Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Beauty of Holiness

Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (Psalm 29.2; KJV)

What Does It Mean?

Merely mentioning holiness causes some to flinch. They associate it with specific actions and attitudes that, to be candid, don’t always serve up a lot of appeal. “Holy” people may earn our admiration (if their pursuit comes from a pure heart), but they’re seldom much fun. While that sounds shallow, it’s nonetheless true. Believers who devote their lives to holiness tend to be extremely serious, focused types. The joy they find in living apart from mainstream conventions is a unique strain of fulfillment predicated by the absence of common pleasures. When we envision holy people, our minds flash on monks, nuns, ascetics and adherents to sects with rigid behavioral codes. But holiness is neither a measure of spirituality nor a human virtue. It’s a divine trait. If we keep that in mind, it turns out to be much less intimidating and off-putting.

So what does “holiness” mean? Basically, it’s what God is: pure, loving, just, and forgiving. Yes, but what does that mean in “people” terms? When we remember we’ve been created in His image, our holiness is determined by how well we mirror His holiness. Put simply, holiness is achieved by revealing His presence in us, not by calling attention to ourselves. And the crux of the matter rests in whom we’re being holy for. In Leviticus 20.26, God settles this question once and for all. “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy,” He says, adding He draws away “to be my own.” We purpose to lead pure, loving, just, and forgiving lives in honor of Him. Holiness aimed at any other objective—impressing people, religious compliance, eternal bliss, or escaping wrath—isn’t holy. It’s conformity to a manmade image and standard. Paul reinforces the idea that holiness is our reflection of God, specifically defining it as an act of worship: “Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7.1)

Degrees of Brightness

God alone is perfectly holy. And there’s a good reason why He has exclusive claim on this, while the best we can do is strive to perfect holiness. God has always been holy. We, on the other hand, have not. By the time we answer His call to holiness, we’ve already adopted impure habits and attitudes we continue to battle after we decide to lead holy lives. This is what Paul is getting at with his confession in Romans 7.15: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Holiness is inherent to God’s nature. In contrast, it’s learned behavior for us. It’s tough, because much of the time we just don’t have it in us to be holy.

Before we throw in the towel, though, let’s think this through. Since only God is truly holy, He is the sole source of holiness. Therefore, holiness we find in others—or others see in us—is something of an optical illusion, a reflection of Him and nothing more. Knowing this takes a great deal of pressure off our pursuit of holiness by removing it from the realm of do’s and don’ts and redefining it as a state of being. There’s no such thing as holier-than-thou, as none of us is holy to begin with. What we perceive as inequities in holiness are really degrees of brightness. One person has worked harder than another at removing passions and proclivities that dim or distort the godly image he/she projects. What did Jesus teach? “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” The purer we are, the brighter God’s holy light shines, and the brighter it shines, the more praise He receives. We let our lights shine. When that happens, everything we do is an act of worship, and our worship evolves into a truly beautiful thing.

An Unholy Mess

Our world is in an unholy mess. Attempts to solve problems only create more problems. Virtually every difference of opinion constitutes a holy war, with both sides clamoring to claim moral and spiritual superiority. The idea of a Christian “right” and “left” is preposterous, because it comes about when one group presumes its position is holier and more pleasing to God than the other’s views. But God is most assuredly not pleased, and we can safely assume there’s no holiness in these disputes since there’s no light to be found. God gets no glory when we resign our responsibility to reflect Him in order to malign each other. There’s no beauty in our actions. And worship has gone out the window.

“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness,” we’re instructed in Psalm 29.2. The beauty of holiness emerges when we forego our personal agendas and ambitions to let our lights shine. That’s when people see what we do and give God the glory He’s due. In this season of fasting, prayer, and contemplation, we should search our hearts for flaws and hang-ups that hinder us from mirroring God’s holiness. Our thoughts should turn toward perfecting holiness—not to prove how righteous and just we are, but to radiate His purity, love, justice, and forgiveness.

The beauty of holiness happens when we strive to reflect God’s light as purely as possible.

