Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘how to be holy’

The Hole in our Holiness

Good SamaritanWhat’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!


No Excuse for Hiding

happy people in a restaurant!

I suspect James 4:4 is one of the most misunderstood verses in the New Testament.  “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

Quite a few denominations and large numbers of church members have quoted this verse over the years as a warning to stay away from “worldly” people who don’t love Jesus. Tragically, that’s not the point the writer is making.  To the contrary, earlier in 2: 8-9, James has already instructed his readers, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”  You cannot love your neighbor as yourself if you avoid him because his values don’t match yours.

In the New Testament, the world denotes  a sensual way of life, a godless system of values, a worldview- not a person or a community.  This is clear is 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  We don’t love worldly priorities or worldly possessions, but we are always expected to love people. If we don’t love them and don’t know them, we cannot influence them or disciple them.

Not long ago, someone I respect described a charitable event he and his wife had attended.  It sounded interesting and unusual, so I asked if this was somehow related to the church they attend.  He replied that it was not: most of their church friends would not participate because wine was served at the event.  That’s too bad.  No one appreciates the desire to live a holy life more than I do, but surely part of holiness must be an durable, authentic love for other people.

If you and I are going to avoid any event where wine is served, where profanity is used conversationally, or where most people don’t share our priorities, we will have to declare most areas of life off limits.  (Seriously, most of us won’t even be able to go to work!)  In that case, the government will never need to pass laws or send secret police to silence the church.  We will have silenced ourselves, duct taped our own mouths, and  shut ourselves out of ministry.

And perhaps worst of all, we will have failed to visibly demonstrate the love of God and the compassion of a Savior who attended dinner parties with hedonists and heathens.

Lift  up the Cross!

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