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.