By Sarah Wei
Holiness is easily misunderstood as perfection; it is a word that seems far removed from us, and may only exist in heaven. This discourages many Christians to think about or pursue it.
The Scripture in Hebrews 12:14 tells us the reason for living a holy life: “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Peter asks people to pursue “peace” and “holiness,” as it associates with eternal life. I would say being holy is not being perfect, but a process of striving to be like Jesus and have a loving unity with him.
This holiness journey will not be smooth. It is common for Christians to experience a dark night during their faith journey, even to some famous spiritual people (like Mother Teresa). I personally also experienced this darkness during my undergraduate years in North Carolina. I did not realize it at that time, but only as I review it now.
For me, the cause may be the lack of worship and fellowship in my first language and the struggle of adjusting to the U.S. culture and educational style.
In pondering the causes further, I think one is that I did not have a firm foundation under my faith—that is I did not truly know Jesus. I had been longing for God in my heart, but I did not take Jesus seriously.
Why did I not take Jesus seriously? I think it is because I ignored the importance of having a relationship with him in my life. I thought that good conduct or not having intentionally sinned is enough to be a Christian. Failing to have a relationship with Jesus was also because of failing to see him as a God-Man, the Mighty God, and also personal Lord.
Now I understand why some theology views Jesus as a husband, groom, brother, friend, and master. Not viewing Jesus as a living person and true God may cause the failure to have a relationship with him. One can’t have a deep relationship with someone one doesn’t know well, or with someone one does not realize has a living existence. True faith toward God and a relationship with him lay in truly knowing him. 1 Peter 1:15-16 also clarifies this: “Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
When we overlook Jesus, we probably also miss his “holiness.”
Jesus may easily be overlooked in many church activities (even Sunday School and worship). If this situation persists for a long time, we shouldn’t be surprised when a dryness of the soul arises, as it is not connected with the vine of life constantly. Intimacy with Christ is the source that brings freshness to our soul and the reformation of our new life. I will not spurn the practice of union with God (his presence), as it purifies the heart, thus the new life in Christ full of the fruits of the Holy Spirit will eventually come. Living life with holiness and connected with Christ is the core of being a Christian.
Being holy requires spiritual discipline, which is easily ignored because the results do not show immediately. But think about how the baby grows to an adult: day by day, no one notices the daily change of the baby, but over the years an adult is formed. I think this is also the way our spiritual life grows. We cannot easily ignore our physical hunger, but we tend to ignore our spiritual hunger. We starve our spiritual stomach very often without regularly feeding it by connecting with God. Just as we won’t ignore meals needed by our physical body, we also should not overlook the daily spiritual meal.
It is important to have our life’s roots (our heart) planted beside the water of the life of Christ so that the tree of our life will naturally grow. While emphasizing a change of heart, we also need to practice and form the habit of spiritual formation. I think that the best way of formation is working on both our inside and outside. It is like when practicing a smile, the best way is not just practicing the muscles of the face, but find the source of joy in the heart which is a grateful heart. This is the cause that will maintain a steady change.
We are holy when we truly accept God’s grace and look upon him by placing all our life on his alter. It is not easy to do this in a culture of self-centeredness. But being holy is not so difficult as we imagined, it is simply “a life that works,” as Foster says. In other words, holiness is the truest and fullest humanity.
Sarah Wei is a CBF Leadership Scholar from Suzhou, China, who is currently pursuing an M.Div. in Family Ministry & Theology from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University.