We live in an unholy society. Perhaps it has ever been so, but the West in recent decades has become spectacularly unholy and consequently some, such as Ortho blogger Bruce Charleton, have spoken of the need for personal holiness as a necessary prerequisite for the restoration of a properly-ordered society.
A properly-ordered society does not require that all achieve holiness. But it requires that holiness be respected, and be present to a certain extent.
Much could be said about holiness, but let us emphasize here one crucial element: We cannot attain it unless we have repented (turned toward God), and have faith in Jesus Christ. True holiness requires that one have a righteous standing before God, and this requires repentance from sins and faith in Christ.
For example, in Acts 26:18, the Apostle Paul recounts the words of Jesus Christ to him:
…that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.
[“Sanctified” means “made holy.”]
And in Luke 24:46,47, the risen Christ, speaking to fellow travelers on the road to Emmaus, says
Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
“Repentance from sins” does not mean to stop all sinning, which is impossible in this life. Although no brief definition could do it justice, repentance means changing one’s inner orientation away from loving the vanity of the world and toward loving God. It is the love of sin, often officially institutionalized, that marks our society as unholy and that necessitates our repentance. And faith in Christ basically means trusting Him to be our Savior.
You may say that this emphasis on faith sounds Protestant, and indeed I am a confessional Protestant, that is, one who adheres to the Protestant (specifically, the Reformed) creeds and catechisms. But this need not be an instance of Protestant versus Catholic and Orthodox. Catholics and Orthodox would agree that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation and holiness. Protestants differ by saying that it is also sufficient, but we all agree it is necessary.
You also might say that since we of the Orthosphere are Christians it is understood that we have faith in Christ and so there is no great need to emphasize the necessity of faith. But the Christian is constantly prone to forget his Savior, so he must constantly be reminded of how Christ has forgiven his sins.
Indeed, it is the forgiveness of sins that makes Christianity what it is. Some other religious say that they honor Jesus; Islam for example. But even if they mention Jesus, other religions do not teach the forgiveness of sins through repentance toward God and faith that Jesus has taken away our sins.
What was the basic evangelistic appeal made by the Apostles? “Repent, and believe the Gospel of forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ.” For example, in Acts 20:21, the apostle Paul tells the elders of the Church in Ephesus how he has been “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in Acts 2:38, the Apostle Peter, in his Pentecost sermon that inaugurated the Church, when his hearers asked “What shall we do?” replied “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This is the reason individuals need to come to Christ. This is why the church exists. This is the sine qua non of Christianity, that without which one does not have Christianity. At the most fundamental level, Christians are distinguished from non-Christians by the forgiveness of their sins through repentance and faith in Christ.
Saving faith in Christ is knowledge (who He is, what He did, and what He taught), assent to these truths, and most importantly, a trust that Christ has atoned for our sins on the Cross. Without this faith we are still in our sins and all the religious activity in the world won’t make us holy. This activity may give us the outward appearance or inner feeling of holiness, but true holiness based on a right standing before God will not be present. Indeed, a non-Christian holiness may infuse its possessor with a power that is satanic rather than godly.
One of the basic, pre-Christian understandings of holiness is of a power that flows from the possession of spiritual purity and wisdom. There is indeed a power in holiness. But although the New Testament depicts instances of spiritual power exercised by Christ and the Apostles, we cannot imitate Christ fully (because we are not God) and the Apostles never taught that their power was to be sought by other Christians. Signs and wonders were to confirm the Apostles’ teaching, not for the everyday life of the “ordinary” Christian. For “non-Apostolic” Christians, holiness is having a right standing before God that manifests itself in godly living through repentance and faith in Christ.