What do you think of when you hear the word holiness? It might evoke in you images of people walking around in brilliant white gowns. Perhaps Mother Teresa diligently working in the slums of Calcutta comes to mind. But when we as people of God think about the word holiness seldom do we have these images of ourselves being Holy. Holiness seems to be this aloof concept to most Christendom. Perhaps there is this notion that it is some sort of attained level of spirituality brought on by years and years of serving the poor or living in a monastery somewhere very, very remote. But the exact opposite is true. When we are converted, when we have received Christ as our personal Savior, Redeemer of our sins, something amazing takes place. We are indwelled with the very presence of God in the form of His Holy Spirit, living and active within us. When He takes up residence within us, His mighty power flows through us, and He prompts us, prods us and convicts us to surrender continually in areas of our lives to Him so that we might become like Christ in every aspect. The end result, or final product is that our human reflection becomes the very reflection of Christ…every fiber of our being is surrendered to Him so that we can be used to not only to declare God’s kingdom but to be the very representation of that kingdom of heaven right here on earth. You see we often get hung up on this idea that Holiness is not attainable. That holiness is impossible in this life and so we must wait until we lived out our feeble lives and die until we can be fully holy. The simple truth is that we often misunderstand what holiness is in our human existence. We often mistake human perfection for holiness, when this is simply not the case. General Shaw Clifton puts it very well for us in his understanding of holiness;
“The holy life is not one of moral or sinless perfection. We still make mistakes and get things wrong. We are still capable of hurting others inadvertently. The word ‘sorry’ is a crucial part of the holy life. It is the hankering after sin that has gone now. Sin has lost its attractiveness for us. Holiness of life is not an optional extra for a believer. At its heart is obedience to God and the will of God. Without obedience there can be no spiritual maturity. The walk of holiness centres upon seeking out God’s will for us. He is there to guide and to control once we surrender. He guides through his word in Scripture, through prayer, and through the wise counsel of mature Christian friends and leaders. Obedience is the key to progress in the faith.” –General Shaw Clifton (p.51, Hallmarks of The Salvation Army)
Mountain or path?
How are we to begin to understand holiness? How can we ever contain so much Christlikeness in these fallible human vessels? The fact of the matter is that alone we can’t. Alone we can do nothing. The problem often times that Christians struggle with on this topic of holiness is that we view holiness like a mountain. This mountain is very, very far away and as we look up at this rocky precipice we quickly realize that not only is it very, very far away but it is also extremely high, reaching far above us to an elevation capped with snow and difficult, near impossible to ever traverse.
This image of the mountain is how I have heard Christians attending church; bible study and Sunday school describe holiness. They may use different terms, analogies and metaphors, but the simple truth is that most believer view this mountain and quickly come to terms with its enormity. They look up and see holiness to be too big and too far away to even begin to attempt the climb. But if the mountain that is holiness is too high to reach, then how does God expect us to climb, to “be holy as I your God am holy” ? (1 Peter 1:6)
After all didn’t Jesus say, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) So how can we grasp such a concept of holiness which does not seem so easy and yet learn from Christ and find rest at the same time? That doesn’t sound like rest that sound like a lot of work! But we misunderstand. We believe holiness to be an insurmountable mountain, when Jesus says to each of us “follow me”. Part of Rabbinical teaching is the student or disciple not learning from the Rabbi but learning to become the Rabbi. When Jesus says to us “Let me teach you”, what He is saying to us is “let me show you how to become like me!”
Holiness is not the destination to the top of the mountain…holiness is the pathway of obedience, humility and love in our living right now! Holiness is allowing the very essence of who Christ is to become the very essence of who we are as new creations of God. It’s not about having enough strength or wisdom or knowledge. As General Clifton has defined it, it is first about our obedience to our Lord. When obedience takes the place of rebellion within us, when it seals up the cracks of doubt and uncertainty within us, then we begin to allow the Holy Spirit to walk with us on the pathway, and as He walks with us He guides us and corrects us.
Obedience leads each of us to a deeper surrender to God. We cannot surrender that which we do not understand to be images of our old self until the light of the Holy Spirit shines upon those marred imperfections within us and prompts us to surrender these mutinous remnants.
What do you see?
Do you see a mountain before you? Does it appear to be impossible, impregnable and daunting to behold? Are you filled with fear as you hear the words holiness? Don’t be! We, as God’s sons and daughters are called saints! We have within us this indwelling of His Spirit to guide, and direct. What we are called to be is Holy and this begins with our obedience and our surrender.
There’s a chorus that goes like this:
All my heart I give to thee;
Every moment to live for thee;
Daily strength to receive from thee
As I obey thy call.
While I bow to pray to thee,
I commit my way to thee;
Here, just now as I say to thee:
I dedicate my all.
May that also be our prayer today.