You Can't Be Holy if You Aren't Willing to Sin

Because holiness has nothing to do with morality.

I've often heard that religion is just a list of do's and don'ts. To those who can't see the relational element in Christianity, it's nothing more than a bunch of esoteric rituals. Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Orthodox Christians do love their self-righteous morals and funny hats. 

But not all Christians adhere to such inflated displays of piety. Some actually care about following God's word rather than their own traditions. They're called evangelicals, and they don't have a list of do's and don'ts. They just have a list of don'ts.

Evangelicals take the Protestant fear of good works to the extreme. Not only do they avoid doing them, they emphasize the opposite: the works they don't do. For them, spiritual maturity is measured by how little they sin. And this belief comes from a faulty understanding of holiness.

The Hebrew word for holiness (quodesh) means apartness. It's the idea of being set apart for God or his work. Of course, in the Old Testament, purification was an important step toward holiness. God cannot tolerate sin, so sacrifices were necessary to remove the stain of the world from his people.

Thus, for some Christians, the pursuit of holiness is actually the pursuit of purity. It is avoiding the world's stain in an effort to remain pleasing to God. Hence, the list of don'ts. If being holy means being separate, for the Christian it specifically means being separated from the world.

Christian music, Christian movies, Christian radio, all of it comes out of viewing holiness as separation from the world. The very notion of "clean", family-friendly content is imbued with a need to purify ourselves from any worldly influence.

Purity makes sense. And I can't say that it's a wrong way to pursue holiness, if we were living two thousand years ago.

When Christ came, he put an end to the sacrifices. No more offerings, no more washings, no more need for purification. He took the full weight of our sin on his shoulders and wiped the slate clean. We're already spotless. We need only draw near to him.

The evangelical perspective of holiness--the daily repentance and endless rules about things destined to perish--blatantly ignores the efficacy of Jesus' death and resurrection. Indeed, it sacrifices him again and again on the altar of their own false humility and asceticism.

We don't need to be separated from the world because the blood of Christ washed away that stain. We only need to be separated to God.

Christians pursue holiness not by freeing ourselves from that which Christ already freed us but by freeing ourselves from the things that distract us from him. Though sin may no longer have a hold us, we often get in our own way with the best of intentions.

Abraham got distracted by his desire for a God-ordained heir. Saul got distracted by burnt offerings. Solomon got distracted by his wives. The rich young ruler was distracted by his wealth. A few young men got distracted by wanting to cast out demons. Paul indicated that even marriage could be a distraction just as Jesus also said about family.

Unlike how some see holiness, none of those things are bad simply because they're bad. Most of them are divine blessings that were perverted by self-interest and gratification. It's a lot less scary to create a list of what's good and what's evil than admit that our ministries or even our spouses can be distractions from God.

In truth, God determines morality; we only need to follow him. We can hold ourselves hostage to a morality of our own making, and he will still take the evil that Joseph's brothers intended and use it for good. As hard as it may be to accept that good things can also be distractions, imagine a situation where he calls you to do something bad because he has good plans for it--just like he did with Abraham and Isaac.

Holiness isn't the Christian living standard (read the greatest commandments for that). Holiness is undivided devotion. It's not a list of don'ts that steal away our trust. It's a passionate commitment to a will that challenges our expectations of God. Because we can't be fully devoted to God when we're too distracted by a caricature of who we think he ought to be.


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