I had the dream of anyone who’s ever taught a group of teenagers happen to me last night. One of the girls, a 16 year old (or maybe she’s 15, I can’t remember now, but I’ll guestimate on the high side to give her a moral boost when she reads this) came up to me afterwards to tell me why she and another girl had not been there for youth group that night, because they were helping out with Team Kid, which is some sort of somethingorother where they were teaching younger kids about Holiness, at least on that particular night. So she asks me, “Do you know what that word means? Holy?”
“Well sure, I say… it means ‘set apart.'” I don’t know if she was expecting a bigger answer or not, but that’s my understanding of the basic meaning of the word, and it was right on what they’d apparently been teaching, so we’re on the same wavelength. “So,” I ask her… “are you holy?”
..Gears start turning… “Well, yeah, I guess so… you know, when I ask forgiveness… but only God’s really holy…. Right? Isn’t that what 1 Peter 1:13 says?”
And this is where it starts getting fun for me, because you can see she’s engaged. “Ok… but what’s the Bible say about it? What about where the guy who wrote, ‘…’?” (and I think I misquoted a verse here so I won’t repeat it)… “Didn’t the work Jesus did at the cross make us completely pure in God’s eyes, once and for all?”
“Well yeah…. I guess… but…”
And that’s where we had to leave it, at church. Got a text a bit later with simply “so how do you define holiness?” And so that opened the door to this blog entry, and hopefully a little insight into my place on this journey to understand what holiness IS, and also how it applies and affects my daily life.
So for starters… Sure, holiness means to be set apart. When we talk about it with reference to God, and even ourselves, it relates to purity. It’s a standard we can never meet as humans. God is holy. His holiness is something we can’t even approach; in fact, our corrupted eyes can’t even look upon His holiness. Yet at the same time, as the author of Hebrews wrote, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10) Jesus did something that made us holy, once for all. Not just everytime we pray for forgiveness. Not when we die and go to heaven. What he did on the cross accomplished something for us then and there. I did a quick search on holiness in the Bible as I know there are plenty of references to this, but they’re a bit jumbled up in my heart, and I didn’t want to misquote them again:
- Ephesians 1:4
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love
- Ephesians 5:3
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
- Ephesians 5:26
to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
- Ephesians 5:27
and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
- Colossians 1:2
To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
- Colossians 3:12
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
- Hebrews 2:11
Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
- Hebrews 10:10
And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
This is what I guess I’d call (big word warning) our positional holiness. It’s how God sees us, not because of something we’ve earned for ourselves or come to accomplish, but because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Yes, he paid the price for our sins. But it’s more than that. There’s also a result of those sins being paid for, and that is that God looks at us as if we have never, never ever, committed a single one of those sins when we place our faith in Jesus, and let our lives be hidden in what He did for us. What we’ve done is no longer on the table. It’s not a bargaining chip God can use to send us to heaven or hell (or that Satan can use to accuse us), because when The Father sees us, He sees His Son. He sees THE HOLY ONE. So, in my understanding, that’s where I am. That’s who I am. If God sees me as Holy, then I have the right, even the obligation, to view myself in the same way He views me. Just because I sin doesn’t change His opinion or view of me, so why should it change mine? Sure, it changes the dynamic of our relationship, but it doesn’t change the relationship at it’s core. I am still His adopted son, with the full priviledges of being part of the family. And you are still his child as well.
As I was reading through Hebrews today looking at some of these verses, a few things popped out to me about this work that Jesus accomplished at the cross. I thought they would fit well in here as well, because they show how we get from point A to point B.
- Hebrews 7:26
Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
- Hebrews 9:12
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
- Hebrews 9:25
Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.
The question in the back of my head now, and I think that kept popping up to the forefront of this teen’s heart that I was talking to yesterday, then, is …. WHY DON’T (CAN’T) I ACT LIKE WHO I REALLY AM? Am I that much of a failure? Can God really see me as holy through my anger, through my sarcasm, through my bitterness? Because we clearly don’t act as who God says we are. But yet the Bible still challenges us to live that way:
- 1 Thessalonians 4:7
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
- 2 Timothy 1:9
who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
- Titus 1:8
Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.
