There is only one conclusion regarding holiness with two emotions attached. The single conclusion is that holiness is rarely preached. The emotions attached are relief on the one hand and grief on the other.
The relieved: Some among us are relieved that they no longer have to watch men in black suits pound elevated pulpits in muggy tabernacles for an hour on the evils of sin and the necessity of holiness. This crowd grew weary of legalistic rule making where everything was required and nothing was forgiven. Many were nauseated by long testimony services where the bragging of spiritual victories seemed to be the tone, not the celebration of God’s victorious grace. I have to admit, I miss testimony services, but I do not miss the bigot who shared a racist joke with me in the hallway standing up and saying he had not sinned in fifteen years. You say this was an unintentional sin. The only problem was, he shared that racist joke right after a sermon on racism that mentioned racist jokes. I am not completely relieved that holiness is rarely preached. I am a little relieved though. I understand this group.
The grieved: Holiness is a beautiful doctrine. We do not have to live in chains of slavery to willful intentional sin. We do not have to fall to every temptation that knocks powerfully at our soul’s doors. God’s grace, meeting our surrendered obedience is enough to bring us to victory over intentional sin. We can live lives that are truly set apart, truly holy. That is a beautiful idea. This group is grieved that we no longer believe this beautiful doctrine. This group sees Alcoholics Anonymous groups that believe you can be freed from the need to drink. They say things like “Alcoholics Anonymous has more faith than we do.” And they are right. This group reads stories of life transformation in Oprah’s magazine and says “Oprah has more faith than we do.” And they might be right. I am relieved that some of the abuses have dwindled (though certainly not died.) But I am grieved as well.
I believe, because I have seen, that God does work in people’s life to such a degree that they do not willfully intentionally sin. A few years back a woman wondered about the doctrine like we all have. I know that woman well. So I asked “When was the last time you can remember knowing something was wrong, and doing it anyway? I don’t mean mistakes or losing your temper in the moment. You knew it was wrong. You decided to do it. You did it. When was that?” She couldn’t think of a time. I knew she couldn’t. I’ve been married to her for enough years to know she’s holy. None of us are without flaws, but some of us truly are holy.
I believe because I have seen people not only freed from sin, but freed for love. A former gang member became a pastor in North Carolina West and oozed love on me at every church camp I went to. A friend of mine regularly ministers in prisons, constantly recruits others to go with him, and is full of joy doing it. It isn’t legalism. It’s love. He truly loves those broken men. It brings him joy to go. These people are holy in the way humans can be. You know people like that too. The elderly woman who prays for you every week without fail. The young man who shovels four extra drive ways every storm. The lay evangelist who has brought four people to Christ this year alone and does it without an ounce of self righteousness, just love. You know these people if you think about it long enough.
The next few weeks we will focus on Wesleyan Sermons on holiness. For two weeks straight we will read clear articles on preaching holiness from one of our great theologian preachers: Dr. Chris Bounds, professor of Theology at Indiana Wesleyan University. A pastor of ten years, and a well loved itinerant preacher his is a beautiful life as well. Then we will be asking you for nominations of great sermons on holiness that call us to the beautiful life without beating us up with guilt. So start thinking of the holiness sermons you want to highlight for us and we will ask for them in a few weeks. In the meantime, and beyond, seek holiness. If it is true, you will receive it in God’s time. If it is not true, you have lost nothing by seeking.