Is holiness being separate, or different, or complete?

Holiness

Following Christ and Listening To the Spirit

Christian Spirituality > Holiness < read this in your language

Holiness is passe. Submission is weird. Or so we're told.

What Is Holiness?

"We misunderstand and distort reality when we take ourselves as the starting point and our present situation as the basic datum."
-- Eugene Peterson, in *Leadership Journal* magazine.

God calls us to be holy. After all, God is holy. (Most of us just assume that, but in the Bible they're so awestruck by God, they keep saying it : 1 Peter 1:15-16; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:4). When we speak of the 'Holy Spirit', we're saying the Spirit is holy. If we are 'indwelt' and even 'filled' with the Spirit, does it mean holiness is in us? But what is holiness? Following the law? A saintly countenance? A quietude people can see? Churchly achievement? Excellent performance? Good deeds? Good PR? Being super nice to everyone?

The holy life is simply living as someone who belongs to God and who lives by the vision of the Kingdom of God. Were it only so simple. For we, on our own, don't have much to work with. We can't rightly envision what a life of holiness is, and even if we could, we couldn't get ourselves to be that way. So, the Spirit brings us into the holiness of Jesus. (I'm not talking about a holiness 'like' Jesus' or a holiness in Jesus' style. Thanks to the Spirit working through your faith, Jesus is really there with you and within you, giving you Jesus's holiness.)

Some Christians emphasize biblical standards of holiness. Some call this legalism, and unfortunately sometimes it is legalism. Firmer roots for personal holiness grow when we recognize that we are broken creatures, through and through. Even our vision of what makes for holiness is marred and twisted. We start growing in Christ as we learn we are strangers to God's ways. This leaves us no recourse but pray for the Spirit's leading. Without the Spirit's work, we not only cannot know God, but we also fail to discover our true selves. The Spirit, through the Bible, shows us what a God-pleasing life is, and leads us to want to live it and treasure it.

God doesn't get appeased by your doing good things, any more than by sacrifice of a virgin or conquest of a nation. God's not impressed. God does better things in the first minute of each morning than anything we ever did. If you need Godliness, only God has it, so only God can give it to you. It is 'earned' in a sense, but only by what Christ did. And through what Christ did, his life, death, and transcendence of death, God gave it to you. The light shines on you, and from there it reflects onto everything else.


Holy Holy is the Lord - but you ain't.

Beyond The Golden Rule

Whether we're Christian or not, we've all been taught the Golden Rule: "do unto others as you would have others do to you". Jesus said it, in a positive restatement of something already in the Jewish oral tradition. When you mentally see yourself in place of those you act upon, the picture becomes clearer. Think like that, and you won't be so eager to do in your main rival at work. We often pull up short when we feel in our own back the knife which we just started to twist into someone else's. This is a good place to start: it's something for us to measure up to. Yet there are some things the matter with the Golden Rule. There is, of course, the sado-masochist twist -- someone doing unto others the torture he so craves from them. A more important problem, though, is that the Golden Rule keeps you in the center of it. No matter how many lessons you learn from trading places, they're still your lessons, and it's still your human capacity to love. This capacity is more like a dinner plate than a deep well, quite shallow when compared with the task at hand of living a loving and holy life.

Jesus takes us beyond the Golden Rule. The first step past it is when Jesus commends Deuteronomy 6:5's Great Commandment about loving God, and the second like unto it, originally from Leviticus (you know, the book everyone loves to avoid), to "love your neighbor as yourself". Jesus then measures this not by your own efforts, but through what is meant by 'neighbor'. Jesus calls on us to be a neighbor, moving the focus from ourselves to others, especially another who is in need.

But one more step is needed. For while this approach enhances your capacity to love, it is still your strained human capacity to love we're giving out. In John's Gospel, Jesus adds the last piece to Godly love, by giving a "new commandment": "that you love one another, just as I have loved you". There is now a new measure : to love as Jesus loved. Right after He said that, He went on His way to setting a standard of love beyond our wildest imaginings : to the cross and the tomb. Then, He gave out a new power to love in such a manner: He emptied His tomb, and went back to God's Beyond, sending the Holy Spirit to us in His place. What the Spirit gives us is Jesus' holiness and Jesus' love, the bottomless well of love. No longer do we have to dish out our own love in saucer portions, we can now drench everybody with love from beyond ourselves. We can now dare to live the life of holy love, trusting that in the end there is no loss where that kind of love is found.
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The cost of surrender doesn't hit us until the accusations start coming. Ask Peter.


"We live in a strange society where we make documentaries of serial killers, movie idols out of organized crime members, authors out of political crooks, and role models out of criminals who beat the system.... I don't know when crime went from being news to entertainment, but somehow it's made the transition."
Erma Bombeck

WHAT SHAPES US

Are we 'without form and void'? Does what's around us determine our shape? If so, the Spirit isn't shaping us. We'd be more like an amoeba than a Christian or a human being. A shapeless lump of a church is not a church which is following the Spirit. A Christian chameleon who blends in with his/her surroundings isn't a Christian at all. Eventually, they regenerate into a degenerate, improve like a newly-repackaged product, renovate into a crack house, and become as just as the fine print in a contract. Likewise, any group that tries to be everything in general and nothing in particular is not worth being a part of. Those who believe in Christ are called to live out the Kingdom. It's different from the others, distinct, holy.

