How can holiness be the path to happiness? Doesn’t this idea run right in the face of Jesus’ gospel of grace?
Yes, it’s contrary to the gospel…if the idea of holiness conjures up images of people overwhelmed with a list of impossible dos and don’ts.
But holiness isn’t something we achieve by human effort. We receive holiness while walking with God.
The Bible story of Enoch is short. It’s four verses long (Genesis 5:21-24). You might have missed it. But it’s remarkable enough, that if you notice it you can’t forget it.
The Bible says Enoch walked with God 365 years, then God took him–meaning he went straight to heaven without dying (Hebrews 11:5).
I didn’t like that story for a long time. The idea of someone becoming holy enough that God decided to give him a pass on dying and take him to heaven intimidated me.
Then I read in a book where someone put it this way: Enoch walked with God far enough, that he ended up closer to God’s home than to his own. So, God said to Enoch, “Come home with me!” And Enoch did.
God showed up and invited Enoch to walk with Him. God led the way. It was by walking with God that Enoch received holiness from God. Enoch put his effort into walking with God. God delivered the holiness.
It’s like this: If you’re cold in the shade, you step into the sunlight, and you warm up. You don’t make yourself warm. Your effort goes into stepping into the sunlight. The sun delivers the warmth.
What is Holiness?
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He started this way:
“Our Father, which art in heaven hallowed be your name.”
I like the way the New Living Translation puts it:
“Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy” (Matthew 6:9 NLT).
What if a man introduces himself to saying, “Hi, my name is Judas”?
What if you meet a woman and she says, “Hi, my name is Jezebel”?
A name represents someone’s character.
Judas was very popular name in the time of Christ. But when a man named Jesus betrayed Jesus, the name lost his popularity. You won’t find many parents naming their child Judas.
The wife of King Ahab, Jezebel led Israel into chaos by introducing pagan worship in place of worshiping God. Today the name is associated with sexual immorality.
God’s name represents His character. God’s character is holiness. There is no one holier.
What Does Holiness Look Like?
Moses asked to see God’s glory. God allowed it, but shielded Moses from His full glory, because it would have killed him. Getting too much holiness at once might be like getting too much sunlight–it’ll burn you up.
When God appeared to Moses, He announced His name, and described His character:
Then the LORD came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:5-7 NLT).
To pursue holiness is to become more like God in character:
- Compassionate and merciful
Slow to anger
Loving and faithful
Forgiving but not excusing the guilty.
The apostle John gives this description of God’s character:
God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all (1 John 1:5 NLT).
God is love (1 John 4:8 NLT).
Renewing Your Mind
The apostle Paul explains that we receive God’s character–His holiness–by a renewing of our minds.
[P]ut off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV).
In a scientific study at Harvard, neurologist Alvaro Pascual-Leone showed how mere thoughts can change the physiology of your brain–renewing your mind.
Pascual-Leone took a group of volunteers and divided the group in half. Their brains were scanned.
One half learned a five-finger exercise, which they practiced on a piano keyboard over a five-day period. Afterward their brains were scanned again. Pascual-Leone discovered the area of their brains that controlled the physical movements of their fingers had expanded.
The second half of the group learned the same five-finger exercise, but only visualized their fingers moving and pressing the piano keys. When Pascual-Leone scanned their brains again, their brains had also expanded in the same area as those who physically practiced the finger exercise!
Physical practice and visualization have the same impact on our brains–they change our brains. Perhaps this gives us a key to the renewed mind that Paul invites us to experience.
God may not come to you and ask you to walk with Him in the same way He did Enoch. But Jesus promised that He would dwell with us by His Holy Spirit (John 16:13-15). The Holy Spirit teaches us and transforms us through God’s Word.
Simply put, you can walk with God by praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and by reading and meditating on the words of the Bible–especially on the life of Jesus–with an open mind.
This changes your brain–renews your mind–producing in you the fruit of the Spirit–God’s character traits:
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things (Galatians 5:22-23)!
When we work at it, with some effort we can produce temporary happiness. But it’s gone in a whim.
Someone says something that pushes one of our buttons. Expectations aren’t met. We take an unexpected financial hit. Our health takes a turn for the worse.
When we walk with God, we get holiness produced by the fruit of God’s Spirit shining on us. God builds in us a foundation of lasting happiness.