“Without holiness no one will see God.” Hebrews 12:14b NIV
Too often we have given the impression that salvation is a change of state accomplished through a judicial transaction. While that is not untrue, it is, unfortunately, to miss almost all that God is about with us. A reasonably careful reading of the Bible makes this point very clear. God wants to make us over into the image of Christ. To be saved is to experience a change of character that is accomplished through a life-long cultivation of the gift of the Holy Spirit made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The book of 1 John illustrates this point very clearly. The book is answering the question, “What is it to be a Christian?” Our standard evangelical answer is: Repent of your sins, believe that Jesus Christ died to forgive you of your sins, accept him as your Savior. In short, believe. John underlines the importance of right belief, but only as the third in a series of things. First, first, I say, is that a Christian exhibits the moral character of God. Second, a Christian exhibits the relational character of God. Third, a Christian believes that Jesus is divine and human, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of a genuinely unselfish Deliverer.
So, to be a Christian is to obey, love and believe. If you truly believe, it must change the way you live. Your way of living is going to be shaped by a passion to do what God does, to be what God is, to walk like God walks, and that is love. If your belief doesn’t issue in an obedience that brings you to self-giving love, something is missing in your Christian experience.
To be a Christian is to be in a relationship with God that changes your character. That change of character begins to happen in the moment of conversion, but if it is to continue, there must come a moment when we face the deep self-centeredness that dominates our life, and invite the Holy Spirit to displace that self-centeredness by filling us with himself. Through the fullness of the Holy Spirit, it is possible to fulfill God’s dream of our sharing His character with Him as we live in life-long intimate fellowship with Him. This is what “you must be holy, for I am holy” is all about. To be holy is to be saved.