Amazing Holiness

Holiness is seriously lacking in the church today, or so I keep hearing. It’s not exactly a novel diagnosis – Spurgeon was making basically the same criticism over 100 years ago. The accusation is that there is more fun than gravity in our meetings, more world than godliness, more entertainment than Bible. “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep.” The apostle James’ words are borrowed and prescribed. “Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.”

I will not deny the absolute essentiality of holiness. Neither will I say that holiness does not ever involve tears, or that it never inspires solemnity. But I will say that I don’t believe tears or solemnity are its prime expressions. I want to defy the notion that holiness is austere, and that it is displayed chiefly by rigorous morality and a formal meeting style.

What, then, is holiness? Fundamentally, it is drawing near to God and learning to be like him. This will take many shapes! N. D. Wilson described it thus. Read and enjoy!


“We say we want to be like God, and we feel we mean it. But we don’t. Not to be harsh, but if we did really mean it, we would be having a lot more fun than we are. We aim for safety and cultural respectability instead of following our stated first principles: that we are made in God’s image and should strive to imitate him.

A dolphin flipping through the sun beyond the surf, a falcon in a dive, a mutt in the back of a truck, flying his tongue like a flag of joy, all reflect the Maker more wholly than many of our endorsed thinkers, theologians, and churchgoers.

Look over our day-to-day lives. How do we parent, for example? Rules. Fears. Don’ts. Don’t jump on the couch. No gluten in this house. Get down from that tree. Quiet down. Hold still. We live as if God were an infinite list of negatives. He is holiness, the rawest and richest of all purity. In our bent way of thinking, that makes him the biggest stress-out of all.

But how does God parent? He gave us one rule at the beginning: “You must not eat from that tree.” Only one tree was held back. Besides, he was giving us an entire planet. A hot star. Wild animals to discover and name and tame. Animals with fangs and sinews that rippled in the sun. He gave us the Dragon to beat that beat us instead. And then he stooped down to save.

So now we have two rules—love God, love others—along with imputed righteousness, grace for our failures, and a door through the grave into eternal life. Do we act like all this is true?

Our Father wove glory and joy into every layer of this world. He wove in secrets that would tease us into centuries of risk-taking before we could unlock them—flight, glass, electricity, chocolate. He buried gold deep, but scattered sand everywhere. And from the sand came all the wealth of our own age.

Our God made things simple and funny—skin bags full of milk swinging beneath cows. And also hard: Skim the cream, add sugar from cane grass and shards of vanilla bean from faraway lands, surround with water cold enough to have expanded its molecules and become solid. Now stir. Keep stirring. Now taste. And worship.

Us: No more for you, Johnny. You’ve had enough.

God: Try the hot fudge.

God hung easily picked fruit on trees, and he hid the secrets of fine wine at the end of a scavenger hunt. He made horses with strong flat backs, lending themselves to an obvious use, and he hid jet wings behind the mysteries of steel and fossil fuels.

Without any creative help at all, our God made up peanuts and bulgy tubers. Squeeze out the peanut oil and boil it. Slice the tubers and throw them in. Now add salt from the sea.

Us: Those will kill you.

God: Take and eat.

We should strive for holiness, but holiness is a flood, not an absence. Are you the kind of parent who can create joys for your children that they never imagined wanting? Does your sun shine, warming the faces of others? Does your rain green the world around you? Do you end your days with anything resembling a sunset? Do you begin with a dawn?

We say that we would like to be more like God. So be more thrilled with moonlight. And babies. And what makes them. And holding on to one lover until you’ve both been aged to wine, ready to pour. Holiness is nothing like a building code. Holiness is 80-year-old hands crafting an apple pie for others, again. It is aspen trees in a backlit breeze. It is fire on the mountain.

Speak your joy. Mean it. Sing it. Do it. Push it down into your bones. Let it overflow your banks and flood the lives of others.

At his right hand, there are pleasures forevermore. When we are truly like him, the same will be said of us.” [1]


[1] (accessed 02/15/19)

How To Be a Good Cult Member

While it is very important to recognize abusive behavior in leaders/ministries, it is no less important to recognize and avoid enabling behavior. They are two sides of the same coin. There is (and I quote a friend) the danger of those who are driven by the compulsion to dominate and manipulate, and there is the danger of those who desire order to such an extent that they will allow themselves to be dominated and manipulated.

In his article, “Someone Like Me: Anatomy of a Cult Member,” Steve Smith talks about what made him an excellent cult member for 25 years. Being a blind follower. Being a rule-abider/legalist. Seeking belonging. Having low self-esteem. A lack of critical thinking. Being performance oriented.

This is the kind of behavior that gives abusive people their power, but unfortunately many Christians are taught that being blindly obedient and submissive is virtuous and godly, and that critical thinking is rebellious and dangerous. We need to break away from these false notions and work on developing genuine Christian character, which would include sagacity, strength and nobility.

