The craving for holiness

I crave holiness.

I can’t believe it.

This . . is me?  A craver of holiness?

If you’d known me ten years ago, or even five years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to detect any such craving for holiness in my life.  You would have seen a craving for other things–oh, I could make a list!–but holiness wasn’t one of them.  In fact, holiness didn’t seem cravable–at all, actually.  That would have sounded about as strange to me as saying a horse can climb a tree.

My idea of Heaven was hopefully a place where you could do sinful things, but they weren’t called sin anymore.  Hopefully if you passed the temptation to do sin in this place, you could sin but it wouldn’t be called sin anymore in Heaven.  A life in Heaven with no sin seemed like no fun.  It certainly seemed funner to me than Hell, but not as fun as time on earth.

When I thought of holiness, I would have thought of things like golden halos . . people who do not smile . . pictures of Moses holding up stone tablets with a scary glare on his face . . punishment . . rules and etiquette . . people burning in Hell for wickedness . . severity . . abstaining from pleasure . . withdrawing from the world.

Being saved held interest to me.  I was no fool (or so I thought).  I didn’t want to wind up in Hell.  But being holy?  I would have rather watched paint dry.  I had cherished pet sins I simply wasn’t willing to part with, sins I thought were tame enough to stay at my side and not really hurt anyone or make God angry.  But even if I hadn’t wanted to sin, I wouldn’t have wanted to pick holiness for my life.   Give me almost anything but holiness–not holiness!  Holiness was like the broccoli on the plate at the meal, the part I was happy to leave and eat the “good stuff.”  Sin (i.e., entertainment, indulgence, selfishness) was the dessert that made the meal worthwhile.

Now, of course, you must realize, I would have never said it this way.  I would have never thought of it this way.  I didn’t even think of my hidden sins as sins.  I felt like I was in an okay place before God.  Maybe you feel that way.  Maybe you have everyone around you fooled into thinking you’re a pretty good person, and they have no idea what goes on in your thought life or in your free time.  I had a desire to be saved, and I wanted God to save me.  But I had zero desire to be holy.

I didn’t find my lack of striving for holiness as alarming.  I didn’t associate Christianity with holiness.  I associated Christianity with a benign belief in Jesus and in not sinning (in out-in-the-open ways).

Holiness equaled dread.  I did not want to give up things I liked and devote my whole life to God.  Are you kidding?  ALL of my time?  ALL of my money?  ALL of my thought life?  ALL of me?  What kind of life would that be?  How would I live that way without wanting to jump off a cliff?

Fear of Hell in and of itself was not enough to change me.  For one thing, I figured I was safe in asking for salvation.  For another, I wanted things so badly than even eternity in torment couldn’t break my hold.  I think this is an important point.  There is no amount of rewarding or threatening or even punishment that can get somebody to be holy.  Holiness is simply too hard.  If you ever look at the Old Testament, you will see that story over and over.  No matter the reward God promised, or the warnings He gave, or the punishment He decreed, the people simply wouldn’t change for long.  They just couldn’t part with their unholy things.  They loved them too, too much.

God was very aware this problem existed.  But He let us discover it for ourselves (since He knew we wouldn’t take His Word for it!).  We just can’t be holy.  We just can’t.  We don’t have enough self-control.  Our willpower is for sin, and we can’t turn away from it.  We can possibly turn from one sin to another, but that is the only direction we can go.

So how in the world did I come to crave holiness?

I had an image of holiness at best as the misery of a life without fun and at worst as the enjoyment of punishing sinners.  I had no concept of holiness and love as being inseparably one.  If anything, I would have seen them as being nearly mutually exclusive.

BUT . .

When God revealed His love to me, I began, slowly, to realize that holiness and love never travel alone in God’s Kingdom.

To love is to be holy, because God is love and He is holy.

God is love. (1 John 4:16b, NIV)

To be holy is to love, because God is holy and He is love.

The LORD our God is holy! (Psalm 99:9c, GW)

God is holy, and does nothing apart from His holiness.  And God is love, and does nothing apart from His love.

Love, real love, is holy.  And holiness, real holiness, is love.

What does holiness-and-love look like in real life?  Look at any act of God in the Bible, and you will begin to form a picture.

Holiness-and-love is God creating Adam, and then surprising him with his wife Eve.

Holiness-and-love is God sending a global flood to a world that wouldn’t obey Him.

Holiness-and-love is God rescuing already-married Sara from the harem of a pharaoh.

Holiness-and-love is God rejecting Esau whose heart was turned only to food and pleasure and sport.

Holiness-and-love is God establishing Joseph the slave as the second-in-command to pharaoh.

Holiness-and-love is God sending ten plagues on a country steeped in idolatry and cruelty.

Holiness-and-love is God establishing a covenant with a group of oppressed slaves.

Holiness-and-love is God splitting the earth open to swallow Korah and his family when he rebelled against His command.

Holiness-and-love is God giving Rahab the prostitute a new life and a husband and son.

Holiness-and-love is God sending wild bears to maul 42 boys of a group that made fun of His prophet.

Holiness-and-love is God speaking to prophets to warn a defiant people to turn from their fate.

Holiness-and-love is God in a manger on a crowded night in Bethlehem.

Holiness-and-love is God calling 12 unlikely men to be His disciples.

Holiness-and-love is God casting the demon out of a man who roamed a graveyard yelling.

Holiness-and-love is God raising from the dead the only son of a widowed woman.

Holiness-and-love is God feeding thousands of hungry followers knowing their fickle and disingenuous hearts.

Holiness-and-love is God dying on a cross to pay for the sins of anyone who would call on Him.

Holiness-and-love is God sending a mighty Friend to be with His followers.

Holiness-and-love is God working miracles in the early church.

Holiness-and-love is God keeping His Word safe from generation to generation to generation.

Holiness-and-love is God returning to judge the world.

The truth is, I didn’t understand holiness because I didn’t understand love.  (And it’s equally true that I didn’t understand love because I didn’t understand holiness.)  When I began to see the love of God, I began to realize the depth of holiness.  Holiness isn’t merely a set of rules.  It’s a standard of loving.

Holiness is treating other people as better than yourself, as Jesus did.

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—even to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, HCSB)

Holiness is looking forward to giving more than receiving from others.  Jesus did this for us in an infinite way when He gave us what we could never repay, and immeasurably more than He could ever receive back from us.  Paul wrote:

 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these [my] hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 30:33-35, HCSB)

Holiness is hating evil, but caring for those who are puppets to Satan’s will and trying to bring them to the light of Christ.

But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.

Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time,be now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:20-25, HCSB)

Holiness is living in God’s light.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25, HCSB)

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things.(Philippians 4:8-9a,HCSB)

Holiness is a journey.

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. (Paul in Philippians 3:12-16, HCSB)

Holiness is hard.

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, HCSB)

One day, holiness will be perfected in everyone whose faith is in Jesus Christ.

When I was a child,

I spoke like a child,

I thought like a child,

I reasoned like a child.

When I became a man,

I put aside childish things.

For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,

but then face to face.

Now I know in part,

but then I will know fully,

as I am fully known.

Now these three remain:

faith, hope, and love.

But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:11-13, HCSB)

I crave holiness.

So rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3)