holiness. In fact, an entire book is devoted to holiness of life: Leviticus. The Apostle Peter drew from Levitical law when addressing the expectation of a holy life:

“I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44, NRSV)

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2, NRSV)

“Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am God, your God. Do what I tell you; live the way I tell you. I am the God who makes you holy.” (Leviticus 20:7-8, MSG)

The ancient Israelites, through a series of regulations about what to wear and not wear, what to eat and not eat, how to relate to one another, etc. were continually reminded of God’s holiness. The importance of a pure life free from the drag of unholy living is the Levitical aim. Rather than following the crowd into mob action that damages people and property, holy living goes against the grain of popularity to seek purity of life.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)

We are not to slide away from our new life in Christ when the going gets hard. That means holiness involves Stay at Home orders, to be separate, even though it is a rough economic hit. It means maintaining social distancing, to have separation between each other, even though it goes against how we have always operated. Holiness means finding creative ways of connecting to one another, making a living, and promoting the common good of all persons. Holiness doesn’t involve impatience, tunnel vision, and allowing our shadow selves to call the shots. Holiness does involve expressions of love, peace, and unity – the very qualities that characterize God himself.

Confidence is born of trust in God’s kindness. Clarity of thought comes from immersing ourselves in God’s non-anxious presence. A holy life arises with the awareness and acknowledgment that God is with us.

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that all my thoughts may be holy, as yours are holy.
Act in me, heavenly Father, that my actions, too, may be holy, as yours is holy.
Draw my heart to you, Lord Jesus, so that I love only what is holy, as you love what is holy.
Strengthen me, Mighty God, to defend all that is holy, as you are just and holy.
Guard me, triune God, that I may always be holy, as you are always holy.
Amen.

Click Take My Life by Scott Underwood as we express our desire to be holy.