Sometimes, when we take quiet time to listen and reflect, God then whispers something new. I’ve been listening and reflecting on holiness. God’s whisper speaks to my Wesleyan heart and affirms my faith as a Salvationist (The Salvation Army is my church home). I’ve been putting my thoughts into writing another book. Recently I wrote that not many years ago there lived a revered retired professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, George Allen Turner. I knew Dr. Turner in the last years of his life. In his book, The More Excellent Way, he wrote “While the terms associated with “holiness” stress the contrast between Jehova and humanity, bridged by an act of cleansing, those associated with ‘perfection” point to humanity’s kinship with God and the possibility of fellowship.” That one sentence was pregnant with the idea of the social-relational nature of holiness. The ideas of cleansing and perfection speak to a loving, restorative work of God in a person’s life beginning at the cross and going on beyond the resurrection. Cleansing suggests purity of heart and life making possible holy love and intimacy with God. Kinship with God suggests the hallowed setting of a family. It affirms our adoption and inclusion into an ongoing, close-knit, intimate relationship with the three persons of the Godhead. Finally, the possibility of fellowship with God implies an ongoing, interactive relationship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit. Holiness is social, relational, personal and intimate with God.
Diane Leclerc* puts it this way. “Only God is holy. Yet God commands, ‘Be holy as I am holy.’” Leclerc makes the case for “derived holiness” in which humanity derives holiness from its relationship with God and the quality of that relationship. It involves imparted righteousness dependent on a social, relational connection with God. Such a relationship makes possible God’s multiple acts of grace including forgiveness of sin, reconciliation, initial sanctification, continuing (synergistic) sanctification, the progressive restoration to the likeness of Christ, and ultimately entire sanctification, all to the glory of God.
Sanctification ultimately is God’s cleansing that leaves a pure heart, makes possible inward holiness and outward righteousness, and continuing growth in grace. Holiness is reflected in profound holy love of God and a profound love for others (Mark 12:30-31). It reflects an inner moral transformation that is expressed in holy love made possible not only to some, but to all. Most simply defined, holiness is Christlikeness, the unfolding of Christ’s own character in the life of the believer who devotes time and attention to remaining in a sanctified context. That context is God’s presence and the presence of holy others making possible spiritual growth, formation, and Christlikeness, and ultimately an infilling of the Spirit and a cleansing of the heart, soul, and mind.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me . . . Psalm 51:10
*Diane Leclerc, Discovering Christian Holiness: The heart of Wesleyan holiness theology, (Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press), 2010.