The Joy of Holiness

If you want to be happy, be holy! Holiness is not a restriction on true life but a protective barrier to contamination of that life. What is holiness? It is possible that holiness is not an individual virtue like faithfulness, righteousness or compassion but rather a condition or quality (purity) of every virtue. Holiness can be compared with a state of health, requiring both positive care and development and also preventative and corrective measures. We must love good and hate evil.

“Be holy, for I am holy” (1Pe 1:16).[1] What does it mean in relation to God’s own character? Clearly, it must involve separation from all that is impure or unjust; that is the negative side. Positively, His holiness is the infinite perfection of every virtue: His love is infinite, His faithfulness is infinite, His righteousness, etc. Positive holiness repels evil and is impervious to evil. Therefore, the Holy One is incorruptible. The amazing reality is that we can look forward to sharing this perfection of character in full harmony with Him forever! The Scriptures highlight the essential connection between God’s character and our happiness of life. The blessing implied is usually highlighted by a contrasting context which warns us that sin destroys and robs us.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love … so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father” (1Th 3:12-13). God is love; love is other-centred rather than self-centred, and is a will to care for (or bless) another even at the sacrifice of oneself. Love lifts us out of selfish, corrupted thinking and behaviour, and leads to holiness. Love is therefore the pathway to holiness, to perfection of virtuous character. The following context in 1 Thessalonians 4 is a challenge to avoid sexual impurity and to maintain honorable and pure relationships, in harmony with the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Psalm 16 is a discovery of the source and strength of holiness. The opening petition, “Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust” (v1), is a humble acknowledgment that I need the protective care of God to keep me from failure and inner corruption as well as from external evil. It is also a beautiful expression of confidence in the Strong One, that He is both able and willing to protect me. Holiness is a choice as well as a practice. It starts with relationship with God, and draws its strength from love for God and faith in God for all that He is.

Humility and honesty are essential in His majestic and pure presence, yet we can be confident that we are welcomed and acknowledged before Him. While “my goodness” (v2) cannot add anything to Him directly, it can benefit His saints on earth and fulfil His interests in those who please God with their devotion, faith and love toward His Name. “The saints,” also described as “the excellent ones” (v3), captures the essence of positive holiness: we are “set apart ones,” because we belong to Him and share His pure nature of goodness, faithfulness and righteousness through the new birth (Eph 4:24). Hopefully, we also express excellence in our lives. It is a shame if unbelievers shine better in love, compassion, justice and integrity than we who profess to be in fellowship with the Holy One.

“Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god” (Psa 16:4). In contrast, devotion to a false deity must necessarily involve corruption from what is genuine and good; the spiritual and moral are an integrated, interdependent reality. What is emphasized here is not their wrongness but the harmful consequences to themselves. This is true whether involving literal idol worship or false principles and pursuits of life. For example, we are warned against “love of money” because of its destructive and devastating impact upon ourselves.

“O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance …. I will bless the LORD” (vv5-7). How can this blessing be measured or counted? Relationship with the Eternal means eternal life, fullness of love, fullness of being that corresponds with His fullness. This is transforming for each of our lives; we carry a value that cannot be measured by anything on earth, nor can it be destroyed by any earthly deprivation. He is obviously meant to be experienced and enjoyed, and becomes our source of inner contentment, peace and joy.

“I have set the LORD always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad” (vv8-9). This suggests a daily pursuit of the Eternal Himself, flowing from a lifelong commitment and giving Him first place in my life. Consciousness of God leads to confidence of strength, stability and security in my life. This realization also brings the joy of relationship with Him as the source of life, love and goodness.

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (v11). It only makes sense that the God who designed life in all aspects should be the best guide for life. I can be confident that God will lead me into genuine wisdom and blessing in life now, and also into the safe path through death into eternal life. Is the promised “fullness of joy in Your presence” present or future? Why not both?

If David is speaking from experience here, it likely reflects his habit of meditating on God, developed while caring for his father’s sheep. As it is a messianic psalm, we can also value this precious insight into both the Son’s eternal experience with the Father and His earthly experience of human life lived in unbroken communion with the Eternal. Present limitation in our enjoyment is due to ourselves, not to His reluctance or restriction. Am I too distracted by other interests or by troubling concerns (Mary/Martha)? Or am I too defiled? We need to discern whatever creates distance from Him. While fullness of life and joy still seem elusive to us, this declaration is brimming with confident anticipation and should trigger an eager response within us to pursue His presence.

“At Your right hand …” proclaims that He richly provides lasting pleasure. This suggests that if we seek Him first, He will enable us to truly enjoy all aspects of life (Mat 6:33).

[1] Scripture quotations in this article are from the NKJV.