Let’s continue thinking about holiness. There seems to be a conflict. Christianity Today asks the question, “Do American Christians Need the Message of Grace or a Call to Holiness?” What is your answer? My answer has not always been warmly received. I’m still trying to figure out why. Personally, grace is like ice-cream. You can’t have too much.
Maybe Paul clears up the confusion when he tells us to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24) “True holiness?” Did you catch that? If there is true holiness, there must be false holiness. Maybe we’re all hung up on a holiness that is false.
False holiness is about keeping Christian rules.
False holiness is about keeping away from bad influences.
See any problem with the above definitions of holiness? One big one! Jesus. Jesus was holy. No question about that. Yet, Jesus broke quite a few religious rules – so many and so often that the religious leaders put him to death. Maybe Christianity is not about keeping the rules.
Keeping away from bad influences? Jesus kind of messes with that one as well. “A friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19), Jesus was called. He hung out with and even ate with people who were “bad influences.” The Gospel writers didn’t say that Jesus tolerated sinners, or that he made an allowance for them to be in his gathering. It doesn’t say that he tract-bombed them and then ran. No, the writers tell us that he was a friend of sinners. He went to their houses, talked with them over wine (not grape juice).
For those who follow a false holiness, holiness requires them to keep away from certain people. For Jesus, holiness compelled him to reach out to those same people.
So, no one lived a holier life than Jesus, yet he broke religious rules and the irreligious considered him to be their friend.
False holiness is controlling my sin. Borrowing the term from Dallas Willard, holiness is all about “sin management.” In this view of holiness, the gospel is little more than a list of good behaviors. Christianity is about being good and making sure other people are good. We focus on our behavior and even more so at times, other’s behaviors. Result? We turn into guilt-ridden, judgmental, list-makers. And the sins keep popping up like “Whack-a-mole.”
There’s a better way. True holiness. Think about this until next time: What was the first sin about? A broken rule or a broken relationship? Did God really care about a piece of fruit? When Adam and Eve broke the rule they were demonstrating that they didn’t trust God. They doubted God’s love and goodness.
St. Augustine once said, “Love God, then do what you please.” Paul puts it like this: “For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised (Fill in your own rule here). What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” Galatians 5:6
“Faith (dependence on Jesus), expressing itself in love.” Now, that’s true holiness.