Monthly Archives: March 2013

What is a Holy Life?

What does it mean to live a holy life? Living a holy life should be the goal of any Christian, but how do we know if we are doing this? Certainly we will never live a perfectly holy life, but we can never even attempt to live it if we don’t know what it looks like. During the course of my studies this semester I came across what I consider to be the two aspects of a perfectly holy life: (1) sinlessness and (2) obedience to God.

Sinlessness. This means, as you might expect, a life without sin. Anytime you do something that God has declared wrong or commanded not be done, like lust, lie, or covet for example you have committed a sin. Even the greatest most perfect Christian on the planet sins multiple times per day; it is so embedded in our nature that we will cannot but help but commit it.

Obedience. This means doing the things that God has commanded to be done, like loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself. This also includes things that God may have commanded you personally to do, such as taking a certain job or preparing to enter a certain vocation.

While in theory these two aspects can be separated out into neat definitions this isn’t so easy to do in reality. In reality these two aspects are so intertwined that they are inseparable. The more you sin the greater its influence becomes over your thoughts and actions. The less you sin the less its influence becomes. However it is not enough to simply not sin. Something must take the place of sin’s influence otherwise all you are doing is striving for a moral purity which you will soon cease striving for as you will quickly realize that moral purity by itself is quite pointless.

The counter to the influence of sin is the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is where obedience comes in. When we are obedient to the commands of God we become more sanctified (that is, more like Christ) than we were previously. To be sure, obedience is not simply mere external actions, but is internal as well. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their disobedience, which ironically stemmed for their striving to be obedient, because even though outwardly they were doing everything that God required they were doing it for the praise of men and not the praise of God.

So, in short, living a holy life involves not only sinning less, but also being obedient to God’s commands. As Christians we are called to live a holy life (Leviticus 11.44; 1 Thessalonians 4.7). The Hebrew word for “holiness” means “to cut off” or “mark off.” We are called to live a life that is marked off for God. We cannot be ministers for a holy God if we ourselves are not pursuing holiness. If we are content as we are we will never minister God, but only ourselves. If we want to minister God we must mark ourselves off for him so that we will become more like him and it will become evident to others that we are serving him and not ourselves.

Holiness does not merely involve a life free from sin. It also involves a life lived in obedience to God. We can see this most clearly in the life of Christ. Not only did Jesus not sin, but he was also obedient to the Father’s will, even to dying on a cross.

In closing I will note that pursuing a holy life doesn’t mean that everyone will like you. Hopefully your Christian brethren will appreciate you, but I think that those outside the Christian faith will most likely despise you. God’s holiness reveals just how depraved and sinful we are (see Isaiah 6) and that causes one of two responses in people: (1) they recognize and lament their sinful state, or (2) they despise God. If God’s holiness is seen in a sinful human person (though certainly to a far lesser extent than in God himself) I think we can expect the same. After all, Jesus perfectly revealed (ministered) the Father to Israel and they did not accept his testimony, but instead ascribed his power to Satan and crucified him.

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Answering the Question of Authority

One of the questions that I have had to deal with in my search for a tradition is the question of authority. Where does it come from? Why is something authoritative? Up until recently I thought that there was a great discrepancy between the 3 main Christian traditions, but now I realize that there really isn’t much difference at all.

– Roman Catholicism says the Pope is infallible with regards to teaching because he is prevented from teaching errors by the Holy Spirit.

– Eastern Orthodoxy says the seven ecumenical councils are infallible because they were guided by the Holy Spirit and thus prevented from proclaiming error.

– Protestantism says that the Scriptures are the only infallible source because they alone were breathed out by God and that the teachings of the Roman and Eastern Churches are thus subject to error (though not necessarily wrong).

Though it appears that these 3 traditions locate infallibility in different places they in fact locate it in the same place: God, specifically the Holy Spirit. So the question for me now is not: “Is the Pope, the councils, or the Bible alone infallible?” Instead the question is: “What has been the extent of the Holy Spirit in protecting the Church from error?” Certainly none of these traditions doubts that the Holy Spirit has been active in guiding and protecting the church since the Resurrection, but they cannot agree on how far He has gone in guiding and protecting the church.

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox views are tough for me to accept, but I think they are certainly valid. Growing up Protestant I felt that I was taught that the church (specifically the Roman Church) could not be trusted and that the Bible alone was to be trusted. The decisions of the early ecumenical councils were accepted, but only because they agreed with Scripture. However, now being aware of all that has transpired over the course of Christian history and seeing what an absolute mess ALL the traditions have made over the course of their existence, but yet seeing that there is still an active Church where the Gospel is proclaimed and people are saved I cannot deny that the Holy Spirit is indeed active in preserving the Church.

