When you think of the word holiness, what is the next word that comes to mind?…. For much of my life, when I heard the word holiness, I immediately thought of the word judgement. Other words that come to mind are scary, unattainable, unworthy, and unapproachable. But what if I suggested the word invitational? Would that make sense to you? And yet, I really believe this is what God is calling us into. He is inviting us to live a life of holiness or another word for that is virtue. This does not sound invitational or possible if we do not look to the cross and realize that Jesus paved a way for us to experience this kind of life. Without Jesus, holiness IS unattainable. With Jesus, it is a life we are invited into. Paul invited the brothers in Philippi to “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil 3:17). Holiness is not something to run away from, but something to run toward!
Love or Legalism?
I find it really intriguing to consider holiness as an invitation from God. What is it really that He is inviting us into? Chris Hall, in a lecture at the Renovaré Institute described the goal of holiness as purity of heart, unmixed by anything which would cause impurity. Jesus manifested a way of holiness as He interacted with all people. He was an instrument of complete purity and holiness and yet was profoundly invitational. Richard Foster describes holiness in this way: “Holiness is a life of virtue reflected in that teaching is governed by the maturity of love rather than the immaturity of binding legalism.” This is something incredibly important. Is our vision of holiness born from a place of love or legalism? Do we pursue holiness out of fear and an adherence to a long list of do’s and dont’s or do we pursue holiness because we want to draw closer to the heart of the Father?
Mercy or Judgement?
Another way to look view holiness is either from a place of mercy or judgement. Both are incredibly important. When God’s laws are violated, judgement is a proper response. But if we approach holiness only from a place of judgement, we will miss the invitation that holiness really is. Roberta Bondi in her book To Love as God Loves makes this statement: “Where the dominant image of God is as lawgiver and judge, God’s mercy will surely seem inaccessible.” Bondi goes on to say how the writings of the early desert fathers focused heavily on the mercy of God. We cannot grasp the true nature of holiness with an unhealthy balance of mercy and judgement. Paul captures it well in his letter to the Romans when he says: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1). In view of Gods mercy, we can offer our lives as holy and living sacrifices.
First-Order vs Second-Order Things
Over the years, holiness has brought for me a sense of unworthiness and a need to do better to become more worthy. But this is completely opposite of how God would want holiness to impact my life. There are two callings on my life; to love the Lord and then to love others. Pastor Mimi Dixon refers to these as first and second callings. In my action-oriented mind and our action-oriented culture, I tend to focus on second-order things. My identity gets wrapped up in the good and holy things I attempt to do. Not that any of that is bad, but it is unhealthy without focus on the first order. I cannot become holy without focusing on first order things. Borrowing again from Paul in Romans 12:1, I need to approach my second order callings in light of the first-order calling of loving God and experiencing his love, grace, and mercy.
Vices or Virtues
As we accept the invitation into holiness, we find it is not an easy path to walk. Paul sums up our battle well:
“ So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatevera] you want“ (Galatians 5:16-17).
The desires of the flesh are our constant threat to virtue. But desires in and of themselves are not necessarily bad. Jason Byassee states it this way: “Our desires, when properly ordered, are good and God-given and lead us naturally to that which God is calling us to do.” When we take our eyes off first order things, we also become susceptible to vices and sin and desires becoming disordered. Rebecca DeYoung describes vices as deeply engrained corruptive and destructive character traits, desires, and habits that “undermine both our goodness of character and our living and acting well.” I had heard about the “Seven Deadly Sins”, but the discussion of vices was incredibly helpful to my holiness journey when viewed through the lens that they ultimately keep me from Gods love and loving others, which takes us back to the fundamentals of love and mercy and first order things. When viewed from the place of love, I am open to examining vices as a way to remove any obstacles to God’s love. The seven deadly vices / sins are: vainglory (the need for approval), envy (bitterness of others gaining recognition), sloth (apathy and indifference), avarice (unwillingness to share possessions with others), wrath (our response to injury and pain), gluttony (focus on self-gratification and pleasure), and lust (excessive desire and craving for self-satisfaction). I have found these seven vices can become a self-assessment tool to help me regularly see where I might be missing the mark.
The thread that weaves itself through all seven vices is pride. Pride can show up where I think too highly of myself or more convictingly, not thinking enough of others. Elements of pride can be seen in all of the vices. However, with the backdrop of God’s love and mercy, I can experience growth and freedom through self-examination and adopting spiritual practices targeted at the vices which cause me trouble.
Wow, that is a lot to take in! How does seeing holiness as an invitation from God into a deeper relationship with Him sound to you? What is one thing that was discussed in this post that you would like take more time to consider? I pray as you do that you hear the voice of God calling you into a life of holiness. He is inviting all of us into a deeper walk with Him and to be honest and repentant when sin or vice get in our way.