I woke up the other day and realized I was a Methodist pastor – strange, huh? I always had a suspicion it was true, but now it seems beyond a doubt.
It really happened a couple of weeks ago when I worked on the sermon about “blessed are the pure in heart” and got re-engaged with the concept that drove John Wesley – Scriptural holiness. The more I dwell on that phrase and consider what it means the more I realize that we have jettisoned that idea – in theory as much as practice. I think we avoid the idea of seeking to be holy and talking about our call to be holy because we don’t want to seem self-righteous or judgmental, or worse – hypocritical. And in the interest of maintaining a reputation as decent, loving people we have decided to lower our standards.
Yeah, I said that. Someone had to do it. It’s the elephant in the room, the emperor without clothes, and it’s time to say “wait, something’s not right.”
The Biblical truth is that we are called to be holy:
“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.'” (Leviticus 19:2)
It is also true that it is only God who can make that happen:
“Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.” (Leviticus 22:32)
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
I believe the issue is that we have exchanged “holiness” for “not-so-bad-ness”. Because the call to be holy seems so far out of reach, and, because others could point to our failures in trying to reach that goal, we lower the bar. Instead of looking at our life and asking God to transform us into a more holy person we look at our life and hope that we can say, “Eh, I’m not so bad.” We begin to settle for good enough rather than holiness. The problem with that, or the advantage of it, is that we get to decide how bad is bad and how good is good enough. We get to set the bar for whatever works for us. The downside is that we lose out on much more than we gain. To paraphrase John Wesley in his sermon “The More Excellent Way”: to seek to be holy as God is holy, to live life at that level of righteousness is not required for salvation but it does give you a life far greater than if you did not.
I think of it like this. When I was a kid growing up we would go to the neighborhood pool in the summer time. It cost $1 to get in. Once I was in I had the choice to either enjoy the pool or not. I did not have to agree to swim in order to get in. I did not get chastised for now going in the pool once I was in. But, if I was that close to the pool, and that close to having a good time enjoying the pool, why would I not get in and enjoy it the fullest? We are saved by grace through faith – the price of our salvation, the price of admission, was paid by Jesus. Our holiness doesn’t get us into the Kingdom, Jesus does. But, if we decide to live a life less than the holiness set out in Scripture, if we chose to settle for a life that we think is good enough, we deny ourselves the real enjoyment of God’s Kingdom.
I am afraid we (and I am one of the “we”) have hijacked holiness and we have set the bar too low and we have settled for a less excellent way. The only answer is to ask God to transform us today more and more into the likeness of the Holy One we follow – Jesus. It’s not something we make happen, it’s something God does in us, but until we let it happen life can never be all it could be.
Holy high five to you, Mike.