Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word

Years ago on a discussion board with a group of Christian authors, I posited the idea that maybe Christians could push the envelop (and therefore become “edgy” 🙄 ) by writing about things like holiness. You would have thought I’d said a dirty word based on the reactions I got.

Just recently another author used the term “holiness” to depict the segment, or “camp,” of Christians whose driving principle is the law. Clearly, as the comments to the post bore out, “holiness” was equated with legalism.

These separate incidents make me wonder what we who name the name of Christ mean when we use the word “holy.” We say that God is holy. Do we think He’s a fuddy-duddy legalist? If His holiness means something else, then why would we think the aspiration to be holy which a Christian should have is somehow a tell-tale sign that contradicts honesty (the opposing “camp” this writer delineated) and the desire to engage the fallen world?

Did not our Holy God take the initiative and engage His lost creation? And if we are to be like Him in holiness as Scripture instructs, won’t we also engage the world? True holiness, then, is not finding a sterile environment to wait out life.

Scripture gives some interesting, and perhaps less clear than we’d like, instruction on the subject. Take James 1:27 for example:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. [emphasis added]

Engage the needy, this verse would seem to say, and keep your own life free from sin.

Here are several other verses and the questions I asked those years ago when I was first grappling with the issues of what a Christian writer can or should include in her stories:

Ephesians 5:11, 12: “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” [How does a writer expose the deeds without speaking of the things done in secret?]

Romans 16:19b “But I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.” [How does a writer show evil (in order) to be faithful to what is true and remain innocent in what is evil?]

I Corinthians 14:20 “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature.” [How can my writing reflect maturity and still have a babe-like reflection of evil?]

Would that we Christians, writers or readers, not scoff at holiness or cheapen it by identifying legalists as those engaged in holiness. Would that we not disdain God’s command to be holy because of the negative press the word has received.

Holiness is God’s attribute that identifies Him as sinless and morally excellent. He is the gold standard, and we, made in His image, then fallen, are being remade like His Son. In other words, we have the mold of holiness before us shaped like Jesus, and we are being fashioned to be like Him. It is a high calling, a desirable and worth purpose because our holiness reflects on God, not us, and gives Him glory.

Words have meaning, and it’s high time we Christians start using the ones God set out in His word the way He used them. Otherwise, we end up doing just what the prophets said would take place — people start calling good (or holiness), evil and evil, good.

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For a continuation of this discussion, see “Holiness Means What Again?

Published in: on May 30, 2011 at 7:30 pm  Comments (28)  
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