God alone is holy, yet we are both called and commanded to be holy. “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy” (I Peter 1:15-16). How shall we solve this spiritual paradox?

A person, place, thing, or event becomes holy when God is conspicuous in it. Thus the holiness a pious observer sensed at the Jerusalem temple or the holiness of the ground where Moses was commanded to remove his shoes was not that of a building or the soil; it was the presence of God that imparted holiness to them.

The holiness of the church or an individual believer is due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16). “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (I Corinthians 6:19). And the way an observer sees the holiness of the divine Spirit in Christians is through his continual fruit-bearing in our lives. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are markers of radical holiness in the people of God in any generation (Galatians 5:22-23).

The spirit of our time has Christians aiming too low. We are unkind and lay it to stress. We are joyless and explain how bleak and difficult things are in politics, economics, or church. We are unloving and out of control and dare anyone else to cast the first stone. We sense that something is wrong with the scenario, but we have no clear idea of how things could be different.

In The Kingdom of God Is Within You, Leo Tolstoy wrote that “all men of the modern world exist in a continual and flagrant antagonism between their consciences and their way of life.” It this sounds familiar, it should also feel uncomfortable. Christians should not live in “flagrant antagonism” between our beliefs and our behaviors. What a burdensome, heavy existence that would be. It is the path of resisting and quenching God’s Spirit. “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life,” Paul said. “Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 4:7-8).

Too many church leaders have fallen to affairs. Too many hate-filled and venom-tongued preachers have been permitted to intimidate godly people and drive them into other fellowships. The lifestyle of the “average church member” seems to be little different from that of the “average person.” These things happen when people see God’s way as a confining and difficult one.

I know a man who models holiness. The presence of God is evident in his life to all of us who are his friends, who see him in public places, and who spend private time with him. His mind and body were once Satan’s playground, but he was decisively and dramatically saved.

It isn’t simply that he no longer gets drunk and parties. It isn’t just that his mouth is no longer foul. It is his tender love for his wife, his anonymous generosity to many good works, and his powerful leadership in a local church. There is no strident legalism in his manner. He laughs a lot. He has friends galore. Everyone who has any contact with him respects him. He is holy—radically holy. In his life, there is no tension between his conscience and his way of life. The commandments of God are not “burdensome,” and righteous-ness is not a series of painful concessions by a grudging, resentful will.

His lifestyle reflects the confident manner of his Savior. No one would ever get the idea of a holier-than-thou spirit in him. Self-righteous is not a description anyone would use of him. His life reflects the radiance of the God he knows through intimate, transforming friendship. Yes, he knows Scripture; he also knows the author of Scripture. His life says that Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light.

My impression is that my friend is living as someone would who has received a gift he knew he had not earned or who has been treated with a kindness he knew he did not remotely deserve. Because he lives with this in his consciousness at all times, he never has to figure out how to live as Christ would when he is “on the spot.” He lives as Christ did constantly, and his on-the-spot reaction to crisis situations is no different at all from his routine manner of dealing with all of his life.

Following Jesus is not a matter of turning the other cheek, staying out of trouble, and not getting a divorce—while living the routine aspects of your life as the world does. That approach to holiness is destined to fail, for it commits to obeying key commandments in the context of an otherwise this-worldly life. To be a Christian is to follow the way of Christ in all things, seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness first in the most routine as well as the most spectacular of settings.

Until God’s presence is real with us in every situation, the desire to honor him in the crisis times will remain an elusive frustration. His yoke will never get easier nor his burden lighter.