Headline: THE TASK OF HOLINESS


Posted on: 2015-08-29


The path of obedience

It is generally accepted that a life lived without a purpose is a tragedy. The main purpose of Christian life is to live well, love God and fellowman and make heaven. Another way to say that is in what God told Moses to say to the assembly of Israel: "Be holy for I, Yahweh,  your God, am holy" (Lev 19:1). Thereafter God gave them hundreds of precepts and laws to keep them focused on that purpose. Jesus confirmed God's precepts to his disciples in other words: "As for you be righteous and perfect in the way your heavenly Father is righteous and perfect" (Matt 5: 48). From the very beginning of the God-man relationship in salvation history God established precepts for man to follow. Those precepts were like a road map on treacherous tracks. As long as they were followed, things went well. When the people followed their own whims and caprices, there was trouble. God's people lived through many rebellious moments. Salvation history is land-marked by such failures and the attempt to redress them. Till this day Christian life consists in bending the heart and intellect to the will of the Creator.

Sweet talk and swift fall

At creation, God told Adam and Eve: "You may eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will not eat, for on the day you eat of it, you will die" (Gen 2:17).  Even with all the warning about death obedience proved too much for Adam and Eve and they fell.  Moses was chosen to bring Israel out of Egypt. He had a rough time keeping the people on the path of God's plan. Then God gave the people the Ten Commandments and a covenant which they constantly violated. Moses tried hard to commit them to faithfulness. "Let the heavens and the earth listen, that they may be witnesses against you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life that you and your descendants may live, loving Yahweh, listening to his voice, and being one with him" (Deut. 30:19-20). Then came Joshua. He tried to strengthen the people's resolve. He gathered them before God at Shechem and challenged them: "...make known this very day whom you shall serve ... As for me, I and my household will serve Yahweh" The people spoke sweetly: "May God not permit that we ever abandon Yahweh to serve other Gods"(Jos. 24:14-16). Till this day people talk sweetly and fail swiftly in divine obedience. God however never gives up as he showed through many prophets, and summed up through the prophet Ezekiel. "I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I shall put my spirit within you and move you to follow my decrees and keep my laws" (Ez. 36:26-27).

Testament of values and virtues

Jesus of Nazareth changed the face of history and of the relationship between God and man. Israel was God's people in the Old Testament. In the new, all men and women become God's children who will be saved if they believe in Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:16). Jesus Christ revealed the "human" face of God inviting his followers to live by values and virtues which enhance fraternity with fellow human beings and friendship with God. Often, his teaching smirked of absurdity. Consequently, the Beatitudes run counter to what people would normally accept. "Blessed those who mourn" and "blessed those who hunger" do not agree with normal human desires.  Jesus' entire project was based on friendship and love. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you and pray for those who treat you badly. To the one who strikes you on the cheek turn the other cheek, from the one who takes your coat do not keep back your shirt" (Lk. 6: 27-29)"  These still prove to be obstacles to many followers of Jesus but in summary add up to God's call to holiness and fellowship with Him.

 

Holiness is desirable, help available

Felix Adler, a German religious leader and social reformer who founded the Ethical Culture Movement once wrote these beautiful words: "There is a great and crying evil in modern society. It is want of purpose. It is that narrowness of vision which shuts out the wider vistas of the soul. It is the absence of those sublime emotions which, wherever they arise, do not fail to exalt and consecrate existence.    Jesus Christ put that purpose in the lives of his followers by asking them to be "salt of the earth and light of the world" (Mt 5:13-16). These two elements are carefully chosen. Wherever there is light, darkness dissipates and when salt is added to food it seasons it. The holiness to which Jesus calls his followers is not passive but active, engaging and meant to transform the world. Those who seriously wish to do this must have a clear strategy to follow. Would you not study the methods of a great footballer if you wanted one day to be one? Or of a great public Speaker if you dream of being an orator? Surely you would! Too often the saints of Christendom are derided. This need not be, because they changed history by their courageous and heroic sacrifice. They dared to live according to the commandments of Jesus and succeeded in changing the world in which they lived. They fought hard and won. Christians especially have a definite path cut out for them. They simply must reach often into the past for strength so abundantly available in the  array of Saints gone before us. 


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