What does it mean to be one who affirms and embodies God’s work of sanctification? God’s holy people, made holy by God’s Holy Spirit, resembling nothing more than God’s holy One? Why does this matter for our everyday lives?
Whenever I find myself considering what it means to be wholly holy (forgive the pun) or fully God’s child, I am drawn to three different, complex, and interwoven realities.
The only way imaginable for holiness to be all-consuming in our lives is for our lives to be wholly given to God. God’s lavish and abundant firstness in loving us—God’s love is upon us and such initiating love is beckoning us to respond. God’s love is compelling and when believers respond to God’s love—in a moment, and over a lifetime—they come to know more of what it means to be alive; fully, wholly, consumed by God’s grace for them. They know themselves to be free, beloved, and whole. God’s love begins to saturate their lives.
The more we participate in such a life of love, the more we discover that we need deepening in our whole-hearted, life-saturated love of God. As it fills and purifies us, witnessing to God’s power at work in us by the Spirit of the Living Lord Jesus.
This participation has a beginning—but it does not have an ending.
The witness of God’s dwelling in my life (or yours) then, should be light-infusing and life-giving. Any stench of death-bringing, hate-full, violent, disease will waft away. Instead we find life, newly created by God--a life that is fragrant, grace-filled and generous, deeply loving and love-saturated, committed, and godly in wisdom and counsel. The person who is drawn by the Spirit and responds to living in the Way of Jesus gives God a “yes” to his or her life being re-made, from the inside out and the outside in. It has been said not only do we think our way into acting but also act our way into thinking.
Our lives in their God-ness demonstrate repeatedly that God’s ways are of love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, generosity, sacrifice, humility, and servant-hearted strength. Our lives must be lived in response to all that Christ has done--worked out in faithful commitment to the commands to love God, others, and self in the power of the Spirit: what God has done for us in Christ through the Spirit is worked out in us.
Of course, the closer we are to God, the more aware we are of our immense reliance on God’s Spirit to shape and renew us, form us, and infuse us so that we are entirely God’s. Empowered by the Spirit, we lean on God’s presence to form in us mature and holy characters with a distinct family resemblance to Jesus.
The truth will be worked out personally and corporately. The best evidence of a life of holiness will be gathered in multiple dimensions: as we love God in praise and celebration, and personally participate in disciplines and sacraments of the church—and as we lead lives of daily cross-shaped living. Our inward renewal is expressed in our love to others: those treasured and valued people whom God loves and longs to draw into God’s family, including people within the community of faith and outside of it: poor people, oppressed people, other people.
In meeting with others not yet in community as well as those in community, we quickly discover the ways we still need to align ourselves with grace. Nothing, but nothing, challenges holiness more than other people and their ways. Of course, in church we’re to be participants in the kind of community that stretches you, truth-tells to you (and with you)—the kind of community that knows so much of grace that it oozes into the streets and regions around it.
Yet, even these are tough places to hone holiness.
But where there’s a holiness community, lives are (should be) joyfully transformed, communities (should) begin to look different, the world sees (should see) that God’s creative life-giving love is always spilling into the highways and byways, inviting others to a feast.
In the day-to-day living out of holiness, God’s life-in-us is breathed into and out of us in the rhythm of prayer, in disciplines of time, in restful abiding, in repeated acts of obedience, in mastering our tongues as we speak, in witnessing within us that God’s presence is at work. It means the inner being is renewed—we, God’s people, by one sacrifice, being recreated into the image of Christ, God’s only Son.
In our rhythms and practices of life, we gather as God’s people, setting aside time to learn in community as the people of God. We remember our baptism and share in the Lord’s Supper and are renewed in our spirit as people and individuals by the presence of the risen Christ through his Spirit in our midst.
We feast together. We give of our time, money, energy; we offer our children up to this community of love, and we do so with open hearts, knowing that somehow or another we become more when we gather than when we are on our own.
In our corporate practices we think of ourselves as we ought—neither better than others, nor unforgiven or forsaken. Remembering our forgiveness, we proclaim our joyful hope to those we encounter in friendship and in the ordinary places our lives take us. Hospitable, we hang out with people who don’t yet know Jesus, and trust that God’s presence at work will help us find ways of seasoned conversations that speak of Jesus.
When we come to recognize and celebrate the gift of grace to us, we are discipled, by other, wiser, mature people who journey with us, not perfectly flawless, nor flawlessly perfect, but fully human people who wrestle with God’s call and are renamed, God’s children, heirs: God’s.
In our daily lives, from waking to sleeping, we seek God’s face. From our private spaces where no one watches to our public spaces where we speak life and blessing over others, we increase in love. Our hearts ache for brokenness, for it is manifestly around us (and affects us).
But, like the Jesus we know and love, we grieve for broken and pain-filled lives—and long to weep, then heal, then give our lives for the sake of others. We recognize where we fall short and we confess, aware of our shortcomings and failures—and willing to acknowledge them. We resist hate in all its forms, from racial, to sexual, from bigotry that makes enemies of people, to hating our own selves.
We resist hating, despising, or dismissing those not like us, and we search for God’s eyesight to become our own: how does God’s love color the community around us? How might we proclaim the reconciling power of cross-shaped love? How might our lives become more and more Christlike?
Compelled by the witness of a life lived out utterly and completely in service to God, this kind of whole-life consecration is beautiful to see. People touched by this holiness discover that it is contagious. It beckons to them. They want to be with these kind of holy people, because their love of life is evident, their love of people warming, their hope for others inspiring, their passionate belief that God is for others a measure of their understanding of holiness.
Like Jesus, people in all their frailty discover that God’s love is for the sick and sinning—and that when God-in-Christ demands action (to sin no more), that same God gives strength for that self-same obedience and renewal. New brothers and sisters who come into faith are adopted into God’s family as they are, and God’s call to holy living is celebrated and embraced because of God’s great gift of love and enabling grace, living out of that loving embrace, secure in the promises that God is able.
Of course, as I write that, I’m aware that such holiness is challenging and takes total cooperation with God’s Spirit—and so woven into our lives of holiness is a consecration: over and again speaking “yes” to God’s direction of our lives. Open-hearted to rebuke, open-eared to exhortation, open-minded to learning, open-eyed to grace’s works.
We are not afraid to name sin and failure, for only in so doing can we see that our denials of Christ (like Peter’s) are outmatched by God’s desire to forgive and offer renewal, transformed minds, living sacrifices. As Marva Dawn says, we realize that the problem with living sacrifices is that they crawl off the altar, and we determine that by grace we will renew daily our prayer for the bread of life.
We celebrate, though! For there is optimism in grace. God’s Holy Spirit, the breath of life within us, enables us to be aligned with the plumb line of God’s grace for humankind: over and again. We realise that we do not have to succumb to sin’s temptation—and we are wise enough to realise that temptation itself is not sin.
Instead, when our lives are saturated by love, we do not leave room for sins of pride, hate, bitterness, cruelty.
Even so, we are dynamic, frail, growing, maturing—true humans—and so our love needs to be practised in the day-to-day.
Our lives given over to God mean so much more than a static, once-only response. Thank God that we become more and more Christlike as we imitate those who’ve gone before us. In this understanding of people: wholly given to God, light-shining lives, personally and corporately reshaped into the likeness of Christ, we discover the profound hope that our faith offers us: Jesus is Lord and as Lord does more than we could ever imagine.
So, our holiness is dynamic, unhurried, fluid, it is a way of life and the direction of our travel is towards its final culmination, at the feast of the King, who sits and shares a meal of love with his good and faithful servants.
Deirdre Brower Latz is principal and senior lecturer in pastoral and social theology at Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, England.