In the first part of this series about Holiness, a basic problem came to the surface that is still experienced in too many places within the Holiness denominations of today and in the past – the problem of separation. We also saw that Jesus was at odds with this understanding and how it was put into practice by various groups who were concerned in maintaining their version/s of holiness.
One of the many interesting aspects of Jesus confronting and being confronted by the self-appointed ‘thought police’, it can be seen in how Jesus lives His life – one of true obedience and not merely a very selective one. As Brower writes “This is how one acts if the Spirit of the Lord is upon him or her. The events show that this is neither a self-centred piety nor cling-film wrapped purity. Jesus, the One on whom the Spirit dwells, demonstrates His understanding of the holy life be deed and word.” (P.54). All these actions are outside the Pharisee boundaries of culture maintenance, perceived holiness and respectability.
Jesus puts His own purity at stake when he confronts the forces of evil ad he casts out an unclean spirit in Luke 4:33-34 shortly after the wilderness temptations. There is also an emphasis on touch. He touches or is touched by the afflicted, particularly shown in 5:13, 6:8 and 7:14 of Luke. Yes, even Gentiles are healed. Impurity isn’t transmitted to Jesus, but the healing is. Unclean spirits are sent away, the leper is cleansed, the sick healed and the dead boy is raised.
Not far away at 6:20-49, Jesus blesses those [people who are on the margins of acceptable society, and warns those who are comfortable and complacent. Repeatedly, Jesus’ compassion for those on the edges and excluded from the community takes priority. It is this generosity that creates increasing opposition by ignoring and redefining holiness. Jesus tries to adjust people’s understanding. He shows himself to not be a constant angry God who is wagging a stern finger at people, but one who is gracious and loving with mercy.
A fine example of this generous grace is the parable of the lost sheep. We so often concentrate on the nature of sheep and drifting, but instead the real point is that God is not only persistent, seeking, gracious and loving in such an extravagant way, but also celebratory at every repentant sinner….. every single one. The parable is followed by two more examples of being lost – the lost coin and the lost younger brother. None of them conform to conventions and logic. All are found by the Father, and there is a celebration after each one. In the case of the Prodigal Son, so many challenges exist and responses are unexpected. The public display of genuine humility and reconciliation is amazing.
All three parables make the same points:
1. Jesus invites the Pharisees to join Him in rejoicing when a sinner and outcast again return to the holy people of God. He shows them that God works outside the centre of worship – the Temple and Priesthood.
2. God is like a shepherd who doesn’t just supervise and oversee events, but is a seeking God. This indicates an amazing amount of grace, infinite in fact.
3. Holiness is not gained by following a moral code. Legalism robbed the Pharisees and others of God’s grace for others. Holiness is not a status to be possessed but a relationship to be celebrated and shared. It is centred from the Holy God and is outward looking – nou insular and exclusive.
4. Holiness is experienced and can be seen still as high morals, but they will no longer be exclusive and humanly attained. Holiness with be a benefit of a grateful response by God that showers grace on the most detestable of people. That grace is sprinkled and showered allowing a person to grow in Christian holiness. As the relationship becomes closer, being closer to God means increasing in holiness.
Grace and not performance are the emphasis as Jesus seeks to redefine holiness. God’s grace is the priority.
Part 1 of series The Holiness Movement – Perfection and Separation
To be continued…