Category: How can I live a holy life?

Joel Osteen’s book Your Best Life Now has caused many people to seek their “best life now.” Among the claims Mr. Osteen makes are “God wants to increase you financially” (page 5). He goes on to explain that this quest for financial and material increase is actually pleasing to God. No doubt, Osteen is sincere in what he says and believes that wealth and success really are the way to happiness. But is that what the Bible says? Does God want all His children to be wealthy, and does He tell us that is the way to find happiness? More importantly, is your best life now or is your best life in the world to come?

To say that life on this earth is the best you can have is absolutely true—if you’re not a Christian. The non-Christian lives his best life in the here and now because his next life is one of no hope, no joy, no meaning, no satisfaction and no relief from eternal suffering. Those who have rejected Jesus Christ will spend an eternity in “outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This phrase is used five times (Matthew 8:12, 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28) to describe the miserable existence of those who are thrust into it at the moment of their deaths. So, seeking to enjoy life while they can makes perfect sense for them because they really are living their best life now. The next life will be truly dreadful.

For the Christian, however, life here, no matter how good it is, is nothing compared to the life that awaits us in heaven. The glories of heaven—eternal life, righteousness, joy, peace, perfection, God’s presence, Christ’s glorious companionship, rewards, and all else God has planned—is the Christian’s heavenly inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-5), and it will cause even the best life on earth to pale in comparison. Even the richest, most successful person on earth will eventually age, sicken, and die, and his wealth cannot prevent it, nor can his wealth follow him into the next life. So, why would you be encouraged to live your best life now? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

This verse brings us to the next difficulty with “your best life now” philosophy. Our hearts reside wherever our treasure resides. What we value in life permeates our hearts, our minds, our very existence, and it inevitably comes out in our speech and actions. If you’ve ever met someone whose life is bound up in pursuing wealth and pleasure, it is obvious immediately, because it’s all he talks about. His heart is filled with the things of this life, and out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). He has no time for the things of the Lord—His Word, His people, His work and the eternal life He offers—because he is so busy pursuing his best life now.

But the Bible tells us that the “kingdom of heaven,” not worldly wealth, is like a treasure hidden in a field—so valuable that we should sell everything we have to attain it (Matthew 13:44). There are no scriptural admonitions to pursue and store up wealth. In fact, we are encouraged to do just the opposite. Jesus urged the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and follow Him so that he would have treasure in heaven, but the young man went away sad because his wealth was his heart’s true treasure (Mark 10:17-23). No doubt the young man experienced his best life on earth, only to lose the hope of real life in the future. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

But doesn’t God want us to live in comfort and financial security? We have only to look at the Lord Jesus and the apostles to know that the “best life now” philosophy is devoid of truth. Jesus certainly had no wealth, nor did those who followed Him. He didn’t even have a place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). The apostle Paul’s life would certainly not qualify as blessed by Osteen’s standards, either. Paul says, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). Does that sound like Paul was living his best life? Of course not. He was waiting for his best life in the future, his blessed hope, “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven” for him and all who are in Christ. That is our best life, not this “vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

How can we expect a world infected by sin to provide your best life now? How can we ignore scriptures like “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7) and “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12) and “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2), and tell people their best life is here and now? How can we count as meaningless the suffering of the early Christian martyrs who were hanged, burned at the stake, beheaded, and boiled in oil for their faith and their faithfulness to Christ, gladly suffering for the Savior they adored? Did they die these excruciating deaths because no one ever told them they could have experienced their best lives if only they pursued wealth and a healthy self-image, as Joel Osteen claims? The Lord never promised health, wealth, or success in this life. We can’t expect the promises He makes for heaven to be fulfilled now, and the Church dare not promise people the impossible illusion of their best life now. Such a promise encourages people to decide for themselves what will constitute their best lives and then reject Jesus when He doesn’t deliver.

The “your best life now” philosophy is nothing more than the old “power of positive thinking” lie repackaged to scratch the itching ears of the current generation. If we know Jesus Christ as our Savior, our best lives await us in heaven where we will spend eternity in joy and bliss, enjoying a life which is better than the “best” we could have now.

 Ephesians  4:13 says that the spiritual gifts are given to build up the body of Christ  “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God  and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  Some translations say that we will become “perfect” (instead of “mature”), and  from this some people have mistakenly thought that we can reach sinless  perfection in this life. The Bible teaches that, while we are in the flesh, we  will always struggle with a sin nature (see Romans  7:14-24). No one will be “perfect” (sinless) until we reach heaven.

