Holiness: An Unpopular Topic


Photo by Narcis DRAGOI from FreeImages

I think it’s understandable that people who don’t believe in God or who have a theism based on some false religion or false teaching, don’t value holiness. After all, they don’t have a true model for what holiness looks like. Further, so many are focused on doing in order to gain: gain the highest heaven, gain happiness, gain salvation, gain Nirvana, gain acceptance—you name it.

But God calls Christians to be holy because He is holy. No other reason than that we are to be like Him. Reminds me of who God created us to be. Primarily God put Adam into the garden He prepared to act as His agent—to superintend what God had made. He was, after all, created in His image.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28)

In essence, our holiness is the way God wants us to live out this agency today, given that we now have a fallen nature and live in a world far from God. But is that possible?

Yes, and no. Clearly, when we come to God by embracing His Son and His work at the cross on our behalf, we receive new life, though we still grapple with an old nature (see Romans 7). The process of becoming like Christ is just that—a process, one theology calls sanctification. What it practically means is believers walking in obedience.

Romans 7 is helpful:

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

We’re not bound by Law. But we still serve. We still do what God wants us to do, but only in the “newness of the Spirit.” Essentially, learning to say no to the old self with its sinful and selfish ways, and to say yes to the indwelling Holy Spirit, is a process. A life-long process.

The Bible says a lot about how we are to live. In fact, that last day Jesus spent with His men, He said, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 17). God wants us to obey Him, though our salvation doesn’t depend on our working to earn His favor.

He wants us to obey, I submit, the same way a parent wants a child to obey: it’s good for the little rug rat. 😉 Seriously, God’s commands are good for us, and not only for us as individuals but for the church and for our witness in the world.

Take this ONE command, for example, something probably most of us blow off as insignificant:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing (Phil 2:14).

Imagine living without grumbling. Imagine life without disputes. Yes, obedience to that one simple command would have a profound impact. Paul doesn’t leave it to our imagination. He tells us what would result:

[Don’t argue or complain] so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15)

Imagine! Blameless and innocent, shining as lights in the world. Well, isn’t that what Christ said we were to be, back in His Sermon on the Mount? Lights shining before men so that they see our good works and glorify our Father.

The point is, our heart attitude can’t stay inside. It can’t be our little secret. We can’t be undercover Christians. At some point, our relationship with God through Christ must spill out of our lives and splash onto our neighbors.

That’s pretty much what the whole book of James is about. Our faith—our inner spiritual life, our relationship with God—is real only if it gets up and walks.

Writers talk about cardboard characters versus the desirable kind—three dimensional ones that seem alive. Faith is like that, without the “seem.” Real faith is alive and therefore will show signs of life. James names three chief areas.

First we’ll be doers of the word, not merely hearers. In short, we’ll be obedient to God’s word. Second, we’ll bridle our tongues rather than deceiving our hearts. And third, we’ll be slow to anger, which means we won’t judge, quarrel with or complain about our “brother”—a term he uses consistently to refer to fellow Christians.

The first point alone can be overwhelming. If I read the Bible asking one thing—what in this passage must I obey—I can become paralyzed into inactivity because there’s too much. I’m not selfless enough to handle the one command from Philippians about not grumbling or complaining, let alone the ones about being a cheerful giver or being anxious for nothing or dwelling on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and of good repute.

When I realize this, I am pressed back into God where I must learn to stay. It is His strength that makes it possible for me to obey. It is the prompting of His Holy Spirit that makes me want to.

In short, obedience which leads to holiness is not a thing I can achieve apart from God, but if I love Him, I’m heading for the heights, one shaky step at a time, holding onto Him as tight as if my life depended on Him. Which it does.

