“…I do not belong to myself but to Another, who has established His kingly rule over my life. So the ability to live a new life and the desire to render a new obedience grow out of the gift of the forgiveness of sins. The new life of faith is fully conscious of that fact and consequently there is no place for self-admiration, nor does it cherish delusions of perfection, but yet, in spite of all its weaknesses and failures, it is a real deliverance from the bondage of sin” (A. Koberle, The Quest for Holiness, xi, preface; emphasis mine).
“…Holiness is not an ethical but an ontological concept. A man is not holy because his morals or conduct are good, or even because he leads a righteous life in the sense of devoting himself to spiritual endeavor and prayer—indeed, the Pharisees kept the fasts and made long prayers. But the man is holy who bears within himself the Holy Spirit…” (Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, 147-8; emphasis mine).
“…(the Priest says) The holy things are for the holy…(the people say) One is Holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father, amen…” (The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; emphasis mine).
People tend to associate Christianity with morals. Christians are supposed to behave in a manner that would be described as morally “good” while the rest of culture doesn’t know better or doesn’t care—thus their morals are “bad” or suspect at best. The truth of the matter is Christians really aren’t any different than the rest of the world: we think too highly of ourselves, we get envious of our neighbor, we don’t love as we should, we’re condescending, and we’re selfish. In short, we sin—we miss the mark of God’s standard of perfection.
Ethical behavior, morals, the good life (or however you would like to describe wise, clean living) is a by-product of the Christian faith, but not the point of it all. To make Christianity about ethics is to miss the main point of the Gospel that distinguishes it from every other religious system in the world: Christ crucified for our sins (I Cor 15:3).
The human condition is one of brokenness and death, and in the end Jesus Christ did not come to make bad people good, but dead people alive. Our hope, our salvation isn’t found in our climbing up towards God or heaven. All our strivings, all our efforts, anything we can muster to try and give God, will never be enough. We cannot fix the human condition, specifically the human heart—it’s turned inward and seeks to be control of our lives. The message of the Gospel finds God stepping into our situation and somehow mysteriously absorbing our brokenness, sin, and death on a Roman torture device.
New life and holiness are first a gift before a lived reality. We don’t conjure up holiness anymore than a new infant chooses to create their self and spring into life and be born. Make no mistake about it, One is holy, and our holiness comes from the Holy Trinity. God’s grace saves us and the new life that is poured into us springs into action with love towards God and neighbor.
Christianity should never be boiled down to ethics—to do so cheapens the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, who makes all the difference in the world. The person who gazes in faith upon the crucified and risen Christ will find peace, a peace that is unlike no other. Glory to God forever.