Growing in Holiness

lightI am currently taking a class on family discipleship toward my divinity degree. This class is challenging everything I have believed about the structure of the family and its role within the church. I feel like Josiah after finding and hearing the Book of the Law:

Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.’ He gave it to Shaphan … Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes.” ~ 2 Chron. 34:15, 18-19

Josiah tore his robes because he realized how far off course his kingdom was, and that is my reaction to what I am learning in this class about family discipleship, all of which is soundly biblically-based. As Josiah might have asked, I wonder how I could have been so blind when God’s ways are quite clear.

I need to ponder and pray over the specifics of my challenges before blogging about them, but I wanted to write about the dynamic of learning through God’s Word that you have been living in unholiness while serving a holy God. I have been through this process several times, and it doesn’t get any easier. However, because I have repented and redirected my life in the past with amazing results, I have the hope that I can change direction in this area of my life as well and experience God’s blessings as a result.

One purpose of the law was to awaken the Israelites to their unholiness. Being awakened to unholiness, as I have been this week, is not a fun process, but it is a necessary part of spiritual growth. I liken this dynamic to being in a room with a dimmer light switch. When I became a Christian, God turned the light on, but it was at the lowest possible dimmer setting. The very dim light illuminated big issues in my life that needed to change. It was overwhelming to see the mess, but God gradually led me through the process, and by the time He was done, my life in the very dim light looked much improved.

Then, God made the light a little brighter. What had looked somewhat tidy in the dimmest light now looked like a great big mess. I felt convicted and wondered how I failed to see this mess before. I worked with God to gradually clean up the mess until it looked good again. And then, God made the light a little brighter, and the process started over again.

This is what spiritual growth looks like. I’m not “backsliding” into my prior messes. Instead, God is inviting me to new levels of holiness.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a blanket over her head and shining a flashlight at her face. Courtesy Bitmoji.]


Holiness in My Everyday Life

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As I have grown to love God more, I find myself wanting to please Him more. I know that it pleased God for me to obey Him, so I have made the decision to do what he tells me to do, even when I don’t want to do it or fear that I cannot do it. This has resulted in me doing things that bless other people. In some cases, it really annoys them, such as my choice not to speed when I drive.

Working God’s holiness to the outside has come in many forms in my life, and it has thankfully been a gradual process. I use the example of a dimmer switch for what this process has been like. At first, God illuminated my heart at the very lowest light setting – no more light than a candle would show. I made changes in my life to be more holy (to obey God) and thought I looked pretty good … until He turned up the dimmer switch a hair more and I saw more that needed to change. We’ve been going through this process for years now, and I still don’t think I could handle God turning on a floodlight!

As an example, over the past few years, I have made a lot of changes in what I watch or read. First, I stopped watching anything that was sexual enough to be pushing its way into soft pornography. Then, I stopped watching anything violent. Next, I stopped watching anything with profanity in it. And then I lost interest in topics that ran blatantly against my values, such as shows with characters with sexual storylines, even though the sex was taking place off screen.

I truly did not see anything “wrong” with any of those shows for many years. However, as God turned the dimmer switch another notch, I grew to recognize the unholiness and no longer wanted it in my life. I did not tell anyone else what to watch or not watch … I simply made the choice for myself that I don’t need to be watching people be murdered or listening to profanity.

I did not appreciate how desensitized I had become to violence and profanity until removing both from my viewing and reading. Now that I have, I’m very aware of just how violent and profane our society has become. A friend helped me make sense of what I was experiencing. She said I’m like a runner training for a marathon. Because I’m so focused on getting spiritually healthy, I’m now more aware when I am around unhealthy things.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling with a heart over her head. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Holiness in Marriage

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One area of my life that has been profoundly improved through holiness is my marriage. In his book Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?, Gary Chapman explores the role of holiness in marriage. I have found that when I make holiness a priority in my marriage, I am much happier, and when I find myself discontented, I realize that I have slipped back into being self-focused instead of God-focused.

What does it mean to be holy in your marriage? In a nutshell, it’s living out 1 Cor. 13. It’s choosing to humble myself in my marriage, always asking what I can do to express love to my husband better than anyone other than God has ever expressed it before. This is not only in the big things but also in the little ones, such as getting a refill for him at a fast food restaurant when his cup is empty.

