Holiness shows itself by being gracious towards others.
The pursuit of personal holiness directed inwardly sets our standards for our behavior towards others. That is righteousness. The pursuit of holiness directed outwardly sets our standards for our behavior in response to others. That is grace.
It may seem paradoxical that holiness teaches us to be gracious, but if you make even a casual study of holiness in the Bible you will find this to be undeniably true.
The call to be holy is often described as being both righteous and gracious.
- Micah 6:8. He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
- Proverbs 22:11. He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend.
- Zechariah 7:9. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.
Grace, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness form the backbone of God’s revelation to us. The greatness of His holiness is seen in the depth of His grace.
- Exodus 34:6-7. When the LORD allowed His glory to pass in front of Moses, He announced His holy presence to him saying, The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
- Psalm 103:10-12 says, He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
- Isaiah 30:18. Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.
Jesus’ own life expressed His personal holiness outwardly as grace, compassion, and kindness towards others. Take for instance Matthew 9:10-13,
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
These teachers were asking, “How can a person claim to be righteous and holy if he eats and drinks and associates with thieves, prostitutes, lepers, beggars, and trouble makers? Where is the punishment? Where is the condemnation of their behavior? Where is the accountability for their actions? Why are you wasting your time and risking your reputation with these losers?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
What an answer! And aren’t you grateful that was His answer? Because that means His call includes you and me.
Jesus is the very image of the Father. Perfectly like Him in every way. He was completely and perfectly holy. And His holiness shined in the fact that He was full of grace. We are growing into Christ, and therefore should be growing in grace.
If Jesus is a person who is full of grace, rich in kindness, and abounding in compassion (and He is), then we need to be growing into that description too. Because, as 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
The righteousness we gain through our pursuit of personal holiness never leads to “judgmental holiness” or “holier-than-thou” attitudes. When we see sin in another person, when we are hurt by another person, holiness, true holiness, will always direct us to respond in grace, forgiveness, and compassion. Because that is the kind of love that Jesus has for us. We are commanded to grow in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).