A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Why be holy?

I hope Tiffer won't mind me quoting this here, but his recent comment on my post on the Great Divorce made me giggle:

I may have already said this but look at what live as a universalist holds - no need to evangelise, holiness becomes less important, harder to find people who think along the same lines as you...wait a minute - sounds like evangelicalism!

It got me thinking about holiness; what the point is, and why we aim for it. You could say that I am writing this post from a "Christian Universalist" viewpoint - as I've already said, I'm still struggling over the particulars and not convinced of universal salvation, so forgive me if this post sounds more certain than I actually am :) Still, I pray that God will show me... or open my eyes to what he's already shown me. If you have any thoughts, as always your comments are welcome. Correct me if you like, but bear in mind that I may try to correct you back :)

It is apparently a paradox of the Christian faith that we are commanded to "Be perfect... as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), but Paul says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Or, in other words, Jesus commands us to be perfect even though he knows full well we couldn't possibly manage it, and indeed our works are not the thing that saves us, only James presents us with another dilemma: "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:17).

So, be perfect, but you can't be perfect, you must be saved by grace through faith, but faith must have works, but works can't save you.

There's obviously something amiss here, so I decided to think about it... And when I get thinking...

"If you love me, you will obey what I command," says Jesus (John 14:15). I think it may be here that we begin to get down to the matter...

Suppose you've recently got married. After rowing with your spouse, you're really depressed, feeling discouraged and inadequate, and to cheer yourself up you go and visit your mad cousin, who's building a time-machine.

Yes, really. Your mad cousin is building a time-machine. Bear with me...

Mad cousin pops you inside his Delorian/Police box/Shopping trolley, and sends you fifty years into the future. You turn up at a beautiful house, and find you and your spouse, your beautiful children and beautiful grandchildren all celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary. Your future self and your spouse are more in love than ever. You jump back into your Delorian/Police box/Shopping trolley and go back home.

Once home, you order your spouse to make you breakfast in bed every day, ignore them, insist on the last word in every argument, stay out late, and never help with housework.

Why would you do a thing like that??

Would it be because, assured that your spouse will in 50 years time be madly in love with you, you decide it doesn't matter if you make their life an utter misery right now?

It doesn't make sense, does it?

Jesus doesn't say, "Obey my commands so that I will love you" but "If you love me, you will obey my commands". It's not emotional blackmail - tsk, you didn't obey, you must not love me - but a statement of fact. If we love Jesus, why would we take his commands for granted? If he says he'll be with us to the end of the age, does that mean that we can continue to sin and have fun because we're sure he'll never leave us?

"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2)

Or as C.S. Lewis put it: How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing it is irresistible.

If someone only does good and strives for holiness to avoid Hell then I don't believe that they love Jesus at all, and I think they've seriously misunderstood the idea of salvation by grace. We do not strive for holiness to make ourselves better. In fact, that would simply make our holiness a source of pride. "I am holy so God loves me". We know that our own holiness cannot possibly compare to God's holiness, and if we think that our works have any part in saving us, then we say that God's grace is not as powerful as we originally thought.

Why be holy? Because God loves us. Because we love God. Because knowing that God is perfection, why would we even want to sin? Why do we want to do the things that God sent his son to die for?

We don't strive for holiness because it will get us to Heaven and sin will send us to Hell - we strive for holiness because it's the best thing. If we are in love, we want to make our lover happy. We know that holiness is the highest ideal. To sin would be sheer foolishness. Why would we want to when we know holiness is much better?

So I was thinking about what James said - "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." I believe this is not saying that we should all rush out and do good works to make sure that we are saved. I think he's actually saying that faith inevitably leads to works. We love because God first loved us, or as Paul puts it "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10) Or as he says to the Galatians, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23). If God's spirit dwells in us, fruit is inevitable. If we show no love for others, then our faith has a problem... then we know that we need the Holy Spirit.

