Inside Out – The Way Of Holiness

Holiness is a much tougher subject than what I realized when I started writing about it. I was pretty clear what I thought holiness was not. Explaining what it is poses a much greater challenge.

I decided to start with a look at what the Old Testament prophets have to say on the subject — for two reasons. First they declare God’s holiness so clearly, and second they spell out why God sent Israel and Judah into exile — definitely not for their holiness.

Over and over, prophet after prophet speaking for God rebuked Israel and Judah for things like their idol worship, their Sabbath breaking, their lack of care for orphans and widows, and ultimately their forsaking God. Yes, they went through the motions of worship and continued to offer sacrifices, but God rejected them because their hearts were far from Him. He told them what He wanted more than sacrifice was a broken and contrite heart. Instead, what they wanted was God plus — God plus some idol, God plus their own schemes, God plus their own way.

I find it interesting that never do we read that God turned His back on His people because they didn’t tithe their cumin or dill or mint. We don’t read that He turned His back on them because they didn’t get the ceremonial washing right.

Jesus said clearly in Matthew 23:23 that Jews shouldn’t neglect the small stuff, but in tending to the small stuff they shouldn’t overlook the camel in the room — justice and mercy and faithfulness.

So how does this connect to holiness for the Christian today? As a reminder, holiness means moral purity. God is morally pure. We are not. Not even Christians, though I know there’s a group who dispute that. The reality is, in our hearts we are selfish and self-serving and self-aggrandizing. We have been redeemed and are forgiven, but the self issues continue to plague us.

We can behave like the Jews if we want — tending to minor things while these deep self problems go untended. Or we can look into the mirror of God’s Word and start dealing with what we see there.

The process needs to start on the inside and work its way out, though. Otherwise, to use a now famous expression, we’re just putting lipstick on a pig. We can make ourselves look holy on the outside by going to church regularly, raising good kids, being a faithful spouse, working hard, and so on. But what’s at the heart of what we do? What motivates us?

Are we doing godly things because we’re supposed to? Even that falls short. God wants our hearts. He wants us to love Him so much it breaks us up to cause Him a second’s grief. And our sin does grieve Him.

We can make a list of things that we do that grieve Him — gossip, jealousy, complaining, lying, envy, greed, lust, and on and on. If we decide we’ll pull our socks up and do better, we are just trying harder to do what we can’t do. We aren’t holy and our feeble efforts to do better will always leave us short.

So we can pretend and plaster over our sinful hearts with clean living, or we can write it all off as forgiven and live however we want, or we can turn to God in utter dependence and yield the reins of our lives to Him.

Isn’t that what salvation is supposed to do, you might ask. Yes, but in the same way that we are born physically and grow to maturity, our spiritual life starts with new birth which begins a process of growing in Christ.

One of the reasons, I’m convinced, that we are not to judge one another is because we are all at different places on the growth chart. If we chastise a new believer for not being a mature Christian ready for the meat of the word, we are doing the opposite of Hebrews 3:13.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of holiness and may have to visit this topic again. It’s an important one and I value all the good discussion we’ve had so far. Thanks for the input.

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Previous posts in this series:
“Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word”
“Holiness Means What Again?”

Published in: on June 1, 2011 at 6:29 pm  Comments (5)  
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