April 14, 2014

Holiness Is Not The Goal

It's means to an end, at least according to Peter.

A few days back, I had an exchange with Richard Beck on his blog, and his replies got me to thinking. As is usual for me, it takes a few days of an idea tumbling around my subconscious for it to become something I can express.

His blog post was about the practice of kenosis and the contrast of what this looks like in the lives of people with power and privilege and people who are oppressed and victimized. I commented that is has to start with love, especially in terms of speaking about sins. Richard aptly noted that when we speak of sin, we generally are speaking about the sins of others, rather than our own. However, when we look at our own sin, we should be looking at the sin of not loving others (Rom 13:10 -  Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.)

He also noted that we are called to be holy and pure, bringing up 1 Peter 1: 16 & 22. (because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." and Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart) 

For Peter, holiness and purity is connected to our loving others. We make ourselves holy, not so that we are protected from the impurity and contamination of the world and others, but so that we can actually love them. And this moving in love is our work to do, not a result of our purity and sanctification.

In 1Pet. 16:22, we have two different types of love being talked about. Purifying our souls takes us into brotherly (philadelphian) love. The Greek here shows that the brotherly love is a noun that we are placed into. From there, Peter commands us to practice agape love (agap─ôsate), an imperative verb. It is in this practice of agape love towards others that we find ourselves in fulfillment of the law. But what does this look like in our individual lives?

"Speaking the truth in love" gets thrown about in Christian circles a lot. Much of the time, it's used to excuse our offending other people with our ideological statements. But here's the rub: if you don't actually love the person(s) to whom you're referring, you're not really speaking the truth. If we're struggling with some sin in our lives of which we haven't purified ourselves, we're not fully placed into that brotherly love. But, if we look at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), we have to consider that one of the big sins from which we must purify ourselves is the sin of not loving (judging and condemning) others.   

So we tell the rhetorical 'others' to purify themselves in order to get right with God, all the while not realizing that we are defiling ourselves by doing that. Ephesians 4 tells us to "lay aside falsehood" to speak truth to our neighbor. The biggest falsehood we have to lay aside is not loving our neighbor in a real and meaningful way. This means we have to have a real relationship with them. We have to know them, and see them as we see ourselves, as someone who needs God's grace in the same way we need it. 1 Pet. 1:13 tells us to " fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." If we're completely fixed upon that grace, then it's going to be extended to others, expressed in loving relationship. 

Open-ended declarations against the sins of unnamed (and largely unknown to our hearts) 'sinners' don't express the grace and love which our our own work of purification brings us into. And we're just compounding our own sins when we do that. When we're in an actual loving relationship with someone, we can speak that truth without causing offense and worldly sorrow and pain. In a real, loving relationship, that truth will bring about the godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

What it boils down to, is that we can't simply decry the sins of an entire group of people, especially if we don't actually know and love someone in that group. If we feel that the sin is important enough for us to declare to them, then we need to avoid sinning ourselves by taking the time and doing the work to know and love that person. That's a big part of our own purification. It requires humble kenosis (emptying ourselves) on our part. 

Emptying ourselves of the Pharisee's pride.

Emptying ourselves of our false image of ourselves.

The true love of being a loving and humble servant to others.

Knowing ourselves and our need for Christ, and who we truly are in Him.

That's the goal of holiness.


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