Holy and sanctified.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 July

Whenever Christians talk about holiness, we’re usually talking about goodness. When we talk about sanctification, the practice of being holy, again we’re usually talking about being good: Gotta resist temptation. Gotta stop sinning. Gotta get rid of anything in our lives which might tempt us to sin. Gotta get rid of anything “worldly,” because we’re striving for heavenly. Gotta shun evil… and in many cases gotta shun evildoers, i.e. everybody else, which is why in the past, those who sought holiness frequently became hermits, or cloistered with fellow holiness-seekers in a monastery.

Thing is, this isn’t what holiness means. Nor what sanctification means.

Holy means dedicated to God and his service, and not just for ordinary common use. If we’re gonna be holy, we’re not gonna be ordinary. We’re gonna be different. We’re gonna be weird, in most cases. People are gonna notice we’re different; we don’t live like or act like everybody else. Not even like fellow Christians—who, to be honest, are often following cultural trends of what “Christian” means rather than the Holy Spirit.

But since Jesus expects his followers to produce good fruit, we’re not gonna be bad weird, nor creepy weird, nor offputtingly weird. We’re not gonna alienate pagans. Nor should we; we’re trying to lead ’em to Jesus! They’re gonna notice we’re different, but they’re not gonna flinch because we’re antisocial or anti-them. They’re gonna be drawn to us because we love people like Jesus does. ’Cause we’re gracious and kind like God is. ’Cause we’re patient and even-tempered and peaceful like Jesus teaches. Good weird. Refreshingly weird.

We’re gonna develop reputations among the pagans as “good people,” not “holier-than-thou.” Safe people, not condemning people. Kind, not jerks.

It’s gonna strike ’em as weird because, sad to say, Christianity doesn’t have this reputation in our culture. Too many jerks. Too many articles on sanctification which only zero in on how God wants us to be good, but spend way too much time on not sinning, and way too little time on being like Jesus—who didn’t sin, but that’s not his defining characteristic. God is love. “Be holy, same as I am holy” Lv 11.44-45 is about love. Not so much goodness… although if we just focus on loving God and loving people, we’re gonna wind up following all the other commands. Mt 22.36-40

Sanctification is our process of seizing control of the corrupt parts of our human nature, and adopting a Jesus-style human nature. He never stopped being human, y’know. He simply showed us what it’s like when a human has God’s character traits instead of selfish ones. Goodness is a part of it, ’cause goodness is the Spirit’s fruit, but again: Holiness isn’t just goodness! It’s being different same as God is different: Unlike the rest of the world, we strive for love, joy, patience, kindness, and temperance. Unlike the rest of the world, we go after truth and beauty instead of provocation and self-justification. We’re not just being different ’cause it’s fun to be different: We’re being different because these qualities matter.

Church-style holiness.

The ancient Christians kinda understood this, and many Christians throughout history have also understood this too. Problem is, more of us have adopted the goodness idea. After all, Christians need to be good! Have you seen how often we sin? Holy shnikes, we’re just as bad as pagans. Worse sometimes, ’cause a number of us assume grace gives us a free pass—why resist temptation when Jesus simply forgives all?

So when we talk about holiness, sanctification, or saintliness, most of the time we mean people who never sin, or who sin so seldom we can’t detect it. When we say, “She’s a saint,” we mean she tries so hard to be good, she is.

Yeah, there are skeptical Christians who will quickly quote, “All have sinned,” Ro 3.23 and therefore she can’t be that good; she’s gotta have vices same as everybody else, and is just better at hiding them like an expert hypocrite. She’s putting on an act. Or she’s in some way feeble-minded, and the only reason she doesn’t sin is she’s not clever enough to. (Don’t know why that’s a bad thing!) Or, as skeptical pagans tend to suspect, she’s been too sheltered; she hasn’t tried any sins and has no idea how fun they are.

Of course these are the lame excuses of people who don’t care to exercise any self-control, and are annoyed that well-behaved Christians are making ’em look bad in comparison. That’s hardly the self-controled Christian’s fault. But I digress; like I’ve said a number of times already, goodness isn’t holiness anyway.

For a number of other Christians, holy means solemn. There are certain things Christians “just don’t do,” and you’ll notice a lot of these taboos reflect their personal preferences. They don’t like electric guitars in church worship music. They don’t like a preacher who shouts instead of giving an even-tempered lecture. They don’t like when people where jeans to church. It’s about their comforts and standards, and ignores the fact God appreciates diversity—and uses diversity to draw people to him.

And lastly there are the Christians who figure holy means sacrosanct—so holy, so far beyond the commonplace, we can’t possibly treat them as normal. Bibles aren’t normal books; they’re holy bibles, which are holy right off the press, especially when they’re King James Versions bound in leather. Holy people and things can’t be treated with familiarity or levity, or anything but the most careful, fragile, white-gloved respect. Can’t tell that joke to Pastor, of all people; he’s a holy man. Can’t put your bible on the floor under your seat; it’s a holy book and must never touch the ground. Can’t can’t can’t.

This crazy respect we have for sacrosanct things, y’notice, is legalism run amok: We oughta show a certain amount of respect for holy things and people, but not escalate this respect into idolatry. Take Jesus’s mother. Lots of people are huge fans—as we should be; she’s an outstanding person with remarkable faith, and one of the best Christian role models. But as you know, many fans take their fandom to unreasonable levels and worship Mary. Some love her more than they do Jesus. Some actually want to include her in the trinity, as if she can be voted in; as if she’s God like her son. Yes she’s holy; yes she’s a saint; there’s not a thing wrong with calling her St. Mary, holy Mary, blessed Mary, Lk 1.42 and so forth; she deserves it. But she’s only the mother of God the Son; not God, nor a god.

Most of the problem comes from the false belief there’s a vast distance between holy things and commonplace, secular things. If any item is dedicated to God, it’s somehow lifted above our fallen world, and now belongs in the realm of heaven. And y’know, that’s partly true: These things and people belong to God’s kingdom. But taken out of the world? On the contrary: They’re still here, in this world‚as they need to be, ’cause they gotta point people to heaven.

Holy people aren’t infallible. Doesn’t work like that. Holy people are definitely flawed, as they’ll be the first to admit. There’s no saint who hasn’t sinned. And since every Christian is technically a saint—’cause we all belong to God, y’know—it means you are holy… and I expect you know what you’re like.

No cosmic difference.

Holiness doesn’t make us divine. We’re trying to be like God, but we’re not God ourselves; don’t let the pantheists confuse you. We’ve dedicated ourselves to God and his service, and have hopefully separated ourselves from evil as best we can. But we still slip up. We’re working on it!

Still, this idea of a massive separation from the things and people of this world only applies to a moral separation. Not a physical one. Jesus hung out with sinners, y’know. God became human and lived among us, Jn 1.14 and died for our sins. Any vast space between us, is all in your mind: God bridged that. He eliminated that. He’s here; the Holy Spirit dwells within every Christian and helps us to live holy lives when we follow him. Holiness isn’t far. It’s near. We can be holy, and can encourage others to be holy as well.

Like Simon Peter put it:

1 Peter 1.13-16 KJV
13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. Lv 11.44-45

Holiness isn’t beyond our reach. We gotta work at it. So let’s get to work.