Monday, January 26, 2004

"Innocent Jane's got an innocent name..."

"...But she'll confess to you--everybody's guilty."

Been thinking about holiness for the last few weeks. It seems like I go through these seasons where I'm growing closer to God, reading the Word, digging in, changing some habits, and then like the tide, I wash out, and start back at the beginning. There are several reasons why this happens, but they all add up to a combination of half-hearted commitment and the foolish idea of self-help.

Commitment to Christ isn't a buffet style event, like my recent selection of insurance plans. I had to choose which part I wanted in each category, weighing cost versus benefit.

And although we spout so much noise to the contrary, sometimes our "commitment" to following Christ turns into that. We're willing to go to church, but not to witness. We'll read the Bible sometimes, but won't sacrifice sleep or TV to do so. We'll give up a few kinds of entertainment (usually things we don't care for, anyway) but won't even consider giving up other kinds ('you don't understand, I *have to* watch "Sex in the City"').

It's like the kid who says he wants to give to the poor, and fills his bag with brussel sprouts and itchy, ugly sweaters. We're willing to give up things we never liked to begin with.

But sometimes God asks us to change in ways we don't want to. He tries to shake up areas of our lives that are comfortable. To paraphrase a line I read recently, God's more interested in carving our character than catering to our comfort. And he'll ask us to let go of things that we hold dearly, whether we realize that we do or not.

Not only can I be half-hearted in commitment, but I also get this idea that I can fix myself. We think of holiness as a plan of action. "If I do this, this, and this, I'll be more holy." But we misread the Bible when that's our focus. In my translation of the Bible, God says, "Be holy, as I am holy." He doesn't say "become" holy. But too many times, we try to "become" holy, and we fail miserably, because we lean on our own strength.

It's almost laughable to think about. When we are tempted and fall, we then base our plan of personal redemption on the strength of our own will to do right--the very will that failed to begin with. Like breaking your foot and then trying to prove your fortitude by walking to the doctor. You may get a step or two in the right direction, but you'll end up falling again.

Our "will" is malfunctional. It's broken. It's weak. Because it's based on our own power, as if any of us can save ourselves. If we could do that, Jesus wouldn't have had to come down to earth. His death on the cross would mean nothing.

But it did mean something, because he healed us when we couldn't heal ourselves. And when we understand and live in the knowledge of that healing, we find peace. He has made us holy, as in "set apart." We couldn't set ourselves apart.

But by our own power, we *can* blend back in.

That's what we do. We blend. We follow. We get caught up in so many unimportant material things, that we lose focus on the fact that we are set apart.

That's part of what God's been saying to me lately. I had forgotten that I was set apart, and I was blending into the world around me. And God the Father, in his wisdom, has been calling me back. He still says "Be holy, as I am Holy."

We are called to be set apart. The question is whether we are willing to live out this truth in a daily way.

There's an article in Relevant Online about holiness. The author really hammers home that holiness can't be earned, and that we should focus on God's holiness instead of our unholiness. I'm not sure if I agree with that totally. Yes, we cannot be holy on our own, and yes, our attention should always be on God rather than on us.

But holiness (in a day-to-day sense) is not automatic, like salvation. Just because we are set apart doesn't mean we are clean. Not yet. And we can't ignore the fact that we still have attitudes and habits that keep us from being clean, and these flaws in our character must be fought and overcome through Christ's power.

I don't know, I may be wrong about all of this. But I don't trust any attitude that tries to glaze over the sinfulness of human nature, and the daily need for grace. I may be misreading him, but that's what the Relevant author sounded like he was doing. We can't de-emphasize our daily mistakes without losing our understanding of how desparate our need is for grace. I'm not talking about wallowing in guilt--i've done that too.

What I mean is we need a realistic view of things. If you are a Christian, you are the King's redeemed child, filthy and bleeding but forgiven. Nothing can remove you from God's love or faithfulness, but you have to choose to live as His child. And being the child of the king means giving up your old rags, and not playing in the filth anymore. We can choose to do that. We must choose daily to do that. Or else we'll look like everyone else's children.

Thoughts? Maybe discussion of the difference (if any) between holiness and sanctification (we're getting all theological now)?

I don't claim to have the answers. I'm still working through this. But this is what I've got so far.

If you're still reading, thanks for sticking through this. I appreciate it.

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