If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. (Luke 6:32-34 NASB)
Holiness is one of those terms people inside the church think only relates go God, and people outside the church think is a “church word”. So few seem to understand a few, rather key, facets of the diamond that is holiness.
A Few Simple Points
So, first off, a little simple reasoning is in order. The term used in the Christian Scriptures is a Greek word used by the pagan world, and pagans and followers of Jesus both understood its meaning. So it’s not a uniquely Christian word or even reserved only for the One True God.
And second, a little observation about how Jesus operates within the meaning is also in order. Jesus is holy. It’s simply something characteristic or elemental to who He is. Mostly because He’s God. But also because of His singular focus and aim. That being said, He operates within this aura of holiness in ways contrary to the “rules” laid down in Hebrew Scriptures (especially in Leviticus).
Holy Welcomes The Profane?
This tension between Jesus’ holiness and people’s holiness is difficult to understand when taken separately. It’s when they are laid over top or juxtaposed that some clarity occurs. One of the places where this occurs is in the middle of Jesus challenge to treat others well. The assumption we never challenge, but never consider, is that we will be in contact with “evil and ungrateful people”. It’s simply a given.
The problem is that when the holy comes into contact with the profane (or common) the holy becomes profane/common. Yet Jesus, being holy, comes into contact with enormous numbers of common profane people and makes them holy. He doesn’t lose His holiness coming into contact with the profane.
The Holy Reaches Out To The Profane
This may not sound like much of an earth-shattering observation, but keep in mind that it was so difficult for believers, the ‘Gnostic’ teachings sprang up precisely at this point. They could not conceive of the holy interacting with the profane without losing the holy quality (spirit versus matter, light versus dark, and so on). It was a huge issue in the day partly because the people, including pagans, understood holiness very differently than we do.
Consider what Jesus says very carefully. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” The question almost sounds rhetorical. Well, duh, those who love me are safe! There’s tremendous very obvious benefit. We all know it, but we speed right by this statement without acknowledging the problem. Jesus is clearly implying that there’s a greater benefit to actually loving those who do not love us. The obvious benefit aside, He’s saying there’s a greater benefit to be had that makes the obvious one irrelevant! Loving those who love is gains us an irrelevant benefit! Now are you seeing the problem?
Jesus continues, “For even sinners love those who love them.” In other words, Jesus is equating loving safely to the common/profane! The reason Jesus takes His holiness to unholy places and people is because He’s holy! That’s a lot of exclamation marks, but do you see the challenge here? It should help us re-frame our paradigms around God’s idea of holiness. It’s not different than the typical understanding, it’s different than the typical application or actions. Holiness for God still means “only for divine purposes”, but His purposes are what are so radically different.
The Sanctifying Power of Holiness: Holiness Shared
What this means is that holiness, as God teaches us, has to include going among the profane and sharing our holiness with them. In doing so, we make it possible for others to become holy as well. It’s not safe. It’s not intuitive. It’s not easy or simple to understand. In fact it’s very dangerous for the reasons God laid out in Leviticus. It is very possible for the holy to be polluted and become profane. Paul warns against this as does Jesus in multiple places. That danger shouldn’t stop us.
The process of making something holy, converting the profane into the holy, is called “sanctification”. That’s a big word for a simple meaning of washing and using for for divine purposes. There was an involved process in Leviticus for sanctifying dishes, utensils, people, places, furniture, and so on. But that God included a process for these things meant that He understood that holy things can become profane, and that such an occurrence does not necessarily remove the possibility of restoring the holy quality. Not everything could be restored, and not every situation profaning the holy could be overcome with a process. There was the holy quality of the people at large to consider, and sometimes things or people had to be lost in order to sanctify the people.
The Divine Purpose Within Holiness
But one element that is clear from Leviticus is that God is very interested in the holy quality of people and things. And sanctifying them, and re-sanctifying them, was also important to Him. This, in part, is the purpose He has given us. So when we go out to sanctify people and places around us, we are exercising the holy quality God has given to us. When we love those who hate us, when we give without expecting anything in return, when we are good to evil and ungrateful people, we are being “holy as He is holy”. We begin to live as a Royal Priesthood and a Holy Nation.
So, to remain in my home and never reach out to those around me with the good news of divine sanctification is to be profane. That sort of changes the whole idea of profanity doesn’t it? We’re being unholy when we refuse to reach out fearlessly. On the other hand we also need each other to constantly become re-sanctified and avoid the “stains” of the world so ready to profane us as we come into contact with them.
The challenge is let our holiness flow into them and minimize or mitigate their profanity flowing back into us. It can’t be one-way, so we also need to undergo sanctification with the help of other believers around us. Jesus sanctified with His presence, and that’s our challenge as well. But as we can’t pull splinters with logs in our eyes, we can’t share holiness with profanity in our hearts. Do we only love safe people? Ouch. Well, yes, mostly I do. So, I clearly need sanctifying, which means contact with my Holy Master and His holy people. One should never minister alone.
What’s your view through the knothole? (was that too abrupt?)