I don’t honestly know where to begin. My journey with holiness has been strained over the years. Of course, as a young Christian, I believed in the importance of holiness…I just couldn’t live up to my own expectations. As I attended seminary, I started viewing holiness (and the holiness tradition) as based on antiquated rules and regulations. Jesus, after all, came to forgive us of our sins and that IS Good News! Even though my seminary was founded on the basis of the holiness movement, I found myself shying away from even using the term.
Holiness was not a good term for me. It had negative connotations and way too much baggage. I began focusing on other areas of the Christian life. 1 John 1:9 was very good to me! I would tell people that God loved them…more than they knew. Every week we would pray about our sins; the things that held us captive, brought us down, and gave us shame. We would pray for forgiveness. The wonderful grace of God through Jesus was more than enough to cover all of our sins.
I still believe that too. I still believe that God loves all. Yet, I think I stopped short. I believe there is even more wonderful news than Jesus forgiving us. It took re-reading sermons by John Wesley to remind me of that Good news. Yet, it didn’t start there.
It started in a Doctoral class with Ken Collins. Ken said that not only did John Wesley preach that through Jesus we were released from the guilt of sin, but we were also released from sin’s power and domination. Ken’s new book The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace goes into even more detail on this point.
While I remembered something about Wesley preaching along those lines, I decided to check it out for myself. What I found in Wesley is still difficult for me to come to terms with because I believe Collins is right about Wesley. If Wesley is right, then there is good news for all who struggle with sin. God not only forgives us of our sins, He also empowers us to be victors over that sin.
I know many who read this will reject this whole thing as idealistic. Yet, what is the alternative life? A life characterized by failure, guilt, shame, and imprisonment by the sins that surround us. That is not “abundant life” (John 10:10). Yet, it is a life that describes many Christians I know. Since forgiveness is preached and not “new birth” or regeneration, most Christians never realize the gift that God is yearning to give to them.
In the second installment of this series, I will concentrate on what this gift is, and then discuss why I think I reacted so negatively to holiness all these years.