By Lance Witt on May 23, 2016
Do you mistake fruitfulness for holiness? Sit with those words a moment. What does that look like practically? And how have you seen this in your life and in the lives of other leaders?
Recently I was reading an article that talked about the “two cardinal sins of leadership”.
1. Mistaking giftedness for spiritual maturity.
2. Mistaking fruitfulness for holiness.
Each one of those statements is profound and worthy of unpacking. But in this article, I want to focus on the second statement . . . . Mistaking fruitfulness for holiness. Sit with those words a moment. What does that look like practically? And how have you seen this in your life and in the lives of other leaders?
Jim Downing, one of the patriarchs of the Navigator work, was asked “Why is it that so few men and women finish well?” His response was very insightful. He said, “They learn the possibility of being fruitful without being pure. . . they begin to believe that purity doesn’t matter. Eventually, they become like trees rotting inside that are eventually toppled by a storm.”
In other words, it is easy to put all of our energy and focus on being outwardly fruitful (successful), and neglect our inward purity (holiness).
My challenge to you today is this…In the pursuit of fruitfulness in our ministries, let’s not neglect to pursue holiness in our lives.
Holiness is a word we don’t hear as much about in the church today. But I want to remind us that the word “holiness” isn’t “old school”, it’s “biblical”.
Only once in Scripture is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice.
Implicit in the word “holy” is the idea of moral excellence, goodness and purity. And it is not only a characteristic of God, it is an expectation of us.
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 2 Peter 1:15-16 (NIV)
I think one of the reasons holiness isn’t talked about much these days that it became a word associated with legalism. When I was a young believer, I thought holiness was defined exclusively by what you didn’t do. You could be a mean-spirited jerk but if you didn’t smoke, drink or gamble, you were “HOLY”.
So, instead of holiness being about a characteristic that reflects the heart of God, it became a kind of rigid legalism that defined the Christian life by a list of do’s and don’ts. And just mark it down, always following close behind legalism there will be a judgmental and self-righteous spirit.
And for many of us, we translated this view of holiness to our understanding of God. I had this picture of God as sort of the angry school principal who took sadistic delight in disciplining you when you stepped out of line. A generation ago it seems like most of the focus was on God’s holiness and judgment.
But the misunderstanding and even abuse of the word “holiness” doesn’t mean we throw out the word. We need to recapture it, and accurately understand it and live it.
One of the truths that is very clear in scripture is that there is a connection between “purity and power”. God pours out favor and blessing on those with pure hearts.
Paul says it like this….
In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.
2 Timothy 2:20-21 (NLT)
I love verse 21… if you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use.
Psalm 15 is a great chapter on holiness. There is a list of behaviors and actions that define a person living a holy life.
But this chapter on holiness begins with these words… Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?
In other words, he asks “who may dwell in your presence?”, “who may live with you in intimacy and joy?”. A biblical discussion of holiness does not begin with rules, it begins with relationship.
Hebrews 12:14 (NLT) says it like this, Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
My desire for holiness is not driven by legalism, but by love. The ultimate motivation of holiness is not the fear of consequences or getting caught. The supreme motivation to pursue holiness is love and a deep desire to protect the relationship.
I think about this as it relates to my marriage. The motivation for purity in my marriage isn’t just the consequences that would come if I was unfaithful to my wife. The higher motivation is that it would violate the love and intimate relationship that we share.
So, as you think about pursuing holiness, don’t make it about “rules”, make it first about “relationship.” And remember God’s promise…when you pursue a life of holiness “your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.” 2 Timothy 2:21 (NLT)