“Do American Christians Need the Message of Grace or a Call to Holiness?” That is a question recently posed for discussion by Christianity Today. The question hits home. One comment directed my way over the last few years was, “Phillip, you need to preach more on holiness and less on grace.” That statement probably reflects more on my poor preaching than anything else. I was glad to see through this article that the tension between grace and holiness is not isolated to my little world.
The desire is right – we want to live “holy lives.” But what does that mean? And how do we do it? Today, let’s talk what it means.
I’m telling my age, but I can’t hear the word “holy” without thinking of the old Batman TV show from the 60s. Before the dark, deep, Batman movies of today, there was the campy, cheesy TV Batman with his side-kick Robin. Each week the duo would fight the colorful criminals of Gotham City and each week Robin would come out with a new take on “holy” – “Holy Caffeine,” “Holy slipped disc,” “Holy popcorn,” “Holy hole in a donut.” Yes, this was entertainment.
I wonder, are we as off the mark as to the meaning of holy as is Robin? Most of us think that being holy is being good. Being holy is being better than everybody else. Holiness is doing this or not doing that. Holiness is following the rules. Sermons on holiness are often punctuated with words like “should” and “must.”
The word used by Biblical writers translated “holy” basically means “set apart.” To be holy is to be set apart by God, to God, for God. Think of it like this: I am holy to Denise. I am set apart to and for her. No more dating around for me. The day I entered Christ, God set me apart to Him. He set me apart from my old nature and gave me a new nature (Romans 6:6). He made me holy. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Verse 17 says the temple of God is holy and you are that temple.”
My body is a temple? As the country song goes, “She treats her body like a temple. Hey, I treat mine like a honky tonk.”
Pretty outrageous statement by Paul, isn’t it? I am a temple. God lives in me. And this temple is holy. I don’t have to try to be holy. I already am. God said so.
A little cocky, calling myself holy? A little full of myself, you think? Full of something for sure. What makes a person holy is Jesus. Paul put it like this, “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” 1Corinthians 1:30
You remember the Corinthian Christians, don’t you? They were like characters in a country song – really messed up – backbiting, picking sides, sleeping around, you name it they probably did it. Yet, Paul starts his letter to them like this, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling…” 1 Corinthians 1:2
The point: Our behavior does not determine who we are. Their holiness didn’t have anything to do with what they did or didn’t do. It was God’s doing and their position in Christ that made them holy (See 1Corinthians 1:30 again).
Do you see where grace comes in? Do you see how grace is connected to holiness?
Grace and holiness – like peanut butter and jelly.
Grace is the simple reality that Jesus did everything. We are saved through grace. We are holy through grace. To preach holiness without grace is behavior modification.
Christian growth does not happen by behaving better but by believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already done for us.
What is holiness? It is Jesus. He is the definition of holiness and by the working of God’s grace, he has become our holiness too.