Christians serious about following Jesus Christ often find themselves in situations that compel them to ask: ‘What is God’s will for my life?’ It is Paul the apostle who answers this in unambiguous terms: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Thess. 4:3). ‘The writer of Hebrews speaks most boldly at this point: ‘Strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14). Holiness, then, is not a matter of secondary importance: something for intermittent consideration. Rather, it is the sine qua non of authentic Christian spirituality — the one thing without which nothing else matters.
Let us be more definitive at this point. God does not desire a moral people; He desires a holy people. You ask: ‘Is there really a difference between the two?’‘ There is most certainly. It is the difference between the Pharisees — the most zealous of the parties of ancient Judaism during the late Second Temple period — and the Lord Jesus Christ. They were moral; He was holy. Morality is the negative concept, in that it defines itself in terms of what one refrains from doing. Its preoccupation is almost exclusively with externals. Holiness, by contrast, is the positive and holistic concept. While encompassing externals, its reach is far more penetrating and comprehensive. One may describe the difference as follows:
|The moral person abstains from wrong actions||
… the holy person hates the very thought of wrongdoing. ‘
|The moral person is preoccupied by what people perceive him to be||
… the holy person is consumed with what God wants him to be.
|The moral person mindlessly adheres to a cold list of dos and don’ts||
… the holy person ponders what brings greatest pleasure to his heavenly Father.
|The moral person keeps a meticulous record of his good deeds, expecting by them to win the favor of God||
… the holy person grieves that nothing he ever does, even for God, is altogether free of sinful and selfish motive. Thus he recognizes every blessing from God as an expression of pure grace.
|The moral person lives by a self-determined definition of right and wrong and delights to impose it upon other people||
… the holy person yields to the Word of God as the final authority which, in turn, compels him to guard the silences of the Bible and, therefore, honor the freedoms these allow among those who serve the same Savior.
Sadly, our contemporary evangelical subculture is often morality-driven rather than holiness-driven. In my country it frequently expresses itself in the following kinds of sentiments: ‘If only we could reinstitute prayer in public schools … ‘‘If only we could require the Ten Commandments to be posted on the walls of our legal institutions … “If only we could elect more Christians to Congress and thus legislate against homosexual marriage. But such emphases, albeit well-meaning, reveal a failure to comprehend the radical difference between moral reformation and God-authored regeneration. The moralist falls short precisely because he fails to appreciate that the gospel of transformation is far more powerful than the religion of prohibition. Contrarily, the biblical record steadily reveals that God fulfills his purposes in the world not through the means of a moral majority but a holy minority. Holiness, not morality is God’s desire for His people — and it is this for which our Lord Himself prays just hours prior to His own crucifixion.
Quoted and adopted from Azurdia, A. G. (2009). Connected Christianity: Engaging culture without compromise. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications with Bryntirion Press, pp. 34-36.