Knight's Armor

For many years, I thought that holiness is sort of conferred upon Christians, maybe a little like knighthood. When I hear other Christians talk, it sounds as if they may be under the same impression.

There also seems to be disagreement on when holiness is conferred. Pentecostals might say it’s when the Holy Spirit “comes upon” people. They’re holy if they speak in tongues. Baptists might say it’s when adults get baptized. They’re holy when they rise from the water. Evangelicals might say you’re holy when you witness to others.

Holy means set apart for special use—not in a condescending way, but a remarkable way. You might say remarkably different. Uncommonly good. There’s a certain nobility to it, so maybe holiness is a little like knighthood. But it’s a command we follow rather than something conferred on us. And, obviously, it must be doable or it wouldn’t be a command.

Holiness is associated with rightness, goodness, and perfection (completion). “But just as he who called you is holy, so you be holy in all you do.” (1Pet. 1:15) “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat. 5:48)

Fortunately, and contrary to some teaching, holiness isn’t about being flawless, omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. If it were, Scripture would command us to be God, which is impossible and makes no sense. Being holy is about being whole, becoming right again, sound of mind, will, body, and behavior—all elements of personhood aligned with God’s will for mankind’s good. In other words, His love.

Biblical love is nothing fancier than the will and desire for His greater good in any situation. Yet there’s nothing nobler. It may be holy and misunderstood, but not impossible.

You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward will you get? Aren’t even tax collectors doing that? If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Don’t even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat. 5:43-48)

God is looking for people of remarkable character who can do what is commonly thought to be un-doable. He wants this not so we can satisfy His ego, but so He can safely share power and glory with us; so He can trust people with the dominion He originally intended.

Dominion without love always leads to ill will, self-righteousness, fear, manipulation, unkindness, and other sins that become the accepted norm. When the love of most, even Christians, grows cold, no one expects anything different or remarkable. People are thus unprepared for the fullest life with God—both in earthly life and the afterlife when ruling and serving in good will is the name of the game.

So I think churches need to better define, prioritize, model, and teach love. Let’s not just talk about how much “God loves you” or say that Jesus loves you enough to die for you, then leave it there like a penny on the sidewalk. We should teach how to love as Jesus loves and why it’s essential to pick it up and practice it. The Sermon on the Mount is where Jesus himself taught it.

(I wrote two very basic 6-part blogs on the Sermon’s content—one entitled 6 Steps to Unsabotage Yourself in Every Relationship, the other entitled 6 Sneaky Ways to Poison Your Spirit. If you’d like to read them, you can use the Search box at the top of the sidebar.)

Christians talk about saving the soul, and by that they usually mean securing “eternal destiny” after physical death. But God doesn’t just save the soul and abandon the person. The soul is the person. And it isn’t just about future well-being, but about present well-being, too. Holiness is intended for the whole person and the whole world, to calm and comfort the cries of the soul.

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jhn. 13:34-35)




Agape (Photo credit: danakin)

Probably most Christians—pastors and laypeople alike—are confused about biblical love. So if even they’re clueless, how can rest of the world understand?

After last week’s post, a reader asked if blessing those who curse us, loving enemies, and doing good is service or love. My answer was that there’s no difference between them. Service is simply one way that love manifests. So is patience, kind deeds, hospitality, encouraging words, prayer, or any other quality of good character.

The best way I’ve found keep love (agape, good will) in context is to use the phrase, “promote the good” in place of “love.” Agape is the word used in loving neighbors as self, among other verses. Thus, “promote the good of your neighbors as you would yourself.” Or, “If you promote the good of only those who promote yours, what are you doing so remarkable? Don’t even tax collectors do that?” Or, “For God so willed the good of the world…,” “speak the truth in good will,” and so on.

There’s nothing special about willing the good of friends, family, and people you like. Even gang members do that. But willing it for enemies involves invoking God to help you. (I can always tell where my heart is by what I sincerely ask God to do.) For example, if you want to love the guy who just stole your car, but you certainly don’t like him, you ask God to somehow bring about his good. That’s how you love and bless an enemy.

You may never know how he ends up, but that’s not your responsibility. On the other hand, God might answer with a police chase where he’s seriously injured after wrecking your car. Maybe he nearly dies. Maybe God meets him in that experience and his life turns around.

Loving enemies doesn’t mean we’re responsible for the outcome, although we can often influence it. We’re responsible for our own character and behavior, and praying for enemies promotes our good and well-being regardless how they turn out. God is always the author and finisher; you’re the contributor. That’s how you love Him and promote His good. (more…)

Man with log in eyeBen Franklin said, “The proud hate pride—in others.” Most of us understand pride as stubbornness, egotism, or boastfulness; and, as a Church, we’re quick to condemn all the pride in the world. At least we’re trying to be humble, so Ben’s statement doesn’t apply to us, right?

I like the following definition because, to me, it’s a real eye opener: Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having your way. And everyone does that, some more than others, especially in the religious arena.

By contrast, love is the pre-disposition to not insist on having your way. C. S. Lewis noted, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” Paul’s famous line that love doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast, and isn’t proud (1Cor. 13:4) thus makes perfect sense.

Paul didn’t mean romantic love (eros), since romantic love does these very well. Poets and songwriters like to say that eros is noble and all about the other person, but it’s actually rather insistent on having its way. (Just watch what happens when marriage or romantic relationships go bad and egos are so terribly wounded.)

Paul was talking about agape love, the opposite of pride. Agape is precisely the great “beyond” that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and the life to the full that Jesus offers to those who repent (change). (more…)


Image by Lel4nd via Flickr

I read an interesting article, “You Never Marry the Right Person.” That article sparked debate in comments from readers. I added my own comment, and then realized it might make an interesting post on my blog. For what it’s worth, here’s my comment, expanded a bit for my own readers:

What if we’ve been looking at marriage out of context for centuries and missed the big picture, straining out gnats and swallowing the camel? This is way over-simplified, but points worth considering:

1. Adam and Eve are two halves of mankind in God’s image. His purpose for mankind is to rule and serve His creation (rule/serve being synonymous) in partnership with Him. (Gen. 1:26) That purpose is the same today. Everything in life, including marriage, feeds that purpose.

2. In biblical perspective, Jews and Gentiles (non-Jewish peoples) are also two halves of mankind in God’s image. Just as Eve completes Adam, so Gentiles complete the Jews. Two halves make the joined, completed whole. The two shall become one. (more…)