James 2:18—But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (ESV)
The faith versus deeds debate is a wrestle that transcends generations. Even so, I believe that in the wrestle of today’s culture, these verses could be reapplied as so: “But someone will say, “You have grace and I have holiness.” Show me your grace apart from your holiness, and I will show you my grace by my holiness.”
Holiness is not a popular word. In the words of a friend, “No one wants to talk about holiness.” Why? Because often, to carefully examine oneself, in the light of God’s majesty and purity, is to require change of us at the deepest-heart level. Admittedly, it’s not very comfortable. But it’s good.
We’ve attended churches in the past that have branded themselves “the Grace Church,” or “all about grace” (in contrast to those focused on holiness). Not surprisingly, in these same bodies members are taught to view sin with a very lax perspective. “I’m saved, I’m good, I’m freed from striving . . . so I can do whatever I want.” Now, most people would not say things so explicitly. But the fruit testifies for itself. In these environments, except by the mercy of God, spiritual casualties abound; grace becomes something that at its best is passive and at its worst, murderous.
“And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.” (Isaiah 35:8 ESV)
I love this verse from Isaiah because it stands in stark contrast to the spirit of this age. Secularism teaches us to avoid holiness at all cost, abuses the true meaning of grace, and instructs anyone who will listen to do whatever “feels” good. Under this religion (because secularism has indeed become its own religion), fidelity, honesty, and righteousness cannot exist. All of a sudden, the Lord of angel armies becomes my “homie,” who’s always “in a good mood.” All kinds of sexual perversions are rewritten under new, acceptable names. Crude ways of relating become the norm because “we are free in Christ.” I can repeatedly binge on Netflix or ice cream while ignoring my lost neighbors because maybe hell isn’t real anyway. After all, why would a gracious God turn anyone away? And we become murderers, accepting, even applauding sin that leads to death.
Why, after all, have we come to believe that repentance is optional? That fasting and getting on our knees before the Lord in humility, is only for “fanatics,” or worse, “the religious.” We have come to value comfort and ease over truth and love. I contend that we will not be able to receive or extend grace until we embrace holiness. Now, the converse is true. We will not be able to fully walk in holiness unless we are also receiving and offering grace. The point is that they go together! They do not contradict themselves nor do we have to pick which “team” we are on.
It is holiness that keeps us in the Way. Humility, seeking the face of God, repentance: these are what will lead us into true expressions of grace. How can we be utterly surrendered to God and keep on sinning? How can we withhold forgiveness and compassion from another when we are daily soaking in the knowledge that God, by His infinite mercy, has called us His friends? And we will see Grace rightly; we will see Jesus rightly. As Jesus himself spoke, “ And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6 ESV). Until He returns, may we be found faithful to walk in holiness and grace.
©2020 Sarah Tegtmeier ARR. Reveration is the weekly devotional ministry of First Cause. If you would like to receive these devotionals go to www.firstcause.org and click on the “Click here to receive weekly devotionals” box. Unlimited permission to copy this devotional without altering text or profiteering is allowed subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.