Holiness - You can do it!!
Holiness is an important part of the Methodist identity. At its best, Methodism takes seriously the command to ‘be holy, because I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44-45).
This desire to be obedient to the command of God for Holiness that it became enshrined in Methodism’s constitutional documents, in the deed of union section 2; paragraph 4;
The Methodist Church claims and cherishes its place in the Holy Catholic Church which is the Body of Christ. It rejoices in the inheritance of the apostolic faith and loyally accepts the fundamental principles of the historic creeds and of the Protestant Reformation. It ever remembers that in the providence of God Methodism was raised up to spread scriptural holiness through the land by the proclamation of the evangelical faith and declares its unfaltering resolve to be true to its divinely appointed mission.
Over the years, those who have found the strictures of the scriptures uncomfortable have developed the notion of ‘social holiness’. This is a separate way of living out the Christian faith, separate from the scriptures and is almost self-honouring as it seeks to do good in the world in the name of God but without coming under God’s authority.
Scriptural holiness is one whereby we seek God and, through searching the scriptures and coming to know God’s will for them; to act with the justice, mercy and grace that faith in Jesus brings. Thus holiness is a complete action.
Holiness For All
In recent times, there has been an emphasis on holiness being an élitist affair. It being not for ordinary people but for rarified and often separate orders and special individuals. Kevin de Young, in the opening chapter of his book, A Hole in Our Holiness; comments;
I’m not the first to think there is something missing in the contemporary church scene. In his book, Rediscovering Holiness, J.I. Packer claims that present day believers find holiness passé. He cites three pieces of evidence: (1) We do not hear about holiness in our preaching and books. (2) We do not insist upon holiness in our leaders. (3) We do not touch upon the need for holiness in our evangelism. These observations sound right to me. P 12
The holiness that the church requires is one which reflects the truth of God’s character and being through our lives to the world around us. If we are not holy, we can not do holy things. If we are not holy, we can not bear the fruit of holiness. It follows that the thing called ‘social holiness’ must be an outworking of ‘scriptural holiness’. - the source of our knowledge of God and of his character and good purposes. In discovering holiness, we discover the life that God impart to us. Holiness increases with the level of our faith and our obedience to God. What may have felt like a huge step in holiness years ago may not be enough for a seasoned Christian who is more practised in the ways of God.
Holiness is not for the holy élite: the super-Christians of your church or the ‘famous Christians’ of social media or famous preachers/speakers at events. All disciples of Christ as called to be holy as were the people of God under the Levitical laws.
Holiness: A Process
Dr Helen Roseveare observes when watching a young man be sent back to re-wash his dirty hands before lunch in the Ituri forest in Central Africa where she was working as a. doctor;
How hard it is to conceive of the possibility of ‘being holy’ when daily we are conscious of failure? Jaki had probably dabbled his hands in the cool water, and in the dim, half-light down at the pool, surrounded by the mighty forest, maybe they did look clean - at least cleaner than they had been previously. When he had clambered back up to the courtyard and into the brilliance of the midday sunshine, they just did not look clean any longer. Listen to the words of the Psalmist: Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who does not lift his soul to an idol Or swear by what is false. (Ps. 24:3,4) Living Holiness P 46
Recognising our need for salvation and our ongoing sanctification are both key to becoming more like Jesus. When we long to be close to him, we are achieving marks on the way towards holiness. Jaki was clean, but could be made cleaner. The closer we are to God, the more obviously the grubbiness and filth of our life show up. In our desire for sanctification, we begin the spiritual discipline of our ongoing salvation. Being Holy is a command from ancient times, spelt out for the good of God’s people. It is railed against, critiqued and despised by people who would rather ‘live and let live’.
However, the biblical holiness to which we are called is ignored at the peril of our personal salvation and at the peril of the Church corporate.
The Effort of Holiness
Holiness is not salvation. It is the programme of entering more fully into God’s kingdom by our actions and attitudes.
J.C. Ryle has written one of the seminal texts on Holiness, dating back to 1879 and bearing the idioms of its period. It has been reproduced in Ryle’s own words to help a generation who have lost sight of the importance and essentials of holiness to enter into this crucial charism.
‘Without holiness, no one will see the Lord’. Heb. 12:14
The text which heads this page [sic] opens up a subject of deep importance. That subject is practical holiness. It suggests a question which demands the attention of all professing Christians: Are we holy? Shall we see the Lord? p54
DeYoung talks about salvation being ‘positional holiness’ P 33.
The business of salvation is achieved in our acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. Holiness is a ‘process’ wherein we draw closer to God through our obedience and fellowship in the Holy Spirit. We discern God’s holy presence in situations, and philosphies, even moral standpoints that the world takes. These are all measurable by Scripture. If it ‘feels good’ but is either forbidden, or spoken against in holy Scripture, we can not and must not declare it to be holy. We cannot claim God where he is not present.
Declaring the Lord’s favour or presence over something that is not of God does not make it holy.
