In the Bible, it means “sanctified” or set apart…Well, sanctified or set apart for what? And what does that look like? What should this mean to me?
I’ve had various impressions over the years. And I have to confess that my initial reaction to them usually made me cringe a little. It certainly didn’t make me enjoy the idea of holiness. But there was a sense in my “knower” that something is very wrong with this picture.
On the religious side, and maybe this is a caricature or distortion of mine, the picture I got was one of legalistic, rigid obedience, attended by the required wardrobe, hair style, entertainment and lifestyle restrictions…heavy emphasis on sin-management and behavior modification…it was all about what we don’t do anymore, it’s about keeping “sin out of the camp.” It’s a holiness based in fear.
Some of my impressions came from what I actually read in the Bible…I interpreted this holy God as too “high and lofty.” Who expected me to “be perfect like He is perfect.” (Mt.5:48). This impression filled me with dread, fear of failure, and insecurity. It set me up for years of perceived rejection, and real frustration and self-loathing. After all, I could never measure up to…Go-aw-d-d.
The crazy thing is, I actually thought that’s what Jesus meant by the “be perfect…” statement, instead of what He was actually doing, which is burying me under my own need to be righteous apart from Him, along with removing the remotest possibility of any future attempt to live up to my personal mixture of the Old and New Covenant. He actually wanted me to give up! But I was still living in my religious delusion on the wrong side of the Cross.
So, I pondered, is there an understanding of holiness that can actually motivate me toward it from the very deepest part of my heart? I’ve found that the answer is a big, YES! But it required a serious deconstruction of my previous understanding of holiness. Upgrade, here we come!
And it started for me in the book of Revelation…
My favorite impression of holiness has always been the scene John sees in Revelation with the elders and the angels worshipping God and crying out, “Holy, holy, holy!” And it still is. Although, before, it never touched my heart like it does now. So, I asked myself, what does this “holy, holy, holy” stuff mean? Is it just a declaration about God, or is there something more that God want us to know about Him…and us? Why do they seem to be enjoying this so much? There seems to be more going on here than the fact that God is a really, really awesome God. And He is that, but this inquiry is where I began to understand something quite wonderful.
In a word, holiness is about intimacy.
And here is where C. Baxter Kruger can help us out of our faulty paradigm. In his book, “Jesus and the Undoing of Adam,” he describes it in context of the Triune relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…
“If we took the joy and fullness of the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit, their mutual delight and passion, the sheer togetherness of their relationship, its intimacy, harmony and wholeness, and rolled them all into one word, it would be “holiness.”
And he goes on to nail our problem with holiness on its head. He said the following about how our evangelical forefathers re-interpreted holiness…
That holiness was “reconceived with this stainless steel world of pure law, “holiness” came to mean “legal perfection” or “moral rectitude.”
This sheds a lot of light on our confusion about holiness. For with all the good things we got from our evangelical ancestors, we have also inherited something very tragic, in my view.
And the tragedy is this. Rather than entering into an intimate relationship of mutual affection with the God who is love, we have entered into a contractual relationship with a “legal Jesus.” One where correct doctrine is Lord. For the Reformer’s hermeneutic came through the lens of Roman jurisprudence more than from the heart of the Father.
The problem with “legal” holiness is that it does not endear our heart of hearts to the heart of God. Let me put it this way, is the best part of a marriage found in the legally binding contract…or is it found in the deep-felt love, full of mutual affection, honor and respect? I rest my case, your honor.
Legal holiness creates separation when there should be none in Christ. That doesn’t make us God, it makes us literally in Him…and more to the point, He is in us. And just how intimate is that? Can you be any closer to someone living inside of you?
It’s really very simple. We don’t enjoy the experience of legal issues and expectations we can never live up to, as much as we do the euphoric bliss of unconditional love, peace and fullness of joy. Do you see what I mean?
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Holiness is not a behavioral pursuit, it’s a relational pursuit. It’s about intimate connection with the Source of all I could ever really long for in the deepest part of my heart. Holiness is entering into the “Divine Dance,” as it’s been called. A dance that’s been going on between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for ages without end. In fact, that’s the very essence of “eternal life.” More on that another time.
This holiness does produce obedience. The kind you see from one smitten by love so much that he or she would move heaven itself to please the object of his or her deepest affections.
Now, I can honestly say that I love holiness! I can’t get enough because I’m crazy about the Holy One who’s crazy about me.