This post includes a large, revised and edited, portion of a 2011 article entitled Holiness In Practice. Others in series are
“Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word”
“Holiness Means What Again?”
“Inside Out – The Way Of Holiness”

Advertisements
Published in: on July 25, 2019 at 5:34 pm  Comments (48)  
Tags: , , ,

Be Holy Because God Is Holy


One of the early surprises I received when I first stepped into the world of the Internet was that not all people who identified themselves as Christians believed what I believed. Oh, I knew there were differences, one denomination to another. I knew there were liberals and there were conservatives. But I thought people who believed the Bible would have a shared understanding, more or less.

I suppose that’s true. The Bible does seem to be a line of demarcation. But apparently so is holiness.

As I’ve shared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in a previous discussion about holiness, before I started blogging, I joined a writing discussion board. At one point I brought up the topic of holiness, with the intent of discussing how a writer can show the holiness side of edgy. Instead I got an inordinate amount of discussion about legalism. Legalism!

Color me still surprised. Legalism has as much to do with holiness as prostitution does.

How is it that a Christian can mistake a works theology for holiness?

Judaism is based on works. Keep the law, observe the holy days, offer the sacrifices. Do, do, do.

Hinduism is based on works. Everything is geared toward doing better in order to move up the reincarnation chain into a better life.

Islam is based on works. Much like Judaism, Islamic law is the guide for daily living, and failure has consequences here and in the after life.

Buddhism is based on works. Walking the path of ethical conduct, wisdom, and discipline is the way to freedom from suffering—nirvana.

Christianity on the other hand declares rather boldly, all our works get us nothing. We can’t do enough or be enough. We can’t be the kind of person we should, we can’t think pure enough thoughts or purge our desires of self. In short, we aren‘t holy and we can’t be holy by our human efforts.

Legalism, then, is antithetical to Christianity.

And yet 1 Peter 1:15-16 says,

Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

A couple things stand out to me. In the same way that God is love, He is holy. How have we lost sight of that, I wonder. So often we hear pastors giving as the rationale for a person to love the unlovely, the fact that God is love and we are to be like Him. But where do we hear the sermons about not lying to our kids or not stealing from our employer?

Enough, we say. That borders on works and we are all about grace.

Salvation is by grace, certainly. Except we are to grow up in respect to salvation (see 1 Peter 2:1-5).

Life in Christ is life—it starts with a new birth but does not end there. We are then to grow, and we do so by feeding on the word of God.

Ironically, there are some people who believe holiness is conferred instantaneously upon a Christian and that the sure sign a person is in the family of God is that he no longer sins. I say “ironically” because this belief seems to bring us right back to legalism.

A person can proudly congratulate himself that he has not sinned for years and years, missing the fact that his prideful attitude is in fact a sin.

Such a “holiness” doctrine seems to stifle all chance for growth as completely as someone who thinks all holiness is tantamount to legalism.

The bottom line is that we are commanded to be holy. That’s the second thing that stands out to me in the passage from 1 Peter 1. It’s not just an Old Testament thing that Christians can ignore.

At the same time, reality and Scripture tell us we cannot be holy. Only Christ lived a holy life. So what we who have newness of life are to do is to be imitators of Him, submit to God’s work of remolding us into the image of His Son, feed on the pure milk of the Word. And grow.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April, 2012.

God’s Wrath And Mercy


Some years ago at a Christian writers’ conference a fairly well known Christian novelist spoke. One of the things he camped on was that truth in fiction was like a diamond—it shown brightest and best when displayed on a black background.

That analogy has been repeated many times as a rationale for writers to include the details of life in fiction, and not just the way we wish things were.

To put it in terms of Biblical visual art, Jesus ought not always be wearing a white robe and there shouldn’t always be a halo over His head. He shouldn’t have perfectly straight, white teeth, and his features ought to be a little less clean cut.

Same with our stories, contemporary or otherwise.

I understand the point, and I mostly agree. Not everyone does. I had a friend who said he wouldn’t read any more of a certain author because there was a near rape scene in one of that writer’s books.