I think we should also bear this in mind when considering the Great Commission:

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

He doesn't say that we should go out and get people to pray one little prayer so that we can save them for Heaven... He says, "Make disciples." This is a lot harder work and a lot more labour-intensive than handing out tracts or getting people to come to one meeting. A disciple is not just a convert... Easton's Bible Dictionary puts it like this:

a scholar, sometimes applied to the followers of John the Baptist (Matt. 9:14), and of the Pharisees (22:16), but principally to the followers of Christ. A disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) imbibes his spirit, and (4) imitates his example (Matt. 10:24; Luke 14:26, 27, 33; John 6:69).

Being a disciple doesn't just mean believing in Jesus so that we can be saved, it means actively following him. Loving him, believing him, imitating him. It shouldn't just mean trusting Jesus to save us from Hell, but we trust Jesus to save us from sin, because, as I said earlier, holiness is much better than sin! Sinfulness is evil and damaging. Sin destroys. Sin spoils.

Or put it another way... You go back to visit your mad cousin, who pops you back into his time machine, and you go sixty years into the future this time. You see your best friend married to someone else you know. Despite your friend being ancient by this time, you can tell that being married has made him/her extremely happy.

You go back to the present and hear your best friend insulting their future spouse. You figure that at this rate it might actually take sixty years for them to get married. But suppose you could help them get to know each other better... Wouldn't you want to do that? You know they'll be married eventually but because you love your best friend you want him/her to be happy as much and as soon as possible.

If we believe that Jesus loves and heals our friends, why would we want to wait? Why not tell them now?

I don't believe that if we love God, we need to have the fear of Hell or damnation to keep us holy. We love because he loves us, not because if we don't love him he'll chuck us into torment for all eternity. Our "fear of the Lord" is not in terror for our lives but in respect of his awesome power and holiness - in gratitude, if it's possible to fear in gratitude... We don't take him lightly. We know he will rule, and we know he hates sin - and we submit ourselves accordingly. But if God is good, we need not fear injustice or cruelty. ("He's not a tame lion - but he is good.")

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28-29)

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  • At 3:59 pm , Anonymous Tiffer said...

    I'm touched :)

    I'd like to meet this cousin of yours!

    I agree that we shouldn't evangelise because of the fear of hell - but at the same time I wouldn't evangelise if everyone was going to heaven anyway - I certainly wouldn't waste resources on it. Here we have to look at how universalists do do it. And in my experience the closer to univeraslism a church gets the less mission shaped it tends to be.

    So I guess I agree with you in theory - but I don't think it happens in practice. I don't know much about it but I think the Beta course is much more liberal in its view to salvation - it's been going for years and I know of one church which does it!

    (by the way if you become a fully paid up universalist let me know, and I'll stop debating your posts!)

  • At 2:34 am , Blogger xianchick said...

    A Course In Miracles suggests that being children of God, we are actually already liberated from the bondage of bondage (did that make sense), but just can't see it... like we are locked in a prison that we built and shackled ourselves into, and the cuffs are unlocked, but we have not yet realized it.

    I've taken to the Quakers (Friends) b/c one day you can be universalist and the next an evangelist, and the next an agnostic, and it's all up to whatever God has chosen to show you; that is b/c we are all part of God's mind, and it is our inheritance to figure out what He wants from us.

    Anyway. I like your blog.

    It's nice to meet a fellow youngin, who's not a male, who considers Christ...

  • At 3:02 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I think you are trying to be TOO clever. Jesus poses these limitations/expectations knowing as a human you will not always meet His criteria. But his compassion and mercy give you chance after chance, its the trying that counts. Our reward in Heaven is a lifestyle too precious
    to RISK losing. If we knew all the answers we too would be a GOD not a mere human being.
    (Joyce.Roman Catholic.age 72yrs)

  • At 7:18 pm , Blogger Don said...


    I have found the Concordant Literal Translation of the New Testament to be particularly helpful when I find a verse which seemingly make little or no sense to me. For instance, Matt 5:48 says in the CLNT: "You, then, shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Notice the tense here. It is not a command, but a statement. Hope this makes sense to you. The CLNT is available at http://www.concordant.org
    at a very reasonable price..It gives a very literal translation straight out of the Greek. Peace


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