Monday, September 8, 2008

The Focus for Holiness

It can seem as if the focus of personal holiness is negative: don’t do this and don’t do that. And it is true that the Bible talks about a lot of things that are antithetical to holiness. One way to understand theology is not so much a full understanding of God (since the Eternal and Transcendent One is so far beyond our comprehension) as it is negative boundaries to protect our understanding of who God is not. One example is the Church saying that in Christ the human and divine natures were united “without separation or division and without mixture or confusion.” There is no way to explain fully how God became Man, so the Church gives a boundary to protect how not to explain the mystery.

Yet there is a great and practical result: Christians believe that God has chosen to come close and make Himself known through His Son. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” So if God is holy, and if we want to know what holiness looks like, we need to look at Jesus.

This takes us to the heart of Christian Faith. Christianity is not moralism; Christianity is Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is having Jesus Christ reproduce His life in you. This means following Jesus in His death and resurrection. This means being transformed into the very character of Jesus — the nature of God — which is the essence of holiness.

So while it is right to be aware of things that are antithetical to holiness and seek to avoid them, one’s efforts are not a negative version of the Little Engine — programming ourselves to go around saying “I think I can’t.... I believe I won’t.” If we focus on the things we should not be doing we are only feeding a desire for them. We become the object of our focus.

This means, all the more, that Jesus is our focus. This is illustrated by people who have left a legacy of passion for Jesus. Whether it is Bernard of Clairvaux saying in the 12th Century, “Jesus, the very thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast,” or Keith Green crying out in the 20th, “O Lord, you’re beautiful; your face is all I see,” we need to know that God’s purpose is to present everyone perfect in Christ (Col 1:28) — and this is more than forensic forgiveness.

Years ago I heard a simple wedding meditation based on 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter.” To get a fuller force of the passage, try inserting your own name in place of the word “love” in those descriptive phrases. Then substitute the name “Jesus” where the text says “love” — “Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, does not boast; he is not proud. Jesus is not rude, is not self-seeking, and is not easily angered.... Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth....”

Yes, holiness is cautious with a world-spirit that hates God. Holiness is sensitive to anger and lust and greed and the other deadly sins. But more than anything else, holiness is about loving as God loves, and the way we do that is to be in love with Jesus — the focus for holiness. As the Spirit of Jesus reproduces His life in us — the fruit of the Spirit — we are being remade in holiness.

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