When you think of holiness, what comes to mind? For many of us, our concept of holiness often involves very “spiritual” things: reading the Bible; going to church; consistency in our devotional lives; length and fervency of prayer; witnessing. Naturally, all of these things can be indicators of holiness in our lives.

Holiness is a very practical thing

But what is holiness? At its core, holiness in the Christian means that we reflect the very character of God Himself. Is God loving? Then we reflect holiness in the love we show to others. Is God pure? Then we reflect holiness in the purity of our lives. Is God patient? Then we reflect holiness by our patience with others. In short, holiness in our lives fleshes itself out in very practical ways. This will be especially true of holiness in marriage: it is a very practical thing.

Galatians 5 is a beautiful illustration of this. In Galatians 5 we read about the fruits of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the different fruits that are mentioned here are all illustrations of the holy character of God. Take a close look at what these fruits are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a). Did you notice how many of these fruits are things that we demonstrate — or should demonstrate — in the context of relationships? Love … joy … peace … patience … kindness … goodness … gentleness … self-control. These fruits of the Holy Spirit are at their core very practical things that work themselves out in our everyday lives and in our everyday relating with those around us.

Holiness in marriage is a very practical thing

When we think of holiness only in terms of “spiritual” things like reading our Bibles or praying, we make two mistakes. The first mistake is that we can underestimate the different ways that those around us, especially our spouses, demonstrate the holy character of God. This came home to me when my friend Tim was sharing about his own pilgrimage with understanding holiness. When he was a younger believer he thought of holiness in terms of the “spiritual” things listed above. As a result, when he did not see his wife praying or reading the Bible as much as he thought she should, he concluded: she is not very holy. But what Tim somehow did not notice was the joy and gentleness of his wife (see again Galatians 5:22). She was always smiling and had a very gentle spirit. In other words, she was exhibiting the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Tim missed these aspects of holiness in his wife, though, because he was measuring holiness only in terms of more “spiritual” things like reading the Bible and praying.

The second mistake that we make is that we can overestimate our own holiness! If we think of holiness only in terms of doing Christian duties, like reading the Bible or praying, then holiness becomes a task that we place a checkmark beside when we are done. How different is the holiness of the Bible! The holiness of the Bible shows itself in a life transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we reflect the very character of God Himself! This is not just a task that we place a checkmark beside when we are done. No, it is a radical transformation of our heart and life that has a deep impact on the way that we interact with other people, including our spouse! As a result, holiness has a very practical impact on marriage, because as we become more like God we are enabled to interact with our spouse with more “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.”

What does holiness look like in marriage?

Here are some practical questions for you to consider.

1. How have you thought about holiness? Is your understanding of holiness related to completing a certain “spiritual” task or do you also understand holiness to be a transformation of the heart and life that shows up in very practical ways in our day-to-day relationships?

2. Read again the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a). How do these fruits manifest themselves in the way that you relate to your spouse? How should these fruits of the Holy Spirit manifest themselves in your marriage relationship? Try to be as practical as possible.

3. Always remember: the Lord has provided us with His Holy Spirit to help us become more like Him. Becoming holy is not a matter of self-transformation. It is a matter of looking to God in repentance and faith on a day-by-day basis and seeking His help in becoming more like Him.

© 2003 Christian Family Life

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