How To Become Holy

Selected Texts – Holiness: Becoming Like the Father
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 29, 2019 (am)

DIY is an acronym that has seen a rise in popularity in recent history. I’m sure many of you already know what it stands for, but for those who don’t – DIY stands for “Do it yourself.” It is a term that is used to refer to projects you would normally pay someone to do for you or items you would go out to buy from the store, but instead you are opting, usually out of a desire to save money, to do it yourself. One of the most common arenas for DIY projects is the home. 

Home owners know that when you own a home, things break, stop working like they used to, and over time, things just go out of style – but having things fixed or updated is expensive. And so, on any given day, home owners everywhere can be found searching the internet for articles or videos explaining how to do these projects themselves. The purpose of such articles/videos is to teach people with no qualifications other than that they have an internet connection how to do house projects: How to paint a room, lay tile, install a new faucet, replace an electrical socket, plumb a new bathroom, remove a wall and achieve that open concept that is so hot right now.

And the process is always conveyed in a few “simple” steps! How to install a water line . . . how to replace a bay window . . . how to repair your homes foundation . . .  in 4 simple steps! And the first step is never “Call a professional.”

Not coincidentally, the rise in DIY projects has led to a rise in “D-I-Y did I ever attempt this” experiences.[1]

A recent article[2] on the risks involved with DIY home improvements says that 43% of homeowners say they have messed up a DIY home project. Which is to say, that holiness is just as necessary now as ever, because it shows that 57% of homeowners are liars!

This article goes on to give two timely words when it comes to DIY projects and holiness. First, it says “it’s important to think about the worst-case scenario for a botched project, when deciding if you should DIY or hire a pro.” Second, it encourages homeowners to accurately gauge their own handiness before undertaking a DIY project, and also observes that this is necessary because sometimes people are overconfident in their ability.

I say these are timely words for holiness because it would do us all well to consider the worst-case scenario should our own attempts at holiness fail us and we would be wise to take the time to gauge our capabilities, our handiness, when it comes to holiness – for we can be overconfident in our abilities in this area too. 

This week, our title is “How to become holy.” While this title does set the stage for exactly where we’re headed today, my concern is that it may suggest that our holiness is yet another DIY project. That holiness is a “Do It Yourself” project. Allow me to say from the start, holiness is most decidedly not a project that can be accomplished on your own. To see why, let’s move into the first point in our outline for this morning.

1. Holiness on Our Own is Impossible

When we’re hopped up on HGTV but our bank accounts are looking lethargic, we can type some crazy things into search engines with the belief that we can do it ourselves, and at a fraction of the cost. After receiving a quote for your dream kitchen, you may find yourself thinking “Surely there is a cheaper way of doing this.” So you go to the computer and google: “How to build, paint, and install kitchen cabinets . . . for beginners” or “How to quarry, cut, and polish granite . . . with hand tools” – because that’s all you own. It’s ridiculous what we’d consider doing on our own in order to get what we think we need. As crazy as these searches are, they are at least within the realm of possibility, given enough time and determination. One search that would be outside the realm of possibility is “How to become holy on my own.”

To see why, let’s look at Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Here the “One Man” being spoken of is Adam: the first man, created in perfection along with Eve, in the Paradise of Eden, and given one command – to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was created “holy.” He was set apart for a relationship with God – a union with God - in Eden, such that God would walk in the cool of the night. And Adam was created pure and sinless.

Romans 5:12 is telling us how this union was broken and this holiness was lost. Through Adam, the “one man” in this verse, it says “sin came into the world . . . and death through sin.” If you know the story, you know how Adam ate from the tree he’d specifically been commanded not to eat from and in one awful moment, Adam’s holiness before God was lost. For Adam was no longer pure before God – he had sinned – and instead of being set apart to God, he would be set apart from God, as God would require Adam and Eve to leave the garden.

