Heroism or Holiness?
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.(Ephesians 1:4)
Heroism is an extraordinary feat of the flesh; holiness is a ordinary act of the Spirit. One may bring personal glory; the other always gives God the glory.
The sure standard for holiness is Scripture. There God makes clear what He means by holy living or, as theologians call it, the process of sanctification.
The Ten Commandments, from which all other commandments flow, are the beginning; they apply today as much as they did when God engraved them on tablets of stone for Moses. Next, the life of Jesus provides holiness in the flesh; in His persevering self denial, His unqualified obedience to the Father’s will, and the fullness of the Holy Spirit in His daily life, Jesus remains our example. Then Paul and the other apostles give explicit guidelines in the remainder of the New Testament.
The quest for holiness, then, should begin with a search of the Scriptures. We next begin applying what we find, seeking His will for our lives. As the nineteenth-century Scottish theologian John Brown put it: “Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations, enthusiastic fervor’s, or uncommanded austerities; it consists in thinking as God thinks and willing as God wills.”
That thinking and willing is a process requiring discipline and perseverance, and is a joint effort: God’s and ours. On the one hand, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and sanctifies. But that doesn’t mean we can sit back, relax, and leave the driving to God. God expects- demands- that we do our part. As Mother Teresa says, “Our progress in holiness depends on God and ourselves- on God’s grace and on our will to be holy.”
Both holiness and righteousness define how God desires for us to live. The first, righteousness, describes the state of being that places us into right relationship with God. In other words it describes living in such a way that we are pleasing to God. It is the yielding of our will to Him and submitting all our being to His will and desire. We are taught in Scripture that we have no righteousness of our own; any righteousness we have comes solely through Christ Jesus as the Holy Spirit works in us bringing us into conformity to His image. However, we also have a part to play in our relationship with God in the same way we have in all our other relationships.
Love which is the root of any and all relationships is more than a feeling. It is also a choice or at least it determines our choices. Let me attempt to explain what I mean. I think it’s fair to say that it is love that brings a relationship into being. A man falls into love with a woman, and a woman falls into love with that man, and the relationship begins. From the moment that love is acknowledged, it begins to define their choices and it directs their course in life. Love demands that all other human relationships give way. No longer are the two free to date others or to continue relationships with old lovers. Because they have entered into this relationship it cancels all others. Sometimes they will have to choose this love over the temptations of others whom they may be attracted to and that choosing deepens and defines that love. At some point, there will be a ring given and a ring received expressing intent to complete the union. We call it engagement. While there may be no written rules, there are unspoken expectations. As the relationship progress, certain actions are required. As the couple move toward marriage, things like where to live, whether or not to have children, and the like will be considered and planned. Though it was love that began the relationship and it will be love that sustains it, do you see that also love demands choices to be made and ultimately love moves each party to learn how and what pleases the other and the choices made will reflect the idea that the one loved is the recipient of the lover’s choices.
We turn now to the relationship with God. First, God expressed His love to us in the creation of us. He created us to be the object of His love and every act was chosen to declare that love. Because our hearts were drawn away and we questioned His love, He further chose to send His Son and that Son demonstrated God’s love toward us through the choice and action of the crucifixion on the cross. We may say that in salvation, God did it all. We ourselves can do nothing to merit or achieve salvation apart from Christ. In the same way, those who love us do not do so because we have done some great thing. Having said that, let us consider our response to this love of God.
This is where righteousness and holiness come into play. They are our response to the love of God. They are our acts that demonstrate our love back to Him. In most of our human relationships we often search to find what pleases or displeases those we love, but that is not the case with our relationship with God. God has clearly through His Word told us what brings Him pleasure and what He is unhappy with. Like any relationship, we can find ourselves doing the expected things with a begrudging heart and even resentment. We may, for example, take out the trash, grumbling beneath our breath all the time.
This is what becomes evident when we try to become righteous or holy on our own. It become a burden, often filled with resentment, however necessary it may seem to be done. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day provide this example. They were so focused on making sure they carried out the law that they missed the joy of a relationship with a loving God. In the story of the prodigal, the elder brother says:
So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”
It is possible to be in a relationship that began in love and allow it to morph into duty and obligation. It is possible to make our relationship with God that of Master-servant, but that was not so in the Garden. In the Garden was God and Adam walking together and that my friend is what God is after. He’s not after a servant who carries out orders out of fear ore even respect, He’s after a lover that responds to His love, driven and controlled only by the desire to please Him even as He desires to please.
We will never attain to the measure of holiness through our efforts that fully reflects Christ but we can attain to the measure of Him fully possessing our hearts. Once we begin to live with the desire to please God in every thing, we will find ourselves also becoming holy and righteous.
Love begins the relationship but choice defines it. We choose, therefore to live our lives according to the Word of God. We don’t need an epiphany or some spiritual mystical experience, we just choose to let the Bible direct our choices. In a marriage, we don’t have to have a revelation to know the lawn needs mowing or the dishes need washed. Those things are part and parcel of our choice to follow the leading of love and are the necessary things to be done because of that choice. Our living a life of holiness, as defined by the Bible is the same. Every relationship has rules and guidelines. Our relationship with God is the same.
So today, let’s choose to do something just to please God without any other reason. To all who have those in their lives they love, let’s choose today to do something for them that’s not expected. It doesn’t have to be much; just a little something to say, “I love you.”
Dr. John Thompson