My understanding of “holiness” began growing up in a conservative Methodist church with an active “temperance” program. Holiness simply meant no smoking or drinking. When I attended a Wesleyan college as a theology major, I learned the “doctrine” of holiness, which left me confused as to where I was in the process: “initial, progressive, or entire”?! I also learned I was actually rather “liberal” because I grew up watching TV, going to movies, and playing outside on Sunday afternoon.
As a Wesleyan minister, I toed the doctrinal line and obeyed the official rules, without having a clear understanding of how holiness actually “worked.” Then I came across an amazing, baffling and confusing Scripture: Hebrews 5:8:
So even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.
What?! The very Son of God learned to be more like, well, the Son of God by the things He suffered. Was Jesus, as Isaiah writes, “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (53:3) because He obeyed His Father? Or did He obey His Father because he was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering”? That’s whole other article.
Here’s one thing I do know. The only way I have personally become more like the Lord I love is through hardship and heartaches. I have learned absolutely nothing from success, but I have learned much from suffering. That’s the message of Romans 8:29—although we much prefer the previous verse:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
And what is that purpose? The very next verse spells it out:
. . . to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.
God takes “all things” that cause hardships and heartaches and uses them to produce in us “the likeness of his Son.” (God does not cause these “things,” but He does redeem them for good.)
Often, we try to make living a holy life complicated by trying to explain it, turn it into three-point sermons, or divide it up into “initial, progressive and entire sanctification” so we may obtain this “second work of grace.”
I’ve become convinced that a) being conformed to the likeness to Christ is the essence of holiness and b) that holiness comes through allowing God’s Spirit to shape us into that likeness through hardships and heartaches.
And I’ve also become convinced the “good” God promises is holiness. Good is not happiness, pleasure, prosperity, a “God loves you and has a wonderful Porsche for your life” healthy and wealthy kind of good. The Greek word Paul chooses for good, agathos, can be translated “of a good nature, useful, helpful, excellent, upright, distinguished, or honorable.”
Second Corinthians 4:8-11 reinforces this concept:
We are hardpressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal body (my emphasis).
God the Spirit takes all that hard-pressing, perplexity, persecution and striking down and empowers us “so that the life of Jesus may be revealed” in our lives. And that, in my simple little mind, is holiness.
Copyright © 2013 James N. Watkins