The Context and Measure of Holiness

Devotional Thought of the Day:
38 *“You have heard that it was said,x ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 yBut I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile,* go with him for two miles.z 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.a
Love of Enemies.* 43 b“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors* do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect,* just as your heavenly Father is perfect. NABRE – Matt 5:38-48

24. Yet man must respond to God Who calls, and that in such a way, that without taking counsel with flesh and blood (Gal. 1:16), he devotes himself wholly to the work of the Gospel. This response, however can only be given when the Holy Spirit gives His inspiration and His power. For he who is sent enters upon the life and mission of Him Who “emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7). Therefore, he must be ready to stay at his vocation for an entire lifetime, and to renounce himself and all those whom he thus far considered as his own, and instead to “make himself all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22)

This Christ calls all sinners to himself and promises them refreshment. He earnestly desires that all men should come to him and let themselves be helped  (2)

I have heard many people define holiness over the years.  Some confuse it with purity, a lack of sinlessness and being completely remote from the world.  But those who promote this view do not know how to deal with Jesus eating with whores and tax collectors, filthy sinners and fisherman.

Others would discuss holiness in view of martyrdom, the peaceful testimony of Christ in the presence of persecution and death. But most of us will only be inconvenienced because of our faith; if that is the real reason for people taking a dislike to us.

Others will look upon great acts, the work of those who are steadfast in the faith, who have this or that gift, who spend hours locked away in prayer, or tending to the poor and needy.  As if holiness is some kind of heroic virtue, instead of a life we are called to live.

The last group treats holiness with little concern at all, saying in reaction to those above, that holiness is a virtual impossibility, that no one can attain holiness, that it is impossible by our own strength or power, and that God doesn’t really care, as long as we depend on Him to forgive our lack of holiness.

This last view is the most dangerous.  It steals from us our hope in this life, and it convinces us that how we live, what salvation is about, isn’t living dependent upon God. It denies, faith, hope, and love. And it justifies our self-centeredness, our Machiavellian-inspired theology and practice, and our apathy towards evangelism and service.

In one of the greatest calls to holiness – in the Gospel reading above, Jesus tells us we need to be perfect, (other translations use “holy” here ) even as God is perfect and holy.

It is not an impossibility.  If so, Jesus wouldn’t have commanded it, nor would the Father hold us to that standard.

The context provides the measurement of such holiness as well, the love   The love of our enemies, and the love of those who you aren’t connected to, recognizing the fact that in Christ Jesus you are connected.

Those who would do evil to you, those who would demand more than is their “right” of you, those who you would say are your enemies.

Holiness is loving them.

Holiness is caring for them.

Vatican II notes this with the call to work in the vocation of the gospel – without thought or cost – even if it means a lifetime of service. It means living this way at the cost of renouncing yourself, or the people who are “yours”, serving instead “all men”, yes, including those aren’t “ours”

That they aren’t our religion, our countrymen, out ethnicity, our race, our culture, our family, or our friends; even so, we are to love them as if they are!  We are to love them because they are.

This is having the attitude of Jesus, the attitude Philippians 2 tells us to have – as described in the great hymn that we love in verses 5-10.  The preceding verses tell us we are to have this mind, this attitude, this same servant’s heart, and love those who are different from us.

NO option.  This is what the people of God are to do.

By now – you are tempted to stop reading this – to write me off as naive, or pelagian, or some kind of fanatic.  A blogger who obviously is so heavenly minded he can’t be of benefit.

We think we aren’t capable of that kind of holiness.  We cannot possibly love like that, can we?  Can we actually care more about our enemies and adversaries as much as those like us?  Can God expect us to love our enemies and lay down our lives for them?   WOuld any many?

Well, any man not nailed to a cross and who rose again three days later?

If we say we cannot,  we miss the work of God.  For He calls us, inspires us, and empowers us.  This si the refreshment and help that the Lutheran Confessions describe as well, ad walking with God that is daily and practical, and incredibly effective.  I

Holiness isn’t walking alone, it is walking with God, moving with Him.  Loving as He loves, serving as He serves, bringing healing and trust as He brings it to us.  Such is our calling, and such is our life

AMEN.

(1)  Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 495). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

About justifiedandsinner

I am a pastor of a Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos, California, where we rejoice in God's saving us from our sin, and the unrighteousness of the world. It is all about His work, the gift of salvation given to all who trust in Jesus Christ, and what He has done that is revealed in Scripture. God deserves all the glory, honor and praise, for He has rescued and redeemed His people.

Posted on August 13, 2016, in Devotions, Theology in Practice and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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