Holiness of Life

By Marianne Dorman (2011): 

How are we to live? Many seriously minded people ask this question to-day as they try to give expression to their lives by experimenting with different styles and/or philosophies. Yet the answer is clear if not complicated, especially when we are Christian. Each person has been created in the image of God and has received His hallowing breath of life. “Be holy for I the Lord thy God is holy,” we are bidden. In Leviticus this reminder appears five times (11. 44, 11.45, 19. 2, 20.7, 20. 26) and in the New Testament we are reminded of this in the first Petrine letter, “Be holy for he is holy” (1.16). It would seem evident then in the words of Lancelot Andrewes that “the end of man is holiness, which is nothing else but the image of God.” 

In preaching on this way of life Andrewes was encouraging not only the people of his time but also us in the twenty-first century to understand that as the created, they and we are created in the likeness of the creator. Furthermore in Baptism, Christians have received the Holy Spirit in order to pursue that life of holiness as opposed to a life of sin. 

To encourage us even more we have God’s Son as the exemplar of holiness. This Caroline divine insisted that one of the purposes of “his coming into the world ... [and] his being made like unto us was ... that we might serve him without fear in holiness.” He, the teacher of holiness, “was pure, holy, undefiled, and no man can rationally hope to be like unto him in glory hereafter, who endeavours not to be like unto him in purity and holiness here” (Dorman, Teacher and Preacher, p. 335). This meant, as Andrewes often indicated, that the life of a Christian is quite distinct from those who live seemingly good lives. It is no less than conforming our lives to that of Christ who told us “to take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11. 29). Jesus also taught us that we must live in unison with the Father’s will (Jn. 10.30).

What does this mean for Christians in everyday living? It means we must live more than good moral lives. It requires that in our daily lives we unleash the Holy Spirit in every situation that we face to confront the Father’s will. “Be holy as I am holy” has to penetrate our very being. It is living God’s way and knowing that because He loves us He yearns for us to be holy. By aiming to live His way we are given glimpses of our true selves – the selves that God knows and the selves that we don’t particularly want to own or even worse deny.

Sometimes our actions surprise us and we discover that we are not as holy as we thought and that we indeed have a long way to go to be holy as God is. As Andrewes reminds us, we must not persuade ourselves “it is an easy matter to be a good Christian.” On reflection, we find ourselves not leaning on God in the midst of an unexpected crisis; we give in to a comfortable lifestyle rather than denying ourselves in order to help another; we strike out rather than absorb the pain and hurt, or we are not strictly honest. 

A contemporary of Andrewes, Archbishop FĂ©nelon, advised that nothing is “more unworthy of God” that we should “be content to remain” as we are. Therefore to live as God intends, means that there is a lot of hard and painful work often to be done. It is about confronting the pretences, deceptions and excuses to which we have become accustomed about ourselves. It often means letting go of personal piety and permitting ourselves to be completely naked before the Holy One and to let Him mould us in His image. 

It is only then that we can begin to “be holy as He is.” Like everything else in life, a concerted effort has to be made constantly for holiness to become part of our everyday living as we die to the old self and rise renewed by the overwhelmingly love of the Holy One. 

Yet God knows “we cannot do what we would” often. As Andrewes comforts us with these words he also has a sensible recommendation that we pray more fervently to the Holy Spirit, for it is only He who enables us to respond to each situation as God would have us do. We have the freedom to grow in holiness, or stagnate and sleep our lives away, ignorant of being the person God wants us to be and to set His world on fire. 

If we launch out into the deep by choosing to live the holy way we shall find it a life’s work, and more than a life’s work, as many a saintly man or woman knew and knows as they grapple towards oneness with God, so aptly preached by Andrewes: 

[To] die and live as He did, that is `once for all;’ which is an utter abandoning `once’ of sin’s dominion, and a continual, constant, persisting in a good course `once’ begun. Sin’s dominion, it languisheth sometimes in us, and falls happily into a swoon, but it dies not quite `once for all.’ Grace lifteth up the eye, and looketh up a little, and giveth some sign of life, but never perfectly receiveth. O that once we might come to this! No more deaths, no more resurrections but one! (Dorman, Sermons,Vol. 2. p. 213).

If we believe that Christ is “the loveliest Light that ever shone” (C. Rossetti) we shall allow that light to penetrate our very being and some day it will “come to this”. The created will be one with the Creator as they worship the Lord “in the beauty of holiness” lost “in wonder, love and praise” in the celestial city. 

Dr. Marianne Dorman is an Anglican scholar and author, living in Washington State.

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