Monday, November 25, 2013
Holiness is not nice. . .
Holiness does not remain silent before vulgarity. It does not shrug off lies that are passed as truth. It does not abide fools or foolishness for the sake of politeness. It does not compromise doctrine. It does not surrender integrity nor the integrity of truth for the sake of kindness. Holiness is not a choice between truth and mercy. Holiness is the merciful truth of sin exposed, of death unmasked, of repentance unfeigned, of forgiveness unearned, of righteousness unmerited, and of life undeserved.
Jesus is the model of all holiness yet He was no mild mannered pushover. In a holy rage, our Lord cleansed the temple so that its true purpose might not be distorted or masked any longer. In the expression of a merciful truth He called a woman a dog seeking what was not hers. In display of holiness He insisted that the sin of the adulterous woman was nothing small or innocuous and accompanied her gift of forgiveness with the call to sin no more. The disciples chafed under the hard sayings of Jesus and the fear that if what He said were true, no one could be saved. No, Jesus is no agreeable sort but relentless in holiness of life and conduct even as He is unwavering in His walk to suffering and death that brings forgiveness and life.
As one acquaintance put it, holiness is hot to the touch. Our sinful natures pull away just like we remove our fingers from a hot pot as soon as possible. Holiness makes enemies and stands out and is generally unfairly labelled as arrogance or self-righteousness. Holiness is in essence the idea that we are set apart, called forth, made distinct, in but not of the world. Jesus was surely not crucified for being nice but His holiness was so offensive that His enemies could abide it no longer. Holiness always shines light on sin as a consequence of its very existence.
Christians confuse niceness with holiness too often. Perhaps because it is easier to try to be nice than it is to be holy in Christ. On the one hand we figure if we are polite and easy to get along with, we have fulfilled our calling to be holy as God is holy. We assume that if we are tolerant and accepting, we have kept the Biblical mandate to be the salt, light, and yeast (leavening) Jesus says we are. Jesus did not call us to faith, wash us clean in His blood by baptism, and breathe His Spirit into our hearts so that we might be nice. He did this so that we might wear His holiness and righteousness before the world. When we Christians begin to understand this, we instinctively shy away from it. If the Lord expects me to speak up and to stand out, we are not so sure we are capable of it all. But that is also the promise. We forge not our own holiness rooted in our pure hearts and manifest in our blameless lives. No, the holiness we wear is the one we were given in our baptism. We have no boast and it is our calling and our privilege to literally wear Christ and be Christ to the world. Yes, this is a daunting task. With us it is impossible, as Jesus testifies, but with God it is not impossible.
Goodness knows I am not saying we need to be rude or arrogant or self-righteous. There is far too much of that in the world as it is. But we need to be careful lest we exchange the true holiness of Christ for simply being polite and nice. Our witness to the world is Christ, whose holiness always convicts us as to our sin and whose mercy provides forgiveness for that sin. No witnesses to Christ are welcomed by the world. Jesus is blunt in promising us that the world will treat us exactly the way it treated Him. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake... blessed are you when men revile you, persecute you, and say all manner of untrue evils against you on My account... But the sad truth is that we try harder to be nice than we do to be holy and our witness suffers because of it.
I am reminded of those bumper stickers in town that proudly announce My child is on the honor roll to which some mischievous parents respond My kid can beat up your kid on the honor roll. But my favorite is truly the one that speaks not of achievement or strength but character. My kid is a good kid. Christians are not called to be bullies nor are they called to parade their righteousness before the world. They are called to be Christians, the set apart in Christ for Christ, and to witness His truth and manifest His holiness before the world. This is our baptismal vocation. This is also the means through which Christ has promised to work -- the faithful witness to Christ in word and deed.
We are long suffering but for the sake of the Gospel... We are patient but because we know the outcome of the faith and can afford to look beyond the moment to our promised eternity... We are kind but not for kindness' sake; we are kind in exactly the way Christ has shown us His kindness, compassion, and mercy... We are people of truth and conviction but because only the truth of Christ has the power to rescue and redeem the lost and this is the conviction about which we are most sure and certain... We are set apart not to hide from the world but to mirror to the world Christ and His righteousness... Nice will not do. Holiness is the calling to which we have been called by baptism and faith. If we are holy, then we will manifest true mercy, compassion, and grace -- not as our own achievement but as those who are constantly being renewed by the mercy of God through the voice of the absolution, the remembrance of our baptism, the preaching of the Gospel, and the taste of eternity in Christ's body and blood.