(Tomorrow: Taking Hold of Hope)

Postscript: Shine

Grant’s suggestion of Steve Bell’s “You Are To Be Holy” as a Lent music selection was a major influence on this post. Unfortunately, no video of the song—which I strongly recommend—is available. I plan to include another Bell video in a future post. But I believe I’ve found a suitable, if quite different, substitute, Collective Soul’s “Shine.” The lyrics could not be more apropos.


Give me a word, give me a sign

Show me where to go. Tell me what will I find?

Lay me on the ground and fly me in the sky

Show me where to go. Tell me what will I find?

Oh, Heaven let your light shine down

Love is in the water, love is in the air

Show me where to go. Tell me will love be there?

Teach me how to speak, teach me how to share

Teach me where to go. Tell me will love be there?

Oh, Heaven let your light shine down

I'm gonna let it shine, I'm gonna let it shine

Heaven, let your light shine on me

Oh yeah

Heaven, let your light shine on me


claire said...

Another good and godly post, Tim. I felt drawn into beauty and light today as well. I very much like the song you suggest here today. Thanks to you, by the end of Lent, I will have the most incredible collection of songs! xoxoxoxo

The song that came back to me was Shine Jesus Shine by Graham Kendrick, something we always sing at some point in my Geneva community.


Tim said...

Thank you, Claire. Maybe this is more common than I believe, but as a Lent novice (fourth year), this is my first time to experience a synchronous community in the desert. Almost everywhere I go and everyone I talk to seems be feeling and thinking similarly at any given point.

There's probably a quasi-logical explanation for this, but in my heart I believe it's because God is drawing us unto Himself in very specific ways. Given our times and challenges, I have every confidence He's doing a special work in us, re-teaching us what we've forgot and giving us new lessons to learn. He needs us to shine.

Finally, I also enjoying this musical component of the journey. I've spent the past few days on a most exasperating test--my desktop and laptop both went on the fritz and I've been keeping up as best as I can via our building's "business center." (Not a good place for quiet reflection.) Now that the new machine's up and running, I'm rebuilding my iTunes library. The first playlist is "Lent" and I'm looking forward to building it day by day. (There's a metaphor in there somewhere.)

I'm on my way to see if I can find "Shine Jesus Shine." If it's out there, it will show up here!

Have a marvelous day and week of beauty and light,

grant said...

Another author once challenged me with this question: "Whatever makes us think that we'll become perfect in this lifetime and would then no longer have any need of Christ?"

When we think "holiness" aren't we usually drawn immediately into Old Testament psalms and writings where "holiness" is depicted as apartness and separation. A thought stream reflected in the kinds of actitivy you mentioned - monks, nuns, ascetics etc... But is that what the New Testament upholds as Holy?

I suspect that NT Holiness is a lot more Joyful and Joyfilled and just plain FUN! than OT "holiness." At least that's what I get from thinking on the times Jesus was chastised for dining and partying with "sinners" etc...

Some other author reminded me recently that we Christians must not skip over Jesus when we go back to interpret OT scripture but must re-interpret it in the light of his ministry. So, I'm still working on this.

Thanks for another inspiring and challenging post, Tim!


Tim said...

Grant, I grew up in a tradition that firmly embraced the type of Old Testament holiness you describe. It was a legalistic nightmare! We didn't do anything that others did for fun--no dancing, no public pools or beaches (too much exposed skin), no movies or sports events, etc.

The mantra was Hebrews 12.14: "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." Well, we just assumed that "see the Lord" bit meant "go to Heaven." So we lived "holy" mainly to stay out of Hell, which automatically corrupted our motives with fear and selfishness. And because our ways kept us at odds with most everyone, we figured the best way to "live in peace with all men" was to keep out of their way. We created an insular community that fed its own ignorance.

True holiness--shining God's light by showing compassion and mercy--is how people see the Lord. That's how Jesus lived. And you're right--joy is our calling card. When people see our confidence in God's unconditional love brings unconditional joy, they'll want to experience it too. In John 15.11, Jesus says He has taught in such a way "that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." In this way, complete joy = true holiness.

We must all work on this.

Thanks so much for your comment--and I'm eager to get a Steve Bell song posted soon. I knew very little of him until you brought him up. My search through his music and videos has been a great blessing to me!

Joy and light,