I’ve been ruminating holiness. What does God’s holiness look like through humanity.
Growing up in the faith tradition of my childhood and youth, one’s level of holiness was determined by the severity of one’s plainness and cooperation to follow the church rules. As an adult, I know there are true authentic believers in that faith tradition, as well as those for whom it is a way of life more than religion. There are also those who hide dark secrets behind their facades of piety. (It’s that way in many forms of strictness and piety, I’ve learned.)
It is difficult for me, even now, to separate pious and practiced “human holiness” from one who lives a life of holiness in service to God and others. By indoctrinated instinct, I “see” holiness in the way a person dresses. But as one who as devoted my life to God’s work and who is occasionally directly and indirectly snubbed (and sometimes outright chided) by the very people my childhood self understands as holy, I have been ruminating on what being holy actually looks like lived out.
Holiness: the state of being holy.
“a life of holiness and total devotion to God”
It is one thing to put on holy airs, presenting a pristine and sterilized image of God’s Kingdom through dress and piety. It is another thing entirely to become a holy heir of God’s Kingdom through Jesus Christ where He meets you right in your mess and changes you from the inside out.
Scripture has a lot to say about people who look good on the outside, those who take pride in their strictness and humility while at the same time discriminating the work of God in the lives of others when it doesn’t look like their understanding of who God can use and how God can work.
Matthew 23:25-28 NLT “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Certainly Scripture also gives instructions for how a believer should live and present themselves.
II Corinthians 6:14-18 NLT “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. ””
As I’ve contemplated and observed holiness in action, (a life of total devotion to God,) I’m reminded of the broken flawed people (and donkeys) God used for the good of His Kingdom. While there are many examples in Scripture, none speaks more personally to me than the woman at the well whose life was a mess, she met Jesus, her life was changed, and she went and told everyone what happened so that the whole town believed. (John 4:1-42) She became a holy heir because she drank from the living water offered through Jesus Christ. No doubt there were many with holy airs scoffing at the idea that she would ever amount to anything good.
I’ve seen holiness in the couple that showed up with frozen spaghetti and a long-adored musical instrument. For you, they said, as I grieved my daughter. I’ve seen holiness in the support they provide for the most vulnerable in our community and literally around the world, without ever making it about themselves.
I’ve observed holiness in the couple who befriended a homeless man and gave him work, helped him find shelter, and have stood by him even as life knocks him down again and again.
I’ve heard of holiness in the successful business owner who collects cardboard boxes and gives them to children for recycling so they can earn money for field trips, building character and confidence and helping them take ownership in their efforts.
I’ve been the recipient of holiness through the actions and kindnesses of my childhood faith community as they supported my family in countless ways, especially when my brother and Mom were recovering from life-threatening accidents. I’ve heard holiness in the songs and acapella harmony hymns of my childhood and felt holiness in the anguished cry for help as an adult.
I’ve tasted holiness in the meals provided after the deaths of our loved ones by those whose only motives were simply to provide basic nourishment to grieving bodies. In the Italian sausage and cherry Coke I shared with a homeless women when I found her after she spent a night violent weather. In the bread I break with the bereaved.
I’ve witnessed holiness in the tattooed, pierced, skull-cap wearing farmer who takes time to eat school lunches with his numerous nieces and nephews and who goes on field trips with his “little brother” through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization. This person who gives his time to the little ones and who makes a larger-than-life impact as he shares the heart of God with them.
These are only a few small stories of big generosity. These and so many more give of their time, talents, and resources silently, anonymously, without expectation. They embody holiness in thrift-store jeans and “Jesus sandals,” farm boots, and homemade aproned dresses, with casseroles and carpenter’s tools. They live beautiful broken authentic lives, and would resist attention to what I’m sharing.
They are heirs of the Kingdom of God refusing to put on airs. They know it is not of their own righteousness or goodness, but only God’s grace and mercy that accomplishes any good through them. I am reminded of the prayer of Hannah who rejoices in the Lord, who recognizes there is no one holy like the Lord, and who understands it is the Lord who judges our actions.
I Samuel 2:1-3 NLT “Then Hannah prayed: “My heart rejoices in the Lord! The Lord has made me strong. Now I have an answer for my enemies; I rejoice because you rescued me. No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. “Stop acting so proud and haughty! Don’t speak with such arrogance! For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done; he will judge your actions.”
May we live as holy heirs without putting on holy airs.