Steve gives us a lot to think about. Here’s the link to his article:

Becoming What We Are

People who were brought up within legalistic structures – those faith-poisoning, faith-sterilizing structures – often have an eagle eye for judgmental attitudes, zero tolerance for sanctimony, and a tendency to reject rules, as well as any critical remarks.

It is hard sometimes for us to walk the path away from legalism without losing ourselves in the opposite lie, libertinism.

Paul the apostle – fierce enemy of legalism, fierce advocate of genuine Gospel life – has been my best help along this path. In his commentary on the letter to the church in Corinth, Gordon D. Fee describes Paul’s understanding of Christian ethics as “becoming what you are”. And, as he says:

In such ethics there are some absolutes, precisely because some sins are quite incompatible with life in Christ ([e.g.] sexual immorality). This is not law, in the sense of gaining right standing with God. But it is absolute since some behavior is absolutely contradictory to the character of God. [1]

Christian ethics are not about rules and regulations. Instead, they are about reflecting the character of God – about belonging more and more to the New Creation.

In an age in which ethics is too often modified to fit one’s present cultural existence, these words need once more to be heard distinctly in the church. Christ has died for us not simply to give us passage to heaven but to re-create us in his own image, so that both individually and corporately we may express the character of God by the way we live in [the] world. [1]

Legalism is a lie. Libertinism is a lie. “In Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 
[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians

The Debt of Honor

“Honor all people” (1 Peter 2:17). “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). These are two general commandments meant to preside over us as people of God in our relationships throughout life.

If we are to truly live them out, however, we need to understand what we are being summoned to do. We need to be able to distinguish between what genuine honoring is and what it is not. We also need to determine if there are ever any exceptions to these rules. This will keep us from falling prey to unrighteous demands and being trapped in diseased relationships.

What honoring IS

Honor is a word which in Hebrew (kabad), and in Greek (timḗ), means to value, to respect, to give weight to. It has also been translated as “treat honorably”, “show respect for”, “treat with dignity” and “prize”.

Fundamentally, all people deserve to be treated with dignity because of their identity as human beings. We owe one another honor as fellow members of the human race. In this sense we are all peers, no matter what our age or social rank (much less our ethnicity or gender).

Parents, specifically, deserve to be cherished because of their unique role in our lives. We owe them, in summary, everything. They brought us into this world, loved us fiercely, cared for our needs, tried their best to shape us into good and happy people. The bond between us is sacred. The honor we owe them can be shown in many ways, not the least of which is caring for their needs as they grow older. This, as a matter of fact, was precisely how Jesus defined honor on the only recorded occasion that he expounded the Fifth Commandment.

What honoring IS NOT

It is not a synonym for obedience. As someone observed[1], if this were the case, the words could be used interchangeably in Scripture. The most cursory analysis will prove they cannot. The effort to merge the two concepts is simply untenable. Although it is true that in some contexts honor will be expressed through obedience, such as children (those being brought up) towards their parents, it is not true that obedience is mandatory where honor is concerned.

The oft-wielded Ephesians 6:1 – “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” – is not an alternative translation of Exodus 20:12, but the adapted version for children, precisely because they are being prepared for adulthood (this is upheld by the context, see v. 4). That is, in fact, the whole point of obedience. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The goal is transition to sui juris, the launching of a full-fledged person. Parents (or spiritual leaders) that seek to keep their children in perpetual pupilage, making obedience instead of maturity their aim in training, reveal a selfish and ungodly agenda: POWER AND CONTROL.

It does not imply a chain of command. Honoring someone does not mean that they are in charge and that you are to “keep in your place”. It does not mean you are under an obligation to report to them, obtain their consent or follow their orders.

It does not mean relinquishing our critical faculties. Some would have us believe that any criticism of their attitudes or methods constitutes a dishonor to their persons. This is false. Unconditional compliance is not honoring, it is spoiling. It also empowers overbearing and abusive people.[2]


Are there any exceptions to these two general rules? I believe any honest scrutiny of real-life situations compels us to accept that – sadly – there are. Only the most oblivious people could think otherwise. There are indeed people, there are indeed parents, who cannot be honored in any genuine way beyond the most basic respect owed to any person.

People who have inflicted deep pain and lasting emotional and/or physical harm on others (a thousand times more heinous when inflicted on persons under their care), and who are so self-righteous that they are incapable of change. People who poison the environments they control with their hubris, their incessant demands and their destructive behavior. People who, while exacting honor for themselves, systematically dishonor others.

Perhaps the only honor we can give in such cases is that of withdrawing from the sphere of their influence and praying for future healing and reconciliation.


May God give us the wisdom to discern between true and false honor, and may true honor grace all our dealings with one another.


[1] (accessed January 27, 2015)
[2] More on what honoring is not at

Am I a Legalistic Parent?

Steve Smith has a great blog called Liberty For Captives where he writes about his experiences with legalism, spiritual abuse and cult systems.

Among many helpful articles, one called Breaking the Chains of Legalistic Parenting really got my attention. Perhaps you are like me and this checklist will challenge you, hearten you, and remind you of what’s really important. Continue reading “Am I a Legalistic Parent?”