Related Verses: Eccl. 3:11-13; 1 Peter 1:13-16
Leading Question: What does holiness look like?
A person’s face is generally a helpful guide to the forces that are shaping that person’s life. Happiness, joy, anger, cynicism, and honesty. But then there is the focus of this lesson: holiness. Since the Holy Spirit does not have a face, we have to pick up the pieces from the other members of the godhead. That would be easiest from Jesus since we have many stories about Jesus. Especially when we see him dealing with children do we get a positive perspective. Even when Jesus cleansed the temple in anger, the evil people fled in terror, but the children came running (Matt. 21:12-17). I would give anything if I could be angry like that. . . .
To set the tone for our discussion, we will look at two biblical passages, and two citations from contemporary literature.
1. Holiness: a joyful perspective. Does this passage from Ecclesiastes sound like the life of a holy person?
Ecclesiastes: 3:11-13 (NLT): Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.
2. Holiness: a somber perspective. Would this passage from 1 Peter be seen as a more typical model for the devout Christian?
1 Peter 1:13-16 (NIV) Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
The New Living Translations softens the first line with: “So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. . .” The idea of soberness comes from the use of the word in a secular setting where it does refer specifically to the non-use of alcoholic beverages. The transfer to non- literal settings carries over some of that austere, self-denial flavor.
Popular perspectives. Two quotes below illustrate quite different perspectives on holiness, one from a believer, C. S. Lewis, and one from a secular novelist, Nick Hornby. The paragraph below is lifted from an advertising blurb for Hornby’s book, How to Be Good, in the newsletter of the
Quality Paperback Book Club in 2002. It speaks of the conversion of Katie Carr’s husband:
“The problem is her husband, David, a bitter under-employed intellectual who writes a column for the local newspaper under the heading ‘The Angriest Man in Holloway.’ Just as she is about to dump him, he turns, almost literally, into a saint: after receiving instruction from a faith healer named DJ GoodNews, David gives money away, works with the homeless, and even invites GoodNews to move in with them. He also becomes utterly humorless.”
By contrast, here is C. S. Lewis’s perspective from Mere Christianity. Contrast the last line from the QPB quote with the last line from Lewis:
“Already the new [people] men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other [people] men do, but they need you less (We must get over wanting to be needed : in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognize one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of color, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book IV: “Beyond Personality” IV.11.10 [pp. 187-88 in MacMillan Edition]
Ellen White: A transformation. Illustrative of the striking contrast from a humorless perspective to a buoyant one, are these quotations from Ellen White as she tells the story of John the Baptist at different points in her life:
1858 Spiritual Gifts 1:29: “John’s life was without pleasure. It was sorrowful and self- denying….”
1897 Youth’s Instructor, 7 Jan. 1897: “John enjoyed his life of simplicity and retirement.”
When I shared these quotes with a class for the first time, one of the students blurted out: “You mean the more Ellen White enjoyed her walk with the Lord, the more John the Baptist enjoyed his!”
Question: How does the Spirit guide us and help us to find the right perspective for the right time?
Lest we think that all of us must have a cookie cutter experience, this quotation from Ellen White emphasizes how different we can be, and laudably so. The quote is from the first paragraph of the chapter, “In Contact with Others” in Ministry of Healing:
Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing. – MH 483