Our family has been horror stricken by the video footage over the last few days in the wake of Japan’s recent tragedy; office workers escaping a crumbling building, a massive wave of water driven by some unseen force boiling over the countryside destroying everything in its path, vehicles tossed around like toothpicks, and fires raging out of control.
In a world of instant news coverage, these powerful images have the potential to numb and terrorize. Some folks simply turn it all off, grateful they’re alive in their part of the world. For them, ignorance is bliss. The safety zone beckons; maintaining one’s culture apart from outside interference is easier and certainly lessens any guilt one might feel for not getting involved. It’s also less messy. Not unlike some Christians with a mistaken belief about holiness.
I was recently asked by a Youth Committee to submit my perspective on holiness. It’s been an interesting endeavor. I’ve reflected on various “environments of holiness” I’ve either been subjected to or have observed. Many were well intentioned but also quite limited. The religious tradition I grew up in, for example, focused largely on outward appearance. There was a self-directed righteousness that dealt primarily with externals instead of an internal passion for God and His purposes in a broken world. Holiness was something I did to make sure God wouldn’t send me to hell. I focused on maintaining at least a minimum standard of holiness in order to insure that God would give me heaven in return for my personal piety.
But holiness is multifaceted, definitive of God and His people, and certainly much broader in its scope of practical application. In the Hebrew context it connoted dedication or devotion to a particular purpose. Anything that comes between us and God (“idolatry”) is unholy since it robs us of our wholehearted devotion to God. In the Greek context, “separation” is emphasized with connection to the idea of “God-likeness”.
It’s with concern for this latter definition that I would like to focus my attention. In the beginning, God created us in His image. This means that we were designed to create, and in a sense—to be like God. This shouldn’t be confused however with the satanic obsession many have had throughout the ages of attempting to be God (Lucifer’s original sin from which all other sins have flowed). Rather, we were made for God to inhabit us—Christ’s righteousness to envelope us—so that we might be sanctified for every good and creative work in restoring a broken planet. When sin, corruption, and destruction become the earth’s norm, our holiness counteracts to fulfill God’s restorative purposes for His ultimate glory.
God’s intention was for a world of harmonious relationships; God with man, man with man, and man with creation. Because of the redemptive work of Christ, we become “little Christs” (Christians) to recreate a world where humanity once again can “walk with God in the garden,” as Adam and Eve once did. This is true holiness.
If one has been redeemed, he or she has a passion to create, to bring redemption into his or her sphere of influence. On the other hand, if one has simply prayed the prayer, is indulging in idolatry (serving self, pleasure, and anything other than God), and is currently waiting around for heaven to show up; he or she has only acquired “fire insurance” and has not yet been made holy. One could even question whether or not that person will be ultimately saved considering the Apostle Paul’s words, “to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Remember that in the same breath, Paul reminded us that we must work it out since God is working in and through us “to fulfill His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).
Over 1500 years ago a certain Simeon Stylites believed that he could live a holier life by living separate from the people of the world. This monastic, according to some accounts, lived atop a pole for 37 years!
While living separate from the world, Simeon failed to realize that holiness is not just about avoiding sins of commission. It’s also about sins of omission. By escaping the world he failed to be God/Christ-like, bringing healing to a broken world.
By simply turning off the news, shutting off the world, or escaping into a community of safety and tranquility, one is not becoming more holy. One must engage with the world. One must become a “little Christ” in a world of tragedy and pain.
So don’t turn off the news. Pray for the brokenness around you. Get out there and get your hands dirty. Get involved. Join us in embracing holiness this week by responding to an Asia Harvest news brief on the plight of earthquake/tsunami-stricken Japan. Click here for more details.