Sadly, our culture encourages a self-centered view of marriage, which is focused on the many ways my spouse should be meeting my needs. If he doesn’t meet them to my satisfaction, then it’s time to move on and find another spouse who will. What we fail to realize is that we are all imperfect people who are married to imperfect people who are incapable of meeting all of our needs. Only God can do that, and we harm our marriages when we expect our spouses to do God’s job.

I agree with Chapman that marriage provides a wonderful opportunity to practice growing in holiness and humility. Because God has joined the two people into one, what I do for my husband directly affect me. As I extend kindness to him, I extend it to myself. Conversely, if I am hostile to my spouse, I bear the weight of that hostility because we are one. So, marriage provides a unique opportunity that isn’t present in any other relationship to very directly experience the benefits of holiness or the consequences in its absence. My marriage has been a wonderful training ground for developing holiness beyond that relationship.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?. Courtesy Amazon.

What is Holiness?

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Before we can have a discussion about holiness, we need to understand what it is. I have heard it defined in different ways: righteousness … being in harmony with God … spiritual purity … refraining from sin … being set apart for a special use… My own definition of holiness is loving God so much that I want to please Him, not only in how I behave but also in how I think.

On her television show, Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer says that when we receive Jesus as our Savior, he plants a seed of righteousness inside of us, but we have to work to transition what was planted on the inside so it shows on the outside. So while God sees us as holy through Jesus, our reality is that our outside might reflect something very different, and the outside is what other people see. As an example, despite God seeing me as holy through Jesus, I was bitter toward my child abusers for many years, which is what people saw. The seed of holiness planted deep inside of me remained hidden, and I was ensnared in bitterness that made me – and thus others around me – miserable.

The only reason I chose to forgive my childhood abusers is because I love God. God placed this question heavily on my heart: “Do you love Me more than you hate them?” Honestly, it was a close call. When I chose to obey God out of love for Him, I began working that seed of holiness toward my outside. God healed my emotional pain as I repeatedly chose forgiveness (forgiveness is a process, not a moment). As I changed my thoughts and actions to align with God’s will, I became more holy in the sense that more of God’s holiness became apparent in my life.

Now, I could have chosen to stay bitter for the rest of my life, keeping God’s holiness hidden deep inside of me. If I had, not only would nobody see that holiness displayed in my life, but I also would have remained in bondage to my bitterness. By choosing to love God and obey Him, holiness worked its way from the inside to the outside, and my life got better in this area.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a question mark. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Holiness Series

haloHoliness is a concept I struggled with for most of my walk with God. I understood that holiness means being spiritually pure, but I had a hard time seeing myself as holy because … well, I’m not! I know where I have been, the things I have done, and the evil thoughts and motives I have had. So, you can imagine how impossible a verse like this seemed to me:

Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’”. ~ Lev. 19:2

Um, not going to happen. I’m too sinful …. too selfish … too self-absorbed! And if I know I cannot do it, then why even bother trying?

I have had enough personal experience with God to know that nothing is impossible with Him. I also know that God is good, so He isn’t going to tell me to do something without equipping me to be able to do it … not on my own, of course, but as a joint venture with Him doing the heavy lifting. What he needs from me is obedience.

And then here’s where the topic of holiness really got confusing for me… I know that God is holy. I also know that Jesus is holy. I am painfully aware that I am not, but through Jesus, God sees me as holy. So, if Jesus’ sacrifice makes me holy before God, why should I strive for holiness since I know I’ll never achieve it and it’s not needed for me to live eternally with God? Paul did a good job of addressing this question in Romans 6, but I still had many questions. This series to share what I have learned thus far.

One of my biggest challenges was the hypocrites who do the right thing on the outside with the wrong heart on the inside. I have found that in many areas of my life, I was doing the right things for the wrong reasons, so what appeared as holy on the outside was rotten on the inside. As God has changed my heart, my motivation has changed, so while I might be doing the same things on the outside, what I experience on the inside is quite different.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a halo. Courtesy Bitmoji.]