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Be Holy? Get Real!
In an encounter with Moses, God laid out this command: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Moses must’ve swallowed dryly as a lump solidified at the back of his throat. We can almost hear him echo God: Be holy, because I am holy. How is that possible?
That question ought to resonate with us because we react in much the same way. The magnificent holiness of God is mind-boggling, and then we realize with awe that we are called to be holy because he is holy. How is that possible?
As the full weight of God’s expectations settle into us, we rationalize our entirely normal imperfections and make excuses for our humanity as we slice, dice and parse chapters and verse until we can cast a shadow of holiness that resides within the realm of our wisdom and knowledge.
However, God transcends our wisdom and knowledge, beckoning us to cultivate a tight connection to him that is supernatural and yes, holy. In our educated and enlightened state, we protest and complain that holy is an Old Testament word and holiness is an archaic concept.
Despite our fast-paced objections to the contrary, God’s requirement remains unchanged; despite the disintegrating morality that engulfs us, God’s people are still called to be holy; despite misguided legalism with its legacy of wounds and guilt, we must live and communicate holiness.
"Therefore go and make
disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the
name of the Father and
of Son and of the Holy
Spirit, and teaching
them to obey everything
I have commanded you."
~Jesus of Nazareth~
A Complete Mystery
If we are serious about holiness, then it is necessary for us to develop a fluid way of thinking that allows it to be effectively poured into new and different wineskins because it must be accessible to a post-Christian culture. Otherwise it is all superficial balderdash reserved only for religious insiders. If that is the case, then our faith has no integrity at all.
We can no longer use antiquated language that makes no effort to communicate Biblical truth to a pluralistic society. It is self-evident that in some circles the language of the holiness movement is a sacred cow that needs to be sacrificed on the altar of the Great Commission. It is extremely problematic to make disciples speaking an exclusive language that is obsolete and outmoded.
We cannot allow religious terms and phrases to be a stumbling block or a pile of cultural rubbish surrounding the cross of Calvary. To continue to do so is to make a mockery of God’s words to Moses and to us: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
If we were to exercise some gut-check honesty, we would admit that holiness is a complete mystery to us. When we take away its pious glamour and strip it down to a word rooted in the full spectrum of human emotion, then the mystery of holiness whispers at the outside edge of reason, challenging us to dip deeper into the well of discipline.
How would you explain holiness?
Linguistic endeavors and mental gymnastics aside, God working with and within us to shape a practical spiritual vitality is a labyrinthine mine shaft with rich veins of truth requiring our continual efforts.
Biblical holiness outshines our hopes and fears as it keeps us in a constant state of growth and renewal, but its dynamics are an absolute perplexity to us. We teach it, preach it and attempt to live it, but when it comes to understanding; our comprehension of holiness is nebulous at best.
If that sounds like a cop-out or some soft-shoe dancing around a vital but difficult doctrine, then go ahead, explain holiness. Or better yet, survey ten different people from diverse age brackets, backgrounds and experiences. Ask each one of them to explain holiness.
My point is twofold: First, we make a grievous error when we assume there is a common meaning to a word that is shaded with rich hues of color and perspective. Holiness makes some people think about shouting and an experiential moment in time that settled spiritual matters for them once and for all.
For others the word holiness causes them to shiver with bad memories of destructive bondage, because it prescribed a rigid pattern of dress and behavior that was strictly enforced. Others see it as a high-energy sensation that must be repeated again and again, and still others recognize the super and natural aspects of walking with God, where the process of grace and growth has a perpetual motion to it.
Second, our error magnifies itself when we reflect the impression that for us there are no questions, no doubts, no wrestling or struggles with this primal command from God: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
When we eliminate the mystery of holiness because we claim to have fixed and firm answers to all the intimate and intricate questions, we engage in an idolatry of pride and arrogance that diminishes the sovereignty of God and denies the uniqueness of individual personality.
"There's a whole lot of people
From the disease of conceit.
Whole lot of people
from the disease of conceit.
Comes right down the highway
Straight down the line
Rips into your senses
Through your body
and your mind
Nothing about it that's sweet
The disease of conceit."
Disease Of Conceit
It seems that we historically mistake strong sentiments and dogma for holiness. Too often personal convictions and consciences supersede Scripture. We take pleasure in the comfortable routine of tradition and come to believe that what we have been is what we always must be, so we draw a line in the sand and hunker down to protect our turf.
We come to enjoy the faithful remnant mindset or glory in being lone voices crying in the wilderness, but in doing so we disregard the progressive and unfolding nature of God’s revelation to us.
There is nothing inherently wrong with advancing strong opinions or standing alone on any given issue, but as Bob Dylan put it, we humans are infected with the “disease of conceit” which blinds us to the folly of our ego.