In writing, this whole subject has become a lot more sticky as political correctness sweeps through our culture, taking books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with it.

But the analogy stands: diamonds do show their brilliance best against a black backdrop.

And what does that have to do with God?

First, God is holy. We imperfect, sinful humans don’t really understand what holiness is all about, but the other day I started thinking of it in terms A. W. Tozier used. He explained that all of God’s attributes are interlinked with His other attributes. Well, he didn’t say it in exactly that way.

But take God’s quality as an infinite being. That idea doesn’t just mean that He has no beginning or end, but rather also that there is no end to His goodness, to His mercy, and, yes, to His holiness.

So what connection can infinite goodness, infinite holiness have with the very thing that would bring an end to those qualities—evil? There simply is no place for the two residing together. Either holiness is apart from evil and infinite, or it is in contact with evil and limited.

Hence God’s wrath.

Yes, Scripture teaches that wrath is also a quality of God, one that identifies how He feels toward that which would spoil His holiness and the goodness He created.

Thinking in visual terms again, imagine God’s wrath as the backdrop for His mercy. Without His wrath, we actually have a lesser view of God’s mercy. We don’t see it as well without the stark contrast. We don’t know how radically different our lives would be if we experienced His wrath instead of His mercy.

I picture the veil of God’s wrath separating humankind from God’s holiness, but His mercy ripped that veil in two.

Romans 5 explains it this way: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (vv 8–9).

Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that God saves us from Himself.

Of course that isn’t the whole picture because in Colossians He tells us we are “rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:13). In other scriptures we learn that God frees us from the slavery of sin, breaks the chains of the Law, takes away our guilt.

But it kind of all starts with His wrath and the brilliance of His mercy that His wrath showcases. Well, maybe it really starts with His holiness. Or it could start with His infinitude. Regardless, by understanding God’s wrath better, and the rightness of it, the necessity of it, I understand His mercy more.

Published in: on August 3, 2018 at 5:28 pm  Comments Off on God’s Wrath And Mercy  
Tags: , , , ,

From The Archives: Holiness Means What Again?


Pole_vault_barThis article is a revised version first of one that appeared here back in May 2011 as part of a discussion with author Mike Duran about the meaning of holiness.

To understand holiness we need to start with God because He alone is holy. Jesus, who is the exact representation of God (“And [Jesus] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” -Heb. 1:3a), gave us the insight we need in His “Sermon on the Mount.”

In part He said the following:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court …

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, … But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, …

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [selected verses from Matt. 5, emphasis added]

raise the barThe point I’m making is that Jesus set the bar where it belonged—at perfection, starting not with our external actions but with our thoughts and intentions and desires.

In so doing, He exposed us all because none of us is perfect. We all know this, even the most convinced atheist who doesn’t even believe in a moral standard. But because our hearts are desperately wicked, because we are so easily deceived, Jesus laid it out for us.

Now we can’t think evil thoughts about another person, while on the outside smile and help him fix his flat tire, then come away with a sense of goodness. Those evil thoughts pin us to the wall. Sure, we might fool others, and even ourselves if we refuse to look closely, but we aren’t fooling God.

The very pride we might feel at living an externally moral life, or at pointing out someone else’s activities which we categorize as moral failings, shows the real problem: we are, at heart, people who want to be God. That’s the sin the Fall infected us with.

We Christians are missing the point if we look at drug addicts or homosexuals or rapists or corrupt politicians or corporate criminals and think their problem is their external behavior. No doubt their external behavior complicates their lives, but their problem is their rejection of the grace of God He has lovingly and generously supplied through Christ, that which would provide the forgiveness they need.

No amount of “clean living” will change what they need—substitutionary payment for the insurmountable debt they owe. Their lives are forfeit. Putting away cigarettes, unplugging from pornography, taking the four-letter words out of their vocabulary, or any other external and all of them combined, isn’t going to change their standing before God.

Or mine.

