For all of us who take our discipleship seriously, sooner or later comes the frustrating realisation that we are not – and cannot be – as holy as we think we ought to be. The promises of Scripture (and the claims of some Christians) don’t seem to square with the hopeless failure that is very often me. I succumb to temptations (all too often the same temptations, again and again); I struggle with undesirable personality traits. “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” (Romans 7:21) The Bible tells me to be holy – but how can I actually do it?

There are several possible ways of answering this question:
1) God declares us holy, and that’s all there is to it – so don’t worry about it.
2) We achieve holiness through obeying His commands – so you need to work on this.
3) Holiness is a gift of the Holy Spirit (maybe through a ‘second blessing’ or ‘complete surrender’).

These statements appear to be contradictory, but actually all of them are true to some extent. We are all ‘holy’ in one sense, simply by virtue of belonging to God – and He isn’t going to dump us if our lives don’t reach some stratospheric level of perfection. However, that fact doesn’t let us off the duty of being obedient. But we aren’t left to struggle on our own; we do have the Holy Spirit to help us, and He really does make a difference!

There’s no point in looking for short cuts to holiness. There are none that I know of. It’s an ongoing struggle, and from time to time we all fall short or fail completely. If you’re looking for advice, then all three truths above may apply, but in any individual situation one of them may be more appropriate and helpful than the other two. In fact, sanctification turns out to be a complicated business, which can’t be summed up in a single short sentence. Read on…

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