Maybe it is just because I mentioned A.W. Tozer in a blog a few days ago that I have been thinking today of a recorded sermon of his in which he recounts the story of visiting a certain church one day who had invited him to their service to preach. This particular church was very strong on the fact that Christians should be crucified to the world and the world to them: in other words they put a lot of effort into being “holy” which actually just means being distinct or different or separate from the world. It is good that they were serious about that, as the bible tells us without holiness none of us will see the Lord. Salvation by grace is not a licence to be unholy! Cheap grace is not the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which saves us. However often in church communities that do set out to take holiness very seriously there can be a taking of a truth too far or perhaps more accurately the truth gets distorted somehow, which in the case of “holiness teaching,” can lead to legalism and judgmentalism in outlook towards those within that community of faith and indeed towards other Christian communities. For example in the community that Tozer speaks about in his sermon the men wore ties with square ends rather than pointed tip ties, because if they wore pointed tip ties they would be pointing down the way to hell. Well, some of the leadership were getting a bit concerned that they were maybe taking things too far and asked Tozer what they should change. He told them, “Change nothing. I am fed up meeting Christians who haven’t gone far enough!”
Well, I was surprised by what Tozer told them. I could see the point though as he talked about imagining we were building an underground shelter to escape the effects of a nuclear bomb. He said that he didn’t think he would ever meet anyone distraught because they discovered actually it only needed to be three stories down rather than the 4 that they had dug. They wouldn’t mind finding out they had gone too far.
I do worry that the modern approach to Christian life in many circles seems to be to try and present to the non believer that actually we are really just like them. We are as cool as the coolest, trending as well as anyone in how we dress, our socialising or entertainment habits, the cars we drive and how we do up our houses and where we holiday, but we are just different round the edges really in that we like this Christian thing or church thing.
Another story from Hugh Black’s ministry: a titled lady was looking for a new coachman; the interview consisted of the applicants driving her in her coach around a marked out cliff top road. Applicant 1 kept a moderate distance from the edge of the cliff. Applicant 2 drove as far away from the edge as the course would permit and almost seemed to be over cautious. Applicant 3 showed tremendous skill by driving as near to the cliff edge as possible and as fast as possible. He thought, as indeed the other applicants thought he would be offered the job considering his obvious skill. However the job went to applicant 2. Why on earth would the lady have wanted someone who would think nothing of putting her safety at risk? The job went to applicant 2 because he had stayed as far away from the edge as possible.
Never be afraid of taking holiness too far. I don’t think that is today’s problem somehow. Of course being distinct can descend into petty legalism. I am not advocating that, however I am thinking of Tozer’s words: “I am fed up meeting Christians who have not gone far enough.”
I guess we will see God’s glory fall in our times in proportion to how seriously we take what Scripture says: “Be holy as I the l Lord am holy.”
As to what the essence of holiness is, well, I think I can make the case that it is ultimately about mercy and grace. However, how I got to believing that will need to await a blog on a future day, but don’t wait another day before putting the essence of holiness into action. If you love with mercy you will never be more like God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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