Pursuing Holiness in an Unholy World
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you
may prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect – Romans 12:2
– by Tom Caballes
Have you ever wondered why it is not easy to be a Christian nowadays? Why is it that it is not easy to be holy? Why is it very hard to bring other people to God? Why is peer pressure so hard to resist?
One big reason is that we live in an unholy world. It is like coaching a rugby, basketball, or cricket team; you are playing against an opponent who has extra men on the field; even worse, some of your players are injured and some are working for the other team (throwing the game away)! It is the same with the daily battle for holiness: it is extremely difficult for us to win the battle because the odds are stacked against us. It is an uphill battle. “Everyone else is doing it – why can’t I?” Not only is the enemy everywhere, but they are also inside us – our unredeemed human nature, the flesh.
Because everything in the world, the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father but of the world (1 John 2:16).
The Incredible Salmon
The life of a salmon is very interesting. From the freshwater rivers, they go through their normal life cycle as eggs and fingerlings and eventually live in the sea. But once they reach maturity, they have an absolute resolve to go back to their spawning grounds, hundreds or thousands of kilometers away. The trip back to their spawning grounds is a seemingly impossible task, full of dangers, traps, and obstacles, as they will be swimming against the overbearing current of the rivers. Many of the salmon die going back to their grounds – bears, and birds of prey catch them and eat them. Some of them hit the rocks, logs, and other obstacles along the way and die. Sometimes they have to swim through shallow waters just to get through their journey. But they never stop or rest from swimming against the current – otherwise, it would carry them away from their destination. The incredible thing is, in order for them to reach their spawning grounds, they have to jump upstream, up against a waterfall and sometimes more than once in their journey. Many of their jumps fail but they persist – until they get through the waterfall, or die trying. Against all odds, many of them eventually reach their spawning grounds and a new generation of salmon eggs are laid and later hatch to become fingerlings. You can probably count yourself lucky not to be a salmon!
But you are a Christian. And guess what? The odds are stacked heavily against you if you are resolved to follow God. And there is a very strong current that is sweeping across the face earth. A current of wickedness, immorality, blatant and not so blatant sin. Acceptance and practice of ungodly values and activities pervade the world we live in.
I really don’t know who is in a better place – the salmon swimming upstream to their spawning grounds or us Christians trying to live holy lives in an unholy world.
Pursue…holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). God desires us to pursue holiness at all costs because without holiness we cannot see the Lord. Make no mistake about it – the world that we live in is an unholy world. We need to actively pursue holiness if we desire to draw closer to God because the world will not give us holiness on a silver platter but will put all hindrances and obstacles in front of us. It is extremely difficult to win the battle, and we need to learn from the salmon: to have an absolute resolve, come what may, to reach our “spawning grounds” – heaven.
The battle for holiness rages in various areas of our lives. Our hearts, our minds, our wills – these are the battlefronts, where most of the battles are lost and won. The battle for holiness takes place in our desires, our emotions, and attitudes, our judgment and reasoning, our relationships, our speech patterns, our past and its memories, and our use of media.
Our Strategy for Winning the Battle for Holiness
In order for us to win the battle of holiness in our lives, we need a good strategy. We need to have specific battle plans to succeed. Below are some specific action plans we can implement.
- Yield to God’s power – ask the Holy Spirit for power and strength. Therefore submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
- Every day commit yourself to put the flesh to death. Likewise, count yourselves also to be truly dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lust (Romans 6:11-12).
- Decide to be holy every day. Pray: “Today, I offer my day to you, Lord – I want to consecrate it to you, and I want to be holy, and I will be holy today. Today I will make a covenant with my own eyes before you Lord” (see Job 31:1).
- Guard your hearts always, be aware when temptations come, where your weak points are – and flee. But you, O man of God, flee these things and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness (1 Timothy 6:11). If the salmon stops swimming, it will be carried back by the current – if you let your guard down, you will fall.
