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11 July 2019

The fruit of holiness: Let’s get weird.

Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians 5 isn’t comprehensive, and isn’t really meant to be.

I gotta point that out every time I talk about a fruit which isn’t on Paul’s list, ’cause there’s always some numbnut who says, “That’s not in Galatians 5.” Usually someone who doesn’t like the fruit I’m talking about, so here’s their loophole. Yeah, well, there are other apostles who wrote bible, and some of ’em talked about other fruit. Like Simon Peter:

1 Peter 1.13-16 KWL
13 So, “girding the loins” of your thinking, being sober,
hope till the end for the grace which Christ Jesus’s revelation brought you.
14 Do it like obedient children, not conforming to the same old patterns of your ignorant desires,
15 but like the holy one who called you.
Become holy yourselves, in your whole lifestyle.
16 For it’s written, “You’ll be holy, because I’m holy.” Lv 19.2

God expects us to be holy, which we misinterpret as “good” or “clean,” but really means separate: God wants us to stand out from the rest of the world. Be unique. Be weird. Be better. Don’t conform to a culture that doesn’t know what it’s doing or where it’s going. Be like God.

But if we’re to be holy, we need God’s power. We can’t achieve holiness on our own. (Much as some of us might like to imagine we can.) Trying to stand out without God’s fruit, especially his love and goodness, is gonna wind up arrogant and proud… and not so good. We need help!—and the Holy Spirit provides it. ’Cause our relationship with God should produce goodness, rightness, fairness, love, joy, and other such fruit.

So yeah: God calls us to be unique. What’s that look like?

Well, looking at the ancient Hebrews, there were certain oddball things God expected of ’em. A few commands in the Law which instructed the Hebrews to be, well, weird. They had to wear certain fabrics, or decorate themselves and their buildings a certain way. They had to eat certain animals, and not others. They had to celebrate certain festivals, or worship God in certain ways. God gives no explanation for many of these behaviors except to say,

Leviticus 20.23-24 KWL
23 “Don’t walk in the grooves of the nations I sent away from you.
For they did all those things—and I loathe them.
24 I told you, ‘You possess their ground. I give it to you to inherit—land flowing with milk and honey.’
I’m your LORD God, who separates you from the peoples.”

That’s the very context of the statement Peter quoted:

Leviticus 20.26 KWL
“Be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy.
I separated you from the peoples for myself.”

So does the Hebrews’ odd behavior mean Christians are meant to have likewise odd behaviors? Well, if you ask your average pagan, mission accomplished! Some of us are downright weird. We have our own subculture, our own popular culture within the subculture (i.e. favorite Christian musicians, authors, artists, movies, etc.), our own lingo, our own political movements (which are just as willing as the other political movements to compromise everything we hold dear), and all sorts of uniquely Christian or Christianist traits which make us stand out from everyone else.

Does God want his people to be weirdos? Obviously yes. We’re not to conform to the patterns of this world; Ro 12.2 we’re to follow Jesus. If the rest of the world goes one way, and Jesus another, we follow Jesus. Sometimes because the world is wrong… and sometimes simply because the behavior may not be evil in itself, but conformity is thoughtless, brain-dead behavior, and Jesus wants his followers to think. Holiness means we don’t simply go along with every benign fad there is, just to fit in.

Because “fitting in” is one of the faster ways to derail our relationship with Jesus.

Conformity and uniqueness.

This is a hard teaching for most people because human nature wants to fit in. Sometimes we call it conformity and peer pressure: People don’t wanna be oddballs. It’s an instinctive defense mechanism: Oddballs stand out… which means predators go after the oddballs first.

Yeah, there are people who appear to be exceptions. In my high school days we had “goths”—kids who dressed like vampires, listened to a lot of metal and punk music, and tried to be weird. But one of the things I noticed right away was how badly the goth kids wanted to fit in with all the other goth kids. They didn’t wanna be completely unique.

And of course no human was ever meant to be alone. Ge 2.18 We need one another. It’s why Jesus created his church. We need one another. But the goths are far closer to God’s idea than many Christians are: We’re meant to stand out from the crowd. Not blend in.

Matthew 5.14-15 KWL
14 “You’re the world’s light. A city can’t be hidden when it lies on a hill.
15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand,
and it shines on everything in the house.”

’Cause when Christians blend in with the crowd—ostensibly to get along with them, and maybe win a few of ’em for Jesus—we’re not being a lamp. Not being a light. Not standing out and pointing to Jesus. Not being holy.

In the United States a great majority claim to be Christian. They’re not really. They’ve created a Christianist culture which makes ’em feel Christian, but there’s no relationship with God involved, so it’s nothing but dead religion. But Christianists have influenced popular Christian culture to such a degree, the way to “look Christian” is to act Christianist. Which means to look like we’re following Jesus… but in such a way that Jesus’s teachings have been neutered of all their power, and stripped of all their fruit. Anybody can do it. Heck, devout Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus can look Christianist with minimal effort. Nontheists too.

In poll after poll, it turns out American Christians aren’t any different than the rest of the world. We’re just as good: Just as charitable and generous, just as helpful and friendly and courteous, just as nice. We’re also just as sinful: Just as gluttonous, just as petty and ill-tempered, just as lustful. We don’t stand out. And since “holy” means unique, of course this means we aren’t unique. The Spirit’s fruit is greatly absent among American Christians.

So yeah, holiness is a big deal. And since it’s the most obvious of the Spirit’s fruit, one we have to cultivate.

Conformity and idolatry.

I mentioned “fitting in” is one of the faster ways to derail our relationship with Jesus. It should be obvious as to why: We’re either following peer pressure or Jesus, and if we’re following our peers instead, it’s idolatry.

And this includes our Christian peers. One of the more insidious forms of peer pressure is when Christianists try to make us conform to them—and claim it’s because they’re following Jesus, and therefore we oughta follow Jesus in the very same way. They’re awfully fond of Paul’s line, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1Co 11.1 KJV

But are they following Christ? Are they producing the Spirit’s fruit? Or are they faking it, and hoping no one notices they’ve relabeled all their fleshly behaviors so they sound like fruit? Are they going through the motions of religion, and emphasizing the motions instead of the relationship which is supposed to be at the core of our religion? Do they have rules which “all good Christians” must follow, and legalistically push those instead of Jesus’s teachings? And how critical are they of their political parties?—if they criticize their party at all?

Yep, holiness means we have to be separate from them too. Any Christian who looks like the rest of the Christians in their church isn’t imitating Jesus; they’re imitating them. They’ve simply succumbed to the peer pressure of different peers. And if Jesus calls us to step away from that too—and he will—when we can’t, it’s ’cause idolatry.

Jesus’s focus isn’t on outward things anyway. It’s the inward things; the attitudes and emotions and thoughts and impulses which turn into outward things. Fruit of the Spirit, such as love and patience, is supposed to manifest itself in our behavior as we love others and graciously deal with the difficult things about them. And it’s these actions which make us oddballs. Not our theology, not our Christianese language, not our clothing, nor the various lifestyle choices which tend to make us stand out from pagans.

Holiness means following Jesus is gonna make us unique. From everyone. Fellow Christians included. Which, if they’re truly following Jesus, should be no problem whatsoever… and if they’re following the Christianist crowd, will become a big problem, as their hypocrisy becomes more obvious by comparison. Hopefully they’ll repent and start following Jesus too, but bear in mind they won’t always. But their poor choices shouldn’t change your commitment either way: Pursue holiness. Get weird for Jesus.

Sanctification.

Fruit.