The Life of the Church: Holiness

  • The Life of the Church: Holiness

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.

2Peter 1:3-4

Holiness:  Moving beyond behavior modification

Holiness is not talked about very much in our churches these days.  I suppose it’s because in the minds of many “holiness” equals legalism.  Legalism happens when Christians do the right things (and avoid the wrong things), say the right words (and avoid using certain other words), wear the right clothes, etc.—all the while getting a pass on the sins, bitterness, anger and other deep secrets that fester in hidden places.  The gospel message of holiness is in desperate need of being re-proclaimed and experienced by a new generation.

It is a great tragedy that in our history holiness and legalism were united in unholy wedlock.  I understand the temptation—how else can we tell if a person is growing in Christ except as evidenced in behavior.  This is a slippery slope.  Once the focus moves away from God’s holy character and the radical transformation of the person by Christ, we end up becoming behavior police.  A list of “dos” and “don’ts” which reflects certain questionable activities of a particular time and culture is established and “holiness” is reduced to one’s adherence to that list.  In our quest to honor and please God, I believe we expect too little of God and of ourselves.

Holiness:  Being like Jesus & participating in the love and joy of the Trinity

A vigorous re-searching of the Scriptures and a return to ancient teaching is crucial to breaking the horrible union between holiness and legalism.  I have been blessed to be the student of others who have done much of that hard work.  What follows is just a little bit of the fruit of their work.

Jesus shows us what it means to be holy, set apart and full of the Father’s love and blessing.  Sure, Jesus’ behavior is exemplary, but that is not the focus of the Gospels.  Jesus lives a life full of joy, confidence, compassion, love, vision, strength and power.  All of this is possible because of His union with the Father—because Jesus walks day by day in the great love of His Father.  Jesus is showing us the way.  His story is meant to be our story.  His life is an invitation into the love, joy and strength that He and the Father share.  Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension have opened the door into this existence.  The gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to live in it and from it.  A life of holiness is a full and abundant life, a participation in the endless love and joy shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Through this journey sin, fear, anger, anxiety, selfishness and greed are expelled by the power of the Holy Spirit.  There is less and less room for these sins in an increasingly Spirit-filled life.  A certain moral standard is lived out as a natural by-product and cannot be achieved by striving to fulfill a behavior check-list.  Jesus is not saying, “Jump through the hoops of my commands and you will be holy!”  rather, “Life in the Kingdom of God is holy, live in it.”  Jesus invites us into a holy life.  His commands describe what a holy life looks like.  Best of all, He offers all the resources of the Kingdom to aide us after we accept the invitation.

Christ accomplishes for us what we can not on our own.  Once we walk with Him and learn to trust Him, we find He prods us on to higher and higher places.  This requires great effort on our part, and we will not get there quickly.  But we can be sure that the power of His grace will remain dependable and constant throughout the journey.

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