The word translated “mature” in Ephesians  4:13 is the Greek word teleios. It is used throughout the New  Testament to mean “perfect,” “complete,” “full-grown,” and “mature.” What Ephesians 4:13 teaches is  that, the more we grow in Christ, the stronger and more unified we will be as a  church. The verse does not teach that we will stop sinning.

Another  passage that sometimes causes confusion is Colossians  1:28, which says, in some translations, that Paul wants to “present every  man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Also, in Colossians  4:12 Paul prays that we would “stand perfect and complete in all the will of  God.” In both verses, the word perfect should be translated as “mature”  or “full-grown,” not “perfect,” in the sense of having no sin.

As human  beings we are bound under the curse of Adam in this world. No matter how hard we  try not to, we will still sin against God. The apostle Paul rebuked Peter for  showing favoritism (Galatians  2:11-13). Late in his ministry, Paul calls himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy  1:15). Peter, James, John, and Paul all admitted that they were imperfect.  How could you or I claim anything different?

True perfection will not  come until the Rapture of the church, when we rise to meet Jesus in the air (1  Thessalonians 4:17). At that time we will receive a new body (Philippians 3:20,21; 1  Corinthians 15:54). We will attend the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10)  where our works will be judged and rewards will be given (1 Corinthians  3:9-15). We will then live forever and reign with Christ in sinless  perfection.

The new creation is described in 2  Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;  the old has gone, the new has come!” The word “therefore” refers us back to  verses 14-16 where Paul tells us that all believers have died with Christ and no  longer live for themselves. Our lives are no longer worldly; they are now  spiritual. Our “death” is that of the old sin nature which was nailed to the  cross with Christ. It was buried with Him, and just as He was raised up by the  Father, so are we raised up to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). That new person that was raised up is what  Paul refers to in 2  Corinthians 5:17 as the “new creation.”

To understand the new  creation, first we must grasp that it is in fact a creation, something created  by God. John 1:13 tells us that this new birth was brought about by the will of God. We did not  inherit the new nature, nor did we decide to re-create ourselves anew, nor did  God simply clean up our old nature; He created something entirely fresh and  unique. The new creation is completely new, brought about from nothing, just as  the whole universe was created by God ex nihilo, from nothing. Only the  Creator could accomplish such a feat.

Second, “old things have passed  away.” The “old” refers to everything that is part of our old nature—natural  pride, love of sin, reliance on works, and our former opinions, habits and  passions. Most significantly, what we loved has passed away, especially the  supreme love of self and with it self-righteousness, self-promotion, and  self-justification. The new creature looks outwardly toward Christ instead of  inwardly toward self. The old things died, nailed to the cross with our sin  nature.

Along with the old passing away, “the new has come!” Old, dead  things are replaced with new things, full of life and the glory of God. The  newborn soul delights in the things of God and abhors the things of the world  and the flesh. Our purposes, feelings, desires, and understandings are fresh and  different. We see the world differently. The Bible seems to be a new book, and  though we may have read it before, there is a beauty about it which we never saw  before, and which we wonder at not having perceived. The whole face of nature  seems to us to be changed, and we seem to be in a new world. The heavens and the  earth are filled with new wonders, and all things seem now to speak forth the  praise of God. There are new feelings toward all people—a new kind of love  toward family and friends, a new compassion never before felt for enemies, and a  new love for all mankind. The things we once loved, we now detest. The sin we  once held onto, we now desire to put away forever. We “put off the old man with  his deeds” (Colossians  3:9), and put on the “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness  and holiness” (Ephesians  4:24).

What about the Christian who continues to sin? There is a  difference between continuing to sin and continuing to live in sin. No one  reaches sinless perfection in this life,  but the redeemed Christian is being sanctified (made holy) day by day, sinning  less and hating it more each time he fails. Yes, we still sin, but unwillingly  and less and less frequently as we mature. Our new self hates the sin that still  has a hold on us. The difference is that the new creation is no longer a  slave to sin, as we formerly were. We are now freed from sin and it no  longer has power over us (Romans  6:6-7). Now we are empowered by and for righteousness. We now have the  choice to “let sin reign” or to count ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God in  Christ Jesus” (Romans  6:11-12). Best of all, now we have the power to choose the latter.

The new creation is a wondrous thing, formed in the mind of God and created by  His power and for His glory.

In Romans 12:1,  Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present  your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable  service.” Paul’s admonition to the believers in Rome was to sacrifice themselves  to God, not as a sacrifice on the altar, as the Mosaic Law required the  sacrifice of animals, but as a living sacrifice. The dictionary defines  sacrifice as “anything consecrated and offered to God.” As believers, how  do we consecrate and offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice?