And this one sin – Paul tells us in Romans – had consequences that reached far beyond those experience by Adam and Eve. For “death spread to all men because all sinned.” It wasn’t just Adam and Eve who lost their holiness when they sinned, all of humanity lost the ability to be holy with them. Which means that you – before you were ever born – had already lost your ability to be holy before God. The reason is that in Adam’s sin, all humanity became guilty before a holy Judge. All are condemned for Adam’s sin against God. If that doesn’t sound fair, know that all humanity have proven themselves to be just as corrupt as Adam, we show this every time we add our own sin to his.[3]

Theologians refer to this as our union with Adam. All who are born into the human race are on Adam’s team, we’re Adam’s decedents. We all, like Adam are estranged from God and in need of being united to him once again. It is because of this union with Adam that our “How To Become Holy” list starts where so many “how to” lists ought to begin – Step #1: You can’t!

If you think you are holy, you aren’t. This is the state we are all born in and apart from some outside force acting upon us, it is the state we will all continue in and it is the state we will eventually die in. It is the state of being separated from God. The state of being condemned before a holy Judge. It is a state of brokenness, of emptiness, of living outside the purpose for which we were created, and it is a state of being under God’s righteous wrath. And unless something changes, it is the state we will continue in for all eternity – it doesn’t end at death – but continues for all eternity, in hell.

So the crucial question before us now is this: What has been done, what can possibly be done, to make us holy and restore us to God? Which leads us to our second point:

2. God Makes Our Holiness Possible

The second step in our becoming holy is to understand that God has made our holiness possible.

Before explaining “how” he’s done this, let’s answer the questions “why has he done this?” Why does a holy God trouble with sinful and rebellious people? You might think, because God is holy, he ought to have separated himself from us forever when Adam sinned, leaving us to run rampant in our sin until we ultimately destroyed our world and our race. Shouldn’t a holy God and unholy people be like two positively charged magnets, forces so opposed to one another they will never be united again? Yes . . . Unless God, in his holiness, could find a way to make his people holy once again 

That is exactly what God does. God has what theologian Michael Horton calls, “a driving passion to make the whole earth his holy dwelling.”[4] With the result that God, despite being sinned against, continues to move towards us rather than away from us. In his holy mercy and holy love for us, he spends his holy energy working to restore an unholy people to himself.

While we could detail how he does this throughout the storyline of Scripture, for the sake of time lets jump to the supreme example of it, which is the moment when God himself, in the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, left heaven and united himself to us by taking on flesh, becoming fully human, while at the same time remaining fully God.

Looking back at Romans 5 we see in v. 14 “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” Here Paul refers to Jesus when he says that Adam was a “type of the one who was to come.” In context, we see that Adam was a representative for all humankind such that in his sin, all sinned. The “One who was to come” would be a “type of Adam” because he too would be a representative for all humanity. A representative who would undo what Adam had done. A representative who would make it possible for us to be holy again. But in order to represent us, he first had to become one of us.

And so he did, God became a man. He was born a human. He lived a human life, with all our weakness, experiencing all our temptation, but without sin. Which is to say he lived a perfectly holy life, the life we should have lived. Then this perfectly holy human went on to die, to be murdered on a cross, taking the death we should have died as heirs of Adam, and then he was raised, resurrected from the dead, and he ascended to the right hand of God, and where he now intercedes on our behalf.

The result of this work is spelled out in Romans 5:18-19 where it says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

What this verse and the surrounding context is saying is that while we lost our union with God in the garden when Adam sinned and while all humanity is united to Adam in his condemnation and corruption, God, in his holiness, has pursued us. He’s done so by uniting himself to us, taking on our humanity, our lives, and ultimately our death, so that those who receive him, might be re-united to God, the God we were made to live with in holy union at the beginning. That is how God has made our holiness possible. That is what it cost him.

And if we jump up a few verses to 5:15 we can see what this gift will cost us: But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. The gift of restored holiness is a free gift, given by grace, and earlier in Romans we learn that it is received by faith in Jesus Christ.

