Several years ago, Stephen and I had finally reached a place financially where we could afford to use our tax return to do something we wanted, rather than sending it to pay off debt. The first thing on our list was to get rid of our old carpet that was covered in sippy-cup spots (can I get a witness?), vomit stains (thank you stomach flu), and just everyday grossness. I was finally getting new flooring! It was like 10 Christmas mornings put together!
The night before the crew was scheduled to come, we started moving all the furniture out of the living room. The last thing to go was the rug that had been lying in the same place for about 4 ½ years. We rolled that thing up and I was stunned. The carpet it had been covering up for all that time was at least 5 shades lighter than the surrounding carpet. It didn’t even look like the same flooring. It was so clean, while the rest of the carpet was worn, dingy, and disgusting. Why? This 5’x8’ rectangle was stainless and like new because, for the duration of most of its time in our house, it was covered and protected. It wasn’t exposed to the same level of wear and tear that the rest of the room was. It was shielded from the spills, muddy shoes, toddler brawls, and settled in grime. But as we were going about our days, we were oblivious to just how much damage was being done to the surrounding carpet until we saw the difference side by side.
Insert cheesy spiritual analogy . . .
Isn’t it so true though?
If you study the Bible from cover to cover, one of the most consistent themes you will find is the command and reminder to pursue holiness, to be set apart from the rest of the world.
Leviticus 20:26 says “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”
Deuteronomy 7:6 says “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
1 Peter 1:14-16 says “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
These are just a few of the most well known verses. The call to holiness began with God’s chosen people, the Israelites, so that all other nations would see them and know that they had been set apart. Then it carried over into the New Testament to apply to those who claim to follow Christ, so that the rest of the world can look at their lives and see a marked difference.
How does this play out in the lives of believers now? How do we live a life in pursuit of holiness in today’s culture? How do we keep ourselves covered and protected while maintaining a presence among those who don’t know our God?
Well, as it goes with the different commands in God’s Word, there are plenty of scriptures that help give us guidance. Here are a few . . .
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. – Ephesians 5:3
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. – 1 Corinthians 10:19-20
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2
We could keep going for hours but you get the idea.
It would appear that we are to do any and everything we can think of to keep our minds, hearts, eyes, ears, and bodies as pure and clean as humanly possible. It seems to be pretty clear too, that this is not something that will happen passively. It will have to be a proactive, aggressive, and seemingly radical effort on our part to pull it off. The reason is that not only are we called to pursue holiness, but we are called to do it while still going out and making disciples. Sure, you could hole up in some underground bunker with nothing but a supply of food and a Bible in order to avoid all worldly influence. But what good are you down there?
The Word gives us so many reminders to pursue holiness and instructions on how to do it, because in order to further the Kingdom we will be forced to be out among an unholy world – one that is growing more depraved by the minute. And I don’t care who you are, if you surround yourself with that which is against God, and fail to guard your heart and mind, you will undoubtedly get taken down. Much like the old carpet in our house, you probably won’t notice it in the process. But you will wake up one day and realize that your life no longer resembles what it was.
But where do we draw the line? At what point are we simply justifying our pursuit of fleshly, wordly desires? Many believers hide under the cloak of “staying culturally relevant”. Unfortunately, this relevance has turned into full-on camouflage for many Christians. They’ve gone from staying up with the times, to being almost unrecognizable as a Christ-follower.
But Jesus went where the people were. He was right in the middle of it. So how’d he do it? How did he manage to mix it up with the worldliest of the wordly, all while maintaining holiness? I would argue that it boiled down to His motivation. He didn’t dine with tax collectors and thieves in order to better understand their world. Jesus embedded himself into their lives with the sole purpose showing them love and revealing truth. And He was able to do this well not because He had been studying up on the latest pop trivia. Rather it was because He had so immersed himself in communion with the Father and maintained such a bold level of purity, that anyone who spent time with him left his presence changed, not the other way around.
So perhaps we are going about this all wrong. Could it be that as the world around us gets more and more sinful and indifferent to depravity, our lives will appear more and more radical? God’s Word is constant and unchanging. There is no room for allowances when it comes to what is acceptable and not acceptable if the measure is perfection. There are no clauses or addendums to God’s character. As our culture (including Church culture) becomes more and more accepting and even embracing of sin, our lives will – and should – look less and less like the world. Jesus didn’t say in John 13:35 that they will know we are His disciples by the fact that we are up to date on the latest HBO drama, or shop at all the right stores, or can sing every lyric to the big hits. No, they will know us by our love. In other words, our striving for holiness should always trump our desire to be relevant, because when the world comes crashing down, our relevance becomes irrelevant. It’s our love that will set us apart. It’s our love that they will come running for. So maybe it’s time that we do a once over on our lives and begin weeding out those things that are not God honoring and that distract us from pursuing the holiness we are called to.
What does it look like for you to be in the world but not of it?
Do you think that holy living has lost its importance in Christian culture?