What could I be?Paperback A handbook on becoming more like Jesus Peter Hicks
Realize your potential as a follower of Jesus: Discover what you could be!(more...)
Being a Christian is the most exciting, creative, stretching, fulfilling and amazing thing we could ever experience. Yet we don't always find it like that. Sometimes we find it boring. Sometimes we find it frustrating. And many times we feel we're stuck in a rut.
Peter Hicks knows all too well the joys and difficulties of living the Christian life. With the goal of becoming more like Jesus, he offers guidance on all aspects of growing as a Christian, from being your real self to being transformed, from being a servant to being free. Most of all he will help you discover, as a follower of Jesus, what you could be.
"What a wonderfully positive and alive book. Rooted in real life, yet refusing to be deterred by difficulty and complacency, Peter Hicks has written a robustly biblical book urging us to be all that we can be in Christ. He gives us more that exhortation. He gives us a practical explanation of how to be our 'true' selves. I want to put this book into the hands of many a struggling Christian." Derek Tidball, former Principal, London School of Theology
"Which of us has not longed for greater spiritual reality and vitality? Here's an accessible and practical manual on spiritual formation, with biblical meditations, wise advice and wide-ranging application. A valuable introduction to our Christian identity and destiny." Jonathan Lamb, Director of Langham Preaching, Langham Partnership International
Extent: 304 pages
Publication Date: 21/01/2005
Published by: IVP
Jesus – the I AM
The most wonderful thing God has ever done
Me or him?
The life of the Father
Christ is our life
Living by the Spirit
Stuck – and someone at the door
Stuck – needing a push
What could I be?
Be a believer
Be a disciple
Be filled with the Spirit
Be a kingdom person
Be a model
Be in your right mind
Be a servant
Be a witness
Be a worshipper
Be your real self
Being a Christian is the most exciting, creative, stretching, fulfilling and amazing thing we could ever experience.
Yet we don’t always find it like that. Sometimes we find it boring. Sometimes we find it frustrating. And many times we feel we’re stuck in a rut.
This is a book about what we, as Christians, could be. Since our being, reality and life all come from God, who is Being, Reality and Life, it starts with God, and then looks at what we could be in the light of what he is.
It’s probably not a book to be read all at one go. After a few introductory sections, it takes, in alphabetical order, a number of things the Bible says we could be, and works through them one by one. Maybe a good way of reading it would be to take one of these sections at a time, reading the page or two of introductory material, checking out the Bible teaching, and then working through the personal implications in answer to the question ‘What could I be?’
Another good way of using the book would be in a home group or a Bible study group, taking one topic for each session. There are plenty of Bible passages to study, and each section contains a few suggested questions for discussion by such a group.
What Could I Be? is a companion to What Could I Say? A handbook for helpers and What Could I Do? A handbook for facing hard choices. It’s designed as a handbook for growing as a Christian, moving forwards from what we are to what God wants us to be, what every one of us could be.
Chapter from Part 2
There are a number of reasons why we should be holy. The foundational one is that God is holy. The command ‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy’ was the basis of the whole Old Testament law (Lev. 19:2); it was picked up by Jesus as key to his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:48), and by Peter as the basis for our Christian living (1 Pet. 1:15–16). The logic is simple: if we are the people of God, we must be like God. If he is holy, we must be holy.
A second reason why we should be holy is because unholiness is the source and cause of everything that’s wrong in our world. It spoils the beautiful creation God has made, and we want to have nothing to do with it.
A third reason that Paul gives is that holiness and unholiness don’t mix. It’s got to be one or the other; we can’t have a bit of one and a bit of the other: ‘For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?’ (2 Cor. 6:14).
Fourthly, God calls us to be a holy people in order to show the world a different way from the one it has chosen to take. The people around us need to see an alternative, and to have it presented to them in such an attractive way that they are drawn to it, and so to God. This was God’s call to his people in the Old Testament (Deut. 4:5–8), and it was repeated, again, by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:13–16), and by Peter in 1 Peter 2:9, 12.
There’s a widespread and very unfortunate belief that holiness is essentially something negative. This may be partly because theologians have pointed out that the main Hebrew word for holiness used in the Old Testament means ‘separateness’; holiness is thus seen essentially as separation from any evil. But I fancy it’s also because there’s been a tragic tendency to believe that the main way for us to be holy is to cut out from our lives everything that is sinful; holy Christians are to be defined basically in terms of what they don’t do – they don’t tell lies, they don’t fiddle their tax returns, they don’t have sex out of marriage, and so on.
