Friday, October 19, 2007

Devaluing Holiness

Mark Kleberg on Christian sin and the public reputation of the Christian faith:

I internalize and cover up my sin and weakness because I fear that any failure on my part implies a failure of Christianity. I must be perfect; otherwise Christianity is just a big flop, exposed as an elaborate hoax. The pressure is on and I must perform so that Christianity looks like a good buy.

This assumption is the exact opposite of the gospel. It is anti-gospel. To say that my failures somehow discredit Christianity completely disregards the cross! What pride and hypocrisy! Out of death we are made alive in Christ and our new identities are not bound up in our own righteousness, but rather the righteousness of Christ. It is by His perfection that we are presented as spotless before the Father. And while the Spirit does begin its healing work on our hearts, it is forever the work of Jesus that makes us children of God. I no longer have to disguise my sin for fear of nullifying the gospel. The gospel, rather, nullifies my sin, and frees me up to live as though transparent. The world can see through me- can see that I am needy and that there is a savior who triumphs over my brokenness.

I get what he's saying here, but Kleberg's train of thought could potentially devalue the importance of holiness. It is true that we should not be disguising our sin, rather we should not be doing it. Sanctification is a long process, but it is reasonable to conclude that Christianity is invalid if there is no discernible moral difference between Christians and non-Christians.

I found this post via David Wayne, who emphasizes redemption to the detriment of sanctification:

A good deal of the pressure we put on ourselves to perform is because of what he said - any failure on my part will taint the Christian faith as a whole. I think that is only true to the extent that I portray myself as perfect and portray Christianity as a religion whose goal is sinless perfection. This doesn't authorize carelessness about sin but it does reaffirm that Christianity is fundamentally a project of redemption, not a project of self-improvement.

But isn't Christianity "a religion whose goal is sinless perfection". If our goal is not sinlessness, then we are necessarily making compromises with sin.

Is Christianity, as David Wayne describes it, about redemption or improvement? I would answer "yes". This is a false dichotomy; there's no need to choose between the two. 1 Peter 1:13-19:

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

We are redeemed, therefore let us be sinless.


John Meunier said...

I think some folks think perfection (sanctification) means we never fall short.

But Wesley distinguished between pefect Christian love and unavoidable human frailty and limitations.

A perfect Christian would never knowingly violate God's law, but still may do wrong to another because of lack of knowledge or understanding, for instance.

So, we can be both holy and imperfect at the same time.

Dan Trabue said...

I grew up, as many of us did, with a less than ideal idea of what "holy" means. It doesn't mean Impossibly Righteous, as God is perfectly righteous in every way.

It means, "Set apart for a special purpose." Sanctified, likewise.

I can't be Without Error and Wholly Righteous, like God, but I CAN be set aside for a special purpose. Otherwise that verse, "Be holy as God is holy" would be an impossibility.

And similarly for the verse "Be Perfect, as God is perfect." Here, I've been told, perfection is talking about As Designed. A Perfect dozen eggs doesn't mean twelve flawless in every way, but rather, perfectly 12.

Perfect, like that. Perfectly whole, as we were designed to be.

Not PERFECT as we know it in English, because it would be horrible for God to tell us to be perfect as God is perfect if it's not even a possibility.

Ya think?

JD said...

Thanks for the post, John. My wife and I were just speaking on a similar topic. I will have to share.

To go along with what you said about perfection. ...about "Being holy as God is holy." Can it be likened to the old slogan, "Gotta' be like Mike?" While Michael Jordan was the "perfection" of BB, Jesus is the perfection of EVERYTHING, a shining example of what it means to be wholly human and wholly divine. If the example of Christ was not there, Christians would be lost without anything to strive for just as if Michael Jordan was not around playing BB as well as he did. Children would not know what being great at BB really is. While there have been others with similar skills, Jordan has and always will be the "example.". Just as other "men" came, sharing some really nice things about being good, Jesus will always be the perfect example of goodness.

Now I ask, does that make sense?


bob said...

Those of Us Christians who fall short of holiness especially in the public eye leave a bad impression with the non-Christian. Mostly because of the contrast to the life we try to live. The question seems to me to be how do we keep from impeding the unbelievers journey towards God.

John said...

I'll go with the Wesleyan view that perfection means morally without sin, not without human imperfection (e.g. missing a hand, memory lapses, etc.).

Anonymous said...

By my thinking, "self-improvement" is simply to show that it is not by our initiative but by the grace of God. I don't see redemption as being limited to justification. It can just as easily include the breadth of holiness (sanctification and perfection).

Joel (haven't located my blogger records after moving)

Anonymous said...

By my thinking, "self-improvement" is simply to show that it is not by our initiative but by the grace of God. I don't see redemption as being limited to justification. It can just as easily include the breadth of holiness (sanctification and perfection).

Joel (haven't located my blogger records after moving)

Anonymous said...

"we must remember that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints" - G.K. Chesterton. The main differnce between Christians and non-Christians is that we recognize that we're sick and need help. We both still sin. Christ died for all your sins: past, present and future.
Ivan Walters

JD said...


I appreciate your point, "The main differnce between Christians and non-Christians is that we recognize that we're sick and need help."

We realize we need help because we have chosen to liten to the calling of Christ in our lives. That "sickness" is what makes it so difficult, especially for pators and priests, to be Christians. While we understand that we are not perfect, the world believes that we must be because we are willing to "judge" actions that are in direct conflict with Christianity. Whenever one chooses to stand up for a certain principles, it is an expectation that they themselves are living up to that standard, unfortunately, as we Christians understand, we sometimes fall.


Bev said...

IN regards to sanctification it s long process. I do believe we grow in grace but on the other hand I believe sanctification can be an instantanious experience when we completely surrender ourself to God and make ourselves willing to follow light as it is recieved. I also believe that we develope fruits of the spirit when we let him work in our life. With the sancitification I would not be able to do the will of God in my daily life. Am I perfect no but the intent of my heart it is to be perfect and to not willingly go against what God wants.