The Spirit of Holiness

I’ve been reading the Gospel of Luke in a new translation called The Passion Translation. I really like it. Whenever I find a translation that makes me feel like I’m hearing the Good News for the first time (again), I take it as a good thing.

In chapter two, when talking about Simeon, the translator says “the Spirit of Holiness rested upon him!” The words “Holy Spirit” have become so common to my ears that I forget God’s Spirit is, indeed, Holy. “The Spirit of Holiness” is the literal rendering of the Greek, we just change it around to “Holy Spirit” to make it sound more like regular English. But there is something about the phrase “the Spirit of Holiness” that grabbed me.

Speaking for myself, I am frequently guilty of forgetting that God is Holy. That He is the Almighty, the Beginning and the End. I’m so used to thinking of Him as “Father” or “Dad” that I lose that perspective of Him. So when I read about Simeon, I find myself asking the questions – “is the Spirit of Holiness in/on me?” “Would people choose the word ‘holy’ to describe me?” “What does holiness even look like?”

There are a lot of words I could use to describe Christians, but holy isn’t one I would think of. I think that is an error. I don’t think of Christians and holy, set apart, or sacred. Perhaps its because I grew up in church, but Christians seem pretty normal and, dare I say, worldly to me.

I have unfortunate connotations with the word holy. I think of stuffy, overly religious Pharisees or etheral, disconnected mystics. Neither stereotype is particularly attractive or the type of holiness that Jesus modeled.

Jesus was so holy that when dirty people touched him, he didn’t get dirty – they got clean. Jesus was so holy that he could dwell in the midst of sinners, love them, teach them, comfort them, and yet the sinner’s understood that he wasn’t becoming like them, he was calling them to be like him. Jesus’s very Presence caused people to want to change their behavior, to be more holy, more like God.

Jesus’s holiness resulted in rage against religion (clearing the Temple), compassion for the downtrodden (the sheep without a Shepherd) and indignation at Satan’s abuse of mankind (healing the man with the shriveled hand). Jesus was both intimately involved and connected to the world and completely of Heaven. His holiness was held in suspension with his humanity – a bizarre and irresistible combination.

So often we talk about holiness in terms of what not to do. This is completely understandable for it is the Old Testament model. In the OT, holy people weren’t allowed around the sick, dying or dead. They couldn’t drink wine or beer, couldn’t eat certain things. Holiness was defined by abstention – removing oneself from the world.

But then there is Jesus turning everything upside down again! Jesus drank, he didn’t honor the Sabbath via conventional means, he was intimately familiar with sin, sickness and disease in the lives of others. What is the New Covenant definition of holiness? I’m not sure I know. Every holiness movement I’m aware of resorts to the Old Covenant standards, in clear contradiction of Scripture. They try so hard to be biblical they stop being Christian and shackle themselves once again to the Law.

The possible exception to this might be Bethel in Redding, CA but I don’t know enough about their community to comment on it.

My current working definition of holiness is “living in this Age like we will in the next.” Since Heaven is a temporary place, I’ve chosen the Age to Come as my reference point for morality/behavior.

Will we drink alcohol in eternity? Absolutely! Ever heard of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb where Jesus will drink the fruit of the vine together with his Bride? But no one will get drunk, hence a standard for this Age.

The more and more I search the Scriptures for what life will be the more and more I find myself understanding what life in this Age should be. there is no sickness or disease in the Age to Come, why should there be any here? We’ve been given power and authority to proclaim and demonstrate the the Kingdom is “at hand” haven’t we?

I’m hungry for holiness. I want my life now to be an example of what life will be like in the Kingdom of God. I want to be renewed, transformed and conformed to the image of Jesus we see in the Scriptures. I want to hold holiness and humanity in suspension together. I want to live in the tension of God being Holy and my friend.

Well, those are my thoughts on holiness, what about you? How do you define and live out holiness? Do you have a more positive view of holiness movements than I do? If so, why and where are they?

As always, thanks for reading.

Tithing and Beyond

One of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard was listening to Mike Bickle share about “Financial Power Encounters” at a Onething conference a few years back. I should really see if I can find it online, because it is worth listening to a couple of times. In the message, Mike shared stories from his own life of how he would sow money into missions only to have it returned to the dime or increased dramatically. His desire to live simply in order to give generously so struck my wife and I that we made a commitment we have been privileged to keep for 5 years or more now. We committed to “double tithing” giving away two-tenths or 20 percent of our income to the church and missions. We committed to reduce our lifestyle before we reduced our giving. It is a commitment we have joyfully kept – we love giving money away to people we love and causes we support. 

