Fundamental for me in this whole discussion is the definition of holiness, and a right human understanding of what God’s call for human holiness is all about: it’s an invitation into His divine intimacy.
God’s desire for human holiness is so much more than just our moral perfection. Holiness is relationship in its purest form. It means perfect, unbroken fellowship with God – like what Adam had in the Garden before the Fall.
When I think of Adam (pre-Fall), the first words that come to mind are not things like “sinless moral perfection”; what comes to mind first is Adam’s unbroken fellowship with God! Adam was holy before the Fall, not just because he had “not yet sinned”, but because his relational connection with the Trinity was unbroken. And comparatively speaking, the latter is infinitely more important than the former! Of course the two things go hand-in-hand, but moral perfection is the secondary result of a whole and intimate relationship with God, not the other way ‘round.
This is the Gospel: that our dead relationship with God can be resurrected! That our intimacy with the Trinity can be made whole, complete, and brought into unbroken union and relational unity (as Jesus prayed for us that it would in John 17).
The Gospel is not that we can be made to sin less, or not at all. What a weak and ineffectual gospel that would be! Sinless perfection will result, but only as an outpouring of God’s greatest work: resurrecting our dead and decomposed relational intimacy with Him!
Our understanding of the meaning of holiness, then, is directly proportional to our success at living out a truly holy life – according to the Bible’s definition of holiness, that is. Again, just to be clear: the Bible defines holiness as unbroken, unhindered intimacy with God, not simply moral perfection. Moral perfection matters in the Bible, but is secondary to relational oneness with God.
So. Another attempt at acting a little better? Of eliminating one more sin habit? Of getting angry a little less… Of reading one’s Bible a little more… These are not the objects of holiness; these are the bi-products.
Christ didn’t die for me so that I would read my Bible a little more and use fewer curse words. His death brought me LIFE! Abundant life! The only abundant life is that which is found in the core of the Trinitarian inter-relationality into which God invites us. This is what Christ died for. This is holiness. This is what can get us fired-up about a life of holiness! (And don’t worry: the increased Bible reading and the decreased cursing and the other moral improvements will follow by degrees as the Spirit continues to cultivate God’s holy intimacy in our hearts and lives.)