Every man is as holy as he wants to be.
– A. W. Tozer
ho·ly: adjective \ˈhō-lē\
- exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness
- divine <for the Lord our God is holy — Psalms 99:9 (Authorized Version)>
- devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity <a holy temple> <holy prophets>
- a) having a divine quality <holy love> b) venerated as or as if sacred <holy scripture> <a holy relic>
The term “holy” has changed over time to have a connotation of divine nature, and while this is helpful in us understanding the character and person of God, it is not truly helpful when we consider the command of God that we are to “be holy as He is holy” (1 Peter 1.16). I am not a deity or possessing of the nature of God, are you?
Originally the term meant “set apart”. That is why we celebrated holidays, or holy-days. Days that are set apart for special remembrance. They are different. God, in choosing us and calling us unto salvation has set us apart unto Himself and He calls us to be different. The ways in which He desires us to be different are clearly outlined in Scripture. We are to exemplify the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control (Gal 5.22-23). We are to think on those things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, and anything of excellence and anything worthy of praise (Phil 4.18). The definition of true and pure love is world rocking:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
– 1 Cor 13.4-7
These attributes and characteristics are not natural for humanity. In fact, to live this way is impossible. But when we realize our depravity and need for a Savior and repent of our sins, God gives us the Holy Spirit to indwell us and give us the desire, strength and conviction to live this way.
And [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.
– John 6.8, 13-14
Once the Spirit is convicting us, the Law is written on our hearts, we then are “as holy as we want to be”, as Tozer puts it. The Spirit convicts us of sin. We know when we are acting in ways contrary to the heart of God. The Scripture tells us activities that we should and should not do, and the Spirit helps us with the gray areas. We then choose to grieve or quench the spirit by not listening, or honoring Him by obeying.
But what about the command to be above reproach? I wrote earlier this week on the qualifications for church leadership and the bold emphasis of the entire Scripture passage was that he must be honorable and above reproach (1 Tim 3.2). This just means that he has a good reputation. Many of the new seeker sensitive and grace dominant movements are quick to ignore sin. We do not want to shame anyone because “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4.8), and we are all sinners so we cannot point out the speck in another’s eye (Matt 7.3-5).
But excusing sin is not loving. It is harmful to another’s well being to stand by and watch him slip, fall or jump into a habit that will tear his heart away from God through unholiness or disobedience. That is why Jesus gives us clear instruction for how to deal with a brother who is sinning:
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
– Matt 18.15-17
Jesus wants us to be tactful and honorable in confrontation of sin. If we see someone whom we love doing something that dishonors God and will cause him to wander from God, we should tell him – in private! We ought not shame him publicly at first, as he might have been ignorant, or the Spirit might call him to repentance at that simple confrontation. If he hardens his heart by the witness of one friend, perhaps he will repent by the influence of two. If not, then the whole church needs to get involved, and if he has hardened his heart at this point, Jesus says have nothing to do with him. Paul goes so far as to say, “do not even eat with such a one” (1 Cor 5.11). And by this we maintain our integrity and reputation. We do not condone sin or welcome it, because we take seriously the commands of God.
This process is only to be followed in the case of one who calls himself a believer. The nonbeliever is going to act like a nonbeliever, and we should not try to dress up a corpse, but pray for life. Only once he is alive can we help him wash off the stink.
So what, then, should we do when someone’s sin is attributed to us? How do we maintain a good reputation when someone is confused about what happened, when people think you have done something you have not?
The key is love. Fact-sharing is not unloving. But if we are vengeful or proud in our accounting of an event, then we are sinning. Our heart in church discipline must be love, and unto the repentance of the hardened. Our goal must always be to restore one another to good relationship with God and with the Church. If your reputation has been tainted because of the actions of another, do you get angry and defame the one who sinned? Or are you broken over the fact of the sin, and account the story with grief and tears for the wayward brother?
Many would say that our standing is between us and God. But the way that we carry ourselves is a representation of our Lord. And we know that God does not excuse or condone sin. Ever. And we ought not either. But we are quick to forgive and forget when one falls. And we are quick to confess and repent when we fall. And we are extremely concerned about God’s reputation to the world in the way that we act! If we go on sinning after we claim God’s forgiveness, “[we] again crucify to [ourselves] the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Heb 6.6).
Let’s not shame God and His provision of forgiveness. Let us honor Him, and live set-apart lives, separate from sin. Let us love one another enough to push one another on to holiness and maturity (Heb 10.24). Let us love one another enough to not tolerate sin in our own lives and in one another’s lives and help each other honor God in our daily lives. Let us choose to be holy. Let us help one another to live our their choice to be holy. Let’s love boldly and represent God well.