This is why proper wariness of ‘social holiness’ makes sense. There is a warning to 'be holy’ not to ‘ascribe holiness’ to that which God has not blessed. Popular cultural trends throughout the ages have been subject to the rigours of this test. Where the authority of the holy Scriptures is denied, there is a lack of growth of the church in personal faith and in evangelistic impetus.
Without the holiness that comes from a deep knowledge of God in the Scriptures or where the authority of scripture is denied - there is atrophy of faith and spiritual death looms.
Ryle and deYoung call this the ‘effort’ of faith. To stay close to God and the Scriptures in the pursuit of sanctification and they both recognise it as the battle referred to, especially in Ephesians 6:10-20.
Holiness is an outworking of salvation in which a person is sanctified.
The Methodist Church has doctrines of salvation and of sanctification. ‘Salvation by Faith’ is the first of John Wesley’s sermons that enshrine our doctrinal standards. Notably, salvation begins our faith. Sanctification is the ongoing process by which we become holy and is the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
Holiness is not therefore a list of what must be avoided which is ritualistically stuck to through gritted teeth - a kind of Christian austerity where no fun is to be had and no joy is taken from life.
There is a list of things that are bad for people - for all people, but we saw how well the ‘don’t touch it’ approach went down in the Garden of Eden.
Seeing holiness as a fruit of salvation makes far more sense. DeYoung, in his working out of the church-wide holiness deficit observes;
The demands of Jesus cannot be separated from his person and his work. Whatever holiness he requires is the fruit of his redeeming work and for the display of his personal glory. But in all this necessary nuance, do not miss what many churches have overlooked: Jesus expects obedience from his disciples. Passing on the imperatives of Christ is at the heart of the Great Commission. P 16
It follows that holiness of action and attitude are borne of our salvation. Instead of following a list of rules that lead us stoically away from temptations; we find ourselves delighting in following the ways and purposes of Jesus through a heartfelt desire to be where he is. This is called obedience, and obedience is at the root of holiness. DeYoung also puts the theory that is is due to people not being “born again by the Spirit” P 18, that holiness is not being pursued.
Helen Roseveare makes it clear that we are not on our own in attempting to live holy lives:
The Holy Spirit, in His gracious work of sanctification in our hearts, gives us certain specific gifts that we may be holy and pleasing to God in our daily lives. Firstly, he gives us the gift of conviction of sin, and with it the ability to repent. Secondly, He pours into our hearts the love of God, thus enabling us to love God and our fellow men. Thirdly, He gives us the desire to do so with enjoyment, in the little as in the bigger things of daily life. P 120
Methodism Must Be Holy
The Wesleyan denominations, of which British Methodism is just one, the Deed of Union notwithstanding, place high value on holiness.
Holiness is not a simple ‘opt in’, it is the very character of God which we enter into in our salvation through Christ. Calvin Samuel, a Methodist minister and scholar talks about the robust nature of holiness;
If our understanding of holiness is to be distinctly Christocentric, we too must model an offensive rather than a defensive posture. Rather than viewing holiness as a fragile flower needing to be protected in an inhospitable climate of godlessness and disbelief, we might see it as light which always has power to pierce darkness. Never underestimate what a little bit of light (or bleach) can do. More Distinct P 84
Methodism has long had both an evangelistic priority (All can be saved) in which it has actively sought to extend God’s kingdom among unbelievers - both in the UK and overseas. Taking the gospel into new territory of what we now call post-christian society is not as fraught with danger and difficulty as we maybe have told ourselves.
Holiness is distinctively Godly.
Holiness is distinctively based on Christ.
Holiness distinctively about repentance and salvation which leads to something better.
We do not judge a person according to the sin we see, but we love them according to the measure of God’s grace within us. As we saw in Helen Roseveare’s comments on p 120, the work of the Holy Spirit will do the interior business. Holiness will always be holy, as Calvin Samuel points out. It is there to transform the inhospitable terrain and by its own nature is incorruptible. It may be increasingly rare, but that does not reduce its power or effectiveness in changing the spiritual climate of a place.
DeYoung says that;
Holiness is the sum of a million little things —the avoidance of little evils and little foibles, the setting aside of little bits of worldliness and little acts of compromise, the putting to death of little inconsistencies and little indiscretions, the attention to little duties and little dealings, the hard work of little self-denials and little self-restraints, the cultivation of little benevolences and little forbearances. Are you trustworthy? Are you kind? Are you patient? Are you joyful? Do you Love? These qualities worked out in the little things of life, determine whether you are blight or blessing to everyone around you, whether you are an ugly spiritual eyesore or growing up into a good-looking Christian. P145
So holiness is necessary in transforming the world into the place where Christ is King.
It begins with salvation and is rooted in the holy Scriptures.
It is possible and necessary for all Christians, It is a process, beginning with a posture of salvation.
Holiness is necessary to the Church because it brings a delight in being Godly which is infectious and a zeal for faith that means that evangelistic mission and outreach are obvious and immediate priorities for the church.