Saturday, June 20, 2009

What About Holiness?

I have been thinking along these lines for a while, but have not known exactly how to put my thoughts together on this matter. Personal holiness, it seems (from reading the old writers), used to be something you could see outwardly. Now, holiness seems to be so personal that nobody else knows it exists. I have enjoyed very much reading the works of Spurgeon, Bunyan, Owen, et al. To them, someone who had been saved lived differently from the world, so differently that anyone could tell that there had been a remarkable change in that person's life. There were places that Christians didn't go, amusements that were called "worldly", and behaviours that simply were not found among Christian people.

In thinking about my own life, I can say that I need to be more holy, and that there are many things that distract me from that pursuit of holiness. I am sure that some of these things show up externally, in behaviours, and not simply in my innermost being where no one else can see. I want to be like Christ, and I am struggling even now to put down some of the works of the flesh in my life that pull me in the wrong direction.

To take a larger view of things, it is necessary to step back, sometimes quite a ways back, in order to get a better perspective. It is my opinion that, looking at the big picture, we can see some areas in which the church has failed in its corporate pursuit of holiness. We have tried, for one, to institute a system of holiness, much as that which the Pharisees had in place in Jesus' day. There was the idea that if you did this and didn't do that, you were holy. Jesus condemned this type of thinking in the Pharisees and in us when He quoted the Old Testament, saying: "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth and honoureth me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." It has always been (and always will be) the tendency of men to try to reduce holiness to a list of dos and don'ts. Sometimes young people will be quick to see the fallacy of that practice, and because they see the hypocrisy of making external standards a test of holiness, they reject everything they are taught, out of hand. This happens in the world as well as in the church, by the way. These astute(?) young people make an accurate observation, but then demonstrate a foolish reaction, based upon that observation. They go off the proverbial deep end. In the Christian realm, new churches and denominations are begun as a result, new voices are heeded, new practices and beliefs are embraced, and by some, Christianity is rejected altogether. All of these things occur, often with the same hypocritical lack of discernment that they assign to their parents.

Externals do not determine one's spirituality. You cannot say a man is spiritual simply by the way he dresses, the way he wears his hair, what he abstains from, etc. Mormon missionaries could be mistaken for BJU students, for example. Externals do not make you holy. The young people are right in this. But their reasoning has a fatal flaw. It seems they think that since externals don't determine what we are before God, externals don't matter. Let me expand on that with a ridiculous for instance to demonstrate:

"Since not stealing doesn't make me holy, it is okay to steal."

The translation into the church goes like this: A person is not a Christian because he looks a certain way, listens to a particular type of music, spends his time in "Christian" activities and with Christian people, doesn't drink, smoke, etc. . . . therefore, he can look however he wants to, listen to whatever music he likes, do whatever he wants with whoever he wants, drink, smoke, etc. and still be holy, because holiness isn't determined by what he is on the outside. After all, God looks on the heart.

There is one thing that I want to say to address this type of thinking: While externals do not determine our spirituality, they ARE indications of it. Holy people will behave a certain way: they WILL be different. And I am afraid that much of the unholiness in the church today (in young and old alike) exists simply because people will not have anyone telling them what to do. So, what kind of Christian does not obey his Lord? But I level this charge at myself first.

1 comment:

  1. I was stunned to have it pointed out to me a while back that the "God looks on the heart" line comes from a story in which the person in question looks right on the outside but the inside doesn't match...not the other way around.