“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
Must I Live a Holy Life, by Randall D. Kittle


When the subject of holiness is brought up, the countenance of most believers changes to match that of a child who has been told they must eat all their peas. With wrinkled up noses and out-turned lips they question in a disgusted tone “Must I live a holy life?” The tone of their voice lets you know that nothing could be more dreadful than the four-letter word “Holy.”

Other believers are more sincere in their inquiry. Their questioning goes more like this, “Since Jesus was the friend of sinners, and came to complete the Law and bring us out of slavery and into great liberty, is holiness still something God requires of us?”

According to the Word of God the answer is clearly yes! In 1 Peter 1:15-16 we are commanded by the Lord to be holy.
“As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” This is not a suggestion or recommendation. God did not say “Hey, this would be a really good idea.” He said, “… be holy in all your conduct … Be holy.” The Bible also tells us that unless we are holy we will not see the Lord. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Beholding the glorious face of our God is the privilege of the redeemed, but it is expected that all who are truly redeemed will also be holy.

Holiness Doesn’t Fit
The difficulty with holiness is that everything in our flesh and in this world wars against it. It just doesn’t fit with our modern society. God has told us that His ways are not our ways, and nowhere is this more clear than holiness. As the darkness of the en d of the age increases, the way of holiness is becoming progressively more different from the ways of our current society. Possessing holiness — honesty, integrity, purity, morality — seems old-fashioned and “Victorian” in a scrupleless culture which measures life by pleasure, fame, and wealth.

Of course God has not called us to fit into the darkness of this day, but to shine as lights. That doesn’t mean you stick a plastic fish on the back of your car or wear a “witness T-shirt” to the company picnic. It means the character of God so radiates from your life that others cannot help but notice there is something different about you, and can easily discover that something is Jesus. Yes, being light means you will be seen as different. This is where the rub comes. It is time we realize that being different and not fitting in is not only the number one fear of teenagers, it is one of the biggest fears of all Americans!

People of true holy character are not likely to fit in with the pleasures of this world which have gotten increasingly perverse and deviate. Many a best-selling book, movie, show, or concert will have to be skipped. Some of the things on radio or television will have to be turned off or passed over. If we truly pursue holiness, we are likely to be shunned by neighbors, co-workers, or classmates. But this should not be surprising, Jesus told us the world will hate us because our light will expose their wicked darkness. Pursuing holiness will not put you on the fast-track in your career either. There will be things you cannot do, promises you cannot make, jokes you cannot go along with, and activities you cannot be part of.

I can hear the tide of objections beginning to rise. “Now stop right there. I want my personal life to be upright, but there are things at work that are expected of me. I don't make the rules. I'm trying my best to be a witness in my workplace, but you have to put food on the table! After all, I don't run the place. I only work there and I have to live.”

In the days of the early church, Christians also had to make a living just as you and I must today. Some of them carved and gilded images for the pagans. They did not worship these images, of course, nor did they give honor to their shrines. It was just a job, and they saw no harm in making and polishing images for sale. Their argument sounds familiar today: “After all, somebody will do it, anyway — and I have to live.”

We Must Be Faithful
This caused quite a controversy in the early church. A controversy which began creating division and needed to be answered. The answer came from one of the spiritual giants of that day, Tertullian. He answered the argument with one question:
“Must you live?” Tertullian understood that a Christian has only one “must,” we must be faithful to Jesus Christ, come what may, live or die. There are no ifs, no conditions, no reservations, and no alibis. You do not have to live; you only have to be true to the Master. You see, we have been asking the wrong question. It is not “Must I live a holy life?" It is “Must I live?”

Although the ideal is to be so much in love with Jesus Christ that the world presents no problem, most Christians are not that far along and we need to hear Tertullian thunder his question: “Must you live?” The devil has cleverly set up this present age in such a way that what puts food on our tables or allows us to be popular too often determines our conduct. We have developed a pleasant, agreeable Christianity that raises no eyebrows at gilding idols.

There was a time when some things were more precious than life. The Apostles understood this. When they were brought before the Sanhedrin and questioned by the high priest as to why they continued to share about Jesus when they had been given strict orders not to teach in His name, they replied
“We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). These were bold words from men who were under arrest and standing before their accusers. But the consequences were a small matter as long as they served and obeyed their Master.

There are many obstacles in our society to living a holy life. A walk of holiness is bound to create a life that to at least some measure is isolated, ridiculed, mocked, and belittled by others. But this is nothing new to Christianity. The culture or the government has always put up roadblocks to living a holy life. In the Roman Empire everybody was expected to put a pinch of incense on the altar and vow allegiance to Caesar. Plenty of American Christians would see nothing wrong in that — “You see, I don’t really worship Caesar in my heart, but why get into trouble? I don’t mind going through the motions to pacify the powers that be. Then I will go to church and worship the way I really believe.”

The early Christians, however, refused to compromise their lives. They died rather than offer that incense. They had but one Lord, and they loved Him more than life itself. Like Paul they counted not their lives dear unto themselves. They didn’t have to live; they only had to be faithful. Does this sound radical? Yes, but let us remember the early Christians upset the entire world.

