The Paradox of Being Holy


I ran into a post authored by an Anglican Priest (Dale Appleby) that deals with the paradox of sanctification that really encapsulates, for me, the Biblical reality of what I call the “Paradox of Holiness” and I would encourage you to read through it here in it’s entirety. It’s not very long.

There is nothing in his post that I disagree with, but there are a couple of statements that really caught my eye and I will quote them here:

“There is no evidence in the New Testament that the gift of a holy status lets us off from being holy in practice. (See 2 Timothy 2:20,21). Indeed a holy character will be looked for in those who hope for heaven.”


“So we need to be clear both about our status as holy people, and about the means by which we are to live holy lives. It is not any technique, pattern of life, habit, program or set of rules, be they evangelical or otherwise. The only way to live a holy life is to submit to the rule of the Holy Spirit who is present in our lives. This is another way of saying that we live by faith in the Son of God (Gal 2.20). We not only trust him for salvation and holy status, but also trust his Spirit as the one who can direct our lives in a way that pleases God.

Holiness in practice is not merely the absence of sin, but rather the presence of godliness. It is the presence of the holy character of God, flowing forth from us, and affecting those we live amongst. It is like salt, like light, it purifies, and exposes, and is opposed. It is a powerful thing. This power of holiness only comes from people who are humbly submitted to doing the will of the Holy Spirit within them. It is a moment by moment reliance on the direction of the Spirit of Jesus and obedience to the word of Jesus.”

I took the liberty of highlighting a couple of sentences in bold because I wish to look further into what Dale says.

In particular, the part where he states that “holiness in practice is not merely the absence of sin, but rather the presence of godliness“.

I’m sure that many of us have encountered those who continually advocate the necessity of the absence of sin within our lives. And there obviously is nothing wrong in doing this, but as Dale points out, that is only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is demonstrating or practicing the presence of godliness, which to me, advocates practicing the character of God, which also includes mercy, justice, forgiveness and God’s love.  As I read through God’s Word, I see more than ample demonstrations of God’s benevolent character, where a balance is maintained between justice and mercy. The problem being, in far too many cases, from what I have witnessed, where the absence of sin is being advocated, there is a noted deficiency on the other attributes of God.

Psalm 85:10 comes to mind: “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

I can’t help but think that the “balance” is critical and when we focus on one aspect but neglect the other, we diminish the complete picture. And I think that Jesus personified this “balance”.

I also believe that the reality of continually “walking in the spirit” is something that we never fully attain, because we still do walk in these earthly sinful bodies. And I also think that the Apostle Paul speaks of this when he says in Philippians 3:12-16 NASB:
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”

I like how Paul summarizes this reality by saying that he “presses on”, continually striving to be ever more conformed to the image of Christ being formed in him, moving forward and not backward.

And I think that what Paul says, ties in with what the writer of Hebrews says.

Hebrews 10:14 NIV states: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

I chose this translation, which can also be stated as being sanctified in other translations.

First, the position of believers before God is that we are perfect. God has forgiven all of our sins through Christ’s sacrifice, and He has imputed Christ’s perfect righteousness to us. These facts are the basis of our standing before God.

Second, the practice of believers is that we are being sanctified. We are to grow in holiness in thought, word and deed. The position is granted instantly at the moment of saving faith. The practice is worked out over a lifetime of growth in obedience. If there is no growth in holiness, there is reason to question whether the person has been perfected in his/her position through faith in Christ.

The practical aspect of being sanctified has always been difficult because it indeed does involve our thoughts, which includes our motives, words and deeds. I don’t presume to thoroughly understand all of the intricate workings of this process.

I do presume that much of what we do, in how we interact with others, be they friend or foe, is relatively low key. This is where things like our motives, kindness and gentleness obviously come into play. Conversely, on the other hand, I have seen and experienced times when God’s Holy Spirit empowers us to do things that clearly are beyond ourselves. I find these relatively rare but they are indeed inspiring, to experience what God can do through us, when He so choses to move in us, through His Holy Spirit. Indeed, as Jesus said, with God, all things are possible.

I’d be interested in your comments or feedback if you can spare me the time.

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!









