Summary: what does God your Father see you doing in secret? The "Holiness" stream asks us these tough, heart questions.
The Holiness Stream: How Broad Is The Kingdom Of God
Feb 5, 2006
How broad is the Kingdom of God? That is the question we have begun exploring throughout January. To review quite quickly – thus far we have looked primarily at two “streams” of Christianity – the “evangelical” or “word-centered” stream which would historically describe Laurier, and the “charismatic” or “Spirit-empowered” stream most familiar to us through the Pentecostal movement, many elements of which have been pouring back into evangelical churches such as ours. Throughout January, I’ve been calling us to unity and to a deep love for one another that would find the strength and power that comes as we bring the best of those two streams together.
In the midst of those corporate “streams”, we have also identified individual “spiritual temperaments” or what Gary Thomas calls “pathways”. This is the quiz with which we began January. The “evangelical” stream, with its focus on the Word, has often attracted intellectual/conceptual people, while the “charismatic” stream has often appealed to enthusiasts.
This morning we are going to reach a little further out from many of our own experiences, and into a third “stream”, called the “holiness” stream which focuses on the “virtuous life”. This stream has often appealed to people called ascetics, who value simplicity and silence and tend to find God when all the clutter of life is stripped away (note, not aesthetics, which is about beauty).
How’s Your Heart?
As we begin, let me ask you a question: how is your heart? Is it well with your soul, are you in a good place, content, do you feel like you are deepening in your Christian life, like you are living in obedience to God and like you are living in a closeness to God?
That question, to which I will return a little later on, sort of encapsulates this particular stream. How is your heart? is the chief concern… The simple, one line response to the question, “what is the Holiness tradition?” is this: “A life that functions as it should.” It is about a life that works, with a pure heart as a source of Godly living.
This is important – the focus of the holiness stream is not on external activity, it is on a right heart out of which those behaviours flow.
The book of James, in the New Testament, is a good example of a focus on the holiness stream. James talks a lot about right action, which must flow from a right heart. James writes things like: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (Jas 1:22); “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (Jas 1:27); “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?... Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (Jas 2:14, 18).
Throughout church history, we have examples of people and movements that exemplify this stream. In very early church history, during a period we know as “The Desert Fathers and Mothers”, a group of Christians removed themselves from their society and culture in an effort to find a pure heart and thus a holy life. A few took to sitting way up high, on the top of tall poles, to try to get away from influences that might lead them into sin. One of the great contributions from this period is their testimony that sin comes from within, from the “deceitful heart.”
More familiar to many of us are the monastic traditions, which made a similar decision to separate from mainstream society; likewise, the Puritan movement in America, and the Hutterite communities which are prevalent here in Alberta and Saskatchewan. All are examples of Christians who take the call to holy living so seriously that they attempt to live away from many of the temptations of our wider society. All would be considered part of the Holiness stream.
But perhaps the best example of this stream is found in Jesus. Paul tells us quite clearly, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus lived and modeled for us a truly holy life. Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet Jesus never sinned. The reason for that is that Jesus’ heart was completely pure, and His actions flowed out of that pure heart. It is not that Jesus had more “self-control”, or more power to keep His actions and thoughts in line, it is that Jesus’ heart was complete and pure, and thus Jesus’ “life functioned as it should.”