Holiness has become a rarely used word, even in Christian circles. It’s gone out of fashion. Does that matter? Is holiness reasonable and relevant for today? Do we want it? Is it achievable?
Although we may be shy of talking about holiness, every so often we recognise and admire individuals who seem to have that special something. They may not be in influential positions, but they seem somehow to change the world around them. The Church doesn’t necessarily warm to such people until after they die, as if sainthood should not be permitted for the living. However, when the New Testament apostles addressed their letters, they freely applied the word ‘saint’ to ordinary members of local churches. The Greek word they used was ‘hagios’, which means ‘holy’, so holiness was a noted feature of those early churches. Why not now?
The Church in the western world has had an easy ride for several centuries, but there’s no guarantee that it will stay like that. When the early Church faced persecution, their goodness was respected by ordinary people, if not by rulers, and that gave believers some protection. Under present day regimes that persecute Christians, believers are usually forbidden from talking about their faith, nevertheless their holy lives wordlessly proclaim the Gospel. Do we need persecution to drive us to holiness?
Many Christians long for revival, but what are we really hoping for? Do we suppose that revival will turn the tide in our favour, preventing future persecution? That may be a false hope because revival often comes amidst trials. Are we hoping for political power? full churches? rousing songs? happy, smiling faces? Or are we looking at it from God’s viewpoint? Revival is firstly about purifying the Church, which means you and me – so why not begin the purification ahead of time? Do you want revival? Then be revived! Holiness is meant to be the normal state of God’s people.
The Greek word, ‘hagios’ translates into Latin as ‘sanctus’ from which we get our words ‘saint’ and ‘sanctification’. People may be shy about the word ‘holiness’, but sanctification is accepted doctrine. Conversion is an event, but sanctification is a process that develops over years. Does that mean that the only route to holiness is to grow old? Maybe your youthful years are already in the past, and you wonder whether this train has already left the station. Perhaps your past contains missed opportunities, broken promises, sad regrets and even some disillusionment. But there’s no need to sit in a back pew nursing your disappointment. If you’re still alive there is hope.
There may be times when an accusing voice suggests that your faith is weak, or that it’s a sham. When that happens, it’s time to reason with yourself. Use your memory and common sense. You remember how you became a Christian. You know the kind of life you have lived since then. You also know what you really want, deep in your heart. Satan [i] may use truths to create self-doubt, so you can use truths to reassure yourself and keep moving on with God. Would you really like to be holy? That is a reasonable aim, as Paul said:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” [ii]
I use the word “Reasonable” because it’s prominent in the Bible verse you just read. Its urge to give our bodies means our whole self. However, the word reasonable is sometimes taken to imply other meanings. Some may think of it as moderation, but there’s nothing moderate about holiness. Reasonable sometimes seems to imply safety, but holiness is risky; search the Bible for references to holy places, things, or beings and it often comes with fear and danger. When an angel appears in the story, almost the first thing the angel says is “don’t be afraid” – because the people are frightened. Holiness is a characteristic mark of the Holy Spirit, which identifies us to the enemy as prime targets for attack. No! Holiness is not safe, weak, boring, or moderate. So, let me make my point simply. By using the word reasonable, I mean:
HOLINESS MAKES SENSE
I am not advocating a return to medieval-style penances, or puritan-style restrictions, which bring holiness into disrepute. You know right from wrong, and the fact that have read this far suggests that your desire is to be the best for God. Holiness is a desirable objective, a practical aim and a relevant, reasonable, and worthwhile goal. Only at the end will you know how close or how often you reached that goal, but the journey is a not-to-be-missed adventure.
© Derrick Phillips 2022
The above article is an abbreviated excerpt from the book, “My Goodness! Reasonable Holiness”. This book is about hope, aspiration, adventure, victory, enjoyment, and some down-to-earth ideas for continuing the journey along the narrow (but scenic) pathway of faith. It’s available as a paperback book or a Kindle eBook. Search for it on Amazon.