Red-Hot Holiness
Throughout the Bible we see examples of those willing to go against the tide of the time to follow the Timeless One. Daniel would not let the threat of the lions' den deter him from being a man of prayer. Micaiah would not let the pomp of two kings and the pressure from 400 false prophets change the message he had to deliver, despite being thrown in jail on bread and water as his reward. Gideon pulled down the altar of Baal as the Lord commanded despite its popularity with the people. And the men from that town came the next day demanding his life.

Being a true Christian means loving God so much that we live in His truths and follow His ways regardless of the consequences. A red-hot passionate love for God produces red-hot holiness that will serve Him and be His in spite of any fiery flames of persecution. The fact that this sounds so radical in our day is an indicator of the temperature of our hearts.

Never was standing up to the flames of persecution more literal than in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It was a bleak time for Israel. They had been overrun and captured by Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar ruled with a strong arm, doing whatever he pleased. He selected the best from the men of Israel to serve him. But serving Nebuchadnezzar was not an easy task. In the third chapter of Daniel the king decided that his great empire deserved a great new religion.
“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon … Then the herald loudly proclaimed, ‘This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace’” (Daniel 3:1-6).

Nebuchadnezzar seemed quite pleased with his showy, religious celebration. That is until some of the wise men in Babylon came to the king to let him know that three Jewish officials — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — refused to worship the image of gold he had erected.
“Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?’” (Daniel 3:13-14). Once again he threatened them with being thrown into the fiery furnace retorting “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (Daniel 3:15).

It is at this point that the resistance of most American believers would melt into compromise. “It is no use getting killed over a piece of metal. I will go through the motion by bending my knee before it, but in my heart I will not worship it.” We rationalize that it is only the appearance of compromise. All along we will still believe the same in our hearts. But is that really true? Every time we bow to the pressures of this world the fiery flames of passion in our hearts are quenched a bit. We have to make a choice, face the outward flames of resistance by living the holy life we are called to in spite of the consequences, or have the fire of first-love’s passion extinguished in our hearts. We can make it so we don't have to face the flames of opposition, but no flames on the outside may mean no flames on the inside. We can be safe. We can fit in, but only at the cost of a luke-warm heart!

Every time we go along with the ways of the world, we cool the passion and zeal of our hearts. Each time we burn a little incense on the altar of success or fame we are acknowledging that they are idols in our lives, and God is in second place. Every “curtsy” to the idol of popularity gains us favor with our friends or co-workers, but it denies the Lordship of Christ. Remember, Jesus is either Lord of all of our lives, or He is not Lord at all!

Faithful Unto Death
The three heroes of our story understood this. They were holy men of God, and they would not deny their Lord even to save their skin.
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’” (Daniel 3:16-18).

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego we must learn to be faithful to God not only until death but unto death if necessary. Christians do not have to live; they have only to be faithful to Jesus Christ. When we become a Christian, we lose our rights to our own lives. We are not our own. We have been bought with a price. We become the personal property of Jesus Christ, bought and paid for with the blood of Calvary. For us, living and dying are incidental. We are here to glorify Jesus Christ, whether by life or by death. If we live, we live unto the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. The Apostle Paul said it this way,
“… I do not count my life dear to myself” (Acts 20:24). He believed that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Anything that compromises that allout devotion is to be refused at any and all cost. A knee bowed to a golden statue or a pinch of incense to Caesar may look innocent enough to others, but to a Christian it is abomination, for he knows only one Lord and he will not, by life or by lip, pay even a gesture of allegiance to another.

Living the Laid-Down Life
There are many who like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would die for Christ. But how many will lay down their lives … and live a life laid down? How many believers are willing to derail their success in business if it means compromising the walk of integrity God has called them to? We must work in a pagan world and let our light shine in a dark place. But when the setup demands that we carve idols or burn incense to Caesar, then we have but one loyalty. If our living, or even our lives, be involved, Tertullian is still up to date: “Must you live?”

As the martyrs in Columbine revealed, many a teen would say yes to Christ even when a someone has a gun in their face. But how many deny Him by listening to music they shouldn't, or staying at a movie when they know they should get up and leave. “Oh, I would just die if I had to get up and leave a movie when I'm with my friends.” They are correct, their flesh would die, and being a martyr is one thing, it is mystically heroic, but being different and not fitting in seems too high a price.

To a large extent, the Church has chosen popularity and prosperity over holiness. In this we have unknowingly also lost the passion for God and the power of God. Only when we choose to wholly follow the Lord's holy ways can first-love’s fire keep ablaze in our hearts. Each compromise for fame, popularity, or fortune quenches the fire a little more, until a heart aflame becomes a luke-warm heart. What was it that made the Laodicean Church become luke-warm?
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’” (Revelation 3:17). What good is it to gain great wealth, widespread fame, or world-renown popularity if we lose our own souls? Not our salvation, but having a heart that is both holy and hungry for God.

Jesus is standing at the door of the Church and knocking. He is calling for a remnant, a Master’s minority for the end of the age. He is looking for loveslaves of Jesus Christ who do not have to live but only be faithful — ones who are here not longing for popularity or prosperity, but to passionately pursue their God, removing everything that would encumber them. Jesus is their Lord, and all that matters is that Christ is magnified, whether by life or by death. If we will hear Jesus’ voice and answer His call, He will come in and dwell with us. Not only will He dwell with us, we will be seated with Him.
“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:21-22).

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