Holiness and hope

Sometimes the Lord lays something on your heart that just won’t go away. A verse, maybe, or an idea keeps cropping up again and again which try as you might, you can’t ignore.

For example, over the past few months I have found myself more and more thinking about the whole concept of holiness. It’s not a subject that we talk about much and it has a distinctly old-fashioned feel. Indeed what’s striking when the church debates a big issue like, say, marriage, is the overwhelming silence on the subject. There is – quite rightly – much said about listening and compassion, and keeping up with contemporary understanding, but unless I’ve missed it, virtually no reference at all to holiness.

But why focus on holiness at all? Well, for a start, there is an awful lot in the Bible about holiness. When Isaiah catches a glimpse of the Lord in the temple, he hears the angels cry Holy, holy, holy (Is 6:3). When the Israelites are given the law, God commands them to: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy (Lev 19:2). When Jesus prays in the New Testament He calls upon His Holy Father (John 17:11) and He Himself is proclaimed as the Holy One of God (John 6:69). The third person of the Trinity is specifically named as the Holy Spirit and His essence is to be Holy. And just as the Israelites were commanded to be holy, so we too are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy (1 Cor 1:2). Indeed the writer to the Hebrews tells us that without holiness no-one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).

Holiness is a massively important subject according to God’s word. And the more I read and pray, the more I believe we need to regain our understanding of what holiness is and why it matters. That’s one reason why we have begun this New Year looking at 1 Corinthians in our Sunday morning services. The whole point of Paul’s letter is to remind the church in Corinth of just who they are in Christ, to teach them to live lives which are measurably different according to the grace of God.

And alongside our Sunday morning teaching we are looking in our small groups at the Ten Commandments, basic teaching that we think we all know, but do we really? I do hope if you are reading this, you will want to come along and find out more.

Of course I realise that much of our energy this year will be directed at the Hope 2014 event in the first week of June. How does this emphasis on holiness connect in any way with a programme of outreach and mission? Isn’t it, in fact, rather a distraction?

To answer that question, I think again we need to go back to what the New Testament says about mission. Despite the clear emphasis on sharing the gospel, you will find remarkably little written about evangelism. That sounds strange when you consider someone like the apostle Paul who spent many years planting churches. But – and this is the crucial point to realise – Paul knew that to gain a hearing for the gospel you had to win credibility with your lifestyle. That’s why in every letter his stress is on how to live as a Christian, in order to show the grace of God in such a way that others ask questions about your faith.

That’s the link between holiness and hope. And it’s one that we need to stress particularly in today’s day and age. People aren’t going to be willing to listen to the gospel unless it is matched by an authentic alternative lifestyle. Our actions and our choices need to be different from those around them and in however weak and imperfect way reflect the holiness of God. Because how we live is the best – or the worst – advert for the gospel. To use a horrible phrase it shows whether  “we are for real”.

More about this in another post. But I hope at least I have got you thinking about this most important and most neglected of subjects because I believe passionately it matters. Over to you…

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