Not long after cutting my teeth on Sunday school fundamentals and fireside devotionals at summer camp, I learned one of the most important lessons ever regarding my walk with Christ. Can I share it with you? At age fourteen, I wept tears of joy upon discovering this overt tenet of our Wesleyan tradition. I say overt because all Christian traditions adhere to it; some just emphasize it less. What I’m talking about is that Christ died on the cross for our sins, not only that we may be without sin, but that we may in turn be filled with the Holy Spirit and conformed to the image of God—the Imago Dei. One word succinctly summarizes it all—HOLINESS.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, when God calls men and women into fellowship with him, he calls them to holiness. God declared, “I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore, be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45; see also 19:2 and 20:7). What is God’s reasoning for such a command?
“See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”
Moses (Deuteronomy 4:5–8)
I wonder if the Israelite nation, newly freed from slavery in Egypt, listening to Moses speak on God’s behalf, comprehended how this calling would echo and reverberate down through the generations and on into eternity. It started with their forefather, Abraham, when God told him, “Through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18). These passages show the purpose of the call to holiness—God’s glory! Let me explain.
When we think about holiness, we often have an image of being “set apart.” Some passages of scripture point to this idea—”You have been set apart as holy to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure” (Deuteronomy 14:2). In Biblical times, people and objects might be set apart and declared “holy” if they were to be used for God’s purposes—priests, ceremonial utensils, priestly garments and breastplates, incense, oil, the altar, and even days. Each had a specific role and was not for regular day-to-day use.
Unfortunately, many Christians understand “set apart” to mean entirely separate and justify exclusivity, as if a calling to holiness entails cutting ourselves off from the world, enjoying amongst ourselves our own little patch of heaven on earth without all the mess, chaos, and confusion of a fallen world. This understanding plays out repeatedly in churches and corps as well as within smaller circles—Bible studies, Sunday school classes, small groups, or even which pew people sit in.
Such congregations, if they evangelize at all, view the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20) as a type of ornithological (bird) dating ritual where the male bird (the church) puts on a song and dance, hoping that any female (nonbeliever) bird within earshot will take notice and want to join in. It reflects a consumerist mindset. These congregations often act like moping children who expect to get picked last for recess kickball—”Why doesn’t anybody like us?” God offers a better way.
Holiness—that is, being “set apart”—serves a specific function in God’s Salvation Story. The tools and utensils that were set apart in the Tabernacle and the Temple where God dwelt among his people were not merely for appearance. These spaces were functional, like butcher shops or hospitals, not primarily aesthetic, like museums or theaters. Like our broken lives, the activity of the Temple was messy, perhaps even chaotic and confusing (especially for the goat!). The purpose of these tools, for which they were “set apart” (i.e., “holy”), was to be instruments in the divine plan for the forgiveness of sin and the reconciliation of the world to God (Colossians 1:20).
Likewise, our holiness, by which we are set apart, is not an end in itself. The telos (ultimate object or aim) of Holiness—the end game—is also our starting point—FORGIVENESS! We are made holy so that others may experience the healing power of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, so that they may be filled with the Holy Spirit, mature in Christ-likeness, and become holy so that others may experience the healing power of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, so that they too may be filled … and on, and on … Amen!
“Holiness in intrinsic to mission.”
Major Grant Sandercock-Brown (21 Questions for a 21st Century Army [Fremantle, Western Australia: Vivid Publishing, 2014], 90)
No greater example exists than Jesus Christ himself, who, though holy, descended from heaven in search of that one lost sheep (Matthew 18:12–14; Luke 15:3–7). Likewise, our calling as children of God, for which we are commissioned, is not to make ourselves the most attractive flower in the garden (Isaiah 53:1–2), hoping to allure any bumblebee buzzing along, but to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19–20). Our call to holiness, therefore, is not incidental or aesthetic (though, perhaps, incidentally aesthetic!), but missional! It serves a specific purpose—God’s purpose!
May God fill us to overflowing with his Holy Spirit so that we may be instruments in his hands, not for ourselves, but for others.
Contributed by Senior Soldier Aaron Raymond, the Integrated Ministries Coordinator at The Salvation Army—Lexington, Kentucky Corps. Aaron earned a Masters of Theology: Theology & the Arts degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.