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Holiness

October 19, 2007

John at Locusts and Honey put up a great post called “Devaluing Holiness.”  I love it when a post really makes me think.

John writes:

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.

He goes on:

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.

This is not a rhetorical question, nor is it intended as snarkiness toward John.  Is holiness the same as sinlessness?  Can the two be used interchangeably?

The words sin, redemption, sanctification, holiness all stand in relation to one another, and it seems that most of us have a more robust theology of one or two while giving another short shrift.  I’ve heard from some that there are too many sermons on how we have to do better or be better (sanctification) and not enough on how we’re loved in spite of ourselves (justification, redemption).  I’ve heard that there are too many sermons on sin and not enough on grace, and vice-versa.

Len Sweet in his book SoulTsunami makes a cool argument that I will paraphrase here.  In the recent past, the medical field has shifted its focus from a disease-treatment paradigm to a wellness paradigm.  In other words instead of diagnosing and treating health problems, there is more focus on keeping healthy people healthy.  Find what is strong and build on it.  Sure there’s diagnosis and treatment, but far less of it if the patient’s strengths are emphasized.  The church needs to switch from a “name the sin and cut it out” paradigm to a wellness (holiness) paradigm, encouraging folks to develop habits of spiritual health.

How do we, as Christians, take seriously the doctrines of Original Sin and Total Depravity while also taking Entire Sanctification equally seriously?  If we truly believe that sin-fullness is necessarily part of the human condition, how can we honestly preach sinlessness?

I know how I reconcile those seeming contradictions (paradoxes).  I simply don’t equate holiness with sinlessness.  At least not in the human sphere.  The best we can do, even with God’s help, is to be loving.  I’m pretty sure that even if we’re loving we’ll still miss the mark (the very definition of sin), but we were at least motivated by love.

Thanks for posting that John.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. jmeunier permalink
    October 19, 2007 6:05 pm

    I think one distinction that Wesley makes is helpful. (Although it may not address your concerns direclty.)

    He talks about being perfected in Christian love, but admits that even the perfected can make errors and mistakes. So, Christians who are perfect in love and who would never knowingly violate God’s law, may through other human frailties still.

    So, we can seek perfect holiness and still admit we make errors.

  2. October 22, 2007 6:55 pm

    Hey Will,

    Think this is on target – I am having more and more trouble with notions of being totally depraved – I mean I am just not ready to go up to the nice lady in my Sunday School class and say, “Did you know, you are totally depraved?” Clearly, Wesley moved from Calvin and Augustine perhaps as far as he could go y embracing and transforming Arminius. Seems to me that he set an example of what we might do theologically. Certainly, I can get trapped in my arrogance, my illusions, my alienation, my sinfulness. Our jewish cousins understood that holiness (purity, cleanliness) was a different axis than our sinfulness (rebellion, arrogance). Seems to me that Jesus was uptight about holiness at the point it became permanent, for example, the woman with the discharge – blocked from participating in worship. Lots to talk about here.

    John

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