Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Holiness = Love

In our effort to preach and live out the inclusive, merit-discrediting grace of God that welcomes real sinners into his glad home, it's easy to wonder what place things like holiness and obedience and God's law have in our lives as Christians.  But Scripture lays out two very clear truths: God's grace cannot be turned into license to sin (Romans 6:1-2, 15; Jude 4), and the chief virtue is love (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10).  We cannot whitewash God's call to holiness by saying, "It's all about love," but neither can we live out our holiness in isolation.  So what does biblical holiness look like?

The more and more I read the Bible and learn what holiness is--that is, living as one separated from the world to belong to Christ and live for his purposes, to beat with his heartbeat--I learn that living a holy life is living a life of love.  Our holiness consists in living the way Jesus did in sacrificial, compassionate, otherworldly care for others.

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I [the Lord] am holy.'" (1 Peter 1:14-15, quoting Leviticus 11:44)

So we are to be imitators of God, following him in his holiness.  But does that mean a life of monasticism?  Self-flagellation?  A doctorate in theology?  Only listening to "positive Christian radio" and watching Kirk Cameron movies?  Teetotalling?

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."  (Ephesians 5:1)

You see, being an imitator of God, being holy as he is holy, means to "walk in love."  That is, we live in love for others in daily, step-by-step reliance on the love our Father has for us.  (Note that in both imperatives, Christians are called God's beloved children.)

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." (Colossians 3:12-14)

"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again ..." (1 Peter 1:22-23).

If we are to live as those "chosen by God, holy and beloved," those who have "purified [our] souls," the clear command is to love others the way Jesus loved us.  (Heck, just skip the rest of this post and read all of 1 John.  Then read this book if you're ready to be humbled.)

If holiness involves both belonging to God for his purposes and being unstained by sin, then I think the Holy Spirit wants us to recognize that sin's core ugliness involves self-worship and self-concern that keeps us from seeking others' interests and good ahead of our own.  To be freed from the pollution of sin and really live in holiness is to live less and less with our own cares and needs in mind and look instead to how we can do lasting good to others.

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