The Scandal of Holiness

Too often we assume that holiness is dignified and well-mannered, even stuffy. It is nothing of the sort. Jesus is holiness itself, yet He overthrew tables in the temple courts and plunged into hell for three days to rescue the lost.

There is nothing remotely dignified about bleeding, naked, on a cross.

Believe it or not, the primary meaning of the word holiness is not related to morality. What it does mean is “set apart.” To be holy is to belong to God and be reserved for His purposes and pleasure. The holy individual isn’t disconnected from the world around her, yet her heart, mind, body, and spirit belong solely to God even as she dwells in a world full of sin. She is just as holy while diapering the baby, leading a staff meeting, enjoying a romp with the husband, or struggling with temptation as she is while flat on her face in intercession for a sick neighbor.

False ideas and images relating to holiness are so ingrained in our minds that, if presented with the photos below, many of us would immediately assume that the man is holy and the woman is a skank. Surely folding one’s hands is holy and red heels are scandalous.

Do you see how absurd this way of thinking is? Yet we fall for it again and again.

Priest with rosary Woman wearing black leather pants and red high heel shoesTruth be told, the term holy can describe even the person who was saved five minutes ago. This is because we become holy not by swearing off dancing or taking offense when someone curses but by relinquishing all rights to our own life and surrendering ourselves into God’s hands. The end result of such surrender is the grace to behave in ways that please Him; and thus as a person is set apart, she may very well become more patient or clean up her language or stop abusing prescription meds. Her devotion to God and her standing in His eyes brings about changes in behavior. But understand this: An atheist can abstain from sex before marriage or spend her life in service to the poor, but that does not make her holy. Only the finished work of Jesus as she, by grace, surrenders to His sovereignty will render her holy.

Society (and, sadly, the Church as well) has so twisted the idea of holiness that referring to someone as holy has become an insult. “Mandy won’t wear short shorts, she’s too hooooly.” In fact, most of us would cringe at the mere idea of referring to ourselves as holy, lest we imply that we think we’re better than everyone else. But holiness has nothing to do with feeling superior; in fact, the closer we get to Jesus, the more we realize just how messy, broken, and depraved we are apart from His grace. So I’m going to go out on a limb here. As one who belongs to God and is reserved for His purposes and pleasure, I am holy.

There—I said it. I dare you to make the same declaration.

 

Lev. 20:26: “You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine.”

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