We can enter His presence, enjoy a relationship with Him as His child, by grace alone.

But what about holiness? That’s where this started. Holiness is my response to my holy God.

– – –

For related posts, see “Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word” and “Inside Out – The Way Of Holiness”

Published in: on January 16, 2018 at 6:21 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Happiness And Holiness – Reprise


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So says a portion of the Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776. Sadly, those lines too often have become twisted and confused.

Twisted because the right to pursue happiness is understood by many to be the right to demand happiness. It is my right, therefore, to have whatever I believe I need to make me happy.

Confused because God has been evoked. The assumption clearly is that God wants us to be happy.

I had a dear friend look me in the eye once and tell me she would not obey Scripture because she believed God wanted her to be happy, and doing what the Bible said, would make her unhappy.

I’m pretty sure she’s not alone.

Does God want His people to be happy? There are lots of things that He promised and gave that are recorded in Scripture, and certainly those things would seem to have made the recipients happy. The woman whose dead son Elisha brought back to life was undoubtedly happy. When David didn’t kill all the people in Nabal’s household, I imagine Abigail was quite happy. When Peter and John cured the lame man, his leaping about and praising God makes me think he was pretty happy.

In addition, God promised Abraham that He would bless him and multiply his descendants. He promised Solomon He would give him wisdom and riches and long life. He promised Gideon that he would give him victory in battle.

God’s generosity and faithfulness do generate happiness. But the truth is, by focusing on happiness, we are settling.

It’s a little like the psych test I just read about. Apparently one study had the examiner bring in kindergartners one at a time, show them a trick-or-treat-size candy bar and tell them they could have it, but if they waited until the examiner came back, then they could have a large size candy bar. Seventy-five percent of the kids opted for the one bite they could have right then and there.

You might be wondering if this is where I’ll bring in holiness—if we’re only willing to live holy lives instead of worrying about happiness, then some day in heaven we’ll have the whole enchilada.

No, actually that’s not it. Holiness is the whole enchilada. Holiness is a result of right relationship with God—not something we can achieve on our own.

By being in right relationship with God, the things of God become the things we desire. It’s the truth of Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

If I delight in the Lord, many people think, then God has to give me what I want. What those thinking along those lines don’t realize is that true delighting in the Lord realigns our desires.

No longer did Paul want to successfully hunt down Christians and throw them in jail. What had once given him satisfaction and a sense of success was something he abhorred after his desires were realigned.

Did God keep His promise and give Paul the desires of his heart? Absolutely—the new desires of his heart.

Holiness, I suggest, will become our new desire as we align our hearts with God, as we learn to delight in Him.

I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do if we’re caught up in the pursuit of happiness, however, and probably impossible if we’re caught up in the demand for happiness.

This post originally appeared here in July 2011.

Published in: on November 1, 2017 at 4:30 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,

From The Archives: Holiness Means What Again?


Pole_vault_barThis article first appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction back in May 2011 as part of a discussion with author Mike Duran about the meaning of holiness.

In a comment to one of my earlier posts author and friend Mike Duran stated, “Holiness for many well-meaning Christians, boils down to a series of thou-shalt-nots that involve things like make-up, jewelry, tattoos, alcohol, R-rated movies, cigarettes, etc. etc.”

I submit, those external things have nothing to do with holiness.

To understand holiness we need to start with God because He alone is holy. Jesus, who is the exact representation of God (“And [Jesus] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” -Heb. 1:3a), gave us the insight we need in His “Sermon on the Mount.”

In part He said the following:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court …

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, … But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, …

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [selected verses from Matt. 5, emphasis added]

raise the barThe point I’m making is that Jesus set the bar where it belonged—at perfection, starting not with our external actions but with our thoughts and intentions and desires.

In so doing, He exposed us all because none of us is perfect. We all know this, even the most convinced atheist who doesn’t even believe in a moral standard. But because our hearts are desperately wicked, because we are so easily deceived, Jesus laid it out for us.

