Summary: Holiness is the gift of an identity, appearing to be too good to be true, but received by accepting forgiveness.
Today’s message is framed by incidents provided by two church members. I will not be naming the players, but they have given me both the beginning and the ending of this message on holiness.
The beginning: a few days ago one of you told me that you came to worship each Sunday so that you could feel clean. You told me about your workplace – how that workplace was tainted with profanity and stained with irreverence. You told me that most of others who worked there routinely stole materials and supplies from the company, and that they pressured you to go along with that. You told me that by the end of each week you felt filthy. Coming to worship, you said, provided you with a cleansing. Coming here makes you feel holy once again.
That is right on target. One of the spiritual gifts God gives His church is the gift of holiness. And as each of us shares in the life of His church, we too are given the gift of holiness. Holiness means being set apart from the ordinary. Holiness means being touched by God. Holiness means being in an atmosphere of awe and wonder. God gives us the gift of holiness.
But, just as we saw last week when I spoke about the gift of oneness, we don’t always open our gifts, and the gift of holiness is one we often leave on the shelf. The gift of holiness feels like it’s for other people, special people, and not for ordinary everyday folks, and so we leave it alone. The gift of holiness feels like it separates us too much from others, and so we are squeamish about accepting it. We leave the gift of holiness unopened.
And yet we need it. We need the gift of holiness, because, just like the brother with whom I was talking, too much rubs off on us. Too many things happen to tarnish us. We don’t feel right. We don’t feel whole. We need this gift of holiness.
The ancient creed confesses a belief in “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” We thought about the gift of oneness last week; today let’s work on receiving the gift of holiness.
First, I want you to see that holiness is fundamentally the gift of an identity. An identity. Holiness means that God gives us a unique and special individuality. God gives us personality and character. Holiness is who we are, as given by God.
Now Paul, in our Scripture, gets to this, even though he doesn’t use the word “holiness.” The idea is here:
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.
No longer children, tossed to and fro, tricked and schemed into being something we are not. We are given an identity. When we are holy, we don’t play-act any more. We are no longer children.
The identity of children is shaped by everything that goes on around them. Children are the greatest imitators in the world. Only yesterday I stood out here on the street, talking to two of our boy scouts’ fathers, and I watched as their sons pretended to be boxers. Up and down the sidewalk they went, feinting and jabbing, dancing and punching; they were playing, they were imitating what they’ve seen real boxers do. That’s what children do; children imitate.
But the gift of holiness is the gift of no longer being children. It is the gift of personal integrity. Holiness is the gift of being able to stand on your own two feet and live out who you are. The gift of holiness is being able to see that, yes, the world around you wants to press you into its mold. Everybody wants you to be what they want you to be. But when you have received the gift of holiness, you do not ask, “What do they want me to be?” You ask, “What does God want me to be?” You do not ask, “What is everybody else doing?” You ask, “What is God doing?” And once you know who and what God wants you to be, you will be able to live in integrity. What the world around you wants you to be won’t matter. It won’t matter because you have the gift of holiness. You have the gift of an identity, no longer a child, tossed to and fro, by trickery and deceit.
Did you know that the Bible is replete with people who received this gift of holiness? One after another, they received the gift that taught them who they were and gave them the courage to stand against the tricks and the tides.
I think of Joshua, bringing the people of Israel across the Jordan, and then putting it all out there, “choose this day whom you will serve, … but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Joshua understood that he had been given the gift of an identity. That’s what holiness is. Character. Integrity.