What makes a Christian holy and how do we behave in a holy way in relationships? Are we ‘kept in check’ by all the do’s and donts of the Christian life or are we built up and encouraged into a life of love, joy and peace? It is clear from the Bible that holiness cannot be achieved through self-effort. The Spirit of God within every Christian cleanses, sanctifies and justifies us making an individual Holy (1 Corinthians 6:11). This takes the pressure off and allows us to trust in the redeeming effect of Jesus’ blood. However, from this position of being made holy, we are given freedom which makes anything permissible, even if it may not be beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12). What will you do with this freedom?
Words for the Week
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
I heard Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist, once say that a herd of cattle can be kept in a field by either putting a fence round the edge or by having a food source in the middle. Both will keep the animals in one place, but the latter seems much more beneficial for the herd. Whether this is a real agricultural technique or not, I have no idea but the illustration seems fitting. The apostle Paul appears to adopt this type of approach in his letters. His exhortations and encouragements act like food alongside the boundaries of his rebukes, convictions and vice lists. They all seek to steward the holy ‘new self’ that we become now we are in Christ. Jesus seeks to teach every ‘new self’ how to walk in the ways of his Kingdom and how to act with holiness and righteousness in relationships (Ephesians 4:24).
Through the infilling of the Holy Spirit, there is the opportunity to extend and cultivate holiness through what we say and how we act in relation to others. Paul makes this evident by the interesting sanctifying effect of a believer being married to an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:14). In any relationship, we can be a sanctifying advocate for others, allowing them to experience the cleansing presence of the Lord and the kindness of God. Manifestations of God’s holiness come through peace, humility and patience and of course along with attributes in the famous marriage scripture (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). However, we can also actually build up those who are in relationship with us, especially by what we say and do. As the Christian missionary Heidi Baker often states, ‘love looks like something.’ I would propose holiness does as well.
For instance, I love to be right. I can sometimes act in a way reminiscent of ‘old self’ which was crucified in Jesus Christ. Self-righteously justifying how I behave or think is just the start. Becoming defensive and self-protective when challenged can be the result, leading to friction in relationships. Unfortunately, the fruit of humility is not produced in these situations and neither is ‘the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3).
In his book ‘Virtue Reborn’ the theologian N. T. Wright proposes a way forward with Holiness. He ascertains that a biblical view of holy living (or virtue as he describes) doesn’t just wait for an automatic feeling or a desire to live in this way, or conversely through religious self-effort. Instead it requires intentionality and practice to live as God wants us to.
“God does not want you to become a God; he wants you to become godly – taking on his values, attitudes, and character.”
Seeking God and his guidance for our relationships in prayer and action doesn’t just happen. Being obedient and laying down one’s life for a friend isn’t going to be a walk in the park. I believe this intentionality is what Paul calls putting on the ‘new self’ (Ephesians 4:24) – a process which will no doubt take practice as an individual is transformed and changed in the attitude of their mind. As we learn to leave behind the habits of our ‘old self’ and walk in newness of life by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it may take discipline to change course in our relationships.
Own it personally…
Think of someone who you may not have the greatest relationship with. They may make you feel angry, frustrated, envious or other emotions the Bible says to avoid.
Pray for that person. Ask God’s abundant blessing and favour to rest on them. Ask for all the things that you would want if you were in their shoes.
Listen to what God says about that person. Write down a prophetic word to rebuild your view of them – a view that hinges on how God sees that person and who they really are.
Give that person the prophetic word to encourage and build. It can be anonymous.
Ask for wisdom to know how to interact and deal with that person in a holy way that builds up them and your relationship with them.
“Love is the language they speak in God’s world, and we are summoned to learn it against the day when God’s world and ours will be brought together forever. It is the music they make in God’s courts, and we are invited to learn it and practice it in advance. Love is not a “duty”, even our highest duty. It is our destiny.”
N.T Wright, Virtue Reborn
Speak it Out – Pray and Prophesy
The first five videos on this link are short depictions of Gary Chapman’s 5 love languages. He is an author with popular books surrounding the topic of how people give and receive love. After watching the video pray and ask God in what ways, out of these 5, do I give and receive love. Think about how you can exercise these and the other love languages that you may not be so familiar with doing.