At my covenant group this morning there was an interesting point that was made. One of my fellow brothers of the cloth stated that one of the issues in today’s church culture is that people think that morality and holiness are the same. When they seek to walk with God, to be a follower of Christ, and to profess their faith what they really mean is that they want to be moral creatures, not to move towards holiness. I thought this was a clever observation.
Morality is defined as “Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good or bad behavior.” It is looking at the world and seeing it as choices between doing the right thing or good thing verses doing the wrong or bad thing. Many people view being a Christian as doing this as well. WWJD. I am a good Christian because I did not speed to church, run any red lights, and stayed away from sinful desires like alcohol and sex. I gave back the extra money the check out girl gave me at the grocery store and I helped an old lady across the street. I am a good Christian because I did these things or because I made these choices.
Holiness though is the “process of becoming holy.” As a United Methodist this is something ingrained into my theological DNA. John Wesley’s idea of sanctifying grace is the idea of moving towards holiness. Sanctifying Grace is God’s work through us to help mold us and share the love of God with the world. It is living out the 25th chapter of Matthew where we are to take care of the least of these. Holiness is being Christ’s image in our daily lives.
The difference between holiness and morality is that holiness goes farther than morality ever can. Morality is about a decision. Do I turn right or left. Morality looks at the 10 Commandments and sees a list to help guide decisions. But to be a follower of Christ is more than simply following a set of rules. If we look at the story of the Rich Young Ruler (pick any Gospel’s version of the story) we can see this lived out. The man comes to Jesus and asks how to receive eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments, which the man replies he does. Then Jesus tells him to go further and step beyond the mere following of rules. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus asks him to move beyond morality and into holiness and the man goes away upset.
Too often we water down the gospel to mere morality. We do not profess the requirement found in Leviticus 19:22 and echoed again in 1 Peter; “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am Holy.” May we continue to push beyond what makes us feel better about ourselves, the idea of making right choices and may we be able to make the hard and harsh choices that come with following Jesus and being truly holy.