You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
I remember back then when I was stuck in charismatic spirituality; we never started a prayer without an attempt to first ‘purify’ ourselves, or make ourselves holy, or perfect as Jesus puts it in Matthew 5:48.
I was convinced, both implicitly and explicitly, that God would only listen to my prayers if I was clean—perfect.
This practice involved repentance, but most importantly, it was about the length of that repentance. You also had to wear a teary remorse on your face to show that you are sorry.
After a couple of thousand words, you would then launch into your ask. For the most part, prayer was about asking God for stuff and therefore how you stood before him mattered. Those who did not purify themselves would have no excuse if God did not answer their prayers.
Yet, there was a problem: never at one time did I feel a shred or even an iota of perfection. Amidst the repentance dressed in artificial remorse, purity was just a pipe dream.
I could not get myself to believe that I was now in a position where I stood blameless before God. My conscience haunted me. My sins called me out. My habits laughed in my face. Those times were moments of spiritual embarrassment, but also confusion.
Here I was looking at the command to be holy, but nothing in me could get to be holy. My trying was all in vain.
I am convinced that I am not alone; there are others out there who try every day to be perfect in God’s sight so that God will smile back at them. Many have despaired, while others have given up on this impossible commandment. This command has been the death of many in the church today.
However, when you continue checking the scriptures, you will realise that there is a way to be holy, or perfect.
See the words of St. Peter in his first epistle, chapter two, the ninth verse: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Again hear St. Paul in the first chapter of Colossians, the twenty-second verse: “…he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…”
Writing to the young Timothy, St. Paul jotted thus:
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,… (2 Timothy 8:9, ESV)
From the three passages above, one thing is apparent about being holy: it is not something we work at with our tears, sweat and blood, but an identity freely bestowed on us as a gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is not something we strive to become but rather an objective reality that believers in Jesus Christ already are.
The holiness that justifies us before God is not our own, it is of another. By double imputation, our sin is credited to Jesus, and his perfection is credited to us so that when God looks at us, he sees us as perfect as Jesus. That is what St. Paul labours to communicate in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Friend, the only holiness you can present before God is Jesus’s holiness for you because your “righteous deeds are like used menstrual napkins.” (Isaiah 64:6)
So, how can you be holy? You already are, in Jesus Christ.