The most tangible display of God’s holiness shines against the darkest of backdrops. God has revealed His holiness in the incarnation—Christ’s physical entry into this fallen world. John tells us that when Jesus came, He was announced as God. In John 1:18, the apostle says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Whatever you want to know about God is explained in the person of Jesus. Scripture says,
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Hebrews 1:1–3)
The Holy Child
In Luke 1, Gabriel comes to Mary and makes the great announcement about the birth of the Son of God, the Christ. As befitting His holiness, His incarnation would be unique.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:30–35)
The Holy Spirit and the Holy Father sent the Holy Offspring, the Son of God. He was supernaturally conceived in order to preserve His holiness and keep Him distinct from the fallen line of Adam. He was truly and fully human, but without the fallen nature all the rest of us inherit from Adam. The angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The angel likewise told Joseph, “The Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Contrast that with David’s statement in Psalm 51:5, “in sin my mother conceived me.”
The Holy Man
But it wasn’t only in Christ’s birth that He was set apart. Consider Luke’s account of the Lord’s baptism. Luke makes it clear that the Father and Spirit were present, testifying to Christ’s holiness:
Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21–22)
The Father intervenes on the proceedings to affirm the Son’s divinity and moral perfection. Contrast that with Peter’s charge in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Christ’s holiness is further revealed in His death. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The apostle Peter says, “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18–19). Whether you’re looking at His birth, His baptism, or even His death, His holiness is manifest.
The Holy Test
Defending the use of the sign of the fish (the ichthus) as a reference to the Lord, Augustine explained it is a suitable sign for Christ because “He was able to live, that is, to exist, without sin in the abyss of this mortality as in the depths of waters.”  Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009), 568. Christ literally came down and sank Himself into this wretched world. The truest test of holiness is not how it holds up in heaven, but how it holds up here.
And His holiness did hold up, in spite of the wretchedness of the world around Him. In John 8:46, Jesus said, “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” In John 14:30, Jesus said of Satan, “The ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” He wasn’t merely saying that Satan had nothing on Him, but that there was nothing at all in Him that responded to Satan. There was never the slightest possibility that He would compromise His holiness.
Theologians commonly use two similar Latin phrases to make an important distinction in their discussions of Christ’s impeccability. He is non posse peccare (“not able to sin); not merely posse non peccare (“able not to sin”). His holiness as a perfect man was not merely the happy result of His supernaturally empowered human self-control. His absolute sinless perfection was the necessary corollary of the fact that He possessed both divine and human natures. As God incarnate, Christ could no more sin than God can tell a lie, and “God . . . cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). His perfect, immutable, divine holiness made it impossible for Him to sin—not because He lacked any of the human faculties or natural weaknesses that make us susceptible to temptation, but because His revulsion for sin is so utterly absolute, and His divine holiness is so gloriously superlative.
The Holy Pursuit
Scripture is loaded with warnings about living in this world because, unlike Christ, we are easily susceptible to the enticements of sin even though we are redeemed. We may have been walking in the faith for many years and consistently studying the Bible for a long time, but this world is still a threat to us at every turn. Old habits, human weaknesses, and carnal desires remain with us—and will be there until we are fully glorified. That’s why we so easily respond to Satan and the world. Consequently we must be regularly reminded not to love the world. We must be reminded not to walk in the council of the wicked, stand in the path of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers (Psalm 1:1). Not heeding Scripture’s repeated warnings would have devastating results for us.
That’s why the example of Christ’s holiness is such an encouragement. While we’ll never live up to His holy perfection, we ought to look at the world and its temptations the way He saw them. In Mark 7:18, Jesus says, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him?” It doesn’t matter what came at Jesus. Nothing external could defile Him because only what’s in the heart defiles. He goes on to say,
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man. (Mark 7:21–23)
We need to take sin seriously. Paul tells the Corinthian church that they must remove the sinning man out of their church because “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6). If they allowed sin to reside unchecked in their church, it would corrupt the whole body. That’s why church discipline is important. We live a fragile existence in this wretched world. We must watch our lives. We must press our body into submission. We must guard our eyes. We must keep our feet from going certain places. We must keep our distance from certain people. We must live a circumspect life in this world so that we do not put ourselves in a position to be assaulted by temptation and devastated by the ravages of sin. When people ask me what appeals to me about heaven, it isn’t streets of transparent gold or gates made of pearls; it’s the absence of sin. I’m tired of sin.
Christ’s pure and holy life was a foretaste of heaven’s morality. We should long for it and delight in the knowledge that it will one day become our eternal reality. Until then, Christlike holiness remains the worthy goal for all of God’s people (Galatians 4:19).
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