Called and Set Apart (Part One)

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mick Turner

If you are a Christian, chances are you might feel a little uncomfortable with the concept of “holiness.” Depending on your denominational background, the issue of holiness may conjure up images of harsh, rigid, puritanical believers who condemn just about any behavior that might bring about an iota of pleasure. For many, the idea of holiness bring to mind images of Puritans dressed in black garb and sporting a countenance that gives the impression that they were baptized in pickle brine as opposed to water. Years ago, someone once described holiness theology as based on the fear that somewhere, someone might be having a little fun. The result of this misplaced zeal was the evolution of a harsh, somber, legalistic brand of Christianity that was the antithesis of what Jesus had in mind.

At the other end of the spectrum, many of the traditional “Mainline” denominations, rather than drifting into the morass of legalism described in the preceding paragraph, became enamored with the process of synthesizing Christian teachings with the latest psychological fad. This blend of religion and psychology offered great promise, especially in the realm of spiritual formation and in many cases, it delivered on these promises. There was, however, a price to be paid. Increasingly, those churches following this line of endeavor saw issues like sin, repentance, and morality as outdated teachings. Over a relatively short period of time, it became a rarity to hear a sermon preached on holiness or related theological relics.

Yet as Christians we are obliged to take the issue of holiness seriously. Throughout scripture it is clear that we are called to live holy lives, based on the reality that our Creator is holy. The term “holy” has traditionally been defined as “pure – set apart.” As we shall see, if we are decidedly obedient to the Master, we will indeed be set apart from the value system of this world.

Research by several groups, including the Barna group and Gallup, reveal that those who identify themselves as Christians, including Evangelical “Born Again” Christians, hold values and views that are not much different than the culture at large. In many ways, this is not surprising when one considers the general “morality drift” that has held sway over the past half-century. The church has been impacted just as much as the so-called “secular world.”

These facts should be a slap in the face to the church, a wakeup call of the first degree. We are called to be “holy,” which means “set apart.” Obedience to biblical teachings should produce a Christian community that is easily recognized as somewhat different than the culture at large. The fact that we are not all that different from the non-Christian culture around us should be a major cause for alarm and much self-reflection on the part of the church. Instead, it has largely gone unnoticed. One can assume, given this state of affairs, that Christians are either not serious about their faith or they, to put it bluntly, are not Christians at all. David Platt, in his recent book Follow Me, pulls no punches when he assesses this phenomenon:

…….I feel like I’m on pretty safe ground in assuming that once people truly come face-to-face with Jesus, the God of the universe in the flesh, and Jesus reaches down into the depths of their hearts, saves their souls from the clutches of sin, and transforms their lives to follow him, they are going to look different. Very different. People who claim to be Christians while their lives look no different from the rest of the world are clearly not Christians.

Platt is on safe ground, indeed. As mentioned earlier, study after study reveals that the attitudes and behaviors of those describing themselves as born-again Christians are not all that different from the population at large. If we are to take the words of Jesus seriously, especially his message at the end of Matthew 7 about how everyone who calls him Lord will not be saved or his words a little earlier in the same chapter about the “narrow gate,” then it should be easy to see that something is seriously amiss within the ranks of the Body of Christ. At every turn it appears that Christians today have settled for far less than what Jesus had in mind when he talked about “life more abundantly” (see John 10:10).

to be continued….

(c) L.D. Turner 2013/ All Rights Reserved

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