My heart hurts … and it’s hurt for some time.
Over the increasingly rare teaching about holiness in Christian churches.
Holiness is a major theme in Scripture. 1 Peter 1:15-16 puts it succinctly:
“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.'”
I resonate with the praise song that says, “Holiness, holiness, is what I long for; holiness is what I need …”
In fact, the holiness of God is essential, because it’s the basis for Christian morality … and happiness.
The argument goes like this:
*There is only one God.
*The character of that one God is holy, meaning He is set apart from sin and too pure to look upon evil.
*God’s holiness demands that He punish sin, but Jesus took our place on the cross and paid for our sins.
*When an unbeliever receives Jesus, that person is given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.
*The Spirit’s job is to transform an unholy person into a holy person, a process called sanctification.
*To become sanctified, a believer needs The Holy Bible, The Holy Spirit, and The Holy Church … all gifts from The Holy Trinity.
For a follower of Jesus, the basis for morality is not my parents … my friends … my school … my television … my music … my Twitter … my feelings … or my culture.
The basis for morality for a Christian is the holy character of God.
God’s character is unchangeable.
God’s requirements are unchangeable.
God’s expectations are unchangeable.
Even when my parents … friends … social media … feelings … and culture change, God doesn’t change.
And because God doesn’t change, my behavior needs to conform to His holy character, not to the culture around me.
But from what I’m hearing and reading these days, most Christians cannot answer this simple question:
What is the basis of morality for a Christian?
The most common answer would probably be, “The Bible,” but that’s not the best answer.
The basis for morality is God’s holy character as revealed in Scripture.
So Christian morality is rooted in God’s holiness as taught in His Word.
But when is the last time you heard that truth preached?
As I visit Christian churches, I’m hard pressed to hear the words “holy” or “holiness” mentioned anymore.
We no longer say “Holy Bible” … only “The Bible” or “The Word.”
We increasingly refer to “The Spirit” rather than “The Holy Spirit.” (But isn’t the primary job of the Holy Spirit to make God’s people holy?)
We rarely say “Holy Communion” anymore … just “The Lord’s Supper.”
The word “holy” is slowly being dropped from Christian vocabulary. Is it intentional?
It may be for some, but I believe that most Christians now think that the whole idea of holiness has become irrelevant.
Most pastors love to emphasize that God is love … so we should be loving, too … but find it difficult to say that God is also holy … and that means we need to be holy as well.
But He’s not just loving or holy … He’s both.
And God’s people need to be both loving and holy as well.
Why the de-emphasis on God’s holy character and our holy living?
Because it doesn’t sell anymore. Pastors know that if they stress God’s love, people may continue to attend churches, but if pastors highlight God’s holiness, many will walk out the back door and never return.
But isn’t this really the problem?
Last Sunday, I heard an excellent message from John 12:37-50 at the church that my son and his family attend.
John 12:42 says that many of the Pharisees believed in Jesus privately, but they didn’t want to make their belief public “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43).
Like the Pharisees, pastors like praise from men, but Jesus’ church needs pastors who desire praise from God even more … and that means dealing with unpopular issues in a loving but truthful manner.
There were times as a pastor when I got up to preach and knew that my message would not be well-received. Those were usually the times when I was preaching on an issue where biblical teaching clearly clashed with cultural preferences.
But it wasn’t my job to take a poll, see how people felt about an issue, and then tell them what they wanted to hear. No, it was my job to faithfully exegete God’s Word, explain it clearly, and relate it to contemporary life even if people left the church. (But they rarely did.)
Let me briefly illustrate what happens in churches when pastors preach God’s holiness faithfully.
I grew up in a church where I had two different male Sunday School teachers in ninth grade. As it turned out, both men slept with the same married woman, and when it was discovered, three families left the church.
Only later did I discover that the church was full of sexual immorality among the adults.
How could this happen in a fundamentalist, Bible-believing church?
In my view, it’s because the church’s founding pastor … whose marriage was rocky … slept with multiple women over time.
There were so many women involved that the news of his exploits was bound to get around the church … quite possibly “giving permission” for others to emulate his behavior.
But besides that pastor’s poor example, I never heard him preach on sexual issues. He didn’t tell us what Scripture said about sex (good or bad) … he didn’t tell us anything about sexual boundaries … and he never discussed the consequences of sex outside of marriage.
So even though we had a Bible-believing church, the congregation was not receiving biblical teaching on sexual behavior … so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
I have never been in a church that was so full of perversions.
This is where many Christian churches are at today. In an attempt to keep people coming … and giving … all too many pastors are either avoiding what Scripture is saying about sexual matters, or they are redefining what is right and what is wrong. (And maybe, just maybe, they’re avoiding certain issues due to their own personal struggles.)
In the process, are our churches becoming more holy or less holy?
I certainly don’t think they’re becoming more holy.
By contrast, let me share what happened to me the last time I preached on a sexual issue.
I was preaching on sex inside marriage from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. I emphasized that sex was a good gift from a gracious God but that God commanded that sex only be practiced inside a monogamous heterosexual relationship.
In the process, I emphasized some practices that would enhance a married couple’s sex life, and some practices that would harm their sex life. It was all very PG stuff.
Several people whose opinions I valued commended me for my strong words after the service, but one of the seniors called and told me that the entire seniors group would be boycotting the rest of the series because they didn’t like what I said about sex inside marriage!
Of course, I didn’t want the seniors or anybody else to boycott my preaching, but I felt then … and still feel now … that we pastors need to be specific about what God expects from His people in Scripture.
But after visiting scores of churches over the past few years, I’m just not hearing much … if any … emphasis on holy living.
To test my theory, I asked my wife several days ago, “Can you tell me the last time you heard a pastor say that Scripture says that sex before marriage is wrong?”
She couldn’t recall a single instance.
Because I was listening for it, I did. The last time I heard a pastor say that sex before marriage is wrong … which includes couples who live together … was more than three years ago at a church we attended near Phoenix. (And the church was growing like crazy.)
Because pastors are avoiding the tough topics … especially involving sex … people are being instructed almost exclusively by the culture, and many of our cultural spokesmen believe that “anyone can have sex with anyone at any time for any reason.”
I don’t mean to harp on sexual practices alone while discussing holiness. I could make a similar case for the immorality of lying and stealing and other misbehaviors.
But please do me a favor. Over the next few weeks (and next week is widely known in Christian circles as Holy Week), please listen to your pastor preach … and listen for the words “holy,” “holiness,” and any other terms that convey the same meaning.
Write and let me know what you’re hearing … or not hearing.
Because I hope I’m wrong.