So for now this question is of much less significance for me, since I know that wherever I go I know that the Church is being protected by the Holy Spirit. If I had to accept the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox position I could, because I know, at least to a certain extent, that it is true.

I Like The New Pope

If I were a Roman Catholic I think I would be really proud right about now. I think the new Pope has set a good example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus: to be a servant of all.

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

This new Pope seems to have rejected the luxuries that previous Popes have embraced in favor of showing himself to be on equal footing with others. Peggy Noonan notes several things that point to the humility of Pope Francis:*

  • His plain regalia as he stood on the balcony
  • Request for crowd to pray for him before he prayed for them
  • Loves the poor and even gave the cardinal’s palace in Buenos Aires to a missionary order that had no money
  • Lives in an apartment
  • Cooks his own food
  • Rides the bus
  • Picks up his own luggage
  • Pays his own hotel bill
  • Shuns security
  • Refuses a limousine
  • Gets on a minibus with the cardinals
  • Visits a church in a modest car in rush hour traffic
  • Greeted the people before greeting the Vatican officials and staffers following his election
  • Reportedly refuses to sit on a throne and meets his fellow cardinals standing
The White Crucifixion by Chagall

The White Crucifixion by Chagall, reportedly Pope Francis’ favorite painting

Many people seem to be hoping for change with this new Pope and I think change is exactly what they’re going to get, though perhaps not the change they are hoping for. The new Pope will probably not institute any progressive reforms or change the church’s stance on gay marriage, abortion, or contraception; this is not the change Catholicism needs.

The change Catholicism needs is a change of heart and mind, and I think the new Pope is quite capable of instituting this change if he continues being the servant that he seems to have been his entire life. It seems to this Protestant that for too long the Roman Church has communicated (whether intentionally or not) that it is superior to the people and its job is to rule over the people and the people are to serve them. This is a reversal of the order that Jesus intended for His followers. Jesus called His disciples to be servants of all, just as He was a servant of all and laid down His life for all.

If the Roman Church can embody this simple principle of servanthood it will bring some long overdue change to Roman Catholicism. People need to see Rome as interested in serving them rather than ruling over them. Once this change happens I think people will begin to see and embrace the God that Rome has over zealously protected these many years. They will begin to see that Jesus came to give life to His followers, not to scare or force them into obeying His teachings with the threat of eternal damnation. Pope Francis seems to understand this.

My hope and prayer is that Pope Francis continues what appears to be a great example of servanthood and that his example permeates throughout the Roman Church. Like it or not the Roman Church is the face of Christianity in the west, and a well received and appreciated Roman Church is good for the rest of western Christendom; we are yolked to them whether we like it or not.

*My apologies if you have issues viewing Noonan’s article. If you cannot view it please let me know.

How I Deal With Doubt

Seminary has been a strange place for me thus far. For most it seems to be a place where they are encouraged and their faith is strengthened as they pursue whatever ministry God has called them to, but this has not been my experience thus far. It seems as though I’ve spent the majority of my time being tempted in the wilderness rather than receiving or honing a ministry vision. That is, I’ve spent so much time resisting Satan and his attempts to pull me away from seminary that I haven’t had any time left to devote to discerning where God is calling me to serve once I am done with seminary.

While there is certainly much that I could say about my experience thus far in seminary in this post I thought that I would share one of the things that I have learned during my spiritual battles this semester. Or more accurately, share one of the things that the Holy Spirit has shown me that has proven to be effective for me against the attacks of Satan.

Don’t Overlook the Obvious.

Don’t get so lost in all the details and technicalities of life (and explanations or philosophical systems about life) that you forget what is right in front of your face all the time.There are two obvious things that I keep coming back to:

The existence of males and females. That there are two separate and distinct genders and yet each one needs the other not only for reproductive purposes, but also for relational purposes as well (generally speaking). For me there is a mystery here that just absolutely fascinates me and suggests a Designer of life.

You didn’t choose to be born. No one brought themselves into existence. Someone (or at the very least something) brought you into existence; you didn’t have a choice in the matter. This suggests to me that whoever, or whatever, is responsible for my existence has a claim on my life and how I choose to live it.

These two things certainly don’t require Christianity as an answer to them, but I think they do at least require Theism, which keeps me from embracing Atheism. But how do these things keep me aligned to Christianity instead of some other form of theism? Well, to put it simply, I am convinced of the truthfulness of the Bible, the God it portrays, and the teaching of the catholic (universal) church concerning the previous two matters. Thus being convinced of theism naturally leads me to being convinced of Christianity.

Doubt is a serious and complex matter and I can hardly hope to cover it completely in a blog post since each situation is different, but hopefully this will be at least a little helpful to those who may be struggling with doubt.