Money can be a touchy subject with people. Within my own congregation, we have prided ourselves on not asking for money very often. We’ve been happy to steer clear of the money subject in order to rehabilitate the skeptics that think churches only exist to leach money from struggling families. However, I think in doing so I have deprived our people of experiencing the joy and freedom that are found in giving generously.

Tithing, giving ten percent of your gross income to God, is an ancient practice – older, in fact, than the Law itself. Tithing was first practiced by Abraham when he encountered Melchizedek. When Abraham encountered “the King of Righteousness” (which is what Melchizedek means), he was so overwhelmed with reverence that he gave a tenth of all his possessions. Melchizedek was a priest of Almighty God, without beginning and without end the book of Hebrews tells us. In any event, well before the Law was established through Moses, the principle of the tithe was in effect.

I think Abraham’s generosity, reverence and worship so impacted the heart of God that when the Law was established, God chose to officially institute the tithe as a way of honoring Abraham. Does God need our money? Certainly not. But God loved Abraham’s faith – the faith God credited to him as righteousness. I think God instituted the tithe because he wanted to call the Israelites up to a higher standard. In effect, I believe He was saying, “You are Abraham’s offspring – I want his ceiling to become your floor. Even the least of you will be as generous as he was – and the greatest of you even more!” This was where offerings came in.

Technically speaking, you can only tithe from your income, that is, give a tenth. Anything greater than 10% is an offering. As an example, in my case I tithe and give 10% of my income as an offering. I love having money designated for offering. I love being able to support my friends who work in service to the Kingdom. I love supporting our World Vision children. I love giving to the poor – for a while I used to keep $20 bills in my glove compartment so that I’d always have something to give someone on the street if they had a sign or asked for money. It is so much fun to be generous.

Have we had some lean months? Absolutely, but those are the times when the God stories really start flowing. In our nearly 7 years of marriage, my wife and I have had our insurance company call us to say we overpaid and they needed to send us a refund, same with our utility company. We’ve had money in envelopes placed in our mailbox or people give money to us at church. One time, a very generous fellow gave us $500 because we needed it to re-carpet our son’s nursery. We’ve always paid our bills and had enough to eat. In fact, with both of us working just over minimum wage jobs, we were able to pay off over $30,000 of student loan debt in 4 years – I still don’t really know how that happened, it was miraculous to say the least.

Now, am I saying that everyone needs to do what we do and give away 20% of their income? Of course not, but it is something to pray about. I would say, start with tithing. Once again, I’d like to state that the principle of tithing is pre-Law, or rather, it is part of the law of Faith – starting with Abraham and continued by all his descendants. Tithing isn’t legalistic or punitive. For a dime out of every dollar God becomes your business partner, working with you to protect, bless and prosper your finances. Does He do that anyway? I think He does, but there does seem to be something special that happens in the hearts and lives of those who tithe. Tithing is as close to an obligation as Christians have, but it is also so much more – it is the opportunity to see God work miraculously in all areas of your life, including finances.

A few points on tithing:

  • Tithing is giving 10% of your gross income to the church (it’s called the “first fruits” for that reason).
  • *Ben’s opinion* Along with the first fruits idea, if you are paid more than once a month I believe your full tithe should come out of your first paycheck. 
  • Tithing is not tipping, you don’t give more or less depending on how good the Pastor’s sermon was.
  • The tithe belongs to the local congregation of which you are a part (if you are not part of a local body then you need to be. Arms don’t live long cut off from the body).
  • The tithe should be considered “ground zero” for giving, it is just what people of faith do. Think of it this way, all your money is God’s anyway, but He will let you keep 90% of it if you will give just 10% to your local congregation.

A few tips on going beyond tithing (into offerings)

  • God loves a cheerful giver, don’t give if it doesn’t make you happy.
  • Offerings are primarily designed for fellowship with God.
  • Offerings are you taking God up on an offer for adventure. You’re money may or may not be returned to you, but you are declaring that you trust in God’s ability to provide and you care more about serving Him than serving Mammon.
  • Choose a percentage you are going to give and don’t back down! Even if you have to sacrifice your lifestyle and fun money for awhile, don’t make light of your commitment to God.
  • Keep a journal of your financial power encounters – they are so much fun to read and the share.

Generosity is an amazing gift that keeps on giving. To own things and not be owned by them is a blessing. To give money and see the Kingdom advance on the Earth is outstanding. But to have a personal history with God full of amazing answers to prayer is the best gift of all.