Pursuing Holiness in an Unholy World

Over the centuries, Christians have faced the difficult task of pursuing holiness in a world saturated with individualism and godlessness. Since the fall of humanity, recorded in the third chapter of Genesis, men and women have found creative ways to break God’s law. People literally invent ways of doing evil (Romans 1:30). Such an arrangement makes holy living difficult for God’s redeemed people. If you are serious about holiness, any amount of biblical conviction will expose you to ridicule and, in many cases, combativeness from others.

Holiness is about being set apart, living in countercultural ways, and following a different set of standard than that of the world. It has much to do with Christlikeness. Pursuing holiness may not make you the life of a party but, according to Scripture, it’s the only way to see God (Hebrews 12:14).

God is holy. He requires his people to be holy (1 Peter 1:16). Our pursuit of holiness cannot be an afterthought, like adding a last minute ingredient to soup to enhance its flavor. Every moment of the Christian life must be lived in holiness. It’s going to require new rhythms, fresh perspectives, and swimming against the tide of culture.

A Christian’s moral standard is determined by Scripture alone, not the laws of their government or the whims of people. When a nation’s laws violate clear commands of Scripture, Christians must oppose them for the sake of holiness and obedience to God. When cultural fancies rule the day, God’s word must rule the hearts of his people, instead. Being set apart in an unholy world will become more challenging as the world journeys away from a biblical understanding of wholeness and human flourishing.

Recently, a friend shared a research poll with me about how Americans have pulled back from values which once defined the United States. The poll looked at the shift in the importance of these values from 1998 to 2023. The values were patriotism, religion, having children, community involvement, and money. I was shocked to see that every value, with the exception of money, decreased by at least 20% (some decreased by 30%). I’m far from an expert on this stuff, but I think it’s worth noting that community, as a value deemed important, is declining whereas individualism is on the rise.

Think about it. All the values listed necessitate other people, except money. You can’t have involvement in a community alone. You can’t have children alone. Even patriotism and religion require other people at some level, whether through celebratory events or religious gatherings. But money, that’s a whole different matter. You can pursue money on your own and for your own benefit. All you have to do is be better than your opponents, smarter than your competitors, wiser than your neighbors. Sure, people are involved here also, but the focus shifts from inclusion to elimination. The accumulation of money is a game of every man for himself, and women are not excluded.

Even though the sample size was small in the Wall Street Journal poll (it only included 1,019 Americans), I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the world, not just the United States, is getting more self-centered and evil.

“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice.”

– James 3:16 (CSB)

Selfishness mixed with envy breeds disorder. Should we be surprised by that? When our media outlets tell us about wars, scandals, racial injustice, school shootings, sex trafficking, and various infringements, we’re simply seeing the outcropping of envy and selfish ambition. The Scripture doesn’t say some evil practices stem from these things, but rather, every evil practice. In other words, all the evil in the world has roots in these two vices.

If you want to avoid being polluted by the world (James 1:27), you’ll need to take drastic measures. Think of Christ’s words about tearing out an eye or cutting off a hand or foot if it causes you to sin (Matthew 18:8-9). I don’t think Jesus wants you to mutilate yourself, but I do think he means for you to be extreme in your actions against sin. If you binge watch shows on Netflix with questionable content, it might be time to get rid of your devices. If you fall into a comparison trap while scrolling social media, you might want to delete your accounts. If your smartphone entices you to visit pornographic websites, it may be time to ditch it and get a dumbphone.

The influence of unholiness is like a wildfire. Perhaps the greatest step you can take to avoid being consumed is listening to and applying the Word of God. God’s word is a lamp to the feet—a light to the path of those who obey it (Psalms 119:105).

“For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

– Hebrews 4:12 (CSB)

God’s word will not lead you astray. Read it often and don’t give up.

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