by Ian Stamps
Have you ever known someone you would do anything for—someone you wanted to receive your very best because he or she had given you the very best?
During my college years I had the honor of learning from Rick Chromey, who then served as the head of the education department at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, Missouri. Rick genuinely loved his students and his care for us was evident inside and outside the classroom. Because of this, he was very well respected. Students would do anything for him. In fact, we would almost take it personally when other students didn’t give him their best effort. When it became evident that another student had skipped out on his work or given less than 100 percent on an assignment, our response to him went something like this: “You worm! How could you not do your work for Chromey? He deserves our best!”
In a sense, that’s what following Jesus Christ is like. Jesus has given us everything and our lives ought to be fully devoted to him. We ought to be willing to do anything for him because he has done everything for us. Here is how the apostle John phrased the idea.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).
John gives us a core principle to follow: do not love the world. That phrase has far-reaching implications for Christians. We are commanded not to love this world’s standards, values, and false gods, but to be set apart from them. That strikes to the heart of what holiness is all about.
What Is Holiness?
The idea of holiness is central throughout the Bible. The word occurs over 600 times in Scripture. The Old Testament book of Leviticus is devoted to describing the concept of holiness. To be holy means to be set apart or different. Today many people associate holiness with specific prohibitions. Yet, if we follow this approach to holiness, we are in danger of becoming like the Pharisees with their endless lists of trivial dos and don’ts. So to be holy is not only to be different; to be holy is to be both different from the world and devoted to God. “You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 24).
An Image of Holiness
The Bible uses the metaphor of marriage to describe our relationship to God. This image helps shed some light on what holiness is all about.
The Bible tells us that our God is a jealous husband. In fact, Exodus 34:14 explicitly says his very name is Jealous. The idea of jealousy here means an intense emotion of wounded love. It is the same word used in Numbers 5:11-15 to describe a husband who fears his wife is cheating on him. God is jealous when his people share themselves with any others. God is jealous the way a husband is properly jealous toward his wife.
God loves us with an endless, intense, sacrificial love. Unfortunately, our response is often less than that. When we look to any person or any thing for love, security, or provision (all of which are provided by God), then we—as Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel would say—are committing spiritual adultery. And God, our heavenly husband, feels the torment of our rejection. He takes it personally. It hurts him just as it would hurt any husband rejected by his wife.
The One Flesh Union
Most wedding ceremonies include the familiar words of Genesis 2:24 that show us the full meaning of marriage: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
Marriage is about becoming one with another—one in flesh, one in home, one in hope. That is the heart of intimacy. While entering into that kind of unity is terrifying, the intimacy inside that circle is so desirable that we move past our terror and enter in. Marriage is the complete giving of self in an exclusive, lifelong relationship.
Christians are in a marital relationship with God. Our marriage to Jesus is the ultimate marriage. He steps into that circle of exclusivity with us. He takes us as his bride. He enters into marriage with us giving us all he can give. And in response to him, we pledge to him that we will love him with all we are and have, forever, in a relationship that is absolutely exclusive.
Acknowledging this totally redefines sin. Sin is no longer simply doing something wrong. It is far more profound. When we sin we are responding to the voice of a false lover offering happiness, love, or security. When we say “yes” we are running into a spiritually adulterous liaison. We are not just doing something bad: we are committing spiritual adultery.
Specific Areas of Holiness
Viewing holiness this way affects the entirety of our lives. Here are a few examples of what this kind of holiness looks like on a practical level.
• It forces us to take issues of sexual purity seriously. After all, our bodies belong to God because they were purchased with the blood of his Son (See 1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
• We become better stewards of our resources when we live according to this view of holiness. Since everything we have was given to us by our loving husband, we should manage it according to his standards.
• Recognizing that our time on this planet is a gift from God, we should spend it investing in his kingdom and its priorities. Our goal should be to do as much as we can for him in the limited time we’ve been given (Psalm 90:12).
• Loving God the way he asks will naturally lead us to love those created in his image. Biblical holiness affects both our relationship with God and our relationships with other people (Matthew 22:34-40).
• Our faithfulness to God will also reveal itself in the media we consume. We’ll want to be sure the things that entertain us do nothing to pull us away from our first love.
God tolerates no rivals. He gives himself lavishly to us and expects us to do the same. That is holiness. That is what it means to be different from the world and devoted to God.
Ian Stamps is the senior minister of Cornerstone Christian Church in Shiloh, Illinois.
Take Time to Be Holy
Meditate on these words of the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy” by William D. Longstaff.
Take time to be holy,
Speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in him always,
And feed on his Word.
Make friends of God’s children;
Help those who are weak;
Forgetting in nothing
His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy,
The world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret
With Jesus alone;
By looking to Jesus,
Like him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct
His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy,
Let him be thy Guide,
And run not before him,
In joy or in sorrow,
Still follow thy Lord,
And, looking to Jesus,
Still trust in his Word.
Take time to be holy,
Be calm in thy soul;
Each tho’t and each motive
Beneath his control;
Thus led by his Spirit
To fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted
For service above.
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