by Mike Sojka
In the 1980s Tina Turner won three Grammys with her hit song, What’s Love Got to Do With It? The song’s chorus asks,
Oh, oh, what’s love got to do, got to do with it? What’s love but a secondhand emotion? What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?
In a relationship with anyone—God, spouse, relative, or friend—love has everything to do with it. Love is not a secondhand emotion, and, yes, love’s true intimacy and transparency mean our hearts can be broken.
Neither is personal holiness something that is secondhand. Holiness is a quality we develop over time, leading to a meaningful relationship with Christ and a life lived effectively for him. Holiness is essential, but we have developed some secondhand substitutes for personal holiness that do not sustain us in our personal walk with Christ.
Substitutes For Personal Holiness
Talk with anyone who knows me personally, and they will tell you I am a passionate person when it comes to church planting. Passion can cover a multitude of sins and lesser mistakes. Passionate people are driven people. It becomes easy for them to slip into the embrace of workaholism. As others have pointed out, “Workaholism feeds our egos but starves our souls.” Take it from a pro. Passion is a part of personal holiness, but it is not a substitute for personal holiness.
It is possible to be effective because of your personality, gift mix, and the skill sets God has blessed you with. In his book, How The Mighty Fall (JimCollins, 2009), Jim Collins relates that becoming a “level 5 leader” has a lot to do with being humble. Success generated from our personality, gift mix, and skill set may lead us to avoid developing our relationship with God, which is critical to developing personal holiness.
The message to God’s people has always been, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.” We can develop a false sense of intimacy with God based on success from a worldly viewpoint. Biblical success is simply being obedient to God. This substitute can cause humility to fall asleep in our souls.
Most of us have not been able to avoid the trap of falling for the latest and greatest ministry techniques, methods, and successful church growth plans. Many times, as a seminary student, I was caught in the jaws of the latest and the greatest. Every new book I read about growing churches enticed me to believe that if you could just implement these magic formulas you would be successful. It seems we’re often drawn to strategies rather than to a relationship. Strategies are easier.
And what about our relationship with God? Is it possible even this can become a substitute for developing personal holiness? It depends on how we approach God. Many Christians have developed their own checklists of spiritual disciplines, convinced that the disciplines lead us to greater intimacy with God. They’re pretty common: daily Bible reading, prayer time, church attendance, small group attendance, tithing, just to mention a few. The “Reveal” study compiled by the Willow Creek church concluded that their programming was leading to a lack of spiritual depth. The study blew the lid off the theory that practicing the spiritual disciplines automatically leads to holiness. As we look in the mirror, what is revealed about us? We might see that we have matured over the last 20 years, but our walk with the Lord, and the fruit we produce for his kingdom, is still in infancy.
The Results of False Intimacy
How many of you have had an affair? You may think immediately of an extra-marital affair, but an affair of the mind is equally dangerous. James called Christians “adulterous” who were friends with the world (James 4:4). These kinds of affairs may seldom be discovered by others, but they never escape God’s notice.
I have suffered personally from an involvement in substitute relationships that created not only a false sense of intimacy, but also a false sense of security. When you do everything under your own power and strength you not only tend to get tired, you also receive glory, honor, and praise that should go to God. So it becomes easy to use substitute relationships and stay in the arms of these false lovers. How do we see through the attraction of these mistresses that own our souls?
Intimacy with the Father
When I ponder what it means to be holy, at times it seems like an impossible task. E.M. Forster said, “I’m a holy man minus the holiness.” That’s it, some days.
First Peter 1:15 explains that just as he who calls us is holy, we should be holy in all we do (see also Leviticus 20:26). Of course, we cannot be spiritually pure and sinless like Jesus. Maybe that’s why we pursue substitute relationships that result in false intimacy rather than embracing our Abba Father. However, Hebrews 10:10 says we have all been made holy through Jesus’ sacrifice and the shedding of his blood for our sins. So by accepting him as Lord and Savior we are all made holy. Hebrews 10:14 states that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, he has made all of us perfect forever, as we are being made holy. Becoming personally holy is a process.
Jesus said in John 17:17 that we will be made holy by God’s truths. Here is where we have erred. We know from the Bible that we must not only be students of the Word but doers of the Word. And if we are going to be holy, we must incorporate the fruit of the Spirit into our lives. Galatians 5:22-26 lists the fruit of the Spirit, all of which need to be evident in our lives. We develop them by putting them into practice. James 2:14-25 points to the futility of thinking we can have faith without deeds. Matthew 7:26 drives the point home further. Who is the foolish builder? It is the person who reads the Word and does not put it into practice. I have often stated that if we didn’t read another word from the Bible and just practiced the two greatest commandants, we would be the most holy people on the planet.
Personal holiness is paramount to ministry effectiveness. If we are to live like Christ and be effective in ministry, personal holiness has to be an intentional way of life. The Wesleys believed this would cause a revival in the land. Let’s use every Christian discipline at our disposal to gain personal holiness. Include prayer and fasting in your plan of action. Keep a journal to record your prayers and track your progress. Find an accountability partner who will help you grow in holiness. I have had an accountability partner for over 20 years, and not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the growth God has produced in me through regular meetings with this Christian. A. W. Tozer wrote, “The true Christian is not to be happy but to be holy.”
Mike Sojka is assistant director for Northern Plains Evangelistic Association in Huron, South Dakota.
Read More About Holy Living
The Pursuit of Holiness
by Jerry Bridges
The Purse-uit of Holiness: Learning to Imitate the Master Designer
by Rhonda Rhea
(Baker Publishing Group, 2008)
by J.I. Packer
(Gospel Light, 2009)
How Do You Walk the Walk You Talk?
by Kay Arthur
(WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, 2009)
Brokenness, Surrender, Holiness
by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
(Moody Publishers, 2008)