Holy hole in the donut, Batman!

Religious people like to talk about being holy. Holy is this buzzword that church people talk about all the time, speaking of it as though it’s a grand state of existence that only those who follow the rules can attain.

And simply because something is associated with the church, people get the idea that it’s holy. There are holy altars and holy goblets and holy candles and holy robes and holy hymns. I used to watch the reruns of the Adam West Batman television show as a child, and I loved all the different “holy” things that Robin would come up with. And sometimes I think that people in the church are the same way with religious icons and habits. We slap “holy” on it and suddenly it becomes something more important and superior to anything like it. And this doesn’t just apply to inanimate objects. It applies to people too.

And even though most everyone gets that the word holy means “set apart,” I think a lot of the time we get confused about how to be holy.

Today’s verse is John 17:17.

17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.

John 17 is a chapter in the Bible that is called The High Priestly Prayer, where Jesus is praying for the disciples and for all the believers that would follow them. It’s an example of how Jesus intercedes for us. If you have a moment, you should read the whole chapter. How Jesus prays for us tells us a lot about Him and a lot about why we are here on earth.

But I want to focus on verse 17, this morning. Verse 17 is Jesus asking God to make us holy by His truth.

What does that mean?

I’ve been in a lot of churches and I’ve known a lot of church people, and the prevailing attitude among the churched is that being holy means you have to act holy. You have to dress holy. You have to speak holy. You have to sing holy. You have to look holy. You have to eat holy. You have to teach your children holy and work holy.

But what I have discovered about many churched folks is that even though they are trying to act holy, holy, holy, in actuality, they are no holier than a drug-addicted bum on the street. At the end of the day, even if you’re dressed holy and you’re eating holy food, on the inside you’re still the same rotten person you were before you covered it up with your clothes and your habits and your speech patterns.

It’s not our actions that make us holy. God’s truth makes us holy, and that holiness is (or should be) reflected in our actions and our habits and our lives.

If we don’t have God’s truth in our lives, we have no chance of being truly holy at all. So where does God’s truth come from? The Bible, of course.

Now, am I saying that we don’t need to behave differently than people who don’t believe? No. As believers, we are to live according to the Bible. We are to be modest. We are to be pure in speech and thought. We are to be separate, made obvious by our love for each other and for those who don’t believe yet.

But living that way doesn’t come automatically. Holy living is something that comes from having the Holy Spirit in you. If you’re trusting your actions to make you holy without trusting in Christ’s sacrifice to save you, it won’t do you any good. Because all you’ll accomplish is turning yourself into a hypocrite.

But if you let God’s holiness change you from the inside, your life can’t help but change as a result. If you let God teach you His truth — His Word — the holiness will come along with it. True holiness — like God’s holiness — is different and set apart from any earthly holiness. And we are called to be like God, not like the religious churched crowd.

So if you want to live a holy life, for real, first get into the Scriptures. Read about what being holy really means. And learn who God is. Because you can’t be holy just by changing the way you dress or the food you eat or the music you listen to. Being holy is outside our capability, and it’s something that God does inside us, not something we do for God.

The Road to Hell

How many times have you heard that the road to hell is paved with good intentions? I don’t guess it’s a saying that is widely popularized but I’m willing to bet that everyone has heard it before. What I thought was interesting is where it originated. It was first used by a man named Saint Bernard of Clairvaux but since then it has been quoted by people like Samual Johnson, Samuel Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott and Karl Marx. Can you imagine those five people using anything in common? I mean, yes they were all authors, but they wrote on completely different topics.

Of course, semantics can change everything around, upside down and inside out. How do you define good intentions? What makes an intention good to begin with? In that case, what is good? And what is bad?

The verse for this morning is 1 Peter 1:15-16:

15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

Maybe you would go a different way with this, but to me, what I think when I read this verse is that Believers are supposed to be different. That’s what the word holy means. It’s not some super-spiritual term that is beyond the grasp of a mere mortal. It simply means that people who believe in Christ are supposed to be set apart from the people who don’t believe; that our actions and lives shouldn’t mimic the lives of people who don’t believe. Our actions and lives and thoughts should mimic God because God chose us and He is set apart.

Life is a balancing act. If you lean too far to the right or to the left, you’ll fall.

One of my greatest fears is relevance. How do you balance being holy with being relevant? God left us here on Earth to accomplish a certain number of things, most of which is reaching out to people who don’t know Christ yet. The only way to communicate with culture is to speak their language–but can you maintain holiness and still be relevant when the culture you’re reaching is evil? When they rejoice in things that are shameful? When they congratulate each other for stabbing friends in the back? When they reward each other for abandoning their families?

Don’t think I’m naive, please. I’ve been in religion long enough to know that all that same behavior happens in a church too, but I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about the Bible and Christ and doing what He left us here to do.

I know my church came under fire–and is still there–for deciding to do our services the way we do. Contemporary services with modern (and sometimes secular) music. Many Christians hear that and get really upset. We’re singing a Nickelback song in church? We singing a Linkin Park song in church? How can you call yourselves holy if you listen to secular music? How can you be different if you’re acting like the world?

But what does it mean to be holy? What does it mean to be different? I think it’s taking one of those secular songs and appreciating it for what it is–music that moves people. Secular music isn’t evil; it’s a portrait of culture. And if you want to speak to your culture, you have to speak their language. The difference comes when you look at what the music is saying and realize that it’s wrong. You realize that the life it’s propogating isn’t what God has called you to. But even by knowing the song, it gives you an outlet to speak to someone who doesn’t believe the same as you do.

Are we so weak in our faith that a Nickelback song can shake it?

But here’s the flip side. Can we get to the point where relevance is all that matters? Absolutely. I’ve been in churches that are a mile wide and an inch deep. I’ve known a lot of Christians like that too. If we don’t keep our eyes on what matters — the truth — relevance can easily become a religion itself and the last thing the world needs is another religion.

We are to be holy. We are to be separate and different and peculiar and unusual.

If we want to be effective, we have to balance our methods for reaching our culture. We need to balance the message and the method. If our methods are outdated, no one will listen; if the message is dim, no one will grow or learn or even come to know Christ at all.

There is no need to balance the truth, though; truth is always relevant. It will balance itself. What needs to change is how we communicate it. And after it changes, we need to be vigilant to make sure it stays balanced because having too much or too little of either message or method will distract from the truth. And in that case, no matter how good our intentions might be, if we aren’t telling people the truth, there’s only one place that road will take them.