How does the Kingdom stack up with today's moral climate? Think of the attitudes which are becoming more common nowadays:

  • "It's only a crime if I get caught."
  • "Become big enough to get away with it."
  • "I've got to come out of it looking good."
  • "Go do it; you can always cover up the consequences."
  • "It's better to be believed than it is to be truthful."
  • "Rules are made to be broken by me and used against others."

This is the stuff that's filling our minds. Many people even call it "getting real", because 'this is how the real world is'. But there's nothing 'real' about it. It is all about seeming to be what you're not. What's 'real' about that?. In the eyes of God, the Ultimate Reality:

You can't be made holy if you're worrying about protecting yourself or about getting success or sex or fame or power, or even keeping up an image as a 'holy man'. Your life becomes more holey than holy. There's just no place for that before the God who ultimately determines your safety, success, or power. God wants you to really 'get real'. The emperor Ego has no clothes, and the Spirit is the little boy who has the sense to say so.

"My obligation is to do the right thing. The rest is in God's hands."
-- Martin Luther King Jr.


Holiness Within a Larger Context

Living holy is not only pleasing to God, it is displeasing to those who work evil in the world. To live as a follower of Christ and to love your neighbors as yourself is an act of spiritual warfare against evil. The struggle can be waged by acts as simple as :

It could be :

You could choose to do something else, and the idea would not usually be from the Devil. But that idea would still have to be chosen *against* when there is a more Christlike response to be chosen *for*. Thus it could be something like :

Even that which you are allowed to do, which you are morally justified in doing, which would make your life easier, which would give you more success or more control over your life -- even those things are to be turned away, if there is a more Godly choice to make. These spiritual struggles are fought in you and in the parts of society around you, every moment of every day. When Christ says "Follow me", He is showing you the way forward for a holy life.
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"As long as we think we can save ourselves by our own will power, we will only make the evil in us stronger than ever."
-- Heini Arnold, *Freedom From Sinful Thoughts* (Plough, 1973), p.82


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Surrender or submission is about making God's purposes yours.

Holiness Quotes

"When He wore a crown of thorns, do you wish to wear a crown of gold?"
Johann Arndt, *True Christianity*.

"Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things."
Blaise Pascal

"Frightful this is in a sense, but it is true, and every one who has merely some little knowledge of the human heart can verify it: there is nothing to which a man holds so desperately as to his sin."
Søren Kierkegaard

"The reigning cliche of the day is that in order to love others one must first learn to love oneself. This formulation -- love thyself, then thy neighbor -- is a license for unremitting self-indulgence, because the quest for self-love is endless. By the time you have finally learned to love yourself, you'll find yourself playing golf at Leisure World."
Charles Krauthammer in *Time* magazine, 28 June 1993

"[Spirituality] arises from a creative and dynamic synthesis of faith and life, forged in the crucible of the desire to live out the Christian faith authentically, responsibly, effectively, and fully."
Alister McGrath, *Christian Spirituality*

"Everyone thinks of changing humanity, and no one thinks of changing himself."
Leo Tolstoy

"Pietists believe that evangelism is the preaching of the Law, to show man what he is in himself, and of the Gospel, to show how differently God now sees him in Christ and his responsibility to live in this new light. This is the theology of Word and Sacrament -- a creative 'can do' which replaces that 'can't do' of the Law. We reject the cognitive theory of religion that says a man can learn what is right and follow it. We also reject that peculiar.... idea that says when you know the right theology you have reached the goal. We hold that a belief which does not accomplish change has not been assimilated and cannot be classified as Luther's 'true and living faith.'"
Ron Zess

"I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God's will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed."
Maya Angelou

"Men will wrangle for religion; write for it; fight for it; die for it; anything but live for it."
Charles Caleb Colton

"For perfection, it is better for us to go through the crucible and conquer ourselves; to love God, it is better not to be perfect. How much better it is to be with Him than to compose one's perfection."
Eugraph Kovalevsky, *A Method Of Prayer* (Praxis, 1993)

Every time we say, "I believe in the Holy Spirit," we mean that we believe that there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it.
J. B. Phillips, *Plain Christianity*

Illumine our minds, our souls inspire
Vouchsafe to us love's holy fire
Thy wondrous pow'r on us bestow,
That we in grace and strength may grow.
"Creator, Spirit, Heavenly Dove", verse 3
(unknown 8th cent., translated by Luther into German, later translated into English)

"Glory be to 'the Holy Ghost.' Oh, I'm full of spirit, I am not unenlightened. I also have feeling, heart, sentiment, and imagination. But do I ever hold still in order that the wholly Other may fill me with his Spirit and give me a sense of the true priorities in life?"
Helmut Thielicke (as published in *Leadership Journal*, Fall 95)

"Holiness is a state of soul in which all the powers of the body and mind are consciously given up to God."
Phoebe Palmer

"You may as well quit reading and hearing the Word of God, and give it to the devil,
if you do not desire to live according to it."
Martin Luther

Link to a sermon on holy living by Charles Spurgeon.

An Adventist look at following Jesus


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ver.: 13 September 2011
What Holiness Is. Copyright © 1996-2011 by Robert Longman.