Now we can’t think evil thoughts about another person, while on the outside smile and help him fix his flat tire, then come away with a sense of goodness. Those evil thoughts pin us to the wall. Sure, we might fool others, and even ourselves if we refuse to look closely, but we aren’t fooling God.

The very pride we might feel at living an externally moral life, or at pointing out someone else’s activities which we categorize as moral failings, shows the real problem: we are, at heart, people who want to be God. That’s the sin the Fall infected us with.

We Christians are missing the point if we look at drug addicts or homosexuals or rapists or corrupt politicians or corporate criminals and think their problem is their external behavior. No doubt their external behavior complicates their lives, but their problem is their rejection of the grace of God He has lovingly and generously supplied through Christ, that which would provide the forgiveness they need.

No amount of “clean living” will change what they need—substitutionary payment for the insurmountable debt they owe. Their lives are forfeit. Putting away cigarettes, unplugging from pornography, taking the four-letter words out of their vocabulary, or any other external and all of them combined, isn’t going to change their standing before God.

Or mine.

We can enter His presence, enjoy a relationship with Him as His child, by grace alone.

But what about holiness? That’s where this started. Holiness is my response to my holy God.

– – –

For related posts, see “Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word” and “Inside Out – The Way Of Holiness”

Published in: on May 14, 2014 at 9:36 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

What Else Christians Know


search_and_rescueChristians know that God is and that Jesus reveals God. We also know that we are saved by grace. By implication, we also know that we need to be saved.

Christians know that we are sinners. We understand our spiritual condition is a lot worse than simply admitting that we make mistakes. Our inability to live perfectly indicates that there’s a fundamental difference between us and God: He is holy and we are not.

We also understand that no amount of self help is going to take care of our condition. We can try all we want. We can aim to balance out the bad with the good. The problem is, no matter the split–20/80, 60/40, or 95/5–whatever is on the “not good” side is deadly. No exaggeration. We understand our inability to hit the bulls-eye 100% of the time equates to being infected with a terminal illness. The result–the wages, Scripture calls it–is death just as surely as if I drank poison.

So, yes, Christians realize we need to be saved.

We also know we can’t save ourselves. For one thing, the standard is too high. It involves our thought life and our attitudes and intentions as well as our actions. And if we say we don’t sin, Scripture nails us on that and says we’re lying–which of course also is a sin. So we face the fact that we can’t do enough religious deeds to undo our sin, and we can’t clean up our thoughts, actions, words, attitudes sufficiently to cover the sins we have committed. They are on the account book, marked down as stuff we owe. And the debt can only be satisfied by our lives.

Enter God’s grace.

Since God is holy, He’s the only one qualified to intervene. Because He loves us, He’s chosen to do the work to re-connect us to Himself. In many ways, His extension of grace is the same as what the Search and Rescue teams offer someone swept into a fast-flowing river current heading for disaster. Nothing the person in the water can do on his own to keep from drowning. Unless someone tosses him a lifeline, he will die.

The lifeline spiritually is God’s grace.

The means God used to extend His grace to us, is His Son’s death. Jesus willingly offered His life to pay the debt we owe. His death canceled our debt. He died once for all, “the just for the unjust,” that He might bring us to God.

God’s grace is His free gift. Christians know we aren’t special, haven’t done anything to earn God’s favor, and are no better than anyone else. God’s work in us has changed us. He has declared us righteous and is working in us to mold us into the likeness of Christ. But this process is not something we do by pulling up our socks and trying hard. We become who God has declared us to be by giving God the reins of our lives, letting Him take us where He wants, when He wants, how He wants. It’s a position of surrender.

You’ve seen the video of the Golden Retriever who made friends with the little boy who wanted nothing to do with him? He crawled and rolled to his back and lowered his head. He did everything imaginable to show that he was submitting to that little tike. He didn’t have to, certainly.

