Misperceptions of Holiness

There’s a perception of some evangelicals, particularly in the media and on the “progressive” side of politics, that they are rigid, unfeeling, unthinking, mean-spirited joy-killers. Anyone who speaks out against licentious behavior and calls abortion and homosexuality sins are akin, in some minds, to those who championed the Inquisition during the Middle Ages or those Puritans who refused to celebrate Christmas [without, of course, studying to find out the reason they opposed the celebration—the way it was carried out in England was far from Christ-honoring at the time].

The word “holiness” has gone out of style, even among many evangelicals. Some holiness denominations have contributed to a misunderstanding of the Biblical concept. They have concentrated on what one doesn’t do rather than the positive, joyful obedience to God’s standards that emanates from a heart of love.

One of the early proponents of a doctrine of holiness was John Wesley, who started the Methodist movement within the Church of England back in the eighteenth century. I’ve been doing a little reading of excerpts from Wesley’s journal. One of those excerpts captures, I think, the essence of Biblical holiness and the joyful life that God wants for everyone. Read Wesley’s commentary here, and if you are one of those individuals with a skewed view of holiness, this might provide a corrective:

I am convinced as true religion or holiness cannot be without cheerfulness, so steady cheerfulness, on the other hand, cannot be without holiness or true religion. And I am equally convinced that true religion has nothing sour, austere, unsociable, unfriendly in it; but, on the contrary, implies the most winning sweetness, the most amiable softness and gentleness.

Are you for having as much cheerfulness as you can? So am I. Do you endeavour to keep alive your taste for all the truly innocent pleasures of life? So do I likewise. Do you refuse no pleasure but what is a hindrance to some greater good, or has a tendency to some evil? It is my very rule; and I know no other by which a sincere reasonable Christian can be guided.

In particular, I pursue this rule in eating, which I seldom do without much pleasure. And this I know is the will of God concerning me; that I should enjoy every pleasure that leads to my taking pleasure in Him; and in such a measure as most leads to it.

When Christians call for a higher moral standard for America, it’s not because they want to destroy pleasure. What we witness in our culture are all the false pleasures that try to substitute for the real pleasures God would like to provide. True pleasure is never found by following our own selfish desires. It exists only in a relationship with the One who created pleasure. When we lay aside our selfishness and rebellion against His reasonable commands, only then do we come to an understanding of pleasure because only then will we see it as coming straight from the heart of God.

So I don’t apologize for speaking out on the issues of abortion, homosexuality, personal responsibility, political chicanery, or media malfeasance, among others. My desire is to help bring our society closer to the heart of God, which ultimately brings His blessing and every true pleasure.