Tuesday, February 1, 2022

It is hard to be holy. . .

I was recently reminded of an old Vince Lombari quote:   Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.  It is rather quaint compared to the mindset of most folks today.  What was used to inspire on the football field was once a more common characteristic of daily life.  However, we live in an age in which come as you are, be who you are, and it is all good have led us to strive for little in the way of perfection and to be satisfied with much less than excellence.  This is true of the Church as well.  There is little in the way of a call to repentance and to be holy that you hear on Sunday morning.  Most preachers and most churches seem to be content with a happy story, a moralizing lesson, and encouragement.  All of that may have a place but not if we no longer strive to be the people God has declared us to be in baptism.

In particular Lutherans, so conscious of sin, are tempted to believe that since perfection is unattainable, it does not need to be the focus at all.  The Lord's call to be holy has become our contentment to be moderate in all things -- including holiness.  Maybe that is why some Lutherans were so susceptible to the sexual agendas and gender focus that has predominated their agendas of late.   It is also why those who do not pander to just the way you are theology are so self-conscious and fearful of being called haters.  I am sure that this is part of what is behind the antinomian debate currently going on among Lutherans.

It is not hard to understand.  It is hard to be holy.  To fight against the sinful desires of the flesh and the temptations of the devil and the worldly approval of whatever floats your boat is to incur some pain, real pain and not imagined.  To control the flesh and say no to self is neither easy nor is it something we are born with -- it must be learned and practiced.  Who wants to do that?  We say what we feel like saying and do not care how it affects others -- the lesson of anti-social media.  We do what we want to do without applying any categories of right or wrong or appropriate or inappropriate to it -- the lesson of self-interest.  We reserve the right to judge others but refuse the right of others to judge us -- the lesson of our isolation.  We prefer the comfortable lies we tell ourselves to the hard truth we do not want to hear -- the lesson of our feelings.  We are a people who have turned every prize into a participation trophy and every event into the arena where everyone shines.  We are all stars in our own minds.

Of all people Christians ought to be known as a people who chase perfection.  But that can hardly be said of us today.  We have become a people content with mediocrity, a people who strive only for that which is in reach, and a people who think that the most profound manifestation of God's grace is that He meets us where we are and not that He moves us beyond our destiny of sin and death.  It is so painfully sad that we as Christians have allowed ourselves to sucked into the denial and deception of the world and its judgment that feelings matter most of all.  We have a profound and powerful Gospel but we have rendered that Gospel impotent by making it subject to our feelings and preferences.  While this is certainly true of worship, it is even more true of the calls to be holy that are unmistakable in the words of Jesus, the writings of St. Paul, and the life of the early church.

Our bishops have become paper tigers whose dress seems to indicate that they are important but whose words and actions are cowardly.  When the powers that reigned in the pandemic said church was dangerous and, even worse, not even as important as a liquor store or abortion clinic, our church leaders sat on their hands and bowed their heads before the authority of science.  When rainbow flags became the most accepted symbol of the day, our church leaders flew the flag instead of fidelity to the Scriptures and doctrine of the Church.  When congregations complain about pastors who try to catechize our people back into orthodoxy or change worship to fit the faith (rather than the other way around), our church leaders scold them into submission or offer them the door in order to keep peace.  We have not heard the clarion call of the trumpet of God from the mouths of too many who carry the mantle of church leadership and it shows in the empty pews and the shallow things that pass for faith and worship.  The Gospel has become a meme and our penchant for a virtual church has not only allowed it but been a willing accomplice to the idea that it is merely a picture meant for a feeling.

It is hard to call a world to repentance.  Many a prophet of old would have rather run away and some did rather than become a voice for God to an erring people.  It is not God who failed us but we who failed God.  We chose to accommodate rather than to be voices of  God's light and life to a world of sin and darkness.  Lombardi was right, probably echoing what he learned in church, that we strive to be perfect even though we know it is unattainable -- but the result is that we achieve better than we would not striving at all!  We do not strive for the Kingdom but because we have been gifted the Kingdom we strive to walk worthy of it.  Listen to the calls to holiness from Scripture.

1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV   But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct. . . Since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Leviticus 11:44-45 ESV For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Leviticus 19:2 ESV “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

Colossians 1:10 ESV So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Ephesians 4:1 ESV I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 

Revelation 22:11 ESV  Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. 

Titus 2:12–13 ESV . . . training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. . .

Matthew 5:48 ESV   You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

It is the hard path, to be sure, but it is the road of the faithful, the narrow road and not the easy boulevard of self-indulgence, but we strive for holiness all the while knowing we will not be perfect, because nothing less will do.  In our failures God is quick to forgive and restore.  But what will God do to a people who no longer even try to be holy, upright, godly, righteous, and pure?  Perhaps it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

It is the narrow path of which Christ speaks. A path that marks us as odd, non-conformist, to the culture around us. I am guilty as the next person trying to fit in, to fly under the radar. It seems as if we are now living in a world in which we must choose the path that will either deny our Lord and who we are as believers, or face the disapproval and even persecution ahead.