What Is Holiness?

I wrote the following for a case study assignment in my Ministry Capstone class.  There is certainly more that can and should be included, but this fit the parameters of the assignment.  If anyone wants to explore the Wesleyan / Nazarene perspective of holiness further, I highly recommend the book Discovering Christian Holiness by Dr. Diane Leclerc.

Simply put, holiness is the restoration of our full humanity.  As we are made holy, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God fully with our hearts, souls, and minds and our neighbors as ourselves.  This love restores us to how God created us and compels us to be people of compassion and justice.

Contrary to what people often think, it is not human nature to be selfish.  This is not how God created us.  Genesis 1:27 says, “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.”  As beings created in God’s image, our nature is to be holy, just as God is holy.  Selfishness is the antithesis of how God created us.  This selfish nature is the result of the brokenness that has gripped humanity since the Fall, but it is not humanity in its true nature.

Because of the Fall, brokenness has become the reality of human existence.  Each person is at odds with each other, God, nature, and even themselves.  Holiness brings restoration to brokenness, though, and those fractured relationships are restored.  This restoration cannot be earned.  It comes through grace.  Prevenient grace draws us to God, saving grace restores our relationship with God, and sanctifying grace renews the image of God in us.  This grace is freely available to those who choose to respond to it.  This response, though, is not a work that people do.  Rather, it is an acceptance of the work that Christ already did in His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Once a person makes a decision to live as a follower of Christ, he or she gains access to the Holy Spirit.  Jesus told His disciples, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth.  He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come” (John 16:13).  Paul explains, “People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).  The Holy Spirit transforms the way that people lived under brokenness and empowers them to live as God created them to live.

The best way to understand the created nature of humanity is to look at Christ.  In the incarnation, God is revealed to humanity in the clearest possible way that humanity can perceive.  “In these final days, though, [God] spoke to us through a Son . . . The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being” (Hebrews 1:2-3).  Even more than revealing God to us, though, because Jesus is both fully human and fully God, Jesus reveals to us the way that humanity was meant to live as beings created in God’s image.  People can look at Jesus and see how God intended them to live.  “I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do” (John 13:15).

Our calling to be holy, to be like Jesus, is most fully realized in Jesus’ commandment to love.  He told His disciples, “I give you a new commandment: Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other” (John 13:34).  Likewise, Jesus explained to one of the religious leaders in His day that love is the essence of all that the Jews had been commanded in the Hebrew Scriptures.  “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind . . . You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).  Jesus explains that our completeness, our holiness, is made known in our love for others.  And we are not called to love just those who are our friends, neighbors, and family.  We are even called to love our enemies.  “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you . . . If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have?  Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? . . . Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete” (Matthew 5:44, 46, 48).

We are conformed to Christ’s image, we are made holy, partially through the means of grace.  These means include the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.  They also include spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, meditation, fasting, solitude, and simplicity.  As we step away from the noises and distractions of the world that surround us and focus on God’s gentle voice, we draw closer to Christ and are shaped into the sort of people that He would have us be.  It is good to do good things, but we also need to take time to just sit at the feet of Jesus.  Being in His presence, as the spiritual disciplines lead us, helps to shape us, just as it did Mary, the sister of Martha.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  One thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the better part.  It won’t be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Though we are conformed to Christ’s image through the means of grace, being conformed to Christ’s image will lead us to become people of compassion and justice.  Compassion and justice were primary themes of Jesus’ ministry.  Upon beginning His ministry, He gave the following sermon in His hometown: “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.  He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ . . . Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it” (Luke 4:18-20).  Jesus calls us, too, to join him in this ministry of compassion and justice: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat.  I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear.  I was sick and you took care of me.  I was in prison and you visited me . . . I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

Holiness, then, is being conformed to Christ’s image.  That conformity comes through grace, and it restores us to our true humanity.  When our humanity is restored, we will be people who live following the example of Christ and showing His love and compassion to the lost and broken world.  As the Holy Spirit works in and through us, the Kingdom of God will be expanded, and God will be all in all.

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