- Be conscious of your thoughts: submit them to Christ. Do not sugar-coat or justify sin. Call sin a sin and do not make excuses for yourself. Count yourself dead to sin. [Say to yourself: “I do not do those things anymore – I am dead to those things.”] We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
- Live life with accountability now – live in the light! Make commitments and be accountable to one another for those commitments; we can help each other – not judge, but help. You yourselves used to be in the darkness, but since you have become the Lord’s people, you are in the light. So you must live like people who belong to the light, for it is the light that brings a rich harvest of every kind of goodness, righteousness, and truth. Try to learn what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the worthless things that people do, things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light (Ephesians 5:8-11).
One day, everything that we do in darkness will be brought to light; God will expose all our hidden thoughts and actions. It is better to be accountable here now (where we can change) rather than when God judges us. There is nothing that can be hidden from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves (Hebrews 4:13).
- Get rid of all our grudges, resentments and lack of forgiveness and live in freedom! All these are chains that bind us in prison and prevent us from growing in holiness.
- Fill your mind with God’s word. As it says in Philippians 4:8: Finally, my brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are right, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, and whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think on these things.
- Guard your eyes always – especially with the media: “I have made an agreement with my eyes. Then how can I look with lust at a virgin?” (Job 31:1)
- Develop good holy habits – for new Christians, this will include habits of prayer, reading Scripture, and doing service. For older Christians, habits like simple living, generosity, dying to one’s self, simplicity, humility, and being Christ-like in all that you do are things for you to grow in.
- Review your day before you sleep. How did the battle for holiness go today? Were there battles lost and is there anything you need to repent of?
- For married people, decide to be a “one-woman man” or a “one-man woman.” We should not have any intimate or special relationship with anyone of the opposite sex aside from our spouse, including those in fantasies and daydreams. For all men, God desires us to treat “older women as mothers, the younger as sisters in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2) and the same would go for women in their relationships with men. For single people, you need to offer your sexuality to God daily and decide to be chaste in all of your relationships. Unless you are in a courting relationship in preparation for marriage you should have no intimate or special relationship with anyone of the opposite sex, including those in fantasies and daydreams.
- Avoid situations and circumstances that are not healthy for purity. “Wax melts before fire.” One pitfall many Christians face daily is the area of media, especially the use of the internet. While there are many good things the internet provides us, there are also many bad things available out there – where the flesh and the world can cause havoc in our lives. You need to live a life with accountability in the way you use the internet.
- Live in the present and not in the past – do not re-live the “sins of our youth.” Consider yourself dead to sin, including your past sins. Avoid the passions of youth, and strive for righteousness, faith, love, and peace, together with those who with a pure heart call out to the Lord for help (2 Timothy 2:22).
- Be patient – never give up; it is a battle for a lifetime. Like the salmon, press on.
The Answer to an Unholy World – Christian Community
Living in a Christian community is a great blessing to anyone who desires to follow God. The Christian community is an antidote, a counter-culture, the opposite of what the world offers us. If we compare ourselves to the salmon, it is a “counter-current” which makes our journey easier. Although communities and their members are imperfect, they give us an alternative and a place where we can experience love, acceptance, care, and support as we strive for holiness. We are not alone – we are side by side with other brothers and sisters who dare to “swim against the current and swim side by side” with us. They are the people who can help us to live our lives with accountability, where we can receive guidance and practical help, not judgment or condemnation.
I have been in Christian community for so long that sometimes I take it for granted. One time, I thought of what my life would be like if I decided not to follow Christ in Christian community – and I can see the results all around me. Temporal and fleeting pleasures, breaking the law, depression, gloom, life without a purpose, broken family and relationships, all sorts of addictions, and sicknesses, among many other things. A life of short-term delights but long-term misery and despair, without any sense of direction, would have summarized my life now, if I did not insist on pursuing a life of holiness in Christian community.
Tom Caballes is the National Senior Administrator and a branch leader for the Lamb of God, a national community of the Sword of the Spirit with 7 branches located throughout New Zealand. Tom also leads Kairos New Zealand, an outreach program for high school, university, and post-university aged people. This article is based on a talk given at a Lamb of God community men’s retreat in Auckland, New Zealand. Taken from Living Bulwark Lent 2013 issue. Used with permission.