[This is a longer comment on William Petruzzo’s blog about personal holiness entitled “Godly Copycat.”]
Nowhere in the Bible does anyone ever say, “pursue [or seek] Holiness”. God simply says , “Be Holy, because I am Holy.” (Lev. 11:44) There is no suggestion of being credited based on our efforts, or degree of success; God is not ‘grading on a curve’, or providing any sliding scale of success. He simply said, “Just Do It.”
The problem arises when we try to define in our own minds the “measuring stick” of “personal holiness”. Generally this is some form of behavior modification of visible character traits and/or behaviors. God’s measuring stick is actually more internal/not-visible – like our motives or thoughts, in other words ‘our heart’. We feel “holy” or “unholy” based on our own personal (or our denomination’s) measuring stick, and feel good or bad about ourselves accordingly. God’s measuring stick leaves us hopelessly lacking – but we really can’t handle that, so we stick to our own worldly measure.
This is where our pursuit of holiness becomes selfishly motivated – we desperately need to feel good about ourselves; we want to feel like we deserve/measure up to in order to maintain/retain or otherwise have some control over our status in Christ – which is HOLY. So the problem for me is when people become absorbed in this pursuit to the expense of doing the things that God tells us to do like “deny ourselves”, “consider others better than ourselves”, “seek first the Kingdom”, and so forth.
Paul tells us to “imitate Christ” – so what does that look like? Obedience seems to be a major factor (“to obey is better than sacrifice…”). Jesus said, “IF you love me, you will OBEY my command…” I like to rank the commands in this sense: Jesus said the most important commandment is to love God, the second is to love our neighbor. I throw in Jesus’ new command as the 3rd most important – “Love one another.” He also said they are all important: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” So in rank order the importance of the commandments seems to be as follows:
1. Love God
2. Love your neighbor
3. Love one another
4. everything else…
I try to focus on the top 3 – thinking there was a reason why Jesus put them in rank order. I do not believe that I have mastered those three yet – so I keep focusing on them. I believe that will take me a lifetime, and even then I’m not sure how well I’ll adhere to them.
Most of us seem to skip over the “top 3” and look for some manageable list somewhere between 4 and n. We tend to focus on the visible stuff, and we like to knock out the “low hanging fruit.” We tend to think that if we can conquer/control commands 4, 9, 13, and 22 that will equal or compensate for our lack of adherence to 1, 2, and 3. I don’t think this is the case.
There were people in Jesus’ time that made an extreme effort to adhere to the strict letter of the law (Mosaic Law). They even went so far as to come up with their own doctrinal statements that refined/expounded on the law (Rabbinical Law) – in order to be “crystal clear” on their adherence to, and thus their own personal holiness. This group, of course, was comprised of Pharisees and Sadducees. Here’s what Jesus had to say to them:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (He says this 6 times!)
“Woe to you, blind guides!”
“…you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”
Here’s what Jesus offers as the solution:
“You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
There appears to be an order here that is definitely not rooted in behavior modification.