“For I am the LORD who brought you up from the Land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy.” [Leviticus 11:45 N.R.S.V.]
Holiness is a topic we do not hear much about anymore, although there seems to be renewed interest in holiness in the United Methodist Church. This is good, for after all, the Wesleyan Revival was a holiness movement from the very start. Yet have you ever stopped to answer this question “Just what is holiness?
Many of us when we think of holiness think of those groups who separated from Methodism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to form their own “Holiness” denominations-group such as what is now the Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Salvation Army and the Church of God. These groups are often identified by plain dress, a certain type of hairstyle and not wearing any jewelry or make-up. These outward signs of holiness are often what we equate with the meaning of the word. Yet holiness is much more than just these outward signs. It is really a change in lifestyle that makes us more like God and also like what God wants us to be.
There are two important parts of holiness. These are personal holiness and social holiness. Both parts are equally important. Personal holiness deals with such things as not stealing, killing or committing adultery or any of the other so called “big sins” we hear so much about these days. However personal holiness goes far beyond just keeping these commandments. For Jesus reminded us that while we may not have killed, we have gotten angry; while we may not steal, we have wanted what others have; and while we may not have committed adultery, we have lusted and wanted to! [Matthew 5:25] True personal holiness is living your life in such a way that it models the love of Jesus to all. We seek this not simply because God will “get us” is we do not, but because God’s love has already “gotten us.”
Social holiness is living your life in such a way that it makes a difference in our world. Disciples of Jesus are mandated to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and hurting, visit the prisoners and treat the outcasts the weak and those who live on the margin of society with respect and dignity. When we study the gospel we find that Jesus taught more about these things than anything else. In fact, there are more verses in the Bible that deal with how we use our money than any other topic!
So, what is holiness? For me holiness is living a life that shows Jesus Christ to the world, both in what we do personally and how we treat others socially as well. To be holy as God is holy can easily be dismissed as an unattainable pipedream, or it can be a real challenge for us to strive to attain. In the weeks, months and years ahead, when we hear of holiness, let us not think just of those other groups; let us think about striving to be holy as God is holy!