To view holiness as negative is to miss its essential nature. To define it simply as separation from sin is like defining a lion in terms of separation from mousiness, or defining light as separation from darkness. After all, holiness is at the heart of God’s nature, and in no way is there anything negative about God. Holiness is something profoundly and gloriously positive. Think of the sun. It’s hot, very hot. Its hotness isn’t just the lack of coldness. It’s something very real, very powerful. So much so that if any bit of coldness gets anywhere near it, the hotness instantly destroys it. What’s more, anything that comes anywhere near the heat of the sun itself is permeated with hotness. It leaps out, if necessary over millions of miles, and changes the nature of everything in its path, until all things share in its essential nature and are hot like itself
Holiness is to be found in God. ‘There is no-one holy like the LORD’ said Hannah in her prayer (1 Sam. 2:2). ‘You alone are holy’ sing the people of God in his presence in Revelation 15:4. Around his throne the angels cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy’ (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). These mighty angelic creatures, who gaze unceasingly upon him with their myriad eyes, see him as he really is, and it is surely significant that out of all the attributes of God they could have chosen to focus on, holiness is the one they ‘never stop’ praising. They could very justifiably have spent eternity proclaiming, ‘Loving, loving, loving’, or ‘Mighty, mighty, mighty’, or ‘Wise, wise, wise’. But it is his holiness that takes centre stage.
God’s holiness is gloriously positive. It is his goodness, the light that radiates from him. It’s alive and powerful, dynamically real, vibrant and active. It is unholiness that is the negative, the lack, the separation, just as darkness is the lack of or separation from light.
God’s holiness is the source of all other holiness. Just as God is the source of all life, so he is the source of all holiness. Apart from him there can be no holiness. If we are going to be holy, then we must be holy with the holiness of God.
God makes holy. There is an ancient legend of a king who had the special power of aurefaction: everything he touched turned to gold. Such is the power of his holiness, everything God touches becomes holy. Getting hold of this truth helps us understand a bit more about our world, and why God seems absent from it in so many ways. It is as though God in mercy is deliberately operating something of a ‘hands off ’ policy with planet Earth. If he made himself powerfully, overwhelmingly present, he would have to make everything about planet Earth holy. Since there is so much about our world that is unholy, that would mean something incredibly dramatic and traumatic for a large proportion of it, that is for all that is evil; indeed, everything that is evil would be smashed, destroyed, annihilated. That’s why the Bible pictures God’s coming as awesome, even terrifying, a day of judgment, even a day of wrath. The Bible makes it clear that that day will eventually come; holiness cannot allow unholiness to have the final say. But for a time God holds back, ‘not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Pet. 3:9). But where people are open to welcome God’s holiness, there’s no holding back: God pours out holiness with gracious and glorious abandon.
Holiness isn’t costless. It would be wrong to use the illustration of the sun making things hot to conclude that it’s a straightforward and costless thing for God to make us holy. Quite the reverse is true. Even the sun has to give up some of its heat in order to make hot something that is very cold; some of its essential nature is sacrificed for ever; it’s diminished, itself made cooler. Though, of course, there is no way in which God in himself can be diminished, the Bible makes it clear that in order to make us holy Jesus Christ ‘made himself nothing ... humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ (Phil. 2:7–8). For God to make unholy creatures holy was immensely costly; it involved total self-giving, self-sacrifice. The price he paid to pour his holiness into us is the cross of Calvary.
Holiness is a state, not an activity. Again, we need to understand the nature of holiness by looking first at God’s holiness, and only then turning to what holiness is in ourselves. God’s holiness doesn’t consist in what he does; his holiness is what he is. He isn’t holy because he does good and perfect things. Rather, he does good and perfect things because he is holy. That is a principle that applies to us as well
A thing is holy because God is in it. An illustration of this is Moses’s experience at the burning bush. As Moses got near to the bush, God told him to take off his sandals in recognition that the place where he was standing was ‘holy ground’ (Exod. 3:5). Doubtless to all appearances the spot looked just like any other bit of scrubby land on the far side of the desert, and if you or I went there today, there’d be nothing special about it. But on that day it was holy ground because God had drawn near; the presence of God in his mighty holiness was focused on that spot, and everything around was permeated with his holiness. It’s not our holy activity that makes you and me holy; it’s the presence of the holy God.
Holiness is God’s gift to all who receive him. When we open our lives to the holy God, he comes into us complete with his holiness. As his presence made the burning bush and the ground around it holy, so his presence in our lives makes us holy. We can’t have God without his holiness; if God is in us, we are holy. If we have ‘received him’ we are ‘children of God’ ( John 1:12), and children share in their parent’s nature (Heb. 2:10–11). One of the most common names for Christians in New Testament times was ‘holy ones’, usually translated ‘saints’, for example in Philippians 1:1. Whether we realize it or not, whether we feel it or not, if we’re Christians, we are holy.
