Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The cubicle at work is lined with photographs of my nephew, snapped at opportune moments in order to capture his incredible personality. I often find my eyes drifting over these images, a silly grin tugging on the corners of my mouth as I’m lost in the reverie of a little life that is so very precious to me. The ring of his laughter is a cadence of joy to my heart, and the sound of his cries is a vexation to be answered though the heavens fall. Such is the love that most parents feel for their little ones – part of the miracle that Abba inaugurated when He and Yeshua patterned creation after the love that flows unobtrusively between them.
When my nephew is “being good” my heart bursts with love for him, and when he misbehaves the same feeling of love permeates the fatherly indignation that swells to correct the situation. It goes without saying that I would die for him if so called – for we share a bond that transcends the oath that I took to train him up in the ways of our Lord and raise to be a man of God in keeping with the miraculous conditions by which he entered into the world. And yet it’s amazing how much he is actually teaching me….
We’ve all read the scripture – likely heard it quoted a million times as preachers echo Yeshua’s admonition to be like children in order to truly become sons and daughters of the living God. Funny that such a simple statement should prove to be a cavernous truth on the matter of holiness – but it really is.
I’ve been praying to be granted a clearer definition of holiness as I long for a closer walk with our Lord. Mentioned regularly throughout the Word, holiness is a term that is felt on a “gut” level while remaining painfully indefinable on the surface. The gargantuan charge to “be holy” is in itself a vexing intimidation – superficially unattainable to the point of ludicrousness.
The volume of books that have been written on the subject would be a colossus to rival Babel if stacked atop one another; a thousand voices shouting opposing absolutes as theologians continually shoulder the task of defining this crucial term. We get by with a basic understanding that we are Holy because HE is holy – and it is Jesus within us making us holy even if we slip and fall. This neither excuses sin nor endorses a life that embraces sinful behavior – but it doesn't take us long into our journey with God to concede that being “holy” is apparently a gradual refining process.
So what exactly is holiness? Is it a set of rules? Of course not – not even salvation came by a “set of rules to be followed" so that we might gain favor with Abba. We understand that if a mere “keeping of rules” was the crux of the matter, then the law would have sufficed without need of our Lord’s great sacrifice. But how can we truly be holy (even once cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and adopted as sons) while clothed in flesh that subjects us to the myriad of sinful and foolish inclinations that plague the human experience? Many theologians define it as “being set apart” – which again leaves the discerning (and seeking) pilgrim scratching the chin as questions mount.
Consider this: God said, “BE holy” – just as Yeshua later said, “BE perfect.” These statements are commands for action on the part of the ones to whom the charge is given. If being saved is enough to make one holy or perfect (and we already know that salvation cannot be earned but is a gift), then why would God go further to demand holiness and perfection of us? Do you see the distinction? Holiness is therefore a choice and a charge – a responsibility of those who love the Lord and wish to be more like Him.
Though unequalled to the task of instructing anyone on holiness (for I am a perpetual student ever researching the matter), indulge me an absolute before we go any further. We begin to understand holiness when we realize that it cannot be fully achieved until a person is glorified on the other side. The command to “Be perfect” is a charge to BECOME perfect, accepting nothing less than what Yeshua means to do for us in this transformational experience called Christianity. This denotes nothing short of a heartfelt, honest, and lifelong process as the Lord molds us on the pottery wheel to eventually become the creature He desires. Another way to look at it (if the analogy of refinement works better for you) is thus – the process of becoming truly holy is the painstaking task that the master shoulders as He shapes us through the application of heat and hammer into instruments of His unspeakable Glory.
CS Lewis summarized it beautifully in Mere Christianity like this:
“Some people seem to think this (“Be ye perfect”) means 'Unless you are perfect, I will not help you' – and as we cannot be perfect, then (if He meant that) our position is hopeless. But I do not think He did mean that. I think He meant 'The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.
“That is why He warned people to 'count the cost' before becoming Christians. 'Make no mistake; He says, 'if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect – until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.”
These sage words would end this discussion if not for the nagging cry, “That may cover perfection, but what exactly is holiness?”
Perhaps I’m the only person who struggles with the term, but I’m the kind of guy who is vexed (to put it mildly) by varying (and/or changing) definitions. If the concept of holiness is something that comes easily to you, then I am most certainly in dire need of your tutelage. If, however, you have ever struggled with the term as badly as I have, then what follows may be as helpful for you as it has been for me. For it wasn’t until recently (through the testimony of a pastor and prophet, John Fenn) that clarity was finally given on the matter as Jesus boiled holiness down to a phrase around which I could finally wrap my mind.
“Transparency,” He summarized, “is the essence of holiness”.
It seems like a simple statement, but did you really soak that in? Truly ponder it for a moment – reflect on your life and wonder how different it might be if we all lived by this truth. Consider the tug and pull of hidden agendas within the church – between brothers and sisters who claim to love one another. Consider the arguments and bitterness that are built on our personal agendas – people whose lives are a disappointment in the secular world using positions in the church as a means of fulfilling dreams of power. Think of the clique’s we’ve all witnessed that should have no place in the body of Christ. Think of poorly concealed vanity that lurks behind the “efforts” of some who should be serving with open hearts and great humility, but clearly are not. From singers who crave glory for themselves to preachers who tickle the ears of carnal-minded parishioners in order to win (or retain) approval.
Think how different it would be if we were truly transparent with one another - nothing hidden from those around us save those intimate matters that are best left in private between a man and his God. No pride or agenda – only open, wide-eyed, tender-hearted servitude from one brother to another. It truly would make for a holy coven, would it not? This is already a reality in Heaven, where glorified men and women are made holy through the crucible of death in Christ. This is also the brand of holiness that Yeshua longs to see thriving from within His body here on Earth. Can you imagine what such a body would accomplish? Can you imagine the firestorm of revival and restoration that would sweep the world if those who call upon the Lord were to truly apply this transparency to their lives?
