One of the mistakes I made when I viewed holiness was believing it was a matter of will power. Holiness seemed like something I could attain if I could work hard enough. Since I felt it was all about my will power, I found myself focusing on the ‘easier’ sins….language, stealing, killing, etc. I made sure not to do those. Yet, the more subtle sins, lust, anger, etc were more difficult. I found myself constantly going to God asking for forgiveness in a sin-repent, sin-repent cycle.
It didn’t help to observed those in the holiness traditions either. It seemed like holiness was about how you dressed, or that you didn’t drink or swear. It was this view of holiness I rejected and I even remember the day I rejected it.
I was pastoring a small United Methodist Church and my wife and I went out to a fast food restaurant after the service. As I stood in line some other people that had just finished their service came into the same restaurant. I didn’t know what church they were from, but I could tell from their dress it was some type of holiness church. I realize that this might sound judgmental, but as I looked at them that day, I did not see joy. I didn’t even see love.
I was already moving away from holiness and the realization that those who were much holier than I was didn’t have any more joy or love caused me to finally believe that there had to be some other way. That was over fifteen years ago. And to be honest, I kept trying to understand what would bring me joy and cause me to love. What I’ve discovered is holiness, at least the kind that Wesley preached about, is the very thing that can bring joy and love.
Wesley maintained that without holiness, one could not be happy. He writes in sermon 45 (The New Birth):
For the same reason, except he be born again, none can be happy even in this world. For it is not possible, in the nature of things, that a man should be happy who is not holy. Even the poor, ungodly poet could tell us, Nemo malus felix: “no wicked man is happy.” The reason is plain: All unholy tempers are uneasy tempers: Not only malice, hatred, envy jealousy, revenge, create a present hell in the breast; but even the softer passions, if not kept within due bounds, give a thousand times more pain than pleasure. Even “hope,” when “deferred,” (and how often must this be the case!) “maketh the heart sick;” and every desire which is not according to the will of God is liable to “pierce” us “through with many sorrows:” And all those general sources of sin — pride, self-will, and idolatry — are, in the same proportion as they prevail, general sources of misery. Therefore, as long as these reign in any soul, happiness has no place there. But they must reign till the bent of our nature is changed, that is, till we are born again; consequently, the new birth is absolutely necessary in order to happiness in this world, as well as in the world to come.
One of the things I had overlooked in my study of Wesley was how he connected justification with regeneration (The New Birth). Collins terms this regeneration “initial sanctification.” This is where holiness starts. Another thing I had overlooked was this regeneration and the subsequent holiness wasn’t something I had to work up, but rather something God gives as a gift. Just as justification is a gift, so is regeneration.
This was a huge omission for me. I will write more about it in part 3 of this series.