I’m going to preface this blog post the same way I did the last one. There are some things you need to know upfront. First, and most importantly, these words aren’t meant to condemn, but to convict. Second, these words are mainly for me, so there’s no need for you to take things personally, unless you just want to. Third, these are my feelings, my thoughts, my convictions, my experiences—you may disagree, and you have every right to. Fourth, I’m not trying to change your mind or convince you of anything, I am however, asking you to keep an open mind and heart.
That hairdo up there? It’s pretty much a visual of what my definition of holiness used to be: the higher the hair, the closer to God. It’s an illustration of the ideals my religion emphasized as the proper representation of Christ: Be holy, for I am holy (I Peter 1:16); Don’t conform to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2); Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
I’m not making fun or trying to make light of that. Holiness is serious. It’s something that should be on every Christian’s radar—something we’re striving for. I do, however, think that what I learned about holiness was somewhat misrepresented. Yes, holiness is an important way of living, but we alone do not bear the burden of personal holiness. Now before you get all worked up, please hear me out. Yes, it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to Christ, but it is also vital to accept the fact that we do not have that power within ourselves.
I always walked away from church with the notion that my holiness depended on me—that if I couldn’t tow the fine line of perfection in my actions and attitudes and appearance and speech, I was not holy. Consequently, I felt like a failure all the time. The concept of grace was not really stressed; the hellfire and damnation approach was used often. There was an emphasis on separation, on being set apart, on removing oneself from the world and its evil influence. And I get it, I really do. We’re not supposed to be like everyone else; we’re supposed to be salt and light.
I was surrounded by people who could tell you freely what would send you to hell, but they didn’t necessarily model the actions that would send you to heaven. For instance, loving your neighbor as yourself meant loving your churchy neighbors—not the worldly, smelly, addicted, dancing, smoking, drinking, cussing, hussybelle-looking, lost ones; helping in the community meant helping in your church community, not the actual one you lived in.
And I think in that attempt at separation from the world—because of the tendency to depend on our own ability to be holy instead of fully accepting God’s grace and blood-covering that is the only thing that can ever actually make us holy—we created an exclusive gospel. In an effort to stay quarantined so none of the vulgarities of the world would jump on us, we created a chasm of fear. And because of that, our only involvement with the world became to tell them to repent without jumping into the dirty trenches to offer grace and help and guidance and support for the repenting. Our involvement became judgmental and harsh; we changed to the Pharisaical definition of “neighbor” so we wouldn’t risk our own holiness.
But how does that holiness help? How does a holiness that shows more of our differences than our similarities, a holiness that creates more division than communion, reflect Christ’s holiness? How does staying in our own life groups and church pews and Sunday school classes share His holiness with those who need it most?
I’ve had to change my personal perspective on holiness; I’ve had to recalculate all the components that equal holy living. To do that, I had to revisit the definition of holiness. To be holy is to be dedicated or devoted to the service of God, to be saintly, godly, pious, and devout. To be holy is to be devoted to the service of God, to follow His rules and example. And when I do that, it’s clear to me that separation is not the answer; Jesus was inclusive—He didn’t separate Himself from anyone in an effort to remain unsullied. Instead, He went straight to the people who needed Him most—sinners and thieves and liars and hypocrites—people a lot like me. He took His holiness to them. He wasn’t afraid it would wash off when He waded through the muck and mire of their lives. Jesus was secure because His holiness came from God living in Him.
And guess what? We’ve got that too—God living in us. He is the One who makes us holy. He is the one who covers and washes and protects and cleans. He is the one who gives us the power to make right choices. It’s not going to wash off when we wade through the muck and mire to help others. We can be in the world (not in our own carefully carved out niche—the real thing) and not of it.
What does the practical, every-day version of holy, consecrated, washed clean look like? It looks like us.
Holey, imperfect, incomplete, without-all-the-answers people who are wholly, fully, committed, recklessly abandoned to trying their best to live every day the way Jesus did.
Holey + Wholly = Holy