The Image of Holiness

I come from a Christian culture that defined “holiness” (being like God) as the ability to follow imperatives or rules. These were affirmed by the Christian story I was formed in, which of course was said to be BIBLICAL. I think the church is badly in need of (or perhaps it’s the church experience I came from), is badly in need of a re-definition of what constitutes “holiness”; but to get to this re-definition we need to begin at the beginning.

To be human is to be created in the image of God.  Very few would argue with this statement, but many would argue with this next one: To be human is good!

If to be human is to be like God, then whatever causes us to be unlike God, i.e. all the sin ideas, is to de-humanize or de-image ourselves. I wonder if the most simple of definitions of “holiness” is: Whatever lifts up our true humanity – that is holy; and whatever diminishes our true humanity, or de-humanises us – that is unholy.

Where am I going with this? With this equation, whenever I judge, exclude, villainize or in any other way de-humanize another individual or group, I am participating in an unholy act. I am also diminishing and de-humanising myself in these acts. This gives me pause.

No wonder holiness has been difficult for us. It’s not because we are so unable to hold to our moral convictions; it’s because we have allowed our moral convictions to de-humanize.

And in those moral convictions where we have de-humanized ourselves, we have also de-humanized anyone else who doesn’t measure up to our standards. The effect is a trap, for when I de-humanize another, I am de-humanized. And in light of that, no wonder we have defined holiness as following a set of rules, because to be truly holy would require me letting go of all of my judgments and what I have been taught is biblical.

I’ve heard it said that it’s God’s job to judge, the Spirit’s job to transform and our job to love. Why is it so hard to stick with my job? Why do I want to de-humanize myself or others (participate in unholiness)? Why don’t I want to trust the Spirit’s work of transformation in someone’s life…? Forget that! Why don’t I want to trust the Spirit’s transformation work in my own life? Why do I want to control it so badly? My thoughts go to the words of Jesus when He sums up all the law and all the prophets, “Love God, love others and love myself.” It seems my only job is love. Where did I get the notion that holiness was anything other than love? What empowered me to decide that I could make a new law out of the teachings of Paul and of Jesus that was anything other than law of the Spirit, which is love?

Sadly, I think a lot of my Theo (God) ology (thinking), with the very best of intention, led me into deeply unholy places. Because it allowed me to do other than love.

Hmmmm…?

  • http://thebridge-cu.com Ron S

    I certainly agree with your push toward defining “in the image of God” more biblically as loving (deep commitment to the best for the “other”). Deuteronomy says being like God includes loving stubborn people who do not deserve it and working for their good. Jesus summarized the entire Torah in terms of observance as loving God, others, and self since this is what God is like. One of his stories, even illustrated what is godlike with the “compassion” of a Samaritan for a “natural enemy.” But, I would add, that this is not being agnostic about theology, this is insisting on a bigger and better theological paradigm. You don’t get there without thinking, but you are right, we don’t get there only by thinking either. Takes a lot of modeling after God and empowerment from God to take this bigger theology very seriously in daily living doesn’t it?

  • mike h

    The rub with many church-folk is the idea that “To be human is good!” That doesn’t fit with a totally depraved view of humankind. It looks like we are in need of a new Reformation that restores humanity to the ‘Image of God” that we truly are. Tarnished, perhaps. But, Image none-the-less.
    Thanx for this post.


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