We, on the other hand, have no choice if we are to have a relationship with God. He’s made the way of escape. Our role is nothing more than to submit freely to God alone who loves us as His children.

Published in: on October 4, 2013 at 4:36 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Separateness of Holiness


The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle


God’s plan for Israel was that they should be a God-fearing nation in order to point all other nations to Him. As a result, after the Exodus, He gave them a place to worship, priests to mediate between Him and them, and sacrifices to perform for their cleansing.

When Jesus came, He perfected each of those roles in Himself. He spoke of His body as the temple to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. He took the role of the High Priest. And He became the sacrifice, once for all.

When He ascended to the right hand of the Father, He gave believers the same three roles, not to redo what He had done but, because we are in Christ, to act as an extension of Him:

And coming to Him as to living stones, you also are being built up as a spiritual house for a royal priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

Israel was to be separate and holy, to point the nations to God.

Jesus was separate and holy, providing the way of reconciliation to God.

Believers now are to be separate and holy, to point all other peoples to God.

We are not to be separate and holy in order to be reconciled to God–Jesus accomplished that for us. But in understanding that we humans cannot atone for our own sins, that we in fact need a Savior, it seems some have concluded that the separate and holy issues aren’t for today.

Yet the New Testament writers make it clear. Peter specifically quoted from the Old Testament law in his first letter as support for his call to be holy:

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1:15-16)

Paul spoke about separateness:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 – emphasis mine)

Jesus prayed for His followers specifically about being in the world and yet being set apart:

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:15-19 – emphasis mine)

No list of things to do or things to stay away from. Yet Paul is quite clear that our lives are to be different from those who don’t believe:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called . . . So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:1, 17-24 – emphasis mine)

Why, I wonder, do we hear so little about living a holy life? Some Christians speak as if holiness equates with legalism, but certainly the Bible doesn’t call us to be legalists. Rather than standing apart from the world, it seems many Christians make it their goal to fit in. How we handle our money, the entertainment we choose, our treatment of the homeless, how we dress, what we write–in so many ways, it’s hard to say Christians are not conformed to the world.

And wasn’t that Israel’s problem? Didn’t they want to be like the nations around them rather than to be holy like God, so they could represent Him to the lost peoples?

Published in: on February 1, 2013 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Be Holy Because God Is Holy


One of the early surprises I received when I first stepped into the world of the Internet was that not all people who identified themselves as Christians believed what I believed. Oh, I knew there were differences, one denomination to another. I knew there were liberals and there were conservatives. But I thought people who believed the Bible would have a shared understanding, more or less.

I suppose that’s true. The Bible does seem to be a line of demarcation. But apparently so is holiness.

As I’ve shared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in a previous discussion about holiness, before I started blogging, I joined a writing discussion board. At one point I brought up the topic of holiness, with the intent of discussing how a writer can show the holiness side of edgy. Instead I got an inordinate amount of discussion about legalism. Legalism!

Color me still surprised. Legalism has as much to do with holiness as prostitution does.

How is it that a Christian can mistake a works theology for holiness?

Judaism is based on works. Keep the law, observe the holy days, offer the sacrifices. Do, do, do.

Hinduism is based on works. Everything is geared toward doing better in order to move up the reincarnation chain into a better life.

Islam is based on works. Much like Judaism, Islamic law is the guide for daily living, and failure has consequences here and in the after life.

Buddhism is based on works. Walking the path of ethical conduct, wisdom, and discipline is the way to freedom from suffering — nirvana.

Christianity on the other hand declares rather boldly, all our works get us nothing. We can’t do enough or be enough. We can’t be the kind of person we should, we can’t think pure enough thoughts or purge our desires of self. In short, we aren‘t holy and we can’t be holy by our human efforts.

Legalism, then, is antithetical to Christianity.

