Ash Wednesday and holiness

Today is Ash Wednesday. Some Christians are in the habit of putting ashes on their foreheads because they symbolize our mourning and regret for sin. In fact, we’ll do that tonight at a youth-led service at the church I pastor. [This one is in-person only and at 7pm.]

Ashes also symbolize our mortality. This recalls Genesis 3:19 where Adam was punished for his disobedience to God and made to work the soil from which he came: “for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

But just as we repent from sin, we also commit to holiness. To be holy is to be set apart for God’s special purposes. Jesus’ people are to have a unique set-apartness.

Did you realize that Jesus also prayed for you to be holy? “Sanctify them by the truth,” he said (John 17:17). It’s a prayer that is particularly relevant to you since he was specifically thinking about future believers when he said it! 

Philip Yancey tells about a woman who was undergoing chemo. Many of you know that difficult that can be. From what I understand chemotherapy is a drug in your system (or a series of drugs) which kills fast-growing cancer cells. The woman who was undergoing treatment asked God to also do something else at the same time: to kill anything within her which was unholy.*

That’s a powerful image of someone who—in the midst of a courageous life-or-death battle—takes seriously both the life-or-death power of God and the life-or-death importance of holiness. 

As you consider your own morality on Ash Wednesday, reflect not only on the pain of sin, but the importance of holiness.

Jesus said: “Sanctify them by the truth.” Lord, kill anything within us which is unholy.


–“Praying for what Jesus prays for.” Sermon: February 19, 2023. Click here to watch or listen. You can also find this one as an episode on ‘The Pulse Podcast with Matthew Ruttan.’

–Supporting our Youth Shelter. I’m a part of a team walking in The Coldest Night of the Year. It’s a fundraiser for our local youth shelter who has many important needs as they help young people facing all sorts of difficulties. Click here to learn more or to donate. Thank you! 

–*Philip Yancey, The Question That Never Goes Away (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 104.

–Bible quotes are from the NIV.

You can also listen and subscribe wherever you enjoy podcasts:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s