The hardest thing about Christianity: holiness. Preachers tell us we are supposed to want it. Then they tell us how we are supposed to get it.
Why did we become Christians in the first place? Because someone explained to us that we need Holiness – Jesus’ holiness. Now that we are in the door, we hear that it is our job to pursue holiness.
I think that is great. Here is the problem. When I try to explain to these people that improvement isn’t happening – I’m not becoming more holy – they don’t listen. I still walk past the homeless guy and begin thinking how it’s his fault that he slept outside last night. And I seem to double my sin when I begin to think I am improving, because I immediately become prideful. Who needs Jesus when all my friends tell me I’m doing great?
Things get even more complicated when some preachers tell us how holiness happens: effortlessly. Wait, so now we are supposed to be pursuing holiness and it’s not supposed to be hard? Just thinking about that makes me doubt I could be a Christian – if that is really the requirement.
Implicitly, we begin to believe that God loves us when we are more holy. The more holiness we have, the more daddy loves us. We think this because this is how life works. Holiness, in the workplace, is the equivalent to, let’s say, company profit. The boss is more satisfied with the employees who are creating the most profit. But even more deeply embedded in our psyche is our childhood intuition. The parent tends to give the most love to the most obedient. And if our parent gave love to the less obedient child, our response was to point out the sibling’s disobedience and try harder to showcase our obedience. We are addicted to this pursuit, because we think God’s love is at stake.
It is evident we need to be given instruction. We are doing dumb things all the time. You ignore your neighbor in need all the time. You choose yourself over others on a daily basis. Gerhard Forde writes:
…We all know that we fail to do the good spontaneously much of the time. And we all know that we need instruction and exhortation. But this tragedy is due to the absence of holiness; it does not cause it.
What if the pressure was off? What if following or not following the preacher’s instruction would not jeopardize your holiness? What if your holiness was secure because Christ loves you and his sufficient righteousness – his obedience – is credited to you? What if you are draped in his holiness, not the filthy rags or fig leaves that was once slung across your starving body?
Then you would be free. You would be free to do good for your neighbor because you know that it doesn’t make you more loved by God.
And you are free. God loves you and Christ’s righteousness is yours.