And this, I think, is where it all boils down. Before we can begin to live these holy lives that we are instructed to, before we can allow Jesus to show up and act our His life through us, we’ve got to accept that it’s not us doing it at all… It’s God in us. It’s the new creation talked about in Romans. Even though the old self is still alive and kicking, it is, in reality… dead. It is no longer in control. It has been taken hostage by Jesus, and even though it flairs it ugly head time and time again, it is not who we are.
All of this has come to be very practical to me this year as I’ve read through the book of Ephesians a few times. I was talking with some friends earlier in the year about how hard it was / is to attain the standards that are set forth to us in chapters 4-6, where it talks about husbands loving wives, wives submitting to husbands, and children obeying parents. Those standards are crazy high, if not impossible, for us to attain! We constantly fail, we constantly fall short, we constantly miss the mark.
I realized, while at the Indiana Outpost Boot Camp this year, that there are three chapters of Ephesians before you get to chapter 4. And these three chapters set up the second half of the letter. The second half of the letter? All about being practical, about action, about walking our talk. The first half? It’s all about who we are. Our position. Just like this holiness thing, what we do is based on who we are, and who is behind our actions. If it’s our own strength, as it often is, we’ll flop. If it’s Jesus, we’ll be acting just like He would, because it’s Him at work in us doing it in the first place! I wrote a note one day to some buddies with some of the things those first few chapters tell us. I’m going to wrap this up with a simple copy of that original note:
I started reading through the book of Ephesians while on my trip this past week, and writing down all the things Paul reminds us that we ARE and what we ARE NOT. I haven’t made it to chapter 5 yet, but I can see the build up that is occurring in the book as a WHOLE. Paul is not just telling us what to DO. He is challenging us to live up to what we already ARE.
For instance, this is just from the first two chapters:
- We ARE Saints.
- We ARE the Faithful in Christ
- We ARE Chosen.
- We ARE Holy
- We ARE Blameless
- We ARE Predestined
- We ARE Adopted
- We ARE Sons
- We ARE Graced
- We ARE Redeemed
- We ARE Forgiven
- We ARE Predestined to His glory
- We ARE In Him
- We ARE Sealed
- We ARE God’s Own Possession
- We ARE Part of an Inheritance TO Christ
- We WERE dead
- We FORMERLY walked in the world
- We FORMERLY lived in fleshly lust
- We BY NATURE WERE children of death
- We BY NATURE WERE evil as the rest
…BUT GOD… (and you’ve gotta love the BIG BUTS in the Bible)
- We were dead but ARE NOW Alive WITH Christ
- We ARE Raised up
- We ARE Seated with Christ
- We ARE Saved by grace through faith
- We ARE His workmanship
- We WERE FORMERLY separate
- We WERE FORMERLY excluded
- We WERE FORMERLY strangers
- We FORMERLY had no hope
- We ARE NOW Brought Near
- We NOW have access to the Father
- We ARE NO LONGER aliens
- We ARE GROWING into a temple in the Lord
- We ARE BEING built into a dwelling of God
Chapter 3 moves into confidence, boldness, and strength. Chapter four and following (where this part resides) moves into the putting off of the old person (who we ARE NOT) and putting on the new person (who we ARE). It’s not a matter of doing this or doing that to prove who we are… we already ARE that person; there is nothing to prove. There is no condemnation. There need be no guilt. We’ve talked about focusing on the end of the chapter without reading the prerequisites starting in VERSE 1 of the chapter. I challenge me – and all of us – to go all the way back to CHAPTER 1… and that’s just this one little book! There is so much there than just the “practical side” of Christianity. Before we can even really understand that we’ve got to know the “identity” side of it. Who we are. Who we are not.
And that’s all I’ve got right now… I’d welcome your comments and thoughts on this, as I know I’m just touching the surface, and that we’re all on this journey together… but this is my take on things at the moment.