The “disease of conceit” is our sin nature and it instills in us an infinite capacity to transform nonessentials into essentials, then we weave those nonessentials into our message. More often than not those nonessentials are rooted in memory, interpretational bias or cultural preference rather than Scripture.
If our personal convictions or consciences separate us from or splinters the body of Christ, how can that possibly be holiness? After all, love must be the epitome of holiness and the Apostle Paul exhorts us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
If our attitudes, lifestyle or expression of holiness repels people from the gospel, then we cannot be experiencing Biblical holiness. Jesus of Nazareth modeled holiness in the first century, so if we desire to be genuine in our relationship with God and in our relationship with the world around us, we ought to re-examine Christ’s life to relearn timeless truths.
Christ embodied holiness, yet the ne’er-do-wells, social outcasts and sinners flocked to him without fear of rejection because he embraced them all with open arms. Those not good enough or religiously correct enough to be warmly welcomed in the synagogues found faith, hope and love in Christ.
His holiness did not separate him from them, but rather, Christ boldly and unashamedly invaded the seamy underbelly of their world with a peace and serenity that was magnetic in its appeal. He sat with them, partied with them and related to them as individuals made in the image of God. His lifestyle message had an inclusive quality to it that invited and encouraged everyone to participate in sincere community and experience heartfelt relationships.
The holiness Christ displayed did not carry judgment for those seeking the kingdom. Nor did it denounce those on the outside looking in who were asking questions and testing and trying to fathom the riddles of their spiritual dimension. Neither did it have rules, customs or big-stick enforcement that turned people into sanctified sourpusses.
But in an incarnation of the inexplicable dichotomy of God, Christ’s holiness did carry judgment for those elite guardians of religious purity who “shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.” This gentle outsider from Nazareth confronted those religious insiders who were determined to strain out gnats and debate the finer points of theology, while missing the essence of justice, mercy and faithfulness.
Jesus did not use any weak-kneed or politically correct terminology when he took the scribes and Pharisees to task because they had their religion all figured out and wrapped up in a package with ribbons of regulations tying it all together. That fact should be a red-flag warning for us to subdue the conceited control-freak, who in one degree or another occupies a dark corner in each of our hearts.
Christ’s blanket condemnation of religiosity should challenge us to persistently strengthen the vitality of our personal and corporate relationship with God.
How would you evaluate & grade yourself at living out what you say you believe?
What should holiness look like nowadays? Actually, when we get right down to it, twenty-first century holiness has exactly the same characteristics as the first century holiness celebrated by Christ. His life had the stamp of authenticity. There was no gap between what he believed and his attitudes, actions and words. How far short of that standard do we fall?
Holiness equals spiritual authenticity, and it must speak to us of our desperate need to be endlessly at work narrowing the distance between what we say we believe and how we live. Authenticity is all about honesty; honesty with each other, honesty with ourselves and honesty with God.
Honesty is something we affirm aloud, but in our silent moments alone with God we often cringe away from it and slip into denial mode.
As the shining light of God’s holiness probes the darkest recesses of our hearts to expose our hidden motivations and concealed secrets, we always have a choice. We can choose to change and grow, or we can stiffen our resistance to the process of grace and growth, which results in regression, bitterness and ultimately a withering spiritual death.
By all outward appearances we can be living and breathing, but in reality be cold and dead on the inside. Jesus referred to those who practiced this religious hypocrisy as “white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”
The symbiotic alliance between grace and growth can empower us to clean out the musty closets and crawl spaces of our lives or we can choose to slam those doors shut and effectively exchange spiritual authenticity for a phony dualism layered with overlapping contradictions.
God could have put it this way to Moses: “Be real, because I am real.” Be real, be honest, be genuine, be authentic. Be holy.
No veneer of religion; no mask of propriety; no pretentious sanctimony; no straitjacketed emotions; no fictionalization of the human experience; no sugarcoating sin in a glaze of respectability; no convoluted adherence to “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than Christ.”
Fear & Trembling
Being real does not happen in a heartbeat or in solitary confinement. It is hammered and forged and perfected over the course of a lifetime in Christ within the grace-induced ebb and flow of community.
It is an intentional synergy between God and us as individuals, and also as God’s people at this point in history. In spite of the panoramic diversity of our failures and our complete inability to be consistent in words and deeds, we must covenant together to be real in our holiness.
It may be complicated to explain, impossible to adequately comprehend and difficult to live with a satisfactory wholeness, but it continues to be a Divine imperative: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Given that inarguable reality, we must be vigilant as we labor together to fashion a twenty-first century holiness that clearly reflects the compelling love and mercy of God as demonstrated by a carpenter from Nazareth.
Is it any wonder that a tentmaker from Tarsus approached this seminal task with fear and trembling? Can we do any less?
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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