Exchanging manmade holiness for a Christ-like holiness that touches a fallen world
“Welcome to Hell.”
That’s how a missionary greeted my sister when she landed in a third-world country to help out on his mission station. He said it politely with a smile, but he was dead serious. They weren’t there for an exotic vacation or a thrilling experience. Their goal was to live out their faith in the face of death, disease, poverty, and twisted worldviews.
Historically, this is what being a Christian is all about. Christians were once known for what they did, how they lived, and the kind of people they were. They stood for justice, integrity, compassion, and love, no matter the circumstances around them. They were known as salt and light.
But today Christians are known for what we’re against. We’re the weirdoes who abstain from too much partying, premarital sex, drugs, and alcohol, and probably think we’re better than everyone else because of it. We have our own radio stations, film industry, and book publishers. These bubbles cushion us from the hardness of the world.
After all, God commands His people, “Be Holy because I am holy.” Wouldn’t it follow that we are to protect ourselves from everything that isn’t holy? In order to reflect a perfect God, shouldn’t we do our best to create a pristine environment where we can live above culture’s filthiness and eventually attain holiness?
In order to be more spiritual, we shelter ourselves. We’re so afraid this little light of ours will be contaminated that we crawl under a bushel. In this confined area, the light is all we see. It becomes comfortable, and we forget darkness exists outside.
Satan wants us to believe this. He wants us to think life on earth is G-rated. He’s afraid that if we see the world for what it really is, we might do something about it. If he can keep our light comfortably burning under a bushel, we will never challenge darkness. Eventually our light will burn out. Quietly. Purposelessly. It will fade away.
If we live under a bushel, it is true that we may never have to hear a bad word or see anything shocking. We may also never make a difference. Is this holiness?
If we are to be holy because God is holy, let’s look at how He responded to a fallen world:
“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: ‘Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?’
“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:15-17).
Christ, the essence of holiness on earth, wasn’t afraid to get His hands dirty. He reached out and touched wicked people. He could handle the world’s brokenness because His holiness came from His divine nature, from within.
He rebuked the Pharisees because they tried to attain outward holiness. They focused on the external and protected themselves from anything that could be considered unclean. But Jesus still told them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).
I’m a Pharisee. I shelter myself from all kinds of profanity, immodesty, and worldliness. But inside I am just as vile as the “tax collectors and sinners” I avoid. My fear of facing the reality of sin in myself and in others hinders my effectiveness for the gospel.
Years ago I had a friend who made me feel dirty. Besides the fact that she was my age, we had little in common. She came from a broken home and lived in squalor. I came from a tidy, stable, Christian atmosphere. I was your typical church girl who wore skirts on Sundays. She took her fashion cues from prostitutes. I was soft-spoken and had never said a bad word in my life. Let’s just say she had a broader vocabulary.
Her cursing bothered me. My tender ears would burn when I heard her, and my naïve mind imagined this kind of talk was the pinnacle of sinfulness. Being a good Christian, I felt responsible for fixing her outward problems.
All she needed was Jesus. But I never told her about Him. Instead I tried to explain to her that she shouldn’t cuss. She looked at me with a blank stare. Over the years we lost touch. I don’t know where she is or what kind of life she’s living. I had an opportunity to influence her, but instead of showing her that she needed Christ, I tried to staunch the external symptoms of her need. I tried to clean the outside of the cup.
Real holiness comes from Christ. He offers us His holiness that resides within and can’t be tarnished or dimmed, no matter how evil the world around it. Our call to be holy is not a call to live in a perfect world or to create our own perfect world. It is a call to march through shadow and filth, bearing the image of Christ into a fallen world.
Welcome to Hell.
We may get uncomfortable. We may see and hear things we didn’t want to know. We may have to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have calluses on my hands and the holiness of God in my heart than fall asleep in my pew with a manmade holiness on my sleeve.
- Grace D Williamson