Holiness has fallen on hard times. It’s used more often as derogatory slang than to denote something enthrallingly beautiful. It’s ugly and it’s dirty; but that may both closer and furthest from the truth than you may think.
In one sense holiness should get dirty; it may be a prerequisite.
We’ve come to define holiness by comparison: ‘holier-than-thou’ instead of it’s missional purpose ‘holier-for-thou’. Holiness is not that I am better than you, but I am on the road to health for you and the world. Holiness is adjusting your life and beliefs to better travel along the grain of the universe. Holiness, essentially, is about wholeness. It’s about becoming more human and humane. It’s not about becoming more spiritual and detached but more Spiritual and grounded.
But how do we get there?
Paul tells us in Colossians 3.5 that we are to ‘put to death that which is earthly in us’. What does this actually look like? How do we progress in the life of faith? How do we pursue holiness and wholeness?
Traditionally I’ve been taught that in order to ‘put my sin to death’, we had to begin by replacing bad thinking with right thinking and everything else would fall into place. If this is where we begin I would agree but I begin to disagree when this is where we end. Other streams of Christianity have taught that we need to grit our teeth, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and ‘Just.Say.No’. But both by themselves are misguided. We are whole beings, which means that we are all but linear. Our behaviours do not automatically change as soon as we update our belief structures. There exists in us a two-way street where we see that our beliefs affect our behaviour but that our behaviours also affect our beliefs.
We need both an overt and covert plan if we are to be successful in putting our sin to death; both a short-term and a long-term plan to kill the fruit (behaviours) as well as poison the root (idolatry).
Paul tells us in Colossians 3.5-6 that we are to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in [us]: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry’. Did you notice the progression?
Sexual immorality is the fruit of which idolatry is the root. We need to deal with both.
Dealing with the fruit
We pursue wholeness as we reject the behaviours that cut us off from the life that God intended us to live and is creating in us as he renews the universe. At one point or another we must say ‘No!’ to the particular ways our idolatries come to the fore. There is a place for the Spirit-empowered use of the will to direct the members of our being to reject sinful behaviours. Many fear this is a slippery slope into legalism; which says that my killing of sin will earn me the approval of God. Our Spirit-empowered use of the will does not earn us favour with God but is fuelled by the favour granted us in the gospel. As Dallas Willard reminds us, ‘Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is an action; earning is an attitude’.
By The Spirit: Say No.
Dealing with the root
There is a very helpful tool that we use at Anchor Church, Sydney called Fruit to Root (originating with SOMA). Fruit to Root helps us discover the underlying false beliefs that are fueling our sinful behaviours.
For instance, I found that I was easily offended and resentful toward my wife when she didn’t go over the top by applauding my domestic efforts. I would often do the dishes very loudly and announce my victory over the mess that was, expecting my Katherine to pay for a billboard on the highway in order to show the world just how incredibly valuable I was to her. When this did not happen, I would become angry and frustrated. We began to reap some of the havoc that my sinful attitudes were sowing and I needed to change. I needed to pursue wholeness.
Fruit to Root seeks to dig beneath the surface of our sinful attitudes and actions and point to the fuel tanker so we can explode it with gospel-truths. For my journey it looked like this:
Fruit: Bitterness, anger, and frustration at not being applauded, approved of and validated.
Identity: What did this indicate about who I thought I was? Clearly this indicated that I believed I was not good enough and needed to earn my way and prove to others (my Katherine in particular) that I could earn their approval.
Cross: What did this indicate about what I really believed about God’s work in Christ on the cross? Clearly this indicated that I did not believe, at a functional level, that the cross was enough to justify me and I continued to look to other things to find my identity and hope apart from the God’s redemptive work on the cross.
God: What did this say about God’s identity? Clearly this indicated that my view of God was anemic. He was not Glorious, he was not Good, he was not Great and he was not Gracious.
I found the lie(s) underneath the lie. I found the idolatry underneath the fruit. And I began to replace the lie that my identity was found in what I do, what I have, and what other’s say about me with the reality that my identity and worth is found in none other than the voice that boomed out of the heavens to let Jesus know that ‘You are beloved son in whom I am well pleased’. (Matthew 4.17) That approval is now my approval.
Mine. Grace. Wholeness. Holiness.