But the Holy Spirit makes us holy

Romans 15:14-16 I am fully convinced that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. … I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit.

1 Peter 1:16 “You must be holy because I am holy” (quoting Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2) [You must be continually be made holy.]

Revelation 22:11 Let the one who is holy continue to be holy. [Let the holy continue being made holy.]

Last week we hired two men to clean up our yard and garden and prepare it for winter. They did more in two days than I had managed to do in several weeks. I am SO relieved and grateful.

I thought of this when I read this next “Holy Spirit” passage in Romans. The decision to hire two men to help me required admitting I couldn’t do it myself. It cost us cash we wouldn’t normally spend like that. It pinched my pride. But every day, several times a day, I look outside and say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I’m sure our neighbors are grateful too.

Weeded, mulched, our side of the hedge trimmed, three baby trees protected from deer… Thank you, thank you, thank you!

“There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Remember Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis?

When Eustace decided he wanted to change his dragon life, he tried in every way he could to do so himself. Failing, he finally allowed Aslan to dig deeply enough to do it for him, a painful but gloriously freeing intervention that transformed him from graceless to gracious.

To better understand Paul’s wordplay, “made holy by the Holy Spirit,” I did a small study of the Greek words translated “holy.” The two words most used in the New Testament, including this phrase, come from the same root. Hagios is a description of something or someone, declaring them to be sacred, pure, blameless. It’s a state of being, not an attainment, eg. the Holy Spirit whenever he appears, and God saying, “I am holy.”

Hagiazo, by contrast, is a process; it means to make something or someone holy; to purify, sanctify, consecrate, hallow. We can’t make ourselves holy, no matter how hard or how long we try. Only the Holy Spirit can do this for us, because innately, we are not holy. We are being made holy (hagiazo) by the Holy (hagios) Spirit—and this is ongoing, as long as we live in this fallen world. Our human goodness—acknowledged by Paul in verse 14—is not adequate to the purity God desires. Only he can do that in us, as any of us who have tried to “be good” can easily acknowledge.

Because of Jesus sacrifice on the cross, we don’t have to be “good enough” to please our Father. His love for us doesn’t depend on that. But he does want us to grow in holiness and in every virtue, for the sake of his needy and broken world, for the sake of our relationships, for the sake of our own joy.

Our part is to submit to God’s work in us through the Spirit, as Eustace submitted to Aslan in Lewis’s story. As Paul told us repeatedly in Romans 8, we can do this with confidence. We can trust the Holy Spirit’s work in us, because he is pure love.

Read back over the Holy Spirit references I’ve been highlighting in these blog posts, to remind yourself how trustworthy he is. Not always to protect us from pain, because growth and change are painful. But to accomplish his purposes in us when we reach the place, like Eustace, when we desire his holiness more than we desire our own comfort; when we desperately want his healing and restoration; when we know we can’t do it ourselves and cast ourselves on his mercy and grace.

This  prayer-hymn keeps coming back to my mind as I’ve thought about these Scriptures and have sat with him, asking him to do the work I need today in my heart-garden.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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