In order to address the question of how to live a holy life, we must first understand what holy means. To be holy means to be set apart or separate from sin and evil. God is holy—completely separate from everything that is evil (1 John 1:5). God calls us to be holy, just as He is (1 Peter 1:16, quoting Leviticus 19:2), but it’s vital to understand that apart from God this is impossible. We must have the Holy Spirit indwelling us and filling us with His holiness. We can only live a holy life through the power of the Spirit; thus, the first step to living a holy life is to accept Jesus as Savior (Ephesians 1:13).
Once we have taken that step of salvation, we are declared righteous (Romans 5:1). But what does it look like to be actually righteous—to live a holy life? In 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, Paul emphasizes sexual purity as part of holy living: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” (verses 3–5).
Beyond avoiding sexual immorality and keeping sex within God’s design for marriage, we can live a holy life by being obedient to God in all areas of life (1 Peter 1:14–16). Knowing and obeying God’s Word is key (John 17:17). Hiding God’s Word in our hearts keeps us from sin (Psalm 119:11). When we live in obedience to God, we are staying separate from evil. We are offering our bodies as “living sacrifices” to God (Romans 12:1–2). The purpose of living a holy life is to glorify God and display His nature to those around us (Matthew 5:16). Living a holy life of obedience to God is living in true freedom from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:6).
It’s not always easy to choose obedience to God, especially if we’re trying to do it all on our own. Satan would love nothing more than to bring us back into bondage through disobedience. But we have the promise, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The Holy Spirit will produce Christlikeness in us, and, as we yield to Him, we can live a holy life (Galatians 5:16).
Here is the mindset we should have: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). Any time we face temptation, we should say, “I’m dead to that! That was part of my old life! I am a new creation in Christ!” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). To live a holy life, to separate ourselves from sin, we must see ourselves as God does—as born-again children of the Most High, clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
We also have the benefit of being part of the Body of Christ. Fellowship with other Christians and making ourselves accountable to them is a great source of strength in living a holy life. As Christians, we are called to encourage one another in this matter (Hebrews 10:24–25).
Remember, we are not trying to live a holy life in order to earn salvation; living a holy life is a natural outgrowth of being saved by God’s grace and filled with His Spirit. It is also important to not give up when we mess up. When we fail, our response should be to confess the sin and keep moving forward in our Christian walk (1 John 1:9). Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God’s grace doesn’t go away when we make mistakes.