Under  the Old Covenant, God accepted the sacrifices of animals. But these were just a  foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Because of His  ultimate, once-for-all-time sacrifice on the cross, the Old Testament sacrifices  became obsolete and are no longer of any effect (Hebrews  9:11-12). For those who are in Christ by virtue of saving faith, the only  acceptable worship is to offer ourselves completely to the Lord. Under God’s  control, the believer’s yet-unredeemed body can and must be yielded to Him as an  instrument of righteousness (Romans  6:12-13; 8:11-13).  In view of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus for us, this is only “reasonable.”

What does a living sacrifice look like in the practical sense? The  following verse (Romans 12:2)  helps us to understand. We are a living sacrifice for God by not being conformed  to this world. The world is defined for us in 1 John  2:15-16 as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of  life. All that the world has to offer can be reduced to these three things. The  lust of the flesh includes everything that appeals to our appetites and involves  excessive desires for food, drink, sex, and anything else that satisfies  physical needs. Lust of the eyes mostly involves materialism, coveting whatever  we see that we don’t have and envying those who have what we want. The pride of  life is defined by any ambition for that which puffs us up and puts us on the  throne of our own lives.

How can believers NOT be conformed to the  world? By being “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” We do this primarily  through the power of God’s Word to transform us. We need to hear (Romans 10:17), read (Revelation 1:3), study  (Acts 17:11), memorize (Psalm 119:9-11), and  meditate on (Psalm 1:2-3)  Scripture. The Word of God, ministered in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is the  only power on earth that can transform us from worldliness to true spirituality.  In fact, it is all we need to be made “complete, thoroughly equipped for every  good work” (2 Timothy  3:16, NKJV). The result is that we will be “able to test and approve what  God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans  12:2b). It is the will of God for every believer to be a living sacrifice  for Jesus Christ.

In order to address the question of how to live a holy life, we must first  understand what holy means. To be holy means to be set apart or separate  from sin and evil. God is holy—completely separate from everything that is evil  (1 John 1:5).  God calls us to be holy, just as He is (1 Peter  1:16, quoting Leviticus  19:2), but it’s vital to understand that apart from God this is impossible.  We must have the Holy Spirit indwelling us and filling us with His holiness. We  can only live a holy life through the power of the Spirit; thus, the first step  to living a holy life is to accept Jesus as Savior (Ephesians  1:13).

Once we have taken that step of salvation, we are  declared righteous (Romans 5:1).  But what does it look like to be actually righteous—to live a holy life?  In 1  Thessalonians 4:3–8, Paul emphasizes sexual purity as part of holy living:  “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual  immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that  is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know  God” (verses 3–5).

Beyond avoiding sexual immorality and keeping sex  within God’s design for marriage, we can live a holy life by being obedient to  God in all areas of life (1 Peter  1:14–16). Knowing and obeying God’s Word is key (John 17:17). Hiding God’s Word in our hearts keeps us  from sin (Psalm  119:11). When we live in obedience to God, we are staying separate from  evil. We are offering our bodies as “living  sacrifices” to God (Romans  12:1–2). The purpose of living a holy life is to glorify God and display His  nature to those around us (Matthew  5:16). Living a holy life of obedience to God is living in true freedom from  the bondage of sin (Romans  6:6).

It’s not always easy to choose obedience to God, especially if  we’re trying to do it all on our own. Satan would love nothing more than to  bring us back into bondage through disobedience. But we have the promise, “You,  dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in  you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  The Holy Spirit will produce Christlikeness in us, and, as we yield to Him, we  can live a holy life (Galatians  5:16).

Here is the mindset we should have: “Count yourselves dead to  sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans  6:11). Any time we face temptation, we should say, “I’m dead to that! That  was part of my old life! I am a new  creation in Christ!” (see 2  Corinthians 5:17). To live a holy life, to separate ourselves from sin, we  must see ourselves as God does—as born-again children of the Most High, clothed  with the righteousness of Christ.

We also have the benefit of being part  of the Body of Christ. Fellowship with other Christians and making ourselves  accountable to them is a great source of strength in living a holy life. As  Christians, we are called to encourage one another in this matter (Hebrews  10:24–25).

Remember, we are not trying to live a holy life in order  to earn salvation; living a holy life is a natural outgrowth of being saved by  God’s grace and filled with His Spirit. It is also important to not give up when  we mess up. When we fail, our response should be to confess the sin and keep  moving forward in our Christian walk (1 John 1:9).  Romans 8:1 says, “There is  now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God’s grace doesn’t go  away when we make mistakes.