This is how a holy God pursues an unholy people: He becomes one of them, to live the life they should have lived, dying the death they should have died, so that he can offer them the free gift of being made holy once again in his sight. My Friends, if you have not received this gift know that you can do so today even right now, by repenting of your sin, believing in this gift, and asking to be unified to God once again, through Jesus Christ.

If you do this, the first thing that will happen with regards to holiness, is that God will establish your holiness.

3. God Establishes Our Holiness

Step three in how to become holy: God establishes your holiness. Which means God sets you apart as holy, and he does this by uniting you to Jesus Christ

When you receive Christ, you are in that moment most decidedly holy unto God in the sense that you are set apart for him. You are declared a member of his people. That is how the writers of the New Testament can refer to those in the church as “saints,” which means holy ones, and comes from the same Greek word that is translated “holy.” Or why Peter can call the church a “holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9). Or why Paul can address his first letter to Corinth “to those sanctified (Sanctified also comes from the same word for “holy” and means “to be made holy) in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2).

And this holiness that is established in us at our conversion, is established in us on the basis of our being united to Jesus Christ by faith. In fact, all the benefits of our salvation must be understood as benefits flowing from our being united by faith to Jesus Christ.

This one of the concepts that has been really sweet to better understand as I’ve studied this topic. Our union with Christ all over the place in the New Testament: Were said to be made alive in Christ (Rom 6:11), justified in Christ (Gal. 2:17), redeemed in Christ (Rom. 3:24), not condemned in Christ (Rom. 8:1), set free in Christ (Rom. 8:2), and in Colossians the mystery of the gospel is described as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

It is the solution to the problem caused by Adam. He was in union with God, but lost it by sinning. We are in union with Adam, destined to sin and death. So God united himself to us, taking on human flesh. So that those who believe in Jesus might be united to God once again.

From this union, the Christian gets all the benefits of salvation, one of which is holiness. Thus Paul is able to say in his letter to Corinth “to those sanctified (past tense) in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2).

But this is not all that happens to us. God doesn’t just save us and then leave us to fend for ourselves. God gives us a gospel that saves us and then transforms us

4. God Increases Our Holiness

The Fourth step to becoming holy is that God increases our holiness. Here we’ve moved from discussing positional Holiness to progressive holiness.

Holiness is much like cleaning a messy house. When God saves us, we are set apart as holy, but our lives are a mess. We’re like a house with legos and toys covering the floors and dishes piled up in the sink with rotting food on them. We still sin and conform to old patterns of life that are contrary to our holy position. We need to be cleaned up. 

To be truly holy, we need to be set apart, established as holy, but we also need to return towards a state of practical holiness and purity. We need to increase in holiness. We need to grow in holiness. We need to sin less and obey more. We need to choose Christ over the flesh more and more often. We need to become like Christ. This is what we tend to think of when we think of sanctification. And this too is available to us in our union with Jesus Christ – in two ways 

First, increasing in holiness is possible because of our union with Christ in his death. We see this in Romans 6:1 – 4: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Union with Christ means that when he died, you died (past tense)! When he was buried, you were buried (past tense)! The result of this is spelled out in verses 6 & 7: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

In our death with Christ, we are freed from our union with Adam. We no longer have to go on sinning. We are able to be holy.

Second, increasing in holiness is possible because of our union with Christ in his resurrection.[5] This too is found in our passage.[6] In Romans 6:4 we read, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” And in Romans 6:8-11 we hear, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Notice, every time Paul refers to Jesus’ resurrection he assumes that it is our resurrection too. Because when he refers to Jesus’ resurrection, he immediately tells us the implication this holds on how we ought to live now. So he says in v. 4 that just as Christ was raised, we too ought to walk in newness of life. Here our resurrection is assumed and he jumps right to holy living. And in v. 11 when he says, “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ” he is explicitly saying we are united to Christ in his resurrection.

The implication of this union is then played out in v. 12 when Paul says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey its passions.” In other words, live in holiness now, because you have been raised to new life. The logical inference from the truth that you have been raised with Christ is that you should increase in holy living.

