Holiness is a high calling, higher than we realize. It is also very different than appearing to be holy. Living a life of self-made righteousness consumed my teen years and carried over to my life after I became a follower of Christ.
When I was younger I thought I was a pretty “good kid.” I was a straight A student, every sport I played I was on the varsity team, I was involved in all sorts of clubs and activities, I had lots of friends, and was a starter on my competitive soccer team. I thought I was doing good. To add to that, I thought I had strong moral convictions too. I knew the 10 commandments. I wasn’t out murdering people or stealing. I wasn’t the worst person at school. In my mind, I was doing pretty good.
As my teen years progressed and the temptations to fit in increased, my convictions became more and more relative. My level of holiness was contingent on what I perceived to be important. When my friends started to drink, I joined in, but I often would pride myself that I wasn’t as bad because I wouldn’t drink and drive or I would drink less, thus making me better than them. In relationships with the opposite sex, this same mentality followed me. I would often wonder how close to the line of sin I could walk in physical relationships without actually sinning. But that is not the standard that God calls us to.
You see, I was a teen that wanted to be “holy” enough to fly under the radar but still be allowed to do exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t care about God’s word. In the back on my mind I knew it had some importance. Besides, if I didn’t obey it, I could go to hell. And that certainly didn’t seem like fun to me. My mindset towards holiness was completely based on faulty reasoning.
God calls us to be holy as He is holy. Holiness means being separate from evil, or anything that is unclean or common and, conversely, being pure in nature as well as in our will and actions. God’s holiness should impact me at the personal level and make me keenly aware of my sinfulness and unholiness in comparison to Him. The way I judged my “righteous acts” as a teen was based on my sin cursed and worldly view of right and wrong. But to have a true picture of what is right and wrong means that I agree 100% with what God’s word says and then seek to submit myself to living it out.
When I look back at my teen years, I can no longer think that I did a good job navigating the waters of adolescence. Instead, when I look back I see a rebellious, selfish, and worldly girl that didn’t care what anyone had to say. My sins against God went deeper than my outward sins against Him. My heart was unmistakably guilty before my holy God for scoffing at His laws. These laws were put in place by a loving God seeking to guide and protect me. But since I thought I was the definition of all things good, I lived for my glory and pleasure and never looked to God’s holiness.
I realized one day that I would have to stand and give an account for the actions and choices throughout my life. Looking at my teen years, I know of no point when I could have said to God, “I loved you more than myself and I sought to obey and love you at all costs. I fought temptation by clinging to your trustworthy promises, always remembering the blessings you had in store for me.” Rather it would have been most accurate for me to say to God, “I failed miserably. Your word perfectly depicted my wicked heart and gave me guidance and cautions on how to behave, but I scoffed at you and sought my own way. I reaped the consequences of my sinfulness and do not deserve to stand before you, for you are holy. But I praise you that you loved me enough to send your perfect Son to die for me, a wicked sinner.”
God is holy, and there is no way for me to live up to that holiness on my own. I must accept that my futile attempts to be good still fail in comparison to God who is perfectly holy. In my daily life, I must be seeking to love God and thus obey His commands. I must give up wicked practices of justifying my lack of holiness and accept that the only payment for my sinfulness was made by Jesus on the cross. Our unholiness came at a high price, a price higher than we realize.