Which brings me back (full circle) to my nephew...
There is nothing more beautiful than the wide-eyed wonder that shines in the eyes of a child, since the sentiment that all children are holy from birth is an iron-clad water-tight absolute. Though the seed of carnality is in them, it remains dormant until a certain age when the child’s spirit is awakened and he/she becomes cognizant of his/her spiritual surroundings. In a sense, every human child re-enacts the Eden story as they reach this “age of accountability” – a progression that culminates with an outcry as unsuspecting mothers and fathers barge through doors to find shame-faced children trying to conceal a nakedness which before had been a point of unconcern. This is (of course) how it should be as a child begins to develop into an adult – but can we not hear the Lord whisper in our ears when this sad day occurs?
“Who told you that you were naked?”
Children are free of sin until the age of accountability, even though parents can attest that they are far from perfect. Is this (perhaps) our first lesson in holiness? Until their spiritual eyes flutter open and they become cognizant of the knowledge with which Adam and Eve burdened us all, they walk before God “pure in heart”. Until the age of accountability dawns over them like a strange and terrible light, their souls remain free of the trademark opaqueness that mark us (adults) as sinners. We forgive their tantrums, selfishness, and narcissistic tendencies because of our knowledge that they know no better, and it is our responsibility to train them against bad behavior before they receive that terrible illumination. If we do right by these babies, we raise them up to rail against destructive instincts that blossom into terrible habits once their sinful natures have been aroused.
At the time of this writing, my nephew still resides in the Garden of Eden and would gladly strut naked before the entire world if left to his own devices. He recently stunned the family by pulling his training potty out into the living room because he didn’t want to be deprived of our company long enough to “do his business”. We guffawed over the shameless display as he sat to proceed, until the subsequent smell sent mother and helpers scrambling to clear the room of potty and child. Even in this I sat marveling over the innocence and purity of the boy – who in his ignorance had committed an act that will someday make him recoil with embarrassment (Uncle Mark’s prerogative, of course).
Another example of this view of holiness can be found in how brutally honest children can be in matters that cause most adults to cringe. We adults tend to whisper things that we know we should not think, opine on matters about which we may be ill-informed, and utter opinions that we know would cause hurt if the comments were ever exposed to the light. And yet if our babies blurt these utterances in mixed company we assail them as the egregious party. But are we (adults) not the ones who should be ashamed? Are we not the ones trying to pass our bad tendencies on to little ones who are oblivious to the burden of opaqueness? If your breath stinks, will a child not will say so to your face in order to correct the situation? Are they entirely wrong to do so?
Paul summed it up nicely when he said, “In regard to evil be like infants – but in your thinking be like adults”. King Yeshua was even more pointed:
Matthew 18:3 (New International Version)
3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
So how does one become like a child? Are we to reverse course and act with the reckless abandon that was stripped from us as maturity taught us to become healthy, thriving adults? Of course not… But what then was Jesus telling us to become?
Transparent – the essence of holiness.
Just as it is commonly known that we must come to the Throne of Grace with complete transparency, so too we must conduct ourselves with one another if we truly want to be a holy people. Does this impugn that we will suddenly be free from selfish inclinations or arguments that are caused by legitimate differences of opinion? Do children not fight? Of course they do – but you are likely to see a situation quickly corrected (and play resumed) because most children are naturally transparent in their desires and deeds.
Does this mean that we won’t occasionally sin against our brother and need his forgiveness? Of course not – though as we grow in our relationship with Elohim this should also be more infrequent. Children are often in need of correction because of misdeeds, but they remain largely untouched by the opaqueness that emerges with the awakening of the sinful nature. This is why teenage years are so tough on adults. Our babies (and they are always our babies) grapple with the wages of sin for the first time in their lives and it kills us to see it. Though some of the "enlightened" among us might laugh at this as typical rebellion, is rebellion not the very definition of sin as it relates to God? Can you not see a direct correlation to your own sinful nature as it is exhibited in the behavior of your teenager in context to your authority in the home? Just as we are patient with the struggles of our young, so the Lord is diligent in our growth. He wants us to be adults who act like adults and conduct themselves like adults – in all things except where it pertains to evil.
I’m not foolish enough to assert that a complete state of holiness is obtainable before we are made holy in death. I am certain, however, that the pursuit of holiness is what Yeshua commands of us in the meantime. If we strive to walk straight paths before Him (and become the holy creatures that He desires) we will model our walk with Abba after our little ones – taking lessons from them in the matter of holiness.
What if we truly became like children as it regards our walk with Jesus? Would we not hug more tightly, kiss more selflessly, laugh more gleefully, give more generously, and express ourselves more openly than we have since the “age of accountability” spoiled those notions with opaqueness and rebellion? Can you imagine how huge our faith would become if it was even half of what one finds burning in the eyes of a child? They believe instantly, with all their hearts, and the world is full of possibility. The wonder is real, good guys good and bad guys are bad – and even bad guys are redeemable - often seated with heroes at the table for tea.
I’m still begging God for illumination on the infinite matter of holiness, and I do not claim to have mastered it in the least. The revelation that “transparency is the essence of holiness”, however, has opened new vistas in my thinking on the matter. I’m eternally grateful for the teaching and to John for passing it along. May The Lord continue to minister to us all as He shapes Yeshua’s body into the magnificent temple that it was always meant to become.
The Lord is returning soon and I can hardly wait. Even so Lord Jesus, come…
Your brother and servant in Yeshua HaMashiach, our King and God.
Mark Scott Grimmett
The Return to Eden
By Mark Scott Grimmett