How does union with Christ’s resurrection make it so we can actually be holy? Because sins’ power over us in broken (as we already saw) and because the power that was at work in Christ at his resurrection is at work in us. The same power of God that was at work in Jesus’s body when his broken and bleeding corpse was knit back together and resurrected from the dead in perfect health is the power that has already been at work in you – raising you from your spiritual death in Adam to spiritual life in Christ - and will continue to be at work in you, helping you to increase in holiness, in newness of life. And this power has name: it is the Holy Spirit

The crucial question we must ask at this point is: do we have to do anything to grow in holiness? So far, apart from receiving Christ by faith, we’ve only spoken of what God does in us to make us holy. Does that mean that becoming holy is like riding the train to work? We just have to get on, chill out for a bit, and when we get off, “ta-da!” you’re holy!

Anyone who has struggled with sin and fought for holiness, seeking to obey the Father and leave their former passions knows this is not the case. As Kevin DeYoung says, “. . . trusting does not put an end to trying.”[7] And Paul gets this too, so he ends this section by exhorting the Roman church in what they ought to do to become holy: Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

These are things we must do, decisions we must make, battles we must wage when seeking to increase in holiness. But they are not things that we do on our own strength. We do them in the power of the resurrection. We do them as God’s Spirit enables us.

Now, this can be a hard concept to grasp. How can we be told that God is increasing our holiness and hear exhortations to be more holy? One of the best explanations comes from John Piper who says that to grow in holiness we must “Act the Miracle.”[8] What that means is that any growth in holiness is a miracle, it is God at work in us, but we’re called to participate in the miracle by acting it out through our own human effort. 

As an illustration, let’s consider one of Jesus’ actual miracles: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead whose power was it that raised Lazarus? Clearly it was the power of Jesus! But whose legs had to swing off the table and walk out of the tomb? Whose brain had to say to its legs, “time to get up now, you can’t just lie here in these tomb clothes Lazarus!” Who had to navigate the passage through out of the tomb? Lazarus did! Now, when Lazarus came out of the tomb, who did people marvel at? Did they clap and say, “Wow Lazarus, you are amazing, the way you navigated around the rocks and out of the tomb while wearing the burial dressings over your head! No! They marveled at Jesus, because clearly this was a miracle from God.

In the same way, we are to grow in holiness. We are to see the miracle that is at work in us as we leave behind old patterns of sin. But we’re also to “act the miracle” by making conscious decisions to put sin to death and obey God and pursue holiness. We’re to fight for it and to strive after it. We’re to pray for it and study it. We’re to count everything else as loss in light of it. And as we do this we will become more and more holy. And when people look at us they will say, “There’s something different about you, you’re changing, what have you done?” And we’ll answer, “It is not what I have done, but what God has been doing in me.” Not because we’re humble, but because we recognize that no effort of our own could actually change anything about us, only God could do that.  

While this state of Spirit enabled wrestling with sin and growing in holiness will define all of life while we are still on earth, it is not the final state of our holiness.  

5. God Consummates Our Holiness

Step five in “how to become holy” is that God will consummate our holiness. Which is to say that a day is coming when we will go from being positionally holy, and progressing in holiness, to actual holiness and perfection and purity in every one of our actions and desires and longings. A day is coming when sin will have no control over us and no sway over our hearts.

Scripture confirms this to us in a number of places. God’s holy City is described in Hebrews 12:23 and in it are “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” In Revelation 21:27 we read “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” So those whose names are written in the book of life are guaranteed of being made perfectly upon entering heaven. In Philippians 1:6 we read, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Romans 8:29 says, “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” And in 1 Cor. 15:49 we hear, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” and it is speaking of the day of our bodily resurrection. 

So to answer our question for this morning: “How do we become Holy?” We answer it by saying, “We can’t . . . but God can make us holy.” He does so first establishing us as holy, setting us apart as holy. Second by increasing our holiness, as we give our efforts to becoming holy, his Spirit meets us in those efforts and enables us to grow in holiness. And third he will one day consummate our holiness, bringing us to perfection when he brings us into his presence in heaven/

That is how we become holy, it is not a DIY project. God made it possible, God began it, God is carrying it out, and God will complete it.

