Last year a couple friends and I followed the trail of a burden God put on our hearts to reach the women at our church and month after month we’ve seen him do what only he can do – change lives, bind hearts, and produce fruit.
Every month we have a speaker and then discussion time. The discussion time is the gold. It’s a priority for us to give everyone a chance to share their hearts and lives and how that night’s particular topic particularly touched them. We can find good teaching on the Internet, we don’t need actual humans in our lives for that. But what we do need actual humans in our lives for is to connect with others. Taking the risk to put your thoughts and heart out there, and to hear more times than not, Me too. You’re not alone. I’ve been there. I am there, doggone it.
A couple of weeks ago we were scrambling for a speaker for September and were hitting dead ends at every turn. At this same time I woke right up in the middle of the night with this phrase splayed across my mind: the pursuit of holiness. And I knew that God wanted me to speak to that at our next meeting.
Which was last night. So last night I spoke on the topic of pursuing holiness as followers of Christ. Several people asked me about notes afterwards and since that would have required me actually thinking ahead I didn’t have them. So instead I’m going to write a post on this same subject, using my notes from last night as a guide.
I’ve been burdened and grieved more and more with the passing years at the increasing lack of holiness in many Christians’ lives. There is increasing indiscernibility between the lives of people who profess to be followers of Christ and those who don’t.
It’s considered antiquated, irrelevant, and out of touch. And for the few who may try to keep up with it, it often turns into one of four things:
1. Moralism – a person who simply tries to have high standards and do good, however that might be interpreted according to the individual.
2. Legalism – a person who tries very hard to avoid x, y, and z, while also maintaining the appearance of doing a, b, and c.
3. Separatism – a person who has a distorted definition of what it is to be a “believer” and avoids and excommunicates those who believe differently. The best example I’ve seen with my own eyes is politics. E.g. I’m a “Christian” because I vote this way and if you align with a different political party, then you’re obviously not a Christian.
4. Perfectionism – a person who has a general knowledge of right and wrong and tries very hard to error on the side of doing right every single time. We all obviously know this is impossible so this person often gets stuck in a cycle of try hard – fail – beat one’s self up – repeat.
Attempted holiness can also often fall off the wagon into self-righteousness, which is a close cousin of separatism. I once had a friend tell me that he could no longer support me because the person we had hosted for a women’s conference had differing political beliefs than him. He actually deduced Biblical brotherhood to having uniform political beliefs. I just can’t. Even all these years later I just can’t. But that happens all the time! Less and less are we known for having lives that look like the life of Christ and more and more we’re known for having strong and harshly presented opinions about politics.
And that usually turns into a raging case of self-righteousness.
Jesus told a parable to highlight the self-righteous person:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. – Luke 18:9.
Self-righteousness breeds contempt toward others.
I would never do that. I can’t believe that person got caught doing that. I have my weaknesses but at least I’m not like that guy. Can you imagine?
While both self-righteousness and true holiness make distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil, sin and righteousness, their source is entirely different. One is a spring in which living water overflows. The other is a cesspool that defiles many with its toxicity.
The Biblical definition of holiness means to be “separate or set apart.”
There is positional holiness, which is holiness that’s given as a free gift of God’s mercy towards us. We repent of our sin, we confess and believe that Jesus is Lord and God’s son, we are made new creations, and we’re given his Holy Spirit as a pledge and seal for eternity.
That’s positional holiness. Nothing we can do to earn it or lose it or to be made worthy of it. God set his affections on us, he loved us while we were yet sinners and far away, he drew us to himself, he loved us with a great love, he freely gave when we had nothing to give in return. We are now in Christ, sealed for the day of redemption, and our lives are hidden in Christ. We no longer live, Christ lives in us.
BUT. That’s just the beginning.
We now walk onward in progressive holiness.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).
(There are so many verses that speak to the intentional and deliberate act of walking in this new life that we’ve been given, that I’m going to just place them at the end.)
BUT. Not only do we find that most Christians are not growing in the grace and holiness of our Lord, we’re allowing for more and more conformity to the world in the name of relevance. Our entertainment choices are the same. Our drinking habits are the same. Our curse words are the same. Except we put on our Sunday face and slip into Christianese and cite our good works and we feel justified.
As if God is actually pleased with our relevance at the expense of his holiness.
Have you ever heard this from the mouth of a believer:
I’ve been a Christian for long enough that I can handle (fill-in-the-blank). I’m mature enough to know what I can handle and this (usually in regards to something questionable) doesn’t affect me.
Let’s interject some Scripture here. That seems appropriate, considering.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:14
Do you know what this is saying? That for those who are actually maturing in the faith, our discernment gets increasingly so fine-tuned that distinguishing good and evil becomes sharper and sharper. We become more sensitive to evil and sin. Not less. In 2nd Peter it says that righteous Lot was greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the culture around him. Greatly distressed. Not accepting of it. Not amused by it. Not hardened to it. Not adhering to it. Greatly distressed. Another translation says tormented. That seems excessive.
I think we’re so conformed to this world that not only are we not tormented or, let’s bring it down a notch, even distressed by sin, that we’ve ceased to even be able to discern sin as sin anymore.
Purity of heart and life have become exceedingly rare.
So how do we become people that are pursuing holiness from a pure heart? How do we become people whose lives are marked by the character of Christ and power of the Holy Spirit? How do we become people who are truly maturing in the faith and able to increasingly discern good from evil?
Tune in for Part II next week and we’ll tackle it together!