Holiness of nature gives rise to holiness in action. Because God is holy he expresses holiness in all that he does. And the same principle applies to us. God in Christ has come into our lives and made us holy; as a result we do holy things. Our holy actions arise from our holy nature; we do not make ourselves holy by doing holy things. Maybe at this point you start thinking, ‘This isn’t true of me; I may be holy in God’s eyes, but I don’t do holy things. I’m just an ordinary person doing ordinary things; I’ve never done anything specially holy.’ My response is that in that case you’ve misunderstood what it means to do holy things. Holy things aren’t ‘extraordinary’, like speaking in tongues or casting out demons. To do them you don’t need to be a super-Christian or a candidate-for-canonization saint. They’re much more ordinary and accessible than that. Maybe the easiest way to define them is to say they are what we do when we follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit, when we obey the holy word of our holy God. The most ordinary things can be holy; the most ordinary people can do them. Shortly after calling his readers to live holy lives, Peter spends some time telling slaves (there were many slaves among the early Christians) how to relate to their masters, especially when they were ‘harsh’ (1 Pet. 2:18–25). His instructions were down to earth, including how to react if beaten unfairly, but there’s no doubt that if asked, Peter would have said that he was writing about practical down-to-earth applied holiness – living like Jesus in our very ordinary everyday situations.
But we still struggle with the remnants of our ‘sinful nature’. We are holy by nature because God has made us holy, so it should be ‘natural’ for us to do holy things. And this is indeed the case – some of the time. The Holy Spirit of God directs and enables us producing his ‘fruit’ in our lives as we ‘keep in step’ with him (Gal. 5:22–23, 25). But, as we are all too aware, we don’t always keep in step with the Spirit; we don’t always allow the presence of God to flood every part of our lives. This, says Paul, is because the remnants of our old ‘sinful nature’ are still around. Though in God’s book it has been destroyed, and we’ve renounced it in our baptism, and its power over us is broken, it still refuses to go away. Paul struggles with this in Romans 7; there’s a battle going on in each of us, he says, between God’s holiness and sin, and all too often it’s sin that in the short term (though never ultimately) gets the upper hand (Rom. 7:15–25). We listen to the old ‘sinful nature’, to the temptations of the devil, to the voice of the godless world around us. And, because when we turn from God we are weak, we find it very easy to think and do unholy things. But, as Paul makes clear in Romans 6:11–23 and Galatians 5:16–25, we do not have to give way to the pressures and temptations of our ‘sinful nature’. By giving God, through the Holy Spirit, first place in our lives, we can know his power and holiness in each situation.
We are called to a process of living out the holiness that is already in us. The developing of this process takes all our life-time, but the expectation of the New Testament is that, though there will be setbacks, it is for the most part a steady process of becoming more and more Christlike, more and more holy. The word used in Greek for this process is basically the same as the word for ‘holy’, but, since there isn’t a word ‘holification’ in English, it is usually called ‘sanctification’. The process is described by Paul as purging ourselves ‘from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God’ (2 Cor. 7:1). The writer to the Hebrews has it in mind when he calls us to ‘Make every effort ... to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14). Again, it’s important to remember that this process isn’t a matter of me trying to make myself holy and thus get on the right side of God. It’s not, ‘I do this to become holy’, but rather ‘I do this because God has made me holy.’
When unholiness tries to get a foothold in our lives, it can be immediately dislodged. We may be tempted to feel that just as one load of poison poured into a reservoir contaminates the whole water-supply, so falling into sin makes a complete mess of our lives; just one sin will totally overwhelm our holiness. That may well be true if it is our holiness we’re talking about. But one sin, however big, isn’t able to overwhelm God’s holiness. We might as well suggest that opening a camera and letting a bit of darkness loose on a sunny afternoon will overwhelm all the light of the sun. Though our sin grieves God and causes us harm, if we turn to him for help and forgiveness, he will deal with it instantly, and our lives will be totally cleansed (1 John 1:9). This is not to say that we can therefore treat sin lightly – adopting a kind of ‘Easy come, easy go’ attitude towards holiness. Of course not, says Paul; that would be to decide that my ‘sinful nature’ is the real me. The whole point of being a Christian is that I have made the choice that the ‘sinful nature’ is not the real me; I have chosen Jesus and the presence of the holy God as ‘the real me’; I’ve made the decision to reject the old way of living, and, though I may stumble and fall at times, that’s what I’m determined, in God’s strength, to continue to do (Rom. 6:1–23).
Some Bible passages on holiness
‘I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy’ ...
The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy”’ (Lev. 11:44; 19:2).
... you are a people holy to the LORD your God (Deut. 14:2, 21).
Worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness (Pss. 29:2; 96:9).
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow ...
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
(Ps. 51:7, 10–11)
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