People skeptical of religion frequently cite instances of contradictions between what religious believers say they believe and what they actually do. I think this is a justified rational to question the legitimacy of a person’s religious claims. After all, the Lord himself pointed to the flat contradiction between the words and behavior of the religious leaders of his day. This is part of the reason they hated him so much and sought to find a way to get him killed. Further, he categorically pointed to the congruence of his own actions and his words to try to persuade people to trust him. I suggest that he demonstrated holiness and spiritual power.
If this is the example of the Lord Jesus it should not come as any surprise that the apostles insisted upon congruence between people’s affirmations of faith and their actual behavior. I will not cite any specific passages of Scripture as this is obvious to anyone who has seriously studied the New Testament (indeed, also the perspective of all biblical authors). Throughout Scripture God specifically speaks of his will for his people to be holy as he is holy and he specifies that this is possible if his people will trust him and heed his word. Holiness and spiritual power are linked in the teaching of Scripture.
We modern people (and I include Christians in this) have a mind-set that generally separates faith from life—dividing up and evaluating our experience according therapeutic principles of psychological theories, ethics from universal truth. The triumph of the individual (and thus the particularity of the person’s life experience) is nearly complete in the framework of the post-modernity. Truth and life are not to converge into one stream because we have jettisoned absolute categories of truth. One of the effects of this mind-set among professing Christians that we tend to think that holiness of life and spiritual power no longer have to go together. As we frequently say, we are “not perfect” and the grace of God is most important.
I have written about this notion before but I think it is crucial to identify it and renounce it. For it is eating away the life of people’s souls as they feed on this error. And more than that this error is one the most potent doorways for the enemy to enslave and breed confusion in people’s minds.
Let me illustrate this. Happiness is something that people say that they want and crave (and grumble that they cannot achieve). Yet what is usually not asked is how can true happiness be found and kept. What is the source of happiness in human life? There are of course multiple answers that could be given but each one focuses attention upon one of three aspects of life: Achievement (in career, job, fame), sensual pleasure (food, bodily health, sexual desires) and the exercise of power (leadership of political, military, civil, religious institutions). There is also the allure of more overtly self-destructive options (drug use, promiscuous sexual behavior, abuse and violence) but these can hardly be said to bring any happiness. Only those lost in the darkness of this mindset could deceive themselves that they are happy.
What I would suggest is that true happiness and contentment are only found in holiness of life. And that true holiness is the way to true happiness. And further holiness of life is only found by those who desire to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ and submit to the work of the Spirit to progressively make them holy. A.W. Tozer wrote insightfully and powerfully on this point.
“Tell Him [God] that it is your desire to be holy at any cost, and then ask Him never to give you more happiness than holiness. When your holiness becomes tarnished, let your joy become dim. And ask Him to make you holy whether you are happy or not. Be assured that in the end you will be as happy as you are holy; but for the time being let your whole ambition be to serve God and be Christlike. If we dare to take a stand like that we may expect to know a new degree of inward purification. And, God being who He is, we are more than likely to know a new degree of happiness as well, but a happiness that springs out of a more intimate fellowship with God, a happiness that is elevated and unselfish and free from the pollutions of the flesh.” (A. W. Tozer, Of God and Men [Christian Publications:1995], p.50-51)
Human nature is such that we are caught in the contradiction of wanting to satisfy desires (however we have learned to focus those) and realizing that we cannot actually satisfy them. The most miserable people are those who know God is real but who are yet set on satisfying what they think the need or want.
Lady wisdom teaches us to fear the living God and renounce our own way and will; only in trusting and loving God can we find true happiness. This should not surprise any of us who have come to know about the Lord Jesus because he embodied this truth and personally beckons people to take his yoke and walk with him. We were created for God and only in spiritual union with him can we find satisfaction. Holiness of life is the effect of union with the Lord Christ, through the Spirit, to the delight of God the Father. And it is the most effective witness to the reality of God’s Presence and love for all people.
If people reject the witness of the Gospel that is upon them and God will judge each person justly. However, if someone rejects Christian faith because of the misrepresentation of God by people who claim believe in him then God will hold those supposed believers accountable. Let us ask for God to grant us repentance for holding to a mindset that we can or must somehow muster up the ability to live a righteous life.
The only way to be righteous is by faith in the Son of God by conscious dynamic abiding in him. Those who know what I am talking about are those who abide. To those reading these words and who do not understand I say: Turn to the Lord Jesus and ask him to show you what it means to abide him so that he can abide in you. He takes great delight in teaching those who are willing the Father’s ways. And this is for our good and the glory of God’s holy Name.