Friday, September 5, 2008

Issues of Personal Holiness

There is hardly a day that passes without me reflecting in some way on the implications of holiness. My personal faith journey started in a segment of Evangelical-Protestantism often called “the holiness movement,” with an emphasis on total commitment and be[ing] holy as the Lord your God is holy.

Obedience to the explicit teachings and exhortations in the New Testament were givens, but one does not try to obey such things as: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths (Eph 4:29) or you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice... (Col 3:8) or do not lust in your heart (Mtt 27ff) — and even more, to obey the commands to follow Jesus in His kind of loving service and suffering — without facing the basis issue of selfishness. I was taught that the issue with “SIN” was the middle letter; putting “I” on the throne of my heart is the essence of sin.

I was also taught that one of the serious competitors in the quest for personal holiness was “the world,” and the Apostle John’s warnings in his first letter were indelibly stamped on my mind. Interfaced with this was a warning/exhortation from St. Paul: Abstain from all appearance of evil (1Thes 5:22, K JV). This, I was told, means anything that looks questionable to the standard of godliness. The maxim was: “if it’s doubtful, it’s dirty.”

It should be obvious that such a mind-set is an easy prey for legalism. I certainly went through a morass of rules that were given with an authority equal to Scripture (a good way to undermine the authority of Scripture for anyone who truly thinks). Somehow, by the grace of God, I emerged on the other side of “gospel freedom” with a basic concern for personal holiness still intact (because another pitfall along the journey of grace is antinomianism — living as though God’s law means nothing).

I think I could write about facets of this subject for a year, but the catalyst for my thoughts today has been television. When I was a young Christian in the holiness movement setting, one of the rules of godliness was “No TV” (not to mention movies, which were only available at the theater — a totally ungodly place). So while Lassie and Andy Griffith and Beaver were providing wholesome entertainment with very good family values and moral lessons, my tradition was saying it was “sin” to let such things into our homes. Yet today, television (and movies) is a basic assumption in most Christian homes, and it is my assumption that most of those homes have either cable or dish service so that the full force of our contemporary culture is freely available (well, actually we pay hefty rates to bring all of that into our homes).

Our own home had “standard cable” until several months ago (when we dropped some things we considered non-essential to accommodate the loss of income when I resigned my pastorate). In the days when we had cable service I would often comment how we had 70+ channels and usually there was little worth watching, but it was easy to settle for M*A*S*H reruns or something else along with the commercials (that are always very cutting edge).

My wife and I were talking recently about the differences we feel without the “convenience” of so many channels. While we do still get major network programming, we do not waste as much time watching television. The big difference we sense, though, is in our own spiritual sensitivities. Sometimes the TV will be on after the news or my wife will flip through the channels trying to find something while she irons (for her, that’s what one does while ironing), and a program — or a series of commercials — is suddenly invading the sanctity of our home with images and dialogue that, to any conscientious Christian, are disgusting. Then we are reminded of how dull our spirits can become with a steady diet of “the world.”

St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things (4:8). I am grateful for my early grounding in a call to personal holiness.

Peter writes in his first letter: But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “be holy, because I am holy.” We each need to respond to the Lord according to His ongoing work in us, but if we are not concerned about personal holiness we are not spiritually healthy. May the Lord do His work of holiness in me... and in all of us who bear His name.

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