And yet 1 Peter 1:15-16 says,

Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

A couple things stand out to me. In the same way that God is love, He is holy. How have we lost sight of that, I wonder. So often we hear pastors giving as the rationale for a person to love the unlovely, the fact that God is love and we are to be like Him. But where do we hear the sermons about not lying to our kids or not stealing from our employer.

Enough, we say. That borders on works and we are all about grace.

Salvation is by grace, certainly. Except we are to grow up in respect to salvation (see 1 Peter 2:1-5).

Life in Christ is life — starting with a new birth but not ending with a new birth. We are then to grow by feeding on the word of God.

Ironically, there are some people who believe holiness is conferred instantaneously upon a Christian and that the sure sign a person is in the family of God is that he no longer sins. I say “ironically” because this belief seems to bring us right back to legalism.

A person can proudly congratulate himself that he has not sinned for years and years, missing the fact that his prideful attitude is in fact a sin.

Such a “holiness” doctrine seems to stifle all chance for growth as completely as someone who thinks all holiness is tantamount to legalism.

The bottom line is that we are commanded to be holy. That’s the second thing that stands out to me in the passage from 1 Peter 1. It’s not just an Old Testament thing that Christians can ignore.

At the same time, reality and Scripture tell us we cannot be holy. Only Christ lived a holy life. So what we who have newness of life are to do is to be imitators of Him, submit to God’s work of remolding us into the image of His Son, feed on the pure milk of the Word. And grow.

Published in: on April 5, 2012 at 6:18 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Happiness And Holiness


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So says a portion of the Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 7776. Sadly, those lines too often have become twisted and confused.

Twisted because the right to pursue happiness is understood by many to be the right to demand happiness. It is my right, therefore, to have whatever I believe I need to make me happy.

Confused because God has been evoked. The assumption clearly is that God wants us to be happy.

I had a dear friend look me in the eye once and tell me she would not obey Scripture because she believed God wanted her to be happy, and doing what the Bible said, would make her unhappy.

I’m pretty sure she’s not alone.

Does God want His people to be happy? There are lots of things that He promised and gave that are recorded in Scripture, and certainly those things would seem to have made the recipients happy. The woman whose dead son Elisha brought back to life was undoubtedly happy. When David didn’t kill all the people in Nabal’s household, I imagine Abigail was quite happy. When Peter and John cured the lame man, his leaping about and praising God makes me think he was pretty happy.

In addition, God promised Abraham that He would bless him and multiply his descendants. He promised Solomon He would give him wisdom and riches and long life. He promised Gideon that he would give him victory in battle.

God’s generosity and faithfulness do generate happiness. But the truth is, by focusing on happiness, we are settling.

It’s a little like the psych test I just read about. Apparently one study had the examiner bring in kindergartners one at a time, show them a trick-or-treat-size candy bar and tell them they could have it, but if they waited until the examiner came back, then they could have a large size candy bar. Seventy-five percent of the kids opted for the one bite they could have right then and there.

You might be wondering if this is where I’ll bring in holiness — if we’re only willing to live holy lives instead of worrying about happiness, then some day in heaven we’ll have the whole enchilada.

No, actually that’s not it. Holiness is the whole enchilada. Holiness is a result of right relationship with God — not something we can achieve on our own.

By being in right relationship with God, the things of God become the things we desire. It’s the truth of Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

If I delight in the Lord, many people think, then God has to give me what I want. What those thinking along those lines don’t realize is that true delighting in the Lord realigns our desires.

No longer did Paul want to successfully hunt down Christians and throw them in jail. What had once given him satisfaction and a sense of success was something he abhorred after his desires were realigned.

Did God keep His promise and give Paul the desires of his heart? Absolutely — the new desires of his heart.

Holiness, I suggest, will become our new desire as we align our hearts with God, as we learn to delight in Him.

I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do if we’re caught up in the pursuit of happiness, however, and probably impossible if we’re caught up in the demand for happiness.

Published in: on July 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,