I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene and for decades, was steeped in the Holiness Tradition. It was a beautiful way to grow up.
Some may believe that the holiness tradition means separation, but as Scot McKnight explains on his Patheos blog, Jesus Creed, true holiness is a fire burning in one direction. That direction is toward God, and true holiness is love.
Tara Beth Leach, senior pastor of Pasadena Church of the Nazarene (a church my parents attended in the 1960s), wrote a chapter on holiness and love in The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life: Ethical and Missional Implications of the New Perspective. Here is a wonderful excerpt:
God is love—love lived out through the power of the Holy Spirit in a community of gifted individuals playing one musical piece in different parts, a holy symphony. Holiness is life lived by people in the fullness of the Holy Spirit who are empowered to offer a drastic alternative to the world around them. Love is the melody running through the community, underneath the community, and all around the community. The Christian community is not a place of jarring instruments singing different songs, or a place of gossip, conflict, rejection, pain, strife, and hatred. It is a place where the Spirit’s fruit is present in abundance, so much so that the world around the Christian community can’t help but join the melody. It is a community that is so unified, so melodious, so beautiful that it stops others in their tracks. Those on the outside can’t help but peer in, and watch with awe and wonder, and notice the unity of the symphony. Instead of the emphasis being on the solo Christian striving to live a holy life, it is on a holy people, a symphony. It is a collection of individuals all uniquely gifted, sometimes polarizing opposites, yet unified in the same symphony
The following is a guest post from Naomi Cassata.
Holiness has become a lost concept in today’s Christianity. If we don’t do something about it now, we will lose future generations to the enticements of secularism in the world.
Holiness is Not Flowing Robes, Stiff Collars, Pious Expressions
Flowing robes, stiff collars, pious expressions, these are a few thoughts that come to mind when you think of the word Holy. Many people think holiness only applies to those that live in seclusion or who have chosen to live chaste lives. Holiness is often identified with religious people who are saintly and untouchable allowing the common man to flow with the current culture with very little consequence. This way of thinking eases the sinful conscious of the “common” man by determining that holiness is not required for everyone. By their honoring what they “perceive” as holy they feel at ease, while their own lives continue unchanged. Sadly this approach is very often seen in the church today.
Apathy in the Church
In many congregations, the pews are filled with carnal Christians. Although the leadership is expected to represent holy living, and rightly so, the congregation continues to indulge in secular delicacies. When did it come acceptable for Christians to claim to be faithful followers of Jesus, but live their lives in complete contrast? The line between sin and righteousness has been erased. Instead, we do whatever we feel like doing. The instruction in the Bible is there for us, but it hasn’t become a way of life. The world’s entertainment has become much too delicious for us to pass up. Every future generation is affected by the previous generation’s complacency. We owe it to future generations to get serious about God; otherwise, they will not only follow our same nonchalant attitude but do it in excess. We must change the course of our lives and break this pattern of apathy that is in the church today.
God Does Not Change
Was God only looking at the present day culture when He commanded His people, ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy,’ (Leviticus 19:2), and again here, Peter exclaimed, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives (2 Peter 3:1). Knowing that God is the same yesterday, today and forever and He does not change, we can all agree that the same guidelines of holiness that were set thousands of years ago are still relevant for today’s culture.
I used to think to myself if only I lived a few hundred years back, holiness would have been a cinch. Reading late century books, most had religion tucked in them somewhere. There were no movies, television shows, magazines or music to be enticed by. When compared with today’s pull, it seemed doable. I’m sure those living in that time had their own struggles, their own obstacles, their own short comings.
TV: Exploitation and Sacredness
Today’s television programs tell all, say all and show all. Reality TV has hit the airwaves…The price people pay for the exploitation of their family’s life is devastating and the repercussion it plays is usually beyond repair. The sacredness and respect of their private lives have become front page news. The dirtier the scandal, the more we tune in to watch. Much entertainment from movies and television use our God’s Holy name as a curse word and delight their viewers with scenarios that contradict our Biblical believes. Yet, we sit there soaking it all in as if it doesn’t even faze us. We are drawn to these things and we gladly indulge in them.
How Does God View All This?
The question is. How does God view all this? Does He really care what we watch, what we read or what we listen too? Many of us never even consider God’s thoughts in these areas. We just assume that as long as we’re not out there doing things we see, then we must be fine.
If holiness is what is required of our lives, let’s find out exactly what the Bible says about the subject. Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (Corinthians 7:1) When we become Christians there is a change that goes on inside us. Our spirit becomes new (born again). Our past sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us. Our spirits are much like a newborn baby; sensitive to its surroundings. There is an awareness that God is with us. Committing sin at this point brings conviction to the heart. The more conscious we are to the Holy Spirit‘s indwelling, the less likely we are to indulge in sin. Sin is much more identifiable when the Spirit is present. At the same time, the more we resist the Holy Spirit‘s conviction on our hearts about sin, the more we indulge in sin until eventually we loose discernment between right and wrong or what is pleasing and unpleasing to God. This brings us to worldly entertainment. The more we partake of it, the less we will be convicted about it. The Bible says without holiness we will not see God. (Hebrews 12:14) Living holy is not just a suggestion, but a beneficial command.
Simple Living: What is Holiness?
Holiness is simply living our lives in a way that is more pleasing to God than to our own flesh. If I were to make a detailed list of what is holy and what is unholy, it would provoke insincere devotion. Holiness is not that. True holiness comes from a passion for God. Apathy comes when our passion for God begins to cool until it is nonexistent. This is a place where sin in many forms is unrecognizable. Worldly entertainment being the greatest downfall of our spiritual lives, with its anti-Bible implications, becomes accepted. This is a dangerous place to be in because many of us are blinded to it.
Holiness Isn’t Rules and Regulations
So where does one begin? Holiness isn’t a set of rules and regulations we must follow. It truly begins with a heart change. Once our heart comes in line with God, our actions will follow in succession.
Repentance is the antidote for holiness. It must begin with acknowledgement of our wrong choices and our apathy before God. Like I mentioned before, when we are in this state, we cannot always discern right from wrong. Just because something seems right doesn’t mean it is. I once heard a friend say concerning R rated movies. “It’s OK if I watch them because they don’t have any effect on me.” His discernment wasn’t there.
God’s Word and Discernment
Without God’s word we would not know right from wrong. A two-year-old doesn’t understand what is right and wrong. They must be taught otherwise they will grow up to do whatever they please. In the same way, we too must search God’s word to find out what truth is and what is not. Without the Spirit‘s convicting power and the truth that we find in the word of God, we will not know what it means to live holy.
Desire to Please God
Once we have gotten our hearts right with God, then our desire for holiness will grow. The closer we come to God, the deeper our hunger to live pleasing to Him will develop. It’s only because of our desire to please God that we will turn the television off when we hear God’s name used blasphemously; or avoid a movie because of its playful acceptance of sex before marriage; or change the radio station because of a song’s casual reference to getting drunk and partying.
Direct Fruit and Devotion to God
Holiness will challenge us at times. It is in contrast with our sinful nature, but with continual seeking of God we too will see the Lord. Holy living is a direct fruit of a heart that is devoted to God. Unless our hearts are fully devoted to God, holiness with be absent from our lives. Seek Him with your whole heart.