Way back in Eden, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). They were like beautiful, living diamonds. They were not created as static beings; they were to grow and develop in many different ways. As caretakers of the earth they were expected to explore their wonderful and well-balanced world. Adam and Eve’s relationship with each other and their relationships with God were to keep expanding.
But then came sin. Adam and Eve made a monstrously bad choice of cosmic dimensions. From the moment they bit into the fruit there was no more growing and expanding—no more reaching up and reaching out. Instead, now they began to die (Gen. 2:17). They had broken God’s law that held them free to keep growing and discovering their potential. They found themselves in an endless free fall, in a state of hopelessness.
By default, from then on, each child born would no longer experience the unique potential of God’s image reflected in them. Now they were doomed to a few years of trying to make a living in between the feelings of hopeless aimlessness, in an unbalanced, fractured world. Every now and then someone would show brief glimpses of their God-given potential, but even the most gifted would only barely begin exploring his or her possibilities before being snuffed out in death. Without God, human beings were free—free of the law of love that holds the universe together, free of the ability to discover their God-given potential. Now they were enslaved to our degenerate selfishness, to our evil impulses, and finally to death.
But “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Our loving, creative God would not let us go on into oblivion. He sent His Son to earth as a human being to live and die for us. Once again, like Adam and Eve before they sinned, we can choose to step back into the harmony of the universe. As we choose to accept Jesus as our personal Savior, we can stand before God just as if we had never sinned.
The Bible speaks of this as a rebirth. It is this and only this acceptance of Jesus as our personal Savior that puts us right with God and qualifies us for heaven, instilling hope in our hearts. Jesus’ death is the great delete button. Now we are free to enter heaven, associate with holy beings, and speak directly to God. A people of hope is a people who have been justified by faith in Christ.
No Strings Attached
Many of us have at one time or another received a letter in the mail that had the word “free” written in big letters on the outside. We are told that we have won a million dollars, or a free subscription; however, in the fine print we discover that the gift is “free” only after we have spent a certain amount or have done something else. If we think it through carefully, we usually come up on the short end of the deal with these “free” offers. This, of course, makes us all the more suspicious when it comes to accepting God’s free gift of eternal life. This is no advertising gimmick. It is all absolutely, completely free. All we do is accept the great exchange. We hand over our sinful lives and receive Jesus’ perfect life. We don’t have to earn heaven by doing something. Forgiveness, eternal life—they are ours because of what Jesus has done for us. This really is good news.
Perhaps many of us are afraid to rejoice in our freedom in Christ because we are afraid that having a free gift makes us unappreciative of the cost. But just because it is entirely free does not make Jesus’ gift anything less than the most costly buyout in the universe. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).
An old saying goes: Familiarity breeds contempt. God understands our inability to truly evaluate and understand His gift to us and, among other things, He has made a way to combat our tendencies to overfamiliarity with His costly gift of salvation by calling us to holiness. In Exodus 22:31 He says: “You are to be my holy people.” As we look into the reflection of who God is by looking at His law, we may feel like King Josiah, who recovered a part of the Law in a Temple cleanup and, after reading it, tore his clothes (2 Kings 22:11). We see how far we are from the ideal that God has for us. We realize every day afresh how totally unworthy we are for heaven and how grateful we should be that Jesus has paid the price to get us there.
Called to Be Holy
So we are free—what now? The children of Israel also experienced freedom. After hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, they were set free by God. As the Israelites saw the Egyptian army being swallowed up in the sea, they began to realize that they were free from the bondage that they had been born into and known all their lives. What would they do with their freedom? Now they were free to follow the cloud to Sinai where God would reveal Himself to them, showing them the great law of love that sustains the universe. The Israelites were God’s special people, rescued from Egypt. They were called to be holy.
For us “holy” may seem a strange word that perhaps conjures up thoughts of stained glass windows and somber people living solitary, monotonous lives, far removed from the real world. Nothing could be further from the biblical meaning of “holy.” In Hebrew the word “holy” means “to set apart for a special purpose.” In other words, God was calling His people to be special, unique. In our modern world of mass production, mass entertainment, mass everything, doesn’t special and unique sound good?
God wanted them to rediscover their special purpose as a nation and as individuals. He wanted to nudge them back toward the original Eden plan. But after generations of slavery the Israelites had no idea of what God wanted them to be, so He had to supply the blueprint. He had to tell them, “This is what you were created and called to be.” He did it through the rules and regulations He gave on Mount Sinai. Everything about the laws that God gave the people was to teach them what it means to be holy—special, unique, and, yes, whole. Holiness in the Israelite camp was all about having God’s tent in the middle of the encampment. Living with a holy God did not bring God down to the level of slaves but brought slaves to the level of sons and daughters of the mighty God of the universe.
Living Holy Lives
And now you and I are free! The people of hope are free people! In the Lord’s Prayer we read, “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). It is our privilege to start promoting the kingdom by letting God reveal His image in us. The process has started. God has taken the initiative by renewing our relationship with Him, and now He wants to renew our relationships with each other and our communities. As we set out to live a life of holiness, we will be out of step with the world around us. As pilgrims of hope, we will be trying to show what it means—even in a world in rebellion—to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and our neighbor as ourselves.
Satan, of course, has a vested interest in keeping us from holiness. He will keep using circumstances and people to try to prevent us from being who we were designed to be. As long as we live in this world, we still have our old natures. Daily we have to choose to feed the reborn nature and starve our old sinful natures. This is a constant process. The good news is that holiness is much more than keeping a set of rules, as Jesus consistently taught. Holiness is about growth. It is about forming new allegiances, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things, new ways of looking at our lives, and new relationships.
Holiness is not a onetime thing. It is a maturing process. Just as an apple blossom is perfect and then each stage of the fruit’s formation is perfect, so we can be growing perfectly in Jesus. For the Israelites the wilderness experience was learning to practice holiness in all the little daily details of camp life; similarly, each moment of each day we can learn to practice holiness as we live in God’s presence.
Driving Force Behind Holiness
Some people seem to think that there is a division of labor in the Christian life: Jesus makes the down payment and they are then responsible for the maintenance. They trust that Jesus died for them but then seem to think that after being reborn they have to do their part by reaching some stage of perfection for heaven. But the apostle Paul did not share this idea: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught” (Col. 2:6, 7). The “just as” tells us that it is by the same way that we were saved that we are made holy. God did the saving and God’s Spirit will do the transforming. Our part is to be willing and cooperative.
Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior? Then you are free, your sins are washed away, and you have been reborn. Now you are free to be what you were created to be. You were created in the image of God; now you are free to reflect that image. You and I are destined to reflect the likeness of Jesus. What will that look like? “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children. Godliness—godlikeness—is the goal to be reached” (Ellen G. White, Education, p. 18). This is the ultimate destiny of a people of hope. Let the work begin!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. Is holiness essentially negative—giving up ?certain practices—or is it positive?
2. What would a “holy” person be like in today’s world? Be specific.
3. In what way is holiness related to reaching our God-given potential?
Chantal J. Klingbeil is an author, editor, home-school mom, and speaker living in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A. This article was published September 23, 2010.