So we close now with one application question:

With what energy are you attempting to grow in holiness? 

Most Christians make the mistake, as they fight for holiness, of seeing Christ as outside of themselves. That is how we speak of Christ, isn’t it? He is someone we need to draw near to. He is someone we need to spend time with. He hangs out in the pages of our Bible or in the building of our church or among the gathering of other Christians, and for us to be with him, we must go to him, we must leave ourselves, because we paint a picture of Christ being outside of us. But that is not how Scripture speaks of our relationship with Christ. 

While Christ certainly can be found in the pages of Scripture and ought to be found in our churches and among other Christians, for the Christian, Christ is first and foremost to be found in us. Now, I’ll admit, if you’re not careful you can go down all sorts of heretical roads if you don’t let Scripture define what that means. It doesn’t mean that you are little Christs or that Christ is found in the best of ourselves or that we all make up a piece of the Divine.

It means that when Christ united himself to human flesh and then lived a perfect life and then died and was raised to new life that we really were in Him when he did those things and He really is in us as we strive for holiness now such that his defeat of sin is our defeat of sin, his power over sin is our power over sin, such that when we are tempted by sin we don’t just cry out Jesus save me! But we tell sin, Jesus saved me and Jesus is saving me. His death was my death – I don’t have to sin. His resurrection was my resurrection – I can resist sin, because his Spirit is at work in me.[9]

So brothers and sisters the next time you do battle with sin remember this: Christ is not outside you, he’s in you, and because he is in you, you are holy and you can grow in holiness and one day you will be like him, perfect in holiness.

May Christ in you truly be your hope of glory.

Work Cited

DeYoung, Kevin. The Hole in Our Holiness. Crossway: Wheaton, 2012.

Grant, Kelli B. “DIY home improvements can save cash, but they’re not without risks,” Nov

12, 2018.


Horton, Michael. 2011. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way.

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, pp. 268-70, 861-70. 

Johnson, Marcus Peter. One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation. Crossway:

Wheaton, 2013. 

Lauren, Amanda. “DIY Don'ts For Your Most Successful Home Renovation Projects Yet,” Jul

31, 2018.


Piper, John. “I Act The Miracle.” Sermon. February 24, 2011. Bethlehem College & Seminary


[1] Amanda Lauren. “DIY Don'ts For Your Most Successful Home Renovation Projects Yet,” Jul 31, 2018.

[2] Kelli B. Grant. “DIY home improvements can save cash, but they’re not without risks,” Nov 12, 2018.          

[3] “. . . the greatest need and desire (whether conscious or not) of human beings, fallen and estranged from God, is to be restored to the One who created us and loves us, and apart from whom we perish.” (Johnson, 42)

[4] Horton. See Work Cited

[5] “God continually imparts the very life of Christ to his children. When Christ promises us an eternal life, he is promising more than a gift to be redeemed when we die—a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card, as it were. He is promising us a life in and with him that begins when we receive him, manifests itself throughout our lives, and necessarily wells up into eternal blessedness (Jn 4:14; 15:1-8; 1 John 5:18-20).” (Johnson, 178)

[6] cf. Col 2:12 & Phil 3:9-10

[7] DeYoung, 91

[8] John Piper. “I Act The Miracle.” Sermon. February 24, 2011. Bethlehem College & Seminary Chapel.

[9]  “Trying to find a union of sympathy or cooperation, he is amazed to learn that there is already established a union with Christ more glorious and blessed. . . . Christ and the believer have the same life. They are not separate persons linked together by some temporary bond of friendship—they are united by a tie as close and indissoluble as if the same blood ran in their veins.” (Johnson quoting Augustus Strong, 57) AND “The majority of Christians much more frequently think of Christ as a Savior outside of them, than as a Savior who dwells within.” (Augustus Strong, quoted by Johnson, 28)