May 1, 2012

The Truth About Holiness


Holiness doesn’t look like I thought it did.

Maybe that sounds like a funny confession for a Tuesday morning. It probably is.

I used to think it meant one thing. I used to think it with all my heart, believing that I had the monopoly on Truth. And maybe at one point, I was right.  But somewhere in my life, I got mixed up as to what holiness was. I started believing polite half-truths because I didn’t know any better. But that was toxic.

I woke up one day in my mid-20s realizing that all I had thought about holiness was wrong. That I had believed so many nice lies that I wasn’t sure what the truth was any more. So I set off on a journey to rediscover what it meant.

Holiness isn’t Boring.

I used to think that holiness was just another word for boring. You probably have thought the same, even if you don’t care to admit it out loud. That’s what we’ve been taught from the beginning, even in Sunday School. It’s a lie from the world that is mimicked in the church.

When I was a kid, the church I went to elevated certain people as holier than others. The funny thing is, I don’t think any one in the Bible would have made the cut. Not if you really looked at them for who they were as people. They were really messed up and they knew it. At church, people are messed up and they pretend otherwise.

At my church, holiness was the slightly awkward kid who wore his pants a little too high. The one who could quote half the Bible. His shirt was always starched, his tie always tied just perfectly, and his hair may have been slicked back. A very white Steve Urkle.

Holiness was the girl who played the piano and quilted blankets for orphans in Russia. She was the embodiment of the Proverbs 31 woman who never learned to live it up a bit.  Her idea of fun was picking out new sheet music to play for the church offertory. I can gently poke fun at her because I was her. So were many of my best friends.

Holiness was the couple who never smiled. They did their good deeds, couldn’t take a compliment, and kept their children in line like little busy chicks. They always looked tired because they were at the church every time the door opened. Everything they did was carefully chosen. Weighed. If it was found wanting, it was a reflection on their eternal destination.

None of those people were happy. Not really. They wore smiles on the outside but they were the thin type that was painted on like a veneer. The ache in their soul, the longing for more, was there. Just stifled under a desire to be holy.

You’d think that holiness would produce happiness. Jesus said He came to bring life, abundant life. So why were His followers so dour?

Happiness should come out of your holiness, your relationship with the Creator. I heard a sermon about this the other day. The pastor was famous but he wasn’t the type that took his fame seriously. He was earnest when he said that God wanted better lives for His children. God didn’t go to all the trouble to create and redeem a world if He didn’t delight in its inhabitants.

In religion, holiness is another word for death. In a gospel-shaped faith, holiness brings vibrant life. – Click here to tweet.

Holiness Looks a Lot Like Jesus

As I’ve read the Bible, something started jumping out at me.

The system is broken.

Even if you were to try to keep all the laws in the Old Testament, you wouldn’t be able to. No matter how hard you tried, it wouldn’t change the fact that as humans, we’re broken. Broken by sin, bad choices, and a thousand good intentions that left us shattered beyond any hope of super-glueing our lives back together.

The Bible says that all of our righteousness, all of our best attempts, are repulsive to God.  We’re damned. It sucks but that’s the harsh reality of life. Buckle up kids.

It doesn’t really seem fair. The odds are ever against us. Even on our best days, we’re doomed.

Enter Jesus. The ultimate hero of humanity.

This is where the story changes in a confusing plot twist. He knew we couldn’t do it. He knew that even though we strive, tithe, sacrifice, and push ourselves to our limits, we’d never hit the holiness factor. For some, that’s an excuse to give up trying. For others, it’s a mandate to try even harder. To prove that we don’t need God.

We’re idiots, all of us. Jesus didn’t come to make us nice people.

The famous pastor went on to say something that raised a few eyebrows in the church. He said that Jesus didn’t come to modify our behavior. He came to change our hearts.

That made a lot of sense to me.

See, when I try to change my behavior or do things on my own, I get frustrated. I’m not disciplined enough to always do the right thing. I’m a very far cry from perfect. When I try my hardest, I usually end up swearing or plastering on a fake smile.

Out of all the people in the Bible, God was the most upset with the fakers. They were the ones who thought they could do it on their own. That their own attempts at holiness were good enough to make them gods in their own right. In control of their destiny.

I’ve been reading a book and the author talks about faking being a form of identity theft. Of claiming God’s name but really, doing it all on your own. He says that’s what God gets upset with. People who claim they are pointing to God but are often pointing right back at themselves. I think a lot of us are faking holiness, even if we don’t realize it. And I think that’s a very sad and dangerous game to be playing.

The truth is that none of us can fake our way to Heaven. We can’t fake our way on earth either.

I think it’s really only through Jesus that you have any shot at being holy. It’s not because Jesus is a moderately nice guy either. I don’t think Jesus let himself be murdered because He was a nice guy.  Even nice has it’s limits.

See, I think there’s something richer that all of us need to believe – Jesus died because He loved us and knew He was our only shot at being holy.

He took the blame so we wouldn’t have to.

So that when God looked at us, He wouldn’t see all of our best attempts that ended up as crap. He bled out so God would see someone holy, someone whole, someone who had no reason to stand ashamed.

It’s one of those crazy mysteries in life. I can’t always explain it in pretty words but I know it’s true. With Jesus, I’m holy. Without Jesus, I’m damned. There’s no middle ground.

The secret to holiness isn’t what you do. It’s Who you know. And you need to know Jesus. – Tweet this.

I think a lot of people’s lives would change if they could wrap their minds around that.

See, I think one of the reasons Jesus is after our heart is because He knows that when you fall in love, your behavior changes. You aren’t worried about rules because you are too busy thinking about the other person and how to bring a smile to their face.

The Secret to Holiness is…

Your holiness is not your responsibility. Because you can’t earn or fake holiness.

Your holiness is a byproduct of your relationship with Jesus.

What do you think?

Image by  jonathan vdk

Originally Published: May 1, 2012
Category: Christian Living
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