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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Holiness Means What Again?

Author and friend Mike Duran commented to my last post, “Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word” in part with this line: 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 He [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]

The 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, but 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 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.

Since this post is already long enough, I’ll take another day to complete my thoughts on this topic. As always, I look forward to reading what you have to say on the matter.
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For related posts, see “Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word” and “Inside Out – The Way Of Holiness”

Published in: on May 31, 2011 at 6:23 pm  Comments (12)  
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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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Then What Is Holiness?

A few days ago, I made a case for the fact that the Christian does not experience sinless perfection, this side of heaven. Yet Scripture says the Christian is to be holy because God is holy. Aren’t these two in contradiction?

I don’t believe so because of the sanctification process God has undertaken in our lives. But believers are not to sit back and let God do the work of chipping away the imperfections of our lives.

Over and over Scripture gives commands for us to follow. The book of James, for example, contains 108 verses and half of them deliver a command.

Is the Christian life all about measuring up to a high standard, then? Not really. I believe it’s all about imitation.

When I was four or five, I used to follow my mom around with a child-sized broom “helping her clean.” I wanted to be like her, so I did the things she did. Imitation of this kind, I believe, is at the heart of being holy.

Of course, patterning myself after God requires me to know Him the same way a child knows a parent. I suspect, however, that too many of us know Him less like we know Mom or Dad and more like we know the local fireman.

Most people agree, having a fireman in the community is a good thing. We might even be impressed with his state-of-the-art fire truck or water-dropping helicopter.

We certainly respect the fireman and do our best to follow his rules because we understand they are for our safety and protection. Certainly if a fire breaks out, we call him first.

What about the rest of the time? If we see a fireman on the way into Starbucks, we might nod and smile, but would we think of inviting him over to hang out?

If he should stop by our home, I suspect we’d wish we had checked the battery in the smoke detector or cleared away the brush more recently from around the house. Most likely we’d promise to do better next time, and with a sheepish grin, usher him out the door as fast as we could.

Should he stop by work, I doubt we’d be glad to see him. Rather, we might be concerned about the pile of boxes blocking the fire exit or worried whether or not we have a functioning fire extinguisher in place.

The fireman, as good a guy as he might be, isn’t our friend. He’s a benevolent authority who checks up on us from time to time, one we’ll call only if we have an emergency.

Too often isn’t that the role we give God? In truth, He’s our loving Father, but until we become intimately acquainted with Him as such, I suspect we won’t be doing a lot of holiness imitation.

Published in: on November 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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A High View of God

One of my criticisms of The Shack by William P. Young was that it portrays God as less than Who He is. The god of the shack is Nanny-god, regular-Joe god, or ethereal-sister god, but not the High and Holy God revealed in Scripture.

Sadly, others professing the name of Christ also have a low, though different, view of God. I’m thinking particularly of the name-it-and-claim-it crowd that rally around such works as Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now or Become a Better You. I found it interesting that one of the main criticisms in the Publishers Weekly review of Best Life was this issue of how the book portrays God:

Many Christian readers will undoubtedly be put off by the book’s shallow name-it-and-claim-it theology; although the first chapter claims that “we serve the God that created the universe,” the book as a rule suggests the reverse: it’s a treatise on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals. … Theologically, its materialism and superficial portrayal of God as the granter of earthly wishes will alienate many Christian readers who can imagine a much bigger God. (emphasis mine, here and in the following quotes)

This skewering of who God is evidently is not new. A.W. Tozer wrote about a growing low view of God within the church back in 1961 in his book The Knowledge of the Holy. Today his words seem prophetic:

The message of this book … is called forth by a condition which has existed in the Church for some years and is steadily growing worse. I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. (p. 6)

What I find particularly interesting is what Mr. Tozer identified as the effects of a low view of God:

With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. (p. 6)

Ironic. Mr. Young claims that Man’s greatest need is relationship with God, but by stripping God of His awe, of His justice, of His holiness, he is putting forth ideas that countermand the very thing he advocates.

Mr. Tozer goes on to say

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. (p. 9)

How important, then, that we look at God’s revelation of Himself rather than at some men’s imaginings of Him, be they hopeful and entertaining or not.

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