  1. Good Morning.
    First I think we need to read the rules. If you grasp the things that God set as rules then you can learn about meeting other peoples needs in a way that pleases God.
    Not with the Idea of becoming co-dependent and slaves, but to some degree yes. Its a burden one must work out. If you take it to far you would be cutting everyone’s lawn to unburden them. You need to sort out what service to others looks like and how far it goes.
    Second, Because Faith is a broken word, people glaze over it. Abrahams faith was counted as righteousness or (holiness). This is not about Hope, its about not having contempt, its about believing God, looking him in the face and saying I trust what you have planned and you are above board.
    Half of Righteous acts which are outside your own selfish life are acts built on that trust that wasting your time helping others has value. Most I would guess see it as a way to look good, but rather its simply because we need more than ourselves to live and God wants us to have a safety net of people who will fill in a hole rather than letting someone get hurt by stepping in it.
    Third. Not having contempt for others in your heart knowing that they are just flesh like you is great and needed but that weight can be such a burden and you can become locked up in yourself if you start wanting God to direct every moment of your life in service. Should I brush my teeth now, do I go to work, should I drive this different way. Having God as you task master can become poisonous if you Obsess. Because God is distant while not leaving us Orphans, he is not writing things on the wall. So, because of the questionable communication the prayer in our minds and our questioning of what is us and what is him, Anxiety can set in. in some ways just having a set of rules on a paper would be easier than having to guess if one thing or another pleases God. Maybe we all should go to Africa. Maybe we all should run for President. (there is a new Christian who thinks he should run, but has he fallen into this trap of an abusive co-dependence all in a effort to please God in faith and total trust.)
    Fourth, regardless by reading the bible we can get a pretty good handle on the basics, but none of it can save us, that is the point of a gospel built on someone elses work. Still, without Holiness no one will see the Lord. And I don’t think he is talking about the work of right action on the cross, but our own, not justifying ourselves by works, but living right because we trust God. Some will point out that if we do not live by the spirit it shows because we do not then walk by the spirit. So then Sin is a fruit, or evidence of things not seen on the outward but a lack of obedience and trust on the inside.


    • Good Morning Scott. There is definitely a learning curve involved as you indicate. And I agree with your focus on trust because in the long run, that is really what it is all about. Thanks for commenting Scott, praying you have a blessed day!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Bruce. I know in my head that we think backwards from Gods thoughts and so many things in scripture are paradoxical to us, and actually go beyond our limited thought process.
    That being said, i believe that part of our growth ( in Holiness, practical sanctification, and so on) is marked by God giving us more capacity to understand and possibly communicate these truths.
    I may have said that poorly but the concept is there in our own growth as we walk with and truely “LOVE” God relationally


    • I know what you are saying Gary and I agree. I continually ask God for wisdom, to understand His ways and thoughts and I find that He answers me by deepening my trust and faith in His guidance, not to mention, complete reliance and I use the word “complete” loosely because that aspect seems to be continually broadening. There’s a kind of assurance that grows that is so humbling. I still marvel that He listens to us and responds and that this communion with us involves our interactions with our families and those that we know and love. Can’t help feeling that I’m still in the “kindergarden” section. Blessings brother!


  3. “Holiness in practice is not merely the absence of sin, but rather the presence of godliness.” Some of your thoughts remind me of a Wilberforce book I interacted with in a post. Maybe we are not bad in the overt sense, but that does not necessarily mean we are growing in goodness! Or, we have a form of godliness but we actually deny its power for genuine Christian living as 2 Tim. 3:5 words it.


    • Hi Laura, verses 2 Tim 3:6-9 describes those kinds of people and I would think that excludes those of us who sincerely follow Jesus and who are continually endeavouring to grow in knowledge of the truth, while actively learning to die to self. I have met some of those who are in the ministry but are just following a “vocation” or involved because they like the intellectual challenge or position that they have gained within the corporate walls of Christianity, having long abandoned being yoked to Jesus. There, one still follows the form of the vocation but not the reality of being guided by God’s Holy Spirit, not unlike the Pharisees of old in Jesus’ day. On the other side of the coin, the day to day activities where we seek God’s direction and His ordering of our steps, can and should, also include a deepening dependency and spiritual awareness and openness to God’s ways and thoughts, orchestrated by God’s Holy Spirit, that fosters growth in the power and goals of God, being worked out in our lives and the lives of others, where our hearts and minds and the hearts and minds of others are being changed into His likeness. It’s that day to day living and interaction, with practical and necessary functionality, where the Spirit of Christ dwells within us and keeps us in tune with our own reality and the needs of others, who are dependent on Jesus, just like us, that sometimes becomes foggy. So often, the Scriptures highlight the goals finally achieved but skip over the years and mundane activities and events (like Paul’s tent making) that took place, to bring them all together, via God’s grace, to that particular point or goal that God willed to happen, that we sometimes lose sight of. We’re not all called to be Paul’s (very few I would think), but we are all called to serve and work together, towards His purposes, to all that God puts in our path. How I treat my wife is vitally important, how I listen to our children, assist and respond equally so, not to mention the day to day interactions with all those individuals that God puts in our path. It’s those little bricks and how we deal with them that become our path and determine where it goes. If we pay attention and rely on our engineer, the path reaches the objective that God wants us to reach. I’m 75 years old now, the path that I laid down in the past was very haphazard and only now seems to be forming into the narrow path, which was always God’s intent. That path is Jesus, always has been and always will be. Without Him we can literally do nothing. God’s power and wisdom is so much better than mine. It took me an awful long time to figure that out and even that is God’s sheer grace. The presence of godliness is a byproduct that we don’t orchestrate or bring about. Jesus does this, as He increasingly lives in us and we increasing die to self in Him. Scary part is, it feels like I’ve only just begun to realize the beauty, wonder and validity of this reality. Hope this answers your question. God’s continued grace, peace and blessings on you and yours Laura. – Bruce

      Liked by 1 person

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