With these thoughts in mind, we begin to see how much more God is asking of us than mere morality. As long as our notions of holiness are limited to doing certain things and not doing other things, we can go through our entire lives obeying the rules (or at least maintaining the appearance of doing so) without dealing with far more fundamental questions: Whose are we? To whom do we give our first love and loyalty?
At bottom, God's call to be holy is a radical, all-encompassing claim on our lives, our loves, and our very identities. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ requires nothing less than death to our fallen, egocentric selves in order that we might live in and for him. "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it," says Jesus, "but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:35-36). To be holy means that all we are and all we have belongs to God, not ourselves, and that every aspect of our lives is to be shaped and directed toward God.
"Be holy, because I am holy," says our Lord. Holiness is not primarily about moral purity. It's primarily about union with God in Christ and sharing in Christ's holiness. It's secondarily about life in grateful service to God and others. Only a biblical, Christ-centered holiness will safeguard evangelicals from the trap of moralism and help us recover our spiritual footing in today's world.
Joel Scandrett (Ph.D., Drew University) is associate editor of reference and academic books at InterVarsity Press.
Adapted from "Holy to the Core," by Joel Scandrett, Christianity Today. Click here to read the original article in its entirety and for reprint information.