Holiness is an old-fashioned word not well-received in our 21st-century culture. The image that comes to mind is of a couple of women out shopping. The older one has long hair, braided and piled on top of her head, and the younger has locks down to her waist. Both are without makeup in long denim skirts. They look different from most of the other women around them, and would not be considered stylish.
Last week in part one, I wrote about holiness not being like the clean white clothes we wear, but the bleach that cleans and disinfects. It isn’t outward appearances but inward commitment. It isn’t our human efforts but the righteousness of God imparted to us.
Today I want to focus on that inward commitment, beginning with a bit of my own story. I gave my life to the Lord one Sunday evening kneeling at the altar of my Methodist church. I committed as much as a fourteen-year-old could understand. Many times during my teenage years, I gave more of myself, sometimes calling it re-dedication, sometimes repenting from backsliding. Jesus never let go. I responded to the call to full-time Christian service and pursued a graduate degree for a career in Christian Education.
After fulfilling all the specialized requirements, I became a Diaconal minister in the United Methodist Church. Although this designation no longer exists, at the time, it was a professional label for laypersons called into various ministries in the church other than ordained ministry. Of course, every Christian is called to minister to others in our daily lives, but this was recognized for full-time professional Christian calling.
A Service of Ordination and Consecration was held at our Annual Conference. Each person entering their respective kind of ministry knelt at the altar rail. I knelt, with family and friends surrounding me as our resident Bishop laid his hands on my head and prayed for my life, my career, and my future to be fully dedicated and consecrated to the Lord’s service. It was a pretty big deal.
But in my deepest being, I knew that whether anyone laid hands on me or not, the dedication of my heart had already occurred long ago. So through the years, I continued to give as much of myself to as much of God as I understood.
I hope each of you is on your own faith journey, though it looks different for everyone. We may stand still for short periods, but we are meant to “come further up, further in.” (C.S. Lewis from The Last Battle) This is the process of sanctification. If it were it not so, Jesus may as well have taken us as soon as He saved us. As stated by J.D. Walt, Sower-in-Chief of Seedbed Publications, sanctification is the Second Half of the Gospel.
Back to the word “holiness.” Many things are identified as holy in nearly 400 verses of the Hebrew Scriptures. This meant being set apart for exclusive use, dedicated to the Lord. My former Hebrew teacher described it like this: consider your dog’s food bowl as “holy.” I was a little shocked by that analogy. But she explained that the dog’s dish wasn’t going to be used for any other purpose at her house. It was exclusively reserved for Moses to eat his food.
Belshazzar found out that the vessels Nebuchadnezzar stole from the temple and carried off to Babylon weren’t to be used for his drunken banquet. They were holy to the Lord. You can read the disastrous results in Daniel 5.
Six times in Leviticus, God says, “You shall be holy for I am holy.” That’s a serious command. It’s repeated in 1 Peter 1:15-16, and Paul reminds us to be holy as well. (1st Cor. 7:34, Eph. 1:4 & 5:27) But our status, character, and conduct are based on the status, character, and conduct of Almighty God. His righteousness becomes ours. He works on us and continues to transform our heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Only in glory will we be complete.
It was a strong focus of John Wesley’s preaching, intending that each new Christian have a process of support and accountability to maintain and continue their faith commitment. Anything that gets clean doesn’t automatically stay clean. Our spiritual growth comes through prayer, Bible study, consistent witness, service to others, and accountable fellowship. There are outward and inward elements.
Holiness, sanctification, dedication. All in for Him. Set apart. Lives of obedience.
Maybe those two shoppers I described from a Holiness denomination are doing their best to get it right. But, they certainly stand out as being set apart. They look different from many other Walmart shoppers. (Which in many cases is a great improvement.) But I sure can’t judge their hearts. We look upon the outside, but the Lord sees all of our hearts.
I imagine many of you have prayed before meals something like, “Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies, and us to Thy service.” Indeed. Bless us to Your service Lord, and make us holy like You.