What’s the difference between holiness and relevance? For starters, holiness is what followers of Jesus used to value. Relevance is the priority that replaced it.
Striving for holiness means the direction of my life is visibly different from most people because my purpose and objectives are godly and eternal. Reaching for relevance means I value the same things my unbelieving neighbor’s value and I’m eager to prove it. Holiness means God is my audience, but relevance is cultivated to please the people in the bleachers.
Imagine this: if you have been robbed, beaten, and left for dead lying by the road, will you really care who stops to help? I mean, while you’re drifting into a coma if the first person who stops is Chris Pratt or Scarlett Johansen or an insecure, middle-aged postman, does it really matter at all? Scarlett and Chris are cool, but who could possibly be more relevant to you than someone who cares enough to stop and care for you? Will you be offended if the person who stops to save your life is a human trafficker? We are so fearful that holiness might be a turn-off to the lost. Not if we approach desperate people, fully determined to love them and meet them where they are.
People who are out of step with the pop culture are never celebrated as relevant. That’s what holy means, of course: out of step, on a different path because of a different purpose. The thing that makes us holy is not stern morality: it’s love. Holy love never condescends, but it does stoop to help a fallen neighbor. Godly love esteems others before self; it pays the price, even if the price is death. You know what the Holy Bible says: “Love never fails.”
What does it mean when underpaid deputies and soldiers are expected to risk everything for others, but Christians insist on watching safely from the Comfort Zone? It means somebody has a high view of duty and a low view of love. Somehow, low wages and civic duty mean first responders and soldiers must risk everything for others, but the death of Jesus on the cross calls for nothing on the part of his followers. We don’t have to strive for the greatest kind of love; just be nice and go along to get along, right?
The hole in our holiness is that very low view of love. We don’t allow for the love of God to be perfected in us. We don’t believe that love always strives and never fails. We insist that we all sin against one another, but we fail to grasp that a sinner who loves is one who also repents and asks others to forgive him. Symbolic love has no ambition.
Holiness doesn’t mean I am the most moral person on my block. It means I am the one most likely to care; to stop and help; to sacrifice for a stranger. The holiest person in your church may have never thought about sustainable agriculture or fair trade coffee or human trafficking. But when your heart is broken, or your joblessness lasts longer than expected, or you test positive for some risky health condition, the most relevant person in the whole world will be the one who stops to help.
Some people know political action. Some people care about the arts. But when you’re trapped, there’s no one more welcome than someone who knows God well and shows up with love. If you and I can’t do that, worship style, mission trips, and Bible translations don’t matter at all.
Lift up the Cross!