“Is it even possible to live a holy Christian life? The kind of life we talk about and aspire to, but seem to fall short of on a daily basis?”
Some form of this question has been buzzing around in my conversations the past week or so with different people in my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that we humans fall into two categories on this subject: man-centered or God-surrendered.
A man-centered approach to this life assumes (rightly so) that we are a hopelessly flawed bunch of people trying to do our best. Not just flawed, but sinful. We float from one good intention to another, sometimes succeeding, but often falling short. We hope that we can meet the goals we’ve set, but we are realistic about the fact that we are mere mortals and certainly not saints. The bar is always just a little bit out of reach.
A God-surrendered person realizes that yes, that bar is set pretty high and the chances of us performing our way to the top are slim to none. They take into consideration however, something that the others do not: we CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens us… through His power alone. God-centered people don’t do things God’s way because they are superhuman holy rollers…but they do believe that Christ’s power in them makes all things possible.
When we get cozy with our sin we will find all sorts of ways to gloss over it… but God says “be holy as I am holy” (1Peter 1:16). He doesn’t tell us to be perfect or without flaw, but our general walk should be toward holiness and away from the sin that entangles us. Sometimes that walk feels more like a slow marathon through quicksand… but we keep going in the direction of holiness. Why? Because we feel like it? No. Because we know “the way of man is not in himself” (Jeremiah 10:23) and that in Christ we are “a new creation; old things have passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Rosaria Butterfield wrote a fantastic article showing us the futility of the man-centered approach to sin:
As believers, we lament with the apostle Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:19–20). But after we lament, what should we do? How should we think about sin that has become a daily part of our identity?
Now that it is in the house, don’t buy it a collar and a leash and give it a sweet name. Don’t “admit” sin as a harmless (but un-housebroken) pet. Instead, confess it as an evil offense and put it out! Even if you love it! You can’t domesticate sin by welcoming it into your home. Don’t make a false peace. Don’t make excuses. Don’t get sentimental about sin. Don’t play the victim. Don’t live by excuse-righteousness. If you bring the baby tiger into your house and name it Fluffy, don’t be surprised if you wake up one day and Fluffy is eating you alive. That is how sin works, and Fluffy knows her job. Sometimes sin lurks and festers for decades, deceiving the sinner that he really has it all under control, until it unleashes itself on everything you built, cherished, and loved.
Holy cow… or baby tiger. Time to remember that the gospel we trusted in for our salvation is the same gospel that keeps us marching in the direction of home. We will always struggle with sin, but it sin doesn’t get to make the decisions. Paul wrote “…that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God…” 2 Corinthians 1:12. So, in answer to the question “is it possible to live a holy Christian life?” I say it’s not only possible, but should be expected. How different things would be if we thought that way… with simplicity and sincerity about seeking after Jesus. No false peace, no excuses, no baby tigers in the house. Just authentic forward movement, not by our might but by His spirit.