THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS
Thirty years ago who would have thought that spirituality would be so popular? Listen to the radio today, read the popular magazines, go to one of the self-help seminars, look at how many spiritual counselors are listed in the yellow pages. In the past, spirituality was connected to holiness, which tended to make it unpopular. The world definitely does not want to be holy, but there is a new kind of spirituality which demands no repentance, no faith, no walking with God from day to day. How can you tell whether a given kind of spirituality is God-pleasing? There is only one way – from His revelation. The Bible does not recommend spirituality. It calls us to holiness, speaking of the beauty of holiness. God’s beauty is perfect. Holiness imitates God; therefore it has reflected beauty, as well as accomplishing beautiful things.
Now we learn what pleases God from His Law, which for Lutherans has lots of negative baggage. The Law tells us how sinful we are. It is like a plow, preparing the ground for the good seed. It turns over our pride, makes a deep furrow in our complacency, and breaks our self-confidence. Unless it does those things, we wouldn’t repent. That’s why St. Paul calls the Law our schoolmaster. It leads us to Jesus, who can really make us holy. Jesus sacrificed Himself to atone for our sins, making us right with God. Jesus is the one who makes us holy. Consider: if the King is holy, then His kingdom will also be holy. Our King feeds us with holy food, and gives us a portion of His Holy Spirit.
Now we have three special problems that follow from this situation. Number one: Jesus has made us holy, but He has not made us feel holy. He doesn’t have to. He died for you; that never changes. Don’t look inside yourself where there is nothing but confusion. If you want to know whether you are holy, look at the empty tomb and remember what it was all about. That wasn’t just for everybody else. That was for you. Hear once more that beautiful, very moving story. Then let your reason figure out the rest – you, and I mean this both in the plural, and in the singular to each of you, you have been redeemed.
The second problem is that even though God wrote His Law on human hearts at the creation, that Law has been distorted and blurred by sin. We do have a conscience. It can be quite strong, but because conscience can be uninformed or misinformed it can lead you into evil in the name of God. So conscience always needs to be measured against the standard of God’s revelation. What is good is always good, and what is evil is always evil, and this is true because God says so. How you feel about it does not matter. Good and evil have definite content.
The third difficulty is that holiness has a bad reputation today. Who wants to be what the world thinks of when it uses the word "holy." There is a good reason why holiness has a bad reputation. All too many saints of the past, not content with being separate from the world, went too far down that road and treated the world with contempt. The monasteries and convents of medieval Europe housed thousands who thought they were too good to live with everybody else. It didn’t begin that way. The monastic movement was not meant to be a retreat, but an attack whose chief weapon was prayer, but in time it evolved into an attempt to escape temptations. The Puritans are notorious today for their self-righteousness. That is only right. God has not called us to be religious snobs. As Christians we are to be more alive than our neighbors, not less. Notice St. Peter urges us to behave so as to impress the heathen. Let’s put it this way; it’s not enough to be holy in God’s sight. We need to be holy in ways that non-Christians can understand. Our discipline must be such that people notice it. Jesus did not set us free to be bosses, but servants.
Be ready to describe the hope that is in you. Peter assumes that people will notice the difference your hope makes in your behavior. It might very well make us unpopular at work or at school, but we have to stand out. I do not mean stand out filled with contempt and disgust. Even though we are sojourners in the world, even though no earthly country is the kingdom of God, true holiness must be beautiful enough to make us good citizens at all the diverse levels from nation to family. They will all perish with the planet, but they are your context in which you are witnesses to your redemption. God put you where He did for a reason. He wants you to be good here and now.
There are better and worse ways to be different. T here is no point in avoiding religious snobbery if you go to the other extreme and wallow in the mire with the unregenerate. God has not called you to deny your holiness any more than to be proud of it. Yes, we seek first the kingdom of God. Yes, we seek holier pleasures than the general public, but always, always be ready to help. You say that’s hard. I agree, but we can be certain that God forgives us, the Holy Spirit assures us that we are His children, and we are the only people in the world who actually can be holy. We are the flock of Christ. He leads us safely between both temptations, to be too much like the world, or to be religious snobs.
It takes practice and wisdom to know how to be all things to all men, as well as when to be noticeably pious. We never dishonor God when we keep His commandments. Live and learn how to walk with God so that the heathen will be impressed, will want to know how you do it. Then you can tell them of the Fountain from